This a guest post by Emma worden, see Emma’s details at the end of the article
The basics of taking control of the money in your business
It seems like more and more Aussies decide to give entrepreneurship a go. In fact, according to the most recent studies, there are 2.1 million small businesses in the country and this number is expected to grow even more. However, running a small business isn’t as easy as it may seem, especially when it comes to managing finances. So, if you’ve ditched your 9-to-5 job and started your own small business, you could use any help you can get. And that’s why we came up with 10 tips for better finance managing in your company.
Don’t mix personal and business finances
One of the biggest mistakes rookie entrepreneurs make is failing to separate their personal and business finances. This leaves them not knowing how well their business is doing and whether some changes in their operations should be made. So, if you want to be able to manage your company’s finances effectively, keeping a separate business bank account is an absolute must.
Manage your accounting
There’s no need to say that accounting is one of the most important aspects of being an entrepreneur. If this is your first time running a small business, chances are you don’t know much about accounting. In a scenario like this, hiring a good bookkeeper can be a real lifesaver. If you decide to tackle accounting yourself, investing in an accounting software can turn out to be an amazing idea.
Be aware of your day-to-day costs
No matter what kind of small business you’re running, you can’t survive in the market if you don’t have enough money to cover all of your day-to-day costs. We’re talking about costs such as your rent, wages and office supplies. Therefore, you need to be aware of how much money your business needs in order to keep operating and make sure you don’t go below this.
Know how to deal with taxes
If you want to be able to manage your company’s finances effectively, you also need to know how to deal with taxes. If you’re a small business with a turnover of less than $10 million, the company tax rate you’ll have to cover in currently 27.5%. Make sure you meet all the deadlines for filing tax returns in order to avoid fines and interest.
Apply for a loan on time
There’s no reason for you to wait too long before you apply for a loan that’ll help you grow your business. In fact, if you wait until your company is in a bad financial position to apply for a loan, chances are you won’t be able to receive financing at all. Therefore, make sure you turn to a company that gives fast business loans while your finances are still good.
Create an emergency account
You never know when things can go wrong, and having some money stashed away can be a real lifesaver. The best way to do this is to create an emergency account and move a portion of your monthly earnings to that account. The money you set aside can help you cover payroll during a slow season or allow you to replace equipment that broke down.
Collect your invoices
If you want your business to survive, you have to make sure you maintain a healthy cash flow. And this is something you won’t be able to do if your clients are late on their payments. The best way to deal with such clients is to hire experts in invoice collection. There are plenty of invoice collectors in Australia and finding a company you can turn to shouldn’t be too difficult.
Protect your data
Another important thing to have in mind if you want to avoid financial hiccups is that you need to protect all of your company’s data. This is the case because new mandatory data breach reporting laws came into effect in Australia. According to these laws, you could face a large fine in case an unauthorized entity comes accesses anyone’s personal information from your business computer system.
Don’t spend prematurely
One of the biggest mistakes you simply have to avoid is spending prematurely. This means that you shouldn’t go big on marketing, business cards and inventory until you’re 100% sure your business has what it takes to succeed. Spending too much on things like this can create a cash flow blockage, which is definitely something you need to avoid.
When running your own business, it’s quite easy to get sucked up in the benefits of business ownership. However, if your business is still in its early days, you probably can’t afford this just yet. Instead, what you need to do is set your salary as low as possible in order to save money you can spend on improving your company’s operations.
Have these 10 tips in mind and you might just manage to follow the steps of many Aussies out there and start a successful small business. Just bear in mind that even once you establish yourself on the market, looking for new ways to improve your money management is critical.
Emma Worden is a business manager from Sydney. She enjoys reading and writing on a business topic and giving advice and tips through her texts. If you want to read more of her work, you can find it at https://bizzmarkblog.com/
A great business-vehicle with a great driver and lots of fuel in the tank allows you to create more great work.
In the past 15 years as a Business-Life Coach I’ve worked with many architects and designers of all types. Design practices and studios are a special kind of business with special challenges around making money and growing. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but I think it has something to do with the design side of things.
