Keeping careful track of your business’s finances is a must-do task to keep your business healthy. Nevertheless, a huge number of business owners neglect their numbers, and their businesses pay the price. There tend to be two main types of financial blow-offs:
- Fully neglecting to track income and expenses by letting receipts pile up (or get lost) and failing to enter data into a bookkeeping system.
- Doing a decent job of keeping income and expense records up to date, but failing to use the numbers to answer questions about the business’s financial situation.
While I’ve definitely known more than a few business owners guilty of the abject neglect described in item 1, the second type of financial ignorance is practically an epidemic among owners of growing businesses. Over and over I hear owners admit sheepishly, “I don’t do enough with the numbers.” If you merely keep up with the basics, you might avoid true financial disaster. But you’ll definitely miss opportunities to thrive if you don’t use your data to make strategic decisions.
Getting Over the Hump
If you’ve had your head in the sand about your business’s finances, take heart: You are not alone (by a long shot). Tons of successful business owners loathe dealing with numbers. They regard financial management with fear, anxiety, insecurity or some combination of the above. Typically, they say they are simply too busy running the business to deal with tracking income and expenses or analysing the numbers. Affordable bookkeeping software can be used to automate most of the work, from tracking account balances to generating sophisticated financial reports, putting essential financial information at your fingertips.
If you really hate working with numbers or truly don’t have the time to do so, have a competent employee or outside bookkeeper do the job. However, as the owner of the business and the person responsible for guiding it, you do need to be in the know about your business’s finances. So if you hire someone to do most of the financial management tasks, make sure you’re in the loop and that you understand what the numbers mean. Don’t be shy about asking for guidance or mentoring from an accountant or bookkeeper. If you feel insecure about your level of financial knowledge, you’re in good company. Just make a sustained effort to learn as you go.
Financial Management in a Nutshell
The trick with bookkeeping is to establish a system early to help you stay organised. This can be as simple as a process for organising your receipts and files, as well as having bookkeeping software set up and configured. With a system in place, you’ll definitely be able to handle most or all of your bookkeeping tasks, even if you’ve never done them before.
Financial management can be broken down into three broad steps:
- Keeping and organising records of expenses and income. Financial management starts with keeping records of all the money the business spends (expenses) and all the money it earns (income). This means carefully keeping and organising your receipts and expense records (such as bills from the office supply store, invoices from your web-hosting company, and receipts of payments to your employees and freelancers) and your income receipts (such as a cash register tape of your café’s income, cheque stubs from your client’s payment cheques, or your invoices to clients marked ’Paid‘).
- Entering this information into bookkeeping software. On some periodic basis — maybe monthly for a small consulting business and daily for a busy café or retail store — you’ll enter the information from your income and expense receipts into a bookkeeping system. More often than not, this will be some sort of financial management software.
- Generating financial reports. Finally, with up-to-date information entered into your bookkeeping system, you’ll generate reports such as a profit/loss report or cash-flow projection (described below) to reveal how your business is doing.
Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Again, setting up a system will make a huge difference when it comes to entering and categorising data in your bookkeeping software. With your data entered, you’ll be all set to do the important (and actually quite fun) part of financial management: generating reports showing you the financial health (or illness) of your business. Generating reports is key to managing your business’s finances and making strategic decisions.
Financial reports summarise the data in your bookkeeping system to show you different aspects of your business’s financial situation. For example, a profit and loss report compares monthly income to monthly expenses to show whether your business is selling enough products or services to cover costs each month. A cash-flow projection shows similar information, but includes other sources of income such as capital contributions from owners or loans (that is, not just revenue from sales). It also organises the information slightly differently to show you whether the timing of your income is adequate to pay your bills on time.
By generating reports, you’ll be able to see trends and patterns in your business’s finances and identify profitable opportunities to pursue. You’ll also avoid letting your business simply drift along – or worse, run it into the ground. Here are just a few ways that analysing your financial reports will help your business:
- You’ll be able to price goods and services more competitively, pace growth more effectively and trim costs strategically — for example, you might cut back on travel expenses or outsourced services that aren’t helping to generate sufficient income.
- You may be able to reduce taxes by timing your purchases strategically and claiming all your deductible expenses — things that often escape businesses with disorganised records.
- You’ll be able to manage your business’s cash flow, ensuring you can pay important bills on time. Cash flow management is a critical element in every business. When it’s done poorly or not at all, you may find yourself short of cash when it’s time to pay taxes, payroll or other crucial expenses. This is exactly the type of scenario that forces businesses to close up shop for good.