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Holding finance to account

In the final article in the series Ten things to cut before marketing in a recession, Ross Sturley looks at squeezing value out the business and reminding accounts about what their role actually is.

Anyone who’s been following the series of articles designed to help marketers in the construction sector will know we’re close to the end. Of the series that is – not the world, although it might seem that way sometimes.

A recent CIMCIG study found that something like 10 per cent of marketing positions in the construction sector had been dispensed with since the beginning of the year – which is a pretty serious number considering around 30 per cent of the people still in marketing jobs are self-employed and technically not able to ‘lose’ their job.

Also, there’s been a number of ‘green shoots’ stories of late. Now I know they’re rubbish, but just as the crow squawking loudly outside your window means your alarm is about to go off, stories about green shoots mean the real green shoots are just about germinating. So I need to stop writing about recession and start writing about preparing for recovery.

Given that, and given the general excitement that I know exists about what the final two in the series will be (a bit like The Apprentice), I decided to do a bumper double issue.

No.9 – Spring Clean

A former colleague once seriously impressed me. He took over a decent business making a 20 per cent margin and found an extra million quid profit in his first year. I was convinced he’d discovered some brilliant new revenue stream or launched a highly innovative new product, but no, “I just had a bit of a spring clean” he said.

He’d gone through everything – and I mean everything – that his teams spent money on and cut out what he saw as unnecessary. For example, he found expenses claims for Starbucks coffee for meetings held in his own building – “drink instant, there’s a kettle” he decreed and money was saved.

The key to a good spring clean is looking under every stone – asking what every piece of expenditure, usually the stuff that’s too small to hit the management accounts radar, does for the business. Is it essential? No? Then stop it.

You may think your business is lean and mean but I bet you can squeeze something out of it. Who knows? You might scrimp enough out of that to save a headcount. And keeping someone in a job right now is both praiseworthy and sensible. You will need their capacity when the upturn comes.

No. 10 – The Accounts Department

If you’ve followed the advice in this series of pieces and successfully defended at least part of your marketing spend at the expense of Association Membershipstime spent in meetings, admin costs, senior management costs, energy costs, IT, needless golf days, and outgoing post, then right now it’s probably just you, the CEO and the Finance Director sat round the table talking about where else you can save money.

In this situation, there’s only one place to look and that’s the accounts team. Like many professional groups recently, accountants have been trying to make their role sound more important. They have become ‘Business Analysts’ in many cases, the shareholders’ hero, surfing around the business, generally analysing it, and delivering ‘exceptional shareholder value’. Well, forgive me for saying this but as far as I’m aware the accountants’ key role has been keeping track of the cash – a role that should be somewhat easier at the moment given there’s less of it about.

So, look at that bloated accounts team, all full of themselves analysing you and making ‘suggestions for business improvement’, and pick a few targets. Is their analysis helpful? Do they understand anything about the market? Because, as we know, it’s the market that matters not the bean-counting.

If I want analysis, I’ll see a shrink. You lot get back to adding up.

Read more

To read any of the other articles in the Ten things to cut before you cut your marketing series click below

Association Memberships 
Time spent in meetings
Admin costs
Senior managementcosts
Energy costs
Golf days
Outgoing post

Ross Sturley is principal of Chart Lane, and a committee member of CIMCIG, the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s construction chapter. He is also a Construction News blogger on marketing matters and has a passionate dislike for professions renaming themselves to sound better. Human Capital Management, for god’s sake. Who are they kidding?

CIMCIG organises many events for construction marketers, including in the near future Winning Work on Sports schemes, Marketing to Architects, the Future of the Construction Media, and a major conference – Strategy 2010.

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