Architects have a profession and a set of skills and their business is often built around that set of skills. In that, they are no different than plumbers, mechanics, bookkeepers and lawyers. Their businesses also rest on a set of specific skills and both sell their expertise to their clients. But architects (and designers) often have a passion for their profession that goes deeper. For many architects, architecture is a calling for them. Architects and designers often want to leave their mark on the world with their work. They live for their art as it were and the commercial demands of business can sometimes feel like they are at odds with their art. Making money as an architect is often considered suspect.
Vincent and Pablo
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Of course, we all know the examples of artists who died in poverty and obscurity only to achieve fame and fortune after their death (Vincent van Gogh for example). But equally there are many examples of artists who created great art, left a mark and were commercially successful in their lifetime (Think of the greats of the Italian renaissance or Pablo Picasso in more recent times). Great art doesn’t have to be created in poverty, and nor does great architecture and design.
I like to remind my clients that making money is never the point of business, whether the business is a plumbing business or an architect practice. A business must make money, and generate good cash flow, otherwise it’s a hobby. But the reason it must make money is so that it can achieve it’s Mission… So that it can make good on it’s Purpose in this world.
I recently worked with a client who is an architect. He employs 4 staff who are all architects or interior designers. The business has only just scraped by for a few years now. The practice creates great work and my client is excited about the potential for making his mark on the world of architecture in the future. But he has only just been making ends meet for the past few years. As a consequence he pays himself very little, less than his staff even, and worse, he may well lose some of the staff he loves so dearly in the future, because there is not enough opportunity in the practice for them to develop and grow professionally. My client feels caught in a dilemma. Focusing on making money and growing the business, he believes, means the work will suffer, and he can’t allow that to happen. Hence the needs of the business come second.
I told my client to think of business as a vehicle. The point of a vehicle is to take us from A to B. But the vehicle can only perform that function, if it’s in good state of repair, if it’s filled up with fuel and if the driver knows how to operate the vehicle safely.
Fuel in the tank
Business is just like that. The point of my client’s business-vehicle is to allow him to deliver great architecture for his clients and to make his mark on the world of architecture in general. In order for his vehicle to be able to do so effectively, it needs to be healthy, in a good state of repair, he needs to be a good driver and it needs fuel in the tank. Money is the fuel of business and my client needs to learn what it takes to be a good driver, a good business owner in other words.
The demands of business do not have to be in conflict with what you’re passionate about at all. It is perfectly possible to create great architecture, and beautiful design, while making making great profits and building a healthy growing sustainable business at the same time. As a matter of fact, a healthy profitable business allows you to create great art, if you let it… I promise you.
Making money in your business isn’t rocket science, it’s all about the basics
Making more money in your business isn’t rocket science. If you spend less than you earn, you’ll end up with more money in your bank account. Even Donald Trump knows that (although…).
I know I know I know… Business finance doesn’t operate like a simple household budget, you may need to borrow investment funds, finance your cashflow, obtain working capital, factor your invoices… Banks and investors exist for a reason, but even so, in the end, to make more money in your small business, you need to generate more profit (margin) and spend less cash than you pull in.
So here are the Ten Key Strategies to Make More Money in your small business. Look at each of the strategies in turn, and set aside time in your diary over the next months to implement the actions I suggest for each one and I absolutely guarantee you’ll make a lot more money this year than you did last year.
I’ve also written in great detail about making money in your business here
Someone showed me this strategy early in my years as a business coach, and I still wish now that I’d come across it in the early days of my life as a business owner. Have a look at the PDF you can download with this link here. It shows that if you make an overal improvement of only 5% across your business, your actual profits will double. It seems like a magic trick, but it isn’t. It works, always. If you make a 5% improvement in revenue, a 5% reduction in Cost Of Sales and a 5% reduction in your overheads, your profits will double. Try it out, stick your own numbers in the little table and see what happens… Try 2% or 1% and see what enormous impact even such small improvements have.
Go ahead and do this today:
Pull out your P&L for the past 6 months or a year and work your way through it from top to bottom… How can you make a really small improvement across the board in your business in the coming year?
