How To Set Finance Team Objectives & Goals At A Startup (+Examples)

How To Set Finance Team Objectives & Goals At A Startup (+Examples)


The finance function is a strategic role. A startup finance team is responsible for driving revenue and controlling costs, either indirectly through analysis and guidance, or directly through process improvement. A key tool for your finance department having both a direct and indirect impact is good financial goal setting.

In this guide, we’ll walk through how you can:

  • Set effective company goals
  • Aligning finance team goals aligned to company objectives
  • Use the SMART framework
  • Leverage software to free up your team’s time

Set effective company goals

Setting effective company goals requires buy-in. Getting buy-in requires involving every decision maker in the goal-setting process, and balancing expectations between your senior leaders and your finance team.

A good practice is to create two distinct plans to guide the conversation. A “top-down” plan represents what your investors and CXO’s believe the business can do, or what it needs to do. A “bottom-up” plan represents what your finance department leaders believe they can do, ideally based on data. 

A good example of this is the revenue planning process. The board and CEO may want to grow from $1M to $5M in revenue with $1M in sales and marketing spend. Your sales team may find they can only get to $5M by growing headcount and sales overhead beyond the planned expenses. Your marketing team may find that they cannot increase quality lead flow to support this revenue without dramatically increasing paid ad spend beyond planned spend. 

Armed with a top down and bottom up plan, you can lead a (hopefully) rational negotiation between teams based on the facts of the business, secure buy-in, and arrive at effective goals.

Aligning finance team goals to company objectives 

Your finance team, especially FP&A, is filled with analytic minds that understand the big picture objectives of your business. This team can, and should, be used to support the company’s critical objectives. You can do this by aligning your team’s goals to these broader objectives. 

If we continue with the example of revenue targets - your CEO may get his cake and eat it too - a $5M revenue target and no increase in budget beyond $1M. Your finance team can help make this happen by sharing the same goal. 

Armed with financial information and insights, your finance team could help sales & marketing re-evaluate their budget to prioritize spending on growth. By regularly reviewing results with these teams, you can ensure they stay on budget and keep on track to hit their revenue targets. Even better, your finance department can partner with them and be an advocate if the plan truly needs cha

Set SMART finance goals

SMART is one of many conveniently arranged acronyms for goal-setting that can be used to set better goals. Your finance team can follow every detail listed by the Corporate Finance Institute, or just use the methodology as a sanity check. If we applied this framework to check if our goal of “hitting $5M revenue with $1M sales and marketing expense.”

  • Specific: Maybe break the goal up into different sales or marketing channels if needed.
  • Measurable: Yes, depending on how fast your financial close process is.
  • Attainable: If you build a “bottom-up” plan to support this goal, this should already be done. i.e. reallocate $200k of content spend in Q1 towards paid campaigns to boost sales pipelines for the rest of the year.
  • Realistic: Same as above.
  • Timely:  set an annual goal with quarterly and monthly financial targets

Use the right financial management software

You need time to do strategic financial planning, and you can’t simply grow overhead headcount. You need to invest in software to  automate repetitive accounting tasks that bog your finance team down. Software can automate many functions and enable finance professionals to focus on strategic decisions about the company's finances that a computer can't replace.

CFOs, fractional CFOs and finance managers can implement spend management software to automate bookkeeping and reduce time spent on the close significantly. Your finance team can focus on real-time financial management and financial reporting, rather than sorting through expense reports.

Your finance team can help the company achieve its goals, they just need direction and time.

Your finance department is more than just an accounting department here to track cash flow and build financial statements. Your finance team members can be strategic advisors, available to support company objectives with financial analysis. Give them direction with achievable and well aligned goals. Give them time by investing in software to automate mundane tasks.


About the Author: Sagar Velagala
Sagar is the Director of Growth at Before this, he worked in analytics, finance, and operations roles at companies like The Boston Beer Company and HubSpot.