Get to know one of Pursuit’s Consulting Corps members, Cheryl Lickfeld, owner of Optimal CFO, and learn why she loves working with small business owners.
Q: Can you tell us about Optimal CFO and why you started this business, including a bit about your professional background?
I have an MBA from the University at Buffalo (UB) and I am also a New York State-licensed certified public accountant (CPA). I started my career in public accounting but after four years and for about the next 20 years, I went into private industry as controller and chief financial officer (CFO) for various small businesses. About 10 years ago, I started Optimal CFO as a side gig while still working full-time because I saw a need. There are a lot of small businesses that have grown to a point where they need more sophisticated financial advice, but they don’t necessarily need a full-time CFO. I fill in as an outsourced CFO.
Q: Why is it important for small business owners to work with a consultant who has CPA/CFO experience?
I think small business owners understand the importance of working with a CPA when it comes to their taxes, but they don’t always understand why working with someone with CFO experience is important. Often, small business owners think all they need is a bookkeeper and while a qualified bookkeeper is absolutely essential, they may not be able to give the advice that a CFO can give. A CFO can help a business owner strategize cash flow, profit margins and pricing, to name just a few.
Q: What do you hope to help clients achieve?
I consider it my biggest accomplishment when clients no longer have a fear of their numbers and, instead, see their numbers as a source of power to help them make decisions.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about working with small businesses?
I like working with small businesses because I can work directly with the business owners. I really like to dig into the nuts-and-bolts of the business and learn all I can.
Q: How did you become a member of Pursuit’s Consulting Corps and what has that been like?
I became a member almost four years ago, after a mutual acquaintance at the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce introduced me to Sherri Falck at Pursuit. It has been a terrific experience – the staff at Pursuit is great to work with and their clients have such amazing businesses.
Q: What kinds of impacts and improvements have you seen with Pursuit clients and their businesses after you’ve worked with them?
One improvement is that the clients have a better understanding of their numbers. Most are using a bookkeeping program, such as QuickBooks, but they might not have had confidence in how to use it.
For clients that are thinking about new lines of business, I help them set up forecasts, so they can really see what the financials might look like before they invest their time and money into the idea.
Q: As a member of the Pursuit Consulting Corps, you worked with a Pursuit client, Jenny Siplo, of Flowerwell. From your professional perspective, what were some of the challenges her business faced and what were you able to teach her?
Jenny has been great to work with and what a unique business to learn about – I can’t say I ever worked with a flower farmer before working with Flowerwell! I think some of her biggest challenges are that she has several lines of business and has ideas for several more. Our work helped her think more strategically about which ones made the most sense to pursue based on her revenue, profit and staffing goals.
Q: Are there other examples of your work with small business owners that you’re particularly proud of and would like to highlight?
One of my clients years ago said to me, “You treat my business like you own it.” That has always stuck with me. I consider myself to be a partner with my clients.
Q: Do you have any advice for professionals who may be interested in working with Pursuit’s Consulting Corps?
The advice I would give to anyone interested in working with the Consulting Corps is to understand that many times the businesses are still in the start-up or growth phase and things will not always be “perfect.” Realizing that an incremental step is better than no step is key to making the relationship work. The business owners are passionate and want to learn how to make their businesses better.