2) Someone has to be the most expensive, it might as well be you
Recently I worked with an artist, a sculptor. She was getting ready for a group exhibition at a prestigious gallery where she was showing 4 pieces of her work. At a group exhibition like that, there’s a lot of art vying for attention and it can be hard to be noticed. We talked about how to stand out from the other 8 exhibitors and I suggested to her to double her prices, or rather, to aim to have the most expensive pieces of work in the room. If your pieces are the most expensive in the room, you can be sure that people are going to take note. Anybody who has ever opened an exhibition catalogue, has quickly run their eye past the prices, at the cheapest and especially at the most expensive pieces, and they’ve gone and had a look at the expensive ones, guaranteed. And a journalist who comes to covers the exhibition opening for the newspaper does so too. Being the most expensive sends all kinds of marketing signals about quality and specialness.
My client swallowed, took a deep breath, and doubled her prices. She did turn out to be the most expensive “in show”… And she did sell one of her pieces… For twice as much money as she’s ever made before… Nice one.
Go ahead and do this today:
Have a look at your prices… Why couldn’t you be the most expensive? Is there actually a good reason to be cheaper than the competition? Is your stuff worth less? No, I didn’t think so… So let’s get your prices up… Starting next week.
3) Collect Collect Collect
It doesn’t matter how much profit you make, if the cash doesn’t end up in your bank account. Money that’s not accessible to you is worthless. Many business owners make the mistakes of invoicing late, not setting payment terms, or setting lax ones and not enforcing whatever payment terms they do have. A very large percentage of businesses that struggle or go broke, do so, not because they’re unprofitable, but because they don’t collect their cash in time and run out of money. Cash flow stress is especially problematic in growing service based businesses. I’ve written in much more detail about cash flow and collecting here. I often tell my clients that if they allow their customers to pay late, they’ve suddenly become a bank and as bankers, they suck. As with so many things in business, the first thing to do is to design a system, a collections system, and then, enforce it, religiously.
Go ahead and do this today:
Run a report in your bookkeeping system called the Aged Debtors report and have a look at who owes you outside of your trading terms. Starting with the low hanging fruit, pick up the phone and simply ask this question: “Hi there mr customer, I just noticed that you owe us $12,536.24 and that this amount is overdue. Could you let me know by what day we can expect payment? Next week Wednesday? Thank you, that would be great, have nice week.”
Whatever date the customer promises to pay his bill, make a note on the following date in your diary. On this date, check if the payment has been made and if not, remind yourself that the customer has now proven himself to be a lier and hence, immediately fire off a stern email. Refer the customer to your conversation and remind him of his promise, and give this client 48 hours to pay up… or else. In 48 hrs, commence final warnings and be prepared to forward the debt to a collections agent. Run this simple procedure next week, with each and every one of your overdue debtors and I guarantee you, you’ll halve your outstanding debts in a matter of weeks at most.
4) Discounting is for dogs
Nothing good ever came of trying to make more money by discounting. IT . DOES . NOT . WORK . EVER
I know I know I know… It seems to work for Woolies and Coles, right?… Well that’s arguable, but more importantly, you aren’t Coles. You don’t sell 15,000 different convenience products in 2500 stores all round the country (and you’re not competing against Aldi)… You’re probably not even in retail. So if this article was written for the CEO of Woolworths, I might have to tone down my language. But it’s not, it’s written for you, and if you think you can make more money in your business by offering discounts, you’re sadly mistaken. You’ll increase your problems, decrease your margins and heighten your stress and truly no-one ends up happier. Just don’t… Trust me on that.
Go ahead and do this today:
Get an A3 Piece of paper and a thick black texta and write in capital letters across the whole page: I SHALL NOT DISCOUNT and hang it up above your desk.
5) Delegate Delegate Delegate
Your time, your braincells and your health are the most valuable resources in your business. Everything else you can buy, borrow or steal more of (more here). If you want to make more money in your business, you need to learn to maximise your own time. You should always be asking yourself: Is this thing I’m about to spend my time doing, the most valuable use of my time, right now, or is there something else more valuable I could be doing. If there is, then look for the best way to give this thing you are about to do, to someone else. Delegating the lower value tasks to others is one of the sure fire ways to start making more money in your business.
Go ahead and do this today:
In the process of deciding how to use your time, there is a simple tool called the 4 Quadrants of Time Management. Originally designed by general Eisenhower and made famous by Steven Covey in his book “The seven habits of highly effective people”. You can read more about getting the right things done here. Read the article and have a look at your week ahead. What can you delegate next week?
