If you’re a small business owner, you might think about your business financial goals in a very straightforward way—you want to make more money to spend on your business and yourself.
But just as with personal financial planning, it’s not as simple as “making as much as possible.” Financial security isn’t a straight line, and it requires careful consideration. Sometimes you need to take a step backward so you can take two steps forward, or you need to take a detour to get to where you want to go.
Quite often, business owners get bogged down by their mission to make more money. They neglect themselves, their employees, their operations, and their future earnings in the search for maximizing the bottom line. If you do that for too long, your run will be short.
As you sit down with your accountant, bookkeeper, financial advisor, lawyer, or any other consultant to examine your small business’s finances, keep the following things in mind. You may realize that you’ve been so consumed by the business aspect of things that you’re actually hurting, well, your business.
Invest in yourself
There are often two roads entrepreneurs go down when they start a successful business. One is to pay themselves too much and endanger the health of the company with excessive spending on frivolous personal things. The other is to hardly subsist on their earnings.
The latter track is not necessarily to be admired. You need to build personal sustainability into your business model. You as a business owner will not function at a high capacity, and your business won’t function at all after a short time, if you don’t practice self-care by investing in yourself. This means spending on learning and development, or on admission to professional events and membership groups, as much as it means a decent salary. It also means planning for your exit or retirement—because if you don’t do that, nobody else will.
Give your business the tools it needs
Entrepreneurs are all about bootstrapping and DIY and, let’s face it, cutting financial corners whenever possible. There’s nothing wrong with this mindset—to a point. Eventually, you’ll realize that you and your business need to grow, or die. And that means investing in tools, services, and platforms that can take menial tasks and responsibilities off your plate and the plates of your employees.
If you have a custom socks business, you likely didn’t get into that industry in order to conduct payroll services, or manage a supply chain. You got into it because you love to make and sell socks. Therefore, don’t spread yourself worrying about tasks that can now be taken care of automatically. Payroll, HR, inventory management, asset management, sending invoices—these are all things that small businesses can now delegate to apps and third-parties.
Whatever nominal fees you pay to use them will most likely be recouped when you are able to turn your attention back to what you’re good at, and redouble your efforts, rather than divide your attention up among tasks.
Debt can be a tool
Most small business owners fear debt, and their reasoning is understandable. Margins are often thin for small businesses, and a bad couple of months can sink even a previously robust company.
There are, however, times when taking out a loan, or getting a business credit card, or using retirement funds, can be a smart long-term move for your business. If you take the time to calculate the return on investment of a small business loan, you might find that paying the interest will be worth the financial opportunities afforded to you by this influx of capital.
There are times when you’ll have to sacrifice profitability for growth if you want to survive long-term. Affordable, responsible financing is a valuable tool for profitable businesses—not a lifeboat for struggling ventures. (In fact, if you’re struggling to make ends meet, more debt is probably not the solution.)
Decreased costs are more important than increased sales
In a perfect world, your business would constantly cut its costs, without sacrificing quality, while putting out an increasing number of units that are snapped up efficiently by customers.
But since that’s probably not going to happen, let’s get one thing clear: Getting your costs under control is more effective than trying to boost your sales.
Sales are based on a number of factors that may or may not be in your control. Your marketing and branding efforts might work wonders, or they might not. A product you sell might be a hit during the holiday season, or it might not. Science, art, and luck all play a role.
Costs, on the other hand, are mostly within your control. Once you've clearly separated your business and personal expenses, it's time to ask yourself a few things: Are your operating costs highly variable and occasionally interfering with your business? Consider cutting deals that turn your utility bills into flat rates that you can plan for. Are you constantly losing inventory or having to shut down operations due to malfunctioning equipment? Tracking software can help you better manage your important asset investments.
Pay your vendors early to reap early payment discounts. Reduce hours in slow seasons. Basically, do what you can to control and cut your operating costs, and keep them as consistent as possible. From there, you can focus on boosting sales.
Charge what you think you are worth
It’s common for small businesses, particularly sole proprietors who offer a service such as consulting, to try to gain traction and customers by offering to discount their rates or prices.
This might be feasible for the first couple of customers in order to get your foot in the door, but you will quickly find that you are pricing yourself too low to sustain your business. If you think you are worth a certain amount per hour, or that your product is worth a certain amount—based on numbers you’ve actually run, not estimates or fantasies—then that’s what you should charge.
Discounting your work early on sets a precedent that can be hard to break out of, especially if you use a site like Groupon. Don’t let third-party sites or cheap customers encourage you to bring your price down—it’s not worth the exposure. If what you sell is worth the cost, you will find people willing to pay what you charge, and they’ll be happy with the results.
Lead generation is growth
Your goal as a business should always be to find and cultivate leads for your business to convert to sales. Don’t get so bogged down in servicing existing clients and investing in new ways to keep them that you forget about this fact of business life.
Yes, a loyal repeat customer is more valuable than a new customer—the cost of generating new customers far outpaces the cost of keeping existing ones. But customers can, and often do, leave at any time—even when they’re happy. Things happen and you need to be ready for the possibility that a long-time client will suddenly up and disappear.
Invest some of your profits in lead generation techniques, whether that’s social media marketing, blogging, a referral program, or networking, to name a few common ones.
ROI should always be top of mind
Doing business should always be about the numbers. Choosing one tactic or tool over another based on a whim, gut feeling, or anything other than calculating what the return on investment will be for your business is bad financial planning.
When moving in a new direction—a new ad campaign, or opening a second location, for example—you should take into account what the ROI will be for your bottom line. Are you running ads on Facebook because you heard that’s what small businesses do? That’s a nice idea, but does your target audience use Facebook? Would you be better served using that money on a different platform? That kind of thinking will get you further than if you just throw things at the wall to see if they stick.
Whenever you’re making a business decision, ask yourself: How will this add value to my business? If you can’t answer that question, go back to the drawing board.
Planning for the future today
If you haven’t considered these concepts when planning for your business’s financial future, it’s time to start. These are all central tenets of a business plan: Get everything down in writing and it will become a lot easier to see where your business is and where it should be heading. Plus, that way you’ll have a blueprint for success you can share with potential partners, investors, lenders, or anyone else who will also have a stake in your business’s success.
Just asking yourself the question of whether you’re planning your financial goals the right way is a good start. Now it’s time to start doing it.
Christine Soeun Choi is an SEO associate at Fit Small Business specializing in digital marketing. Currently based in NYC, she has a background in business studies and math with a passion for business development. When not helping small business owners, Christine enjoys taking photos, exploring artwork, and traveling.
The information and tips shared on this blog are meant to be used as learning and personal development tools as you launch, run and grow your business. While a good place to start, these articles should not take the place of personalized advice from professionals. As our lawyers would say: “All content on Wave’s blog is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice.” Additionally, Wave is the legal copyright holder of all materials on the blog, and others cannot re-use or publish it without our written consent.