If leading business experts, publications and websites are any indication, you know how critical innovative thinking is to your company’s future. But you may also feel frustrated with the approval process at your firm. You may have failed to get approval for great ideas in the past and that is negatively impacting your desire to propose new ideas in the future.
Peter Drucker famously stated, “The enterprise that does not innovate inevitably ages and declines. And in a period of rapid change such as the present….the decline will be fast.” I think we can all agree that we are living in a period of rapid change. So, here are some suggestions for how to improve your chances of getting the funding you need for your next innovative project!
1. Partner with the finance and accounting team.
Remember the basic principles of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and start with the basics. Be nice to your financial team members! If you’re in operations or engineering, you may not interact much with the people in accounting. Remember their names. Build a rapport. Don’t assume they’re not interested in what you do and how you do it. Build relationships so you have a starting point when you need some help with your new innovative idea.
2. Document alignment with your firm’s current-year corporate strategy.
Every company identifies key initiatives for the current year, and probably for the next two or three years as well. How does your project align and support those key corporate initiatives? Use the keywords your company leaders use in your write-up and draw the connection between the potential impact of your project and your company’s stated strategic goals.
3. Highlight safety and regulatory compliance issues in justification for your project.
Every finance person understands the importance of safety and regulatory compliance to your company’s operations. If your project impacts one of these areas, be sure to include this when you document justification for your project. Your company probably deals with significant risks in other areas as well. If your idea will reduce risk to the company, identify how it accomplish this.
4. If your project might impact revenue, partner with the sales team.
If your project might generate more revenue for the company, partner with the sales folks. Get them interested in your idea. Ask them to help you sell your idea to the managers in the approval process. The members of your sales team are excellent communicators and can help convince management that your innovative idea is worth funding.
5. Show your passion – you’ll need it to win approval for any sort of change or anything new.
No passion, no project. Change is hard and you’ll need passion and conviction to convince people that your project is worth funding. Be polite, but also be persistent. Don’t give up if you are told no. Listen to the reason why the first draft of your project was denied and use that feedback to improve the next version of your innovative idea.
Mistakes that could sink your chances of getting your project funded
1. Don’t ignore the timing of the budget process.
Don’t wait until a new budget year has started to propose a new idea. It’s going to be much harder to win funding quickly if a new capital budget has just been approved and your project isn’t in it. Find out what the budget cycle is at your company and begin your conversations with finance and sales team members in plenty of time to be considered for the next budget year.
2. Don’t underestimate the justification section of your proposal.
How your justification for funding is written is very important. Your idea may be one of many ideas that your firm is considering. You need to clearly identify the financial and non-financial investment required and the expected results. This doesn’t mean you need thousands of pages of supporting documents or that you have to do it by yourself. Reach out to your new friends in finance to review your financial estimates and your new friends in sales and marketing to review your revenue estimates. And by all means, if writing is not your strong suit, get someone to proofread it!
3. Don’t forget to consider who you’re pitching your idea to.
Think like a salesperson and identify who will be considering and approving your proposal. What is important to them? Who could help you sell this idea to them? What additional questions or objections might they have and how can you address them in your proposal?
When you win approval for your project, you’ve only taken the first step towards implementing your big idea. As Henry Ford stated, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Remember to thank all the people who helped you win approval for your project, make sure to keep people informed of your project’s success, and share the praise with the finance and sales team members that helped you along the way!
Robert Bendetti is the chief financial officer at Life Cycle Engineering. In addition to stewarding the financial operations of the company, Robert helps ensure that innovative and promising ideas get the support they deserve. Robert is a certified public accountant, has an MBA and a Master of Accounting and Financial Management, holds a green belt certification, and is a certified Prosci change management professional. He is a board member and trustee for the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting and the founder of the Charleston CFO Council. You can reach Robert at [email protected]