6) It’s Gross
There is one key number you have to focus on every week and every month if you want to start to make more money in your business and that is Gross Margin or Gross Profit (more here). I often refer to Gross Profit (GP) as the King of Numbers. If you only focus on one number in your business, make it Gross Profit. Revenue is meaningless, Net profit is confusing and you have little direct control over it and many of the other numbers in your business will give you a partial insight as best. Gross Profit or Gross Margin (expressed in dollars and as a percentage) can actually tell you just about everything you must know on a weekly and monthly basis about the health of your business. It’s got to be your target: “Every week we must make $xx in gross profit at xx% of revenue.
Go ahead and do this today:
Run a P&L report for the last 6 months or the past year. How much Gross Margin did you make? At what percentage of sales? Was it enough to cover your overheads and expenses and did you end up with a percentage of net profit left over? If not, how much Gross Profit should you make every month to pay for the overheads and have something left over? Now, once you have decided on that number… Stick it on the wall, (next to the note about discounting) and ask yourself: How can I make sure we hit that number every month this year?
7) Specialise Specialise Specialise
If you sell what everyone else sells, all you can do is compete on price and you know what I think about that, right? (have a look at the wall in front of you, with the A3 note about discounting). A key strategy for making more money in your business is to niche your business, to become the expert in a small section of the market. Make your expertise an inch wide and a mile deep. I read a famous book a while ago “Blue Ocean Strategy, how to make the competition irrelevant” (I wrote about it here), and it’s become increasingly clear to me that the most effective effective strategy for making more money in your business is to become a recognised expert in a small niche. It gives you a perfect opportunity to become “The most expensive in the room” (see above) (More about finding your niche here)
Go ahead and do this today:
So, get yourself a note book and brainstorm, what are you really really good at? What specific problem do you solve better for clients than anyone else? What are you passionate about, really passionate about? What do you get out of bed for in the morning? Remember, customers do not buy what you do, they buy the solution of a problem they have.
8) Vilfredo Pareto
Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian engineer at the end of the 19th century. I don’t believe mr Pareto was especially good at making money but he made some very clever observations on matters of commerce. Pareto is known especially for the 80/20 principle. The 80/20 principle is about the observation that inside economic systems most things are unevenly distributed. (for example, Pareto observed that 80% of the wealth of Italy was held by 20% of the population, in his time). This is how that’s relevant in your business. I am willing to bet that in your business, 80% of your profits come from 20% of your clients and worse, 80% of your losses also come from 20% of your clients. If you want to make more money in your business… That last sentence is where the low hanging fruit is to be found.
Go ahead and do this today:
Ideally of course you’d have a business management system or business intelligence system that could run a report for you with the answer. It’s certainly something to be aiming for in the long term to install such a system. But I’m guessing you don’t have such a system yet or it’s not fully operating yet. So it’s going to have to be a manual exercise, probably a spreadsheet or a simple notebook. Set some time aside and do the number crunching. Where do you lose your money? It might be to do with certain categories of customers, or with specific customers, or instead it might be certain products or services you sell that always cost too much. Whatever it is, find it. And then… once you found it… Stop doing it… STOP IT… AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
9) Systemise Systemise Systemise
Systemise, automate, productise. It’s what made McDonald’s heaps of money. Far be it from me to suggest your business should be another McDonald’s (read about my problems with McDonald’s here), but it’s certainly the case that systemising parts of your business is a great strategy for making more money. Anything you do in your business that can be standardised should be considered for systemising. When you systemise something it means you can start to get more efficient and employ lower cost staff to carry out that part of your operation.
Go ahead and do this today:
Set aside an hour to look at all the operations in your business and select three to develop a system for. I’m not necessarily talking about very complicated systems. small things such as how we answer the telephone, or how we go about ensuring we have supplies of printer ink, or how we respond to quote requests. Write out the system for each of the three things and roll them out throughout your business.
10) Do you want fries with that?
