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 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?
Business Drivers or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are critical information to running successful businesses. They are used by all levels of management in large business to monitor and identify trends in the business and make ongoing adjustments. But understanding KPIs and using them to manage your business is just as important in small business as it is in large organisations.
Typically, KPIs consist of both financial and non-financial numbers.
The key to establishing them in any business however, lies in intimately understanding the business and narrowing down to the critical indicators of the health of your business. The indicators that really tell you what’s going on and how the business is tracking against its strategies.
A course I did recently outlined McDonalds Australia’s business drivers and what their CFO tracked to get an overview of the business. The KPI “dashboard” contained approximately 25 business drivers such as:
Staff Turnover %
Total Sales per Store
One number to rule them all
All pretty dry and unexceptional numbers, but one stood out. Amongst the list of classical accountancy numbers was a single, surprising and simple KPI that summarised the overall health of the business.
So what was this magical KPI?
The number of Happy Meals sold that week….
When you consider this, it makes perfect sense. If Happy Meals are selling well it means many other things must also be true:
Advertising is obviously working as the kids are pestering their parents to go to McDonalds.
If Happy Meals are being sold you can bet that other products were sold on that same order as the parents or older children ordered something as well. This means higher top line sales, and higher $ value per total order. All impacting positively on Gross Margins.
Customer satisfaction is obviously positive as what kid doesn’t love a Happy Meal, and what parent doesn’t enjoy 15 minutes of peace and quiet?
It was an interesting lesson, most specifically because many small and medium businesses use financial data such as gross sales or profit to review performance and look for trends. Perhaps there are non-financial KPI’s that you can use to get a deeper insight in your business. Maybe you can identify your own “Happy Meal” KPI.
Get under the bonnet
The biggest opportunity in the development of your small business is to work out what the critical KPIs for your business are. Finding your KPI’s starts by conducting an objective review of your business from the outside looking in. It forces you to really get under the bonnet.
Ask yourself questions, such as:
Why do my customers buy my product or service?
Do they generally come back?
Do they recommend me or my product to their own networks?
What is my sales pipeline and how does it connect to my delivery and ongoing service or support pipeline?
If I am making products what are the elements in this process that set me apart from the competition?
Are my employees satisfied and is that being conveyed to my customers?
Ultimately conducting this analysis of your business would yield a few critical business drivers that are aligned with your strategy. These can be used to establish the same insights as the largest businesses that will allow you to monitor and review the trends and make the necessary adjustments to ensure your ongoing success.
What’s also important to consider is your ability to obtain and synthesise data from your systems, ultimately turning it into information for decision-making.
Do you know what your business critical KPI’s are and are you tracking them in a consistent manner in order to gain the right insight into your business?
What does it take to make a success of your small business… how can you avoid adding to those frightening statistics about failure rates of small business.
In this series of articles and associated webinars by the authors of “The Simple Steps for Business Program” you will be introduced to the basic concepts and knowledge that will set you up to become a successful ‘Business-Owner’, as opposed to a struggling ‘Business-Doer’.
The format of each episode in the “First Steps” series is to explain the basics of the topic and then in line with the principles of “The Simple Steps for Business” program, to suggest some “First Steps” you can take straight away to put the knowledge into action.
In the first of these articles we’ll look at Financial Management: What do you need to know and how do you need to apply that knowledge to put your business on a solid financial footing?
There are 3 principles you need to understand to manage the finances of a business well:
1) Why do we need to make profit?
2) Profit and cash are not the same thing at all and they don’t even have a direct relationship between each other.
3) Cash is what you must worry about all the time… not profit
Let’s address the principle about Profit first. The first thing to understand about profit is that it is not the purpose of business. Profit is a vital component of business, but it isn’t the reason the business exists. The Purpose of your business must be something much more important and something your customers actually care about. (More about this idea in the article about Purpose and Vision)
The 3 Functions of Profit
Profit has 3 functions:
1) To pay investors and stake holders in a business a return on their investment.
2) To provide the business with funds to invest in itself to grow or develop the business.
3) As the thing by which we measure how well we are doing in running the business.
The first function is straight forward, if someone invests $100 or an hour’s work into a venture, that person wants to see a return for that investment. That return can only be payed out of the profits of the business.
The second function is also straight forward, in that, if you want to buy a new machine or tool or vehicle for your business you need to have the money to pay for that. Profit is what provides that money. (You can borrow for that purchase of course, but then the purchase is effectively made out of future profits)
The third function is about this: How do we know if our business is going well or not so well? The only clear method to answer that question is to keep track at the financial numbers and profit is the most important of those.
The Simple Steps for Business … First steps:
As mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this article, we will suggest some “First Steps” actions you can take right away, that will get you started on implementing the topics and principles we discuss:
1) Have a look at a great blog post on the Times of London about the importance of profit in business follow this link to the resources page for this topic
2) If you are not already doing so, start by paying yourself a regular “wage”. A weekly or monthly amount you can live on as a minimum, and record this wage in your books as an expense to the business. You may decide to invest this money back into the business if you don’t need it to live on, but by paying yourself such a wage you will gain a more accurate insight into the profitability of the business and you will start to see how much money you are actually investing into the business and therefore should get a “return” on in the future.
