If we know one thing about being a business owner, it’s that when your feet firmly hit the ground as you spring out of bed every morning, you exclaim excitedly, ‘I can’t wait to work on my financials!’
We kid – unless numbers and accounting and charts of accounts are actually your jam.
And while we don’t like to name-drop, it just so happens we know someone for whom numbers are her jam – our very own COO Lisa Zeeveld.
So we recently sat down with her to talk about five of the most effective financial strategies for business owners.
So LZ, as our resident financial guru here at BELAY – and our former CFO with experience in corporate finance and personal wealth management for several Fortune 500 companies – what would be the first thing business owners need to do to get their books in order?
“Forecasting! It's your opportunity to ask yourself:
- How many new clients do I think I'm going to get?
- Are there any fees associated with that client working with me?
- What do my leads look like?
“What you're trying to do is to get a really good forecast for a 12-month period to get a really good understanding of where you think your income is going to come from.
“And once you have more history, then you can go back and look at 36 months rolling for a really good picture of trends in revenue.”
Brilliant. Now what?
“So now that you know what kind of revenue you have, you need to know how you are going to spend that money – how you’ll need to allocate it to run and operate your business with a budget.
“Because, for example, if you're offering a service, there's a cost associated with it – so that's when you start to take a look at your margins.
“First, account for all of your expenses – the cost of goods or services.
“Then, you have your hard costs. The cost of goods is one part, and then you're left with a little bit to operate the business, everything from salaries to benefits – your employee burden costs. Then you have your office supplies. Do you have rent? Do you have computer software? Do you have computer hardware? I'm traveling. You want to include that, too. Same goes for books and subscriptions and memberships.
“Then you have a really good idea of where your net profit is going to be – the money that you have to reinvest in your business.”
Forecasts? Check. Budgets? Check. What’s next?
“Now, let's switch gears a little bit and talk through things like credit options, especially for new businesses so you can borrow money without having to give away any equity.
“Definitely take advantage of credit cards, only taking out as much credit as you actually think that you can afford – and it's a great way to earn points.
“I would also strongly suggest having a really good relationship with a local banker that can help you get a small business loan or a line of credit.
“Now, I know there's probably a lot of people out there who are big fans of not having debt – and that's fine. But I think that as a business, being able to leverage credit does help you accelerate your growth even faster without giving up equity.
“And when you’re ready to ask for a loan – and we're going to talk about financial statements, too – make sure that your books look good. They're going to want to know that your margins are good. They want to know that you're budgeting. They will also want to see the growth of your business. So start preparing yourself even before you go ask for a loan.”
After all, success is 90-percent preparation, right? So with growth in mind, what’s the fourth strategy?
“Savings! I'm a big proponent of the very bottom dollar – your net profit.
“Maybe you don’t know how you want to reinvest in your business. Or maybe there’s an economic downturn – and there’s nothing worse than knowing that you can't meet payroll. That's a pretty heavy weight.
“So always make sure you're saving, even if it's a small portion.
“But there is one caveat: If your business is not breaking even, don’t do it just yet. But once it does start to break even – even just a little bit – start saving.
“Now, how much you should be saving depends on your business model. If you've got a recurring revenue business, three months is a good starting point. You shouldn't have anything less than three months. But if you're in an installment business, it might be important for you to have a year's worth of expenses saved.”
Last strategy. What about reporting and the cadence of reporting?
“So, I have a confession: I cringe when I talk to other business owners and they say they do their financial reporting every other month, every three months, whenever they find the time.
“Big mistake. Make sure you close your books every single month. A balance sheet is super important – you don't know how much your business is worth. That's going to have all your assets, all your liabilities, to kind of net everything out really, really well, including your capitalization.
“Doing your P&L budget-to-actuals is very helpful because then you can start to see your spending habits. That way, if you're having a really great year and didn't spend money allocated for an event, for example, then you can carry that forward.”
That’s incredible. You’ve somehow made sustaining the financial health of a business sound very manageable, even for those of us who wouldn’t count bookkeeping among the things that are our ‘jam.’ Any final advice?
“I would just say to not be afraid of math. Don't be afraid of your financials. A lot of people go, ‘Oh, I'm not good at math.’
“But budgets can be sexy! So ask a lot of questions. There are no dumb questions. The only dumb questions are the ones that aren’t asked.
“Don't be afraid. Embrace it. Have fun with it. It really will help you sleep much better at night knowing that you have a handle on it to help your business grow!”
If you’re feeling inspired and ready to take on your financials but don’t know where or how to start, fear not. Download our 5 Best Financial Practices: A Checklist resource to help you check your vitals – and help your business thrive!