As we were talking about McDonald’s already, this is another strategy they’re famous for. It’s actually a system in itself of course. The up-sell. Effectively, the up-sell is the only discount you’ll ever make money on. The principle behind the “Do you want fries with that” question is that for a small amount of extra money, the client gets a bunch more value. Normally fries cost $2 but in an up-sell situation the customer gets to buy a portion of fries for only an extra dollar. This may seem like a discount and therefore to be avoided at all cost. But it isn’t. The fries in question cost McDonald’s virtually nothing, probably as little as 10 cents, when added to the larger transaction, so they make an extra 90 cents profit from each customer that accepts the up-sell.
A client of mine, an electrician, has trained his employees to ask customers they do repair works for, whether they’d like their smoke alarms tested while they’re at it. In nearly all cases the batteries need replacing and the electrician charges a small fee for replacing the batteries. The customers are very happy (and safe) and my client makes an extra $25 profit per job on average. Everybody wins. Judiciously practicing up-selling is a great strategy for making more money in your business.
Go ahead and do this today:
What can you offer your customers as an up-sell? Think about it… The trick is to find something useful/valuable for the customer that costs you very little to add to whatever you’re doing or delivering for the customer already. I have come across hundreds of different examples in my years, feel free to email contact me to brainstorm if you like.
Bonus: Profit first
I’m sure you agree with me that profit is important. You might have heard me say before that if your business doesn’t make profit and generate cash, it’s a hobby. So let’s just leave it at that, we want to make profit in our business. But if we all agree it’s so important, why do we leave the whole profit thing to last? After everything else is paid for we cast a hopeful look in the bottom of the bucket to see if there’s any profit left over. Let’s turn that around. Let’s take the profit out of the bucket first and set it aside in another bucket. The profit first principle is a really useful way to help you focus on the importance of making profit. More about profit first here
Go ahead and do this today:
So this is what I suggest you do, next week. Go and open a special bank account. A bank account that it’s easy to transfer money into but a bit more challenging to take money out of again. Then, decide how much you think you can take out for profit out of every invoice you send off. (5%? 10%?). And then from every payment that hits your bank account, automatically transfer that percentage into your profit account. If you do this religiously, better yet, if you delegate this job to your bookkeeper or accounts person, you’ll start to build amazing value and wealth in your business… trust me on that.
Focusing on making more money in your business is a great discipline. It will lead to stability and sustainability in your business and your life. There are many other strategies to make more money in your business of course. but if you focus your energies on these ten in the coming year, I guarantee that your business and your life will start to look entirely different.
I’d love to hear how you go, so drop me a line some time.
A business that doesn’t make profit and generate cash flow is a hobby
The second of The 7 Big Questions of Small Business, on the lips of most small business owners is: How can I make more profit and generate more cash flow? Personally I believe the question about making money is even more important than the growth question, because I have seen many business go bankrupt, even though they were growing. Business Growth only makes sense if you end up with more money in your bank account as a result.
So these are the most important rules about making and keeping money in your business (click on the links for more about each rule below)
Without profit there is no business, but does that mean that profit is the Purpose of business?
John Mackey is the founder of a large international chain of organic supermarkets called Wholefoods Markets. The company has been highly profitable ever since John founded it in the early eighties and has paid a dividend to it’s shareholders every year of it’s existence. Amazon recently purchased the company for untold billions of dollars and John Mackey is one of the world’s richest people. John clearly knows a thing or two about building great businesses and about making money.
John Mackey also wrote a book however, called Conscious Capitalism (link below) and in it (and various interviews I’ve read and watched with John Mackey), he says something that made the penny drop for me. He says this:
“Thinking that the Purpose of business is to make money is as silly as thinking that the Purpose of people is to eat food. We need to eat food, we eat food all our lives, and good food is better than bad food and without food we die, but eating food is not the reason we exist. We eat food so we can make good on our Purpose in life”.
John says it’s the same with business and money. The business must make money and profit and generate cash flow, and plenty of it, but only so that it can make good on it’s greater Purpose.
So let’s be clear about that, making money is the means to an end, and without profit and cash flow, the business can not perform it’s function.
If someone is going to be the most expensive anyway, why wouldn’t that be you?
Everyone can sell cheap. It takes no special skill or approach to sell cheap. It takes incredible skill and focus to be the cheapest and make profit and be around for the long term, and only very few businesses can do so consistently. The only three big ones I know off that have consistently been able to be the cheapest and build sustainable businesses that stand the test of time, are Aldi, Ikea and Walmart. I’m sure there are others but they’re few and far between.