3) Start a proper bookkeeping program (Xero, MYOB, Quickbooks, Saasu, Freshbooks) and ensure it gets kept up to date at least monthly.
Profit and Cash
The second principle about profit and cash is what brings a lot of small businesses unstuck. A large proportion of the businesses that make up the horrendous statistics on failures in small business do so because of a lack of understanding of this principle.
Profit is a simple sum (on paper) of sales minus costs. So if you sell stuff in a week for a $100 and it costs you $50 in raw materials that week and $25 in office costs, it means that you have made $25 profit that week.
Cash (your bank balance) bears little relation to those numbers in most cases. The $100 of stuff you have sold might not be paid for that week or even that month. You also might have had to pay for the raw materials some time previously and your office costs (staff and rent etc) may have to be paid every Friday. So that at the end of the week your bank account will actually be significantly in the red even though you’ve made a profit.
So cash needs to be calculated in a different and slightly more complicated manner than the simple profit and loss equation.
When thinking about cash it is useful to think in terms of flow… money flowing in and out of your account, like a river flowing into the sea. If it rains upstream in Queensland for example, it may take a month for the Darling River to start swelling downstream in South Australia. So when talking about cash we usually talk about cash flow…. Money flowing in and money flowing out. If more money flows into your bank account in a given period than flows out in that period, your bank account swells and vice versa.
The Simple Steps for Business … First steps:
1) Read this article: “Profit is a liability”, about the difference between profit and cash-flow by Roland Hanekroot follow this link
2) Here is an article in Inc. Magazine: “5 Ways to improve your cash-flow”. The article explains the long term strategies for improving your cash-flow dramatically. Read the article and ask yourself what steps you can apply in your business:follow this link
Cash is the main thing
And that brings us to the third principle that you need to understand about financial management of the business.
I said that the thing to worry about in your business is Cash and not Profit. For most people this is a counterintuitive statement.
The truth of this principle is actually much more straight-forward than you might think, because:
Only cash can be used to pay for stuff
Theoretically, your business may never make a profit and yet survive, as long as you continue to have enough cash to pay the bills, your staff, your raw materials, the rent etc. Obviously without making a profit, the business will ultimately run out of cash, but that can take years in some circumstances. So as a business owner who is committed to put his business on a solid financial footing, Cash-flow must always be your first concern.
2) Ask your accountant or bookkeeper for a simple cashflow spreadsheet and either start to use it yourself monthly or ask your bookkeeper to do so for you, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to start to get a handle on the cash flowing in and out of your bank account.
1001 Business Bedtime Stories… Truth 4, Financial Management
Amanda Owns a boutique hotel and learns to manage her finances so that she starts to make money and have a lot more fun.
Once upon a time… a long, long time ago in a country not unlike Australia…
Amanda owned a small boutique hotel in the inner city.
Amanda’s hotel relied on five different corporate accounts for a significant percentage of its annual revenue. The room rates that Amanda charged these corporate customers was fairly heavily discounted, and payment arrangements varied widely between the five accounts, with some bills being settled on the spot and others on payment terms up to 90 days.
Even though her occupancy rates were very high, Amanda struggled to pay her bills and wages most months.
Clearly something wasn’t stacking up. Two obvious conclusion might have been that either her costs were too high or her rates too low. But Amanda knew that her rates were in line with similar properties in the city and she managed her costs tightly.
Each week Amanda thought, “If it is neither my prices nor my costs that I need to change, what else is open to me?”
Amanda was going grey.
Working in The Bootcamp with me, Amanda came to appreciate the difference between turnover, profit and cash, and that she needed to give equal attention to all three. Amanda also came to have a better appreciation of her ‘break-even’ point.
It was time for Amanda to set up proper controls for all three financial factors and to set in place a minimum break-even point below which it was simply not possible to go.
So she did… and it took a lot of courage.
Through working in The Bootcamp, Amanda developed a series of financial reports that showed her monthly cash was short because all her profit and working capital was tied up in corporate accounts that were paid between 30 and 90 days.
Amanda also worked out that the minimum room rate she could charge and still break even was $115 per night at 100% occupancy rate, or $145 per night at 75% occupancy, but only if the bill was settled on the spot. Rooms that were paid for at 30, 60 or 90 days would need to have significantly higher rates.
Armed with this knowledge Amanda was able to negotiate better terms and rates with four of the corporate accounts. The fifth one didn’t want to come to the party and, although it felt like the scariest thing she ever did, Amanda stuck to her guns and stopped doing business with this company.
In a matter of four months, things started to turn around and Amanda’s bank account now looks healthier than it has in years. Through the process Amanda has actually gained two new corporate accounts, both of which settle their bills weekly with a corporate credit card, further adding to the health of her business. Amanda and her staff can now focus on what they are good at: making their guests feel at home.
And Amanda and her staff will live happily ever after… The end.
Ask yourself… Where will you find the courage to make profound things happen in your business?