Adam Clarke - May 1, 2018

Growing is a messy business

Regardless of how big an organisation is, growing can be a messy business, just look at Elon Musk. 

Processes that barely worked start to creak under the strain and one's that didn't really work at all become even more broken and eventually something snaps.

One area that gets increasingly messy as a business grows, is company spending and with that, our favourite subject... good old company expenses.

This takes us nicely back to Elon Musk, whom many regard as the closest thing we have to a real life Tony Stark. You have to admire how he constantly pushes the boundaries of what is possible, and how he dares to do things differently.

That said, some of his problems feel all too similar... 

"Going forward, we will be far more rigorous about expenditures. I have asked the Tesla finance team to comb through every expense worldwide, no matter how small, and cut everything that doesn't have a strong value justification," says Musk

This quote came from an internal email that was widely reported by CNBC, Recode and Business Insider, amongst others. 

It's amazing to think that Elon Musk has managed to send a Tesla into space, and created huge global and interstellar companies.  Yet it appears that Tesla's expenses and company spending process is broken, to the point that he feels he needs to personally getting involved.   

 

But let's take a huge step back and keep our feet firmly on the ground, managing expenses and company spending is a problem that impacts companies of all shapes and sizes.

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In fact, the inspiration for this blog post wasn’t Elon Musk, it was a customer success call that I recently sat in on.

While the story I heard about the growth our new customer was impressive, it also highlighted to me quite how messy growing a business can be. As we talked about his experience with Expend so far, a lot of the challenges that he had faced over the last 6 years came to light. In interest of transparency, the below is a re-imagining of that conversation via the notes that I scribbled down.

He started out on his own, and managing expenses was a chore, but he knew it was something that just had to be done. That said, he pretty much knew what was going on, because it was him and him alone who was spending the cash.

Hours were still spent in front of spreadsheets, trawling through piles of receipts and invoices. At times it seemed like one of his favourite past times was to avoid calls from his accountant, who needed the information to do their job. A job which he knew was meant support him, not hassle him. He knew that leaving these admin chores to the very last minute also made the whole process more error prone and more likely to miss something important, but he still did it anyway.

As the business grew, he started to take on members of staff and found that with every new employee, the expenses problem only grew, and his visibility of company spending quickly diminished. The feeling of control felt like it was quickly slipping away, and in hindsight, that's because it was. Finally because he was sick of the end of month surprises, he decided to invest in a tool to help regain that control.

The rise of the smartphone has seen some great tools come along for business owners, and there are many that can help with at least part of the problem. Apps like receipt scanners, being a recent and topical example.

Unfortunately these type of apps still relied on him and his employees to be prompt and reliable at the point purchase, otherwise it wouldn't give him the sense of control or real-time oversight he craved.

This illusion of control seemed to solve the problem for a while, but surprises still came thick and fast as the business continued to grow. However, he did feel better than where he started from, and their were less calls from his accountant. But as time went on, some employees still waited until the end of the month to file their expenses, so his visibility hadn't really changed.

As it happened, little has actually changed and as it turned out, he’d simply pushed the problem away from a spreadsheet and into an app. In fact because he was so busy running the business, he was actually the worst offender for submitting his expenses late.

He really started to realise that things had got out of hand when he had an embarrassingly awkward conversation, followed by something that resembled a begging letter to get something purchased for the business. 

The ivory tower of spending management had been built and he felt in control. Yet it turned out that his business was suffering from 'purchase paralyses', and the world was increasingly working in real-time and 'as and when', or 'at the end of the month' would no longer do (Did it really ever?). As a result his business was being held back from growing as quickly as it could.

At this point he realised that things couldn’t carry on the way they were. His growing number of employees didn't feel trusted, or at least when it came to company spending. Unbeknown to him, the office had developed a moan cycle that involved the reluctant ritual of passing around of the company credit card and chasing up the receipts. The company credit card had become less a badge of trust, and more a noose around office managers neck.

Finally, he decided to do some research and came across Expend, and because we are based in the UK, he decided to give our free trial a go to see if it would make a difference.

Our smarter Mastercard, mobile apps and management dashboard is now giving him the tools he needs to control spending and provide real-time insights into his company spending and expenses. It’s early days but so far he’s enjoyed the zero end of month admin or surprises and his accountant is yet to chase him up. 👍

Experience ‘The Expend Difference’ for yourself and get the power to solve the messy expenses issue once and for all. Empower your employees at all levels to get on with their jobs and still get the insights and control that your business need.

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So get back to growing your business and spend less time on needless messy admin. Your future self will thank you for it. 👍

Oh and naturally I reached out to Elon Musk to offer Expend's services.

Written by Adam Clarke

I'm the Marketing and Partnership Manager at Expend. When I'm not fighting expenses admin with our amazing solution, you can find me eating my way around London's food scene.