If you make low pricing your main differentiator and competitive advantage you better be the most disciplined and focused business out there, because there will always be someone knocking on the door undercutting you, and you’ll constantly struggle to make enough money to survive, let alone build a Beautiful Business and Life. Competing on price is simply a dog’s game.
Instead: Ask yourself what you need to do to be the most expensive? Raise your prices and see what it takes to sell with higher prices. What else can you compete on? Building a Beautiful Business and Life is so much easier to do with high margins than with low ones.
20% Of your customers generate 80% of your profit and vice versa… Do you know who they are?
You might have heard of the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule. The rule can be applied in many situations, but there is no more appropriate topic to apply it to than that of a business and it’s customers. I can just about guarantee you that if you were to run a report today listing all your customers on a continuum with maximum profit and cash flow at one end of the scale down to least profit and cash (or even loss) at the other end, expressed in dollars, you will find that there is a small bunch of customers at either end. There is a small group of customers from whom you make by far most of your profit, and equally there is a small group of customers who cost you most of your money.
The problem is that most small businesses aren’t able to run a report like that, easily. I can tell you it’s worth spending some time pulling a report like this together. For that matter, it’s worth getting the software installed that allows you to run a report like this easily. You will be shocked when you find out how much of the effort in your business gets wasted on customers who do nothing for your business but keep you busy, who don’t make you any money. Equally you’ll realise how urgent it is to give more attention to those customers that make you all your money, because God forbid they might leave one day!
The three C’s: Collect Collect Collect. Do you know why it matters so much?
I’ve seen many businesses make profit and grow and yet struggle and even go bankrupt. The problem in those businesses is cash flow. More about cash flow and profit and their tenuous relationship further down. Here I just want to talk about completing the work or delivering the product, invoicing and collecting. It may seem obvious, but making profit is pointless if it doesn’t hit your bank account, but you’d be surprised how often I talk to business owners who complain about never having enough money to pay the bills while having tens or hundreds of thousands dollars of outstanding debts.
In my own days as a builder, a recurring problem was not finishing the jobs 100%. Sometimes for months, we’d leave a few defects outstanding, because they were small and we were onto the next projects. But that meant we couldn’t collect the final invoice, sometimes for months. In other businesses I see that people finish the work, but wait until the end of the month or sometimes even longer before they invoice the client and finally, most small businesses do not have a simple and consistent collection system. Those three factors mean that your business is functioning as a bank for your customers. Your money is in their bank account and it’s no use to you there. It means you constantly have to rob Peter to pay Paul and you can’t take advantage of early payment discounts from your suppliers and when your business is in growth mode, the problem compounds exponentially.
It’s actually even the case that you’re not doing your customers a favour by not completing, invoicing or collecting. Your customers want nothing more than having their work done quickly and cleanly and when the work is completed well, your clients actually feel they are in your debt and they want to remove that feeling as soon as possible. With every day that passes that feeling of indebtedness changes and if they don’t receive your invoice until a week or a month later, they’re actually not so keen to pay you anymore.
Profit and cash are not the same. Do you know what the difference really is?
As I mentioned above, many businesses fall over even though they make profit and they grow. I also mentioned the compounding problem of growth. I’ll explain the compounding problem in a super simplified example here:
Let’s say you start in month 1 with a bank account balance of $1,000 and you sell $1,000 worth of stuff this month and after expenses you have $100 left over. that should mean you are $100 better off at the end of the month than you were at the beginning.
But if you’ve only collect $500 of that $1.000 in month 1, and the balance follows the month after, you’ll be $400 worse off at the end of month 1 than you were at the beginning. The bank account balance at the start of month 2 is now $600. Now if in the next month you grow 20% and sell $1200 and you make the same profit percentage (10%) you will have made a total of $220 ($100 plus $120) profit by the end of month 2.
We’ll assume that you collect at the same level (50%, in the month and the rest follows the month after). So the starting balance at month 2 is $600 plus the remainder of the collections from month 1 makes $1,100. Minus expenses of month 2 ($1,080) leaves a balance of $20, plus collections for the month of $600, so your balance at the end of month 2 is $620. In other words, after 2 months of profitable and growing trading you’ve gone backward by $380. And that’s if everyone pays within payment terms. If only 5% of your customers are late payers, you will go backwards even further at the end of month 2 and so on.
Obviously this is a highly simplified worked example, but it demonstrates the principle precisely. For this reason, in a growing business you must give at least equal attention to cash and profit all the time. You could argue that cash is actually more important than profit for two reasons: Firstly, you can continue to run a business as long as you have cash to pay the bills. There are many examples of big businesses that ran for many years without making profit, but who didn’t run out of cash (Amazon is one such example, Tesla seems to be another current example). And secondly, profit can actually increase your cash stress because profit leads to having to pay tax and tax simply takes cash out of your business.
Do you know your breakeven? And why you must hit it 4 times every month?
One of the most important things I do with new clients when I start working with them is to find their breakeven. Breakeven is the number of dollars you have to sell every month (or every day or week or year) to pay all the bills every month. What does it cost to open the doors and turn on the lights, in other words. I find that the simplest way to establish the breakeven is this:
Step 1: Look at last years Profit and Loss statement and find the total of all the overheads, the fixed costs of the business, rent, insurances, electricity, marketing costs, subscriptions, etc. Add to this the monthly repayments of loans and lease payments you have to make. Now divide that number by 12. This is the amount of gross profit the business has to generate every month, 12 months of the year.
Next step: By looking at the P&L for last year (or any other representative period), you’ll be able to see what percentage of revenue your Gross profit is. for argument sake, let’s say that your monthly overheads are $20,000. and that in the past year, your Gross profit has been 30% of revenue. Now we can do the sum to find out how much revenue you need to make, to “Break even”. The sum is: Overheads divided by Gross profit = Revenue. Or in this example: $20,000 / 0.3 = $66,666.00. In other words. Based on last years figures with a margin for error and inflation of 5% added, you have to sell $70,000 of your business’s products or services every month.
But that’s not the end of the story. To survive and actually break even you have to hit this number four times every month:
You have sell $70,000 every month.
You have to produce $70,000 worth of goods or services every month.
You have to invoice $70,000 every month.
And you have to collect $70,000 into your bank account every month.
If you miss out by even $1000 on any one of those four in any month, you’ll have to make up for that $1000 in the month after.
By introducing this simple discipline, your business and life will never look the same again. BTW: keep in mind that I’ve been ignoring profit in this topic. Obviously you must make profit as well. But first you must instill the discipline of hitting your breakeven 4 times every month at least.
Numbers: How would you like to be in control of your business?
Lastly I always teach my clients how to put and keep their fingers on the pulse of the key aspects of the health of their business, every week and every month. The Numbers, the KPI’s. The break even number I talked about above is obviously one of those key numbers, but there are more. Bank balance is a key number, so is gross profit and aged debtors. Then there are various financial ratios, such as the gross profit percentage and ratios like “The debtor days ratio” and the “Liquidity ratio”. More detail about ratios etc below.
Besides financial numbers and ratios, there are many other numbers and ratios in a business to keep an eye on. For example the number of enquiries in the past month, or the conversion rate (for every 10 enquiries, how many contracts were signed), average job value, or average sale. Warranty returns, customer satisfaction, you name it.
A client of mine who has a furniture removals business knows that he needs to keep a keen eye on his removalist’s wages as a percentage of total sales. If he spends more than 60% of sales on the wages of his boys, he knows he’s not managed the work schedule well enough.
Your business will have its own specific numbers and ratios that can tell you a lot about the health of your business. I often talk about the mailboat report with my clients: Imagine you are banished to a deserted island in the Pacific, without mobile phone or email, and the only information you could get about your business would be a single sheet of paper that would be delivered by the mailboat every week. What numbers would have to be on that single sheet of paper to tell you precisely what you needed to know about the health of your business, so you could send immediate instructions back with the mailboat?
I have a very good friend who has a small business that relies on his expertise. Clients come to him to resolve very specific and very complicated challenges. The people my friend works with are artists, promoters, designers, producers. The art world in other words
My very good friend is a bit of an artist himself, to be honest. But he’s also an absolute expert in his field. As a matter of fact there are few, very few, people with his level of expertise anywhere in the world.
So clients come to him when they want the best help in the world, when they want their project to win the big international prizes and when they want every single little detail seen to perfectly.
Given it’s a small niche that my friend operates in, a tiny one in fact, I’ve been surprised to see over the years how well my friend has done for himself.
But he continues to have cashflow struggles, every year again.
I found out why, the other day.
Being the last one to get paid
My friend doesn’t have payment terms or a collections system. And consequently, some of the people in the art world who are his clients, use him like a doormat. Time and again. Every year some of his clients think it’s ok to pay him last, after everyone else has been paid. Sometimes he doesn’t even get paid at all.
My friend doesn’t like systems. He doesn’t like bureaucracy and he doesn’t like policies. And he especially doesn’t like implementing systems to do with money. He operates in the art world and in the art world, money is treated as a necessary evil at best and as the devil’s spawn at all other times.
I get it. The people who engage him may be at the top of their game, but most of them don’t make enough money to pay the rent. They’re struggling artists. And my friend empathises with them and more importantly, he believes that part of what his business is on this earth for, is to facilitate the presentation of important art to the world.
Cash is the food in your business
That’s his Purpose, and as those of you who’ve read some of my musings in the past know, the Purpose of business isn’t about making money. I like to quote John Mackey, the founder of the multibillion dollar company “Whole Foods Markets” in the USA. John Mackey says that money is like food for a company. The food it needs to live and fulfil on its great Purpose on this earth.
Without food, adequate nutritious food, the company cannot fulfil on its Purpose.
My friend’s business must make money, cash, so that he can present the important artwork he’s involved with to the world in the best possible light, and so that his company can continue to do so for many years to come.
In our society, there simply is no other way.
And that means, my friend must put in place payment terms and collections systems and stick to them.
Sample payment terms
It’s a simple matter of adding a couple of standard conditions about payment to each proposal and each contract such as:
50% of each contract is paid up front.
35% is paid before delivery of the work.
15% is paid within 7 days of completion.
These are normal commercial terms. The promoters and producers and designers will recognise them for what they are, because if they are professionals themselves, they most likely have similar terms in place in their own contracts.
Once implemented, my friend needs to stick to those terms religiously and run a collections system as well.
A simple collections system
A collections system can be very simple, in the above example of 7 days payment terms, it could look something like this:
On day 8, a friendly reminder email goes out, asking if the invoice has been received and attaching another copy of the invoice. (Use a standard scripted email template)
On day 15, a phone call is made and a commitment is asked to a date by which the payment will be made in full. (Simple script for the phone call, so you avoid the awkwardness)
The day after the date the client agreed on, if the payment has not been made, a final demand is sent by email, with a date by which the payment is to be made and stating that: If payment is not made by that date, the debt will be forwarded to a collections agency, and that any collections costs will automatically be added to the outstanding amount. (Another standard scripted email template)
On this final date, the owner makes a phone call and a last email is sent (more scripts), warning that the debt is about to be passed to the collections agent. Email and phone call will remind the client that collection costs will be added to the debt.
The next day, the debt is forwarded to the collections agent. The client is advised that this has happened and that any collection costs will now be added to the debt. The business owner ceases to let it bother him or her, because it’s now dealt with by someone else.
This sounds like a harsh and inflexible system.
And it is, or rather it’s professional and clear.
Those people are liars
It needs to be. When people don’t pay, and they are given significant extra time to pay and they make promises to pay, but they don’t, they are liars and they have your money in their pocket.
My friend doesn’t like to implement a simple system such as this, because he thinks the artists won’t respect him in the morning and he (like all of us) really wants to be respected in the morning.
I told my friend three things:
If you implement a system such as this and you run it religiously, without fear or favour, you will be seen as a professional. In fact this is the most effective way to gain respect.
Who wants to be respected by people who are liars, who can’t organise their lives like adults and who think it’s ok to treat a person like you as a doormat?
Payment terms and collections systems, run consistently, work. They generally, at least, halve the number of issues businesses have with slow paying clients.
Implementing a payment and collection system and running it, religiously, means you’ll be treated as a respected business owner, not a doormat… I promise you.