Cash-Flow Therapy

So many businesses in the U.S. are undercapitalized; insufficient cash-flow is a factor in the demise of many ventures that might otherwise succeed.  Cash is king, it is often said, and the wise business owner will do what is necessary to maintain adequate cash-flow in his/her organization.

Make friends with the basic three financial documents and learn to use them as analytical tools.  They exist to enable your success and they will signal you when corrective action must be taken.

Monitor the top line of your company’s Income Statement (sales revenue/ billable hours).  Observe the ebb and flow of the accounts receivable (who owes your business money) and payable (to whom you owe money) on your Balance Sheet.  Make note of the beginning and ending cash balances on your Cash-Flow Statement.  Also on the Cash-Flow Statement, notice the cash sales (representing billable hours payments received as checks, for example) and the operating expenses.

Seasonal variations in billable hours/ sales can potentially exacerbate cash-flow problems if that is an issue in your business (the Christmas to New Year’s slowdown, for example) and pop-up emergency expenses can do the same.  Unfortunately, the outcome for Freelance consultants or other business owners can be a cash deficit, an especially unwelcome state of affairs in a month that involves holiday expenses.

But the primary cause of cash-flow woes is usually a result of persistently insufficient billable hours for services rendered or product sales, perhaps secondary to an anemic client list.

Former Wall Street Journal Assistant Editor Serenity Gibbons points out that if you  struggle to generate enough at the top line, you’re probably facing one of the following challenges:

  • The optimum target clients have not been reached by your marketing campaigns, or the message doesn’t address their priorities or aspirations.
  • The product/ service has limited value to the target clients, or your offerings are overwhelmed by dominant competitors.
  • The product/ service is perceived as too expensive for the value delivered.

It’s time to take control and consider what can be done over the short and long-term to correct the problem.  Do some homework and discover the basic challenges, concerns and goals (as defined by their respective industries) that would motivate your prospective clients and guide their decisions.  Determine why they’re doing business with your competitors and not you.  Moreover, make sure that you are pursuing the best target markets for your products/ services.

A second issue is an administrative one that plagues many Freelancers—-we fail to invoice in a timely and regularly scheduled fashion.  Help your clients to take you seriously and treat you like a “real” business by invoicing when promised. Take measures to improve the odds of getting paid on time and in full.  I’ve lived through this challenge and can report that with a small amount of discipline, it can be overcome.

Third, watch your operating (fixed) and sales related (variable) expenses.  How much are you spending to generate sales revenues/ billable hours? Limit what must get dropped into accounts payable and expand what drops into accounts receivable.

There are usually ways to stem the tide of cash-flow problems, that is, if you take action early enough.  You might start with revisiting your pricing strategy.  Ensure that your pricing reflects the value of your product/ service; that your prices are comparable to what competitors in your area charge for similar services/ products; and that you charge close to the maximum of what clients expect to pay for what you offer. Do some in-depth pricing research, using GSA MOBIS, the federal contract system, as a benchmark.  http://gsa.federalschedules.com/industries/gsa-mobis-consulting-pss-874/

Another useful tactic that serves as a band-aid for cash-flow glitches that are more inconvenient than problematic is your business credit line.  While you’re still able to pay bills on time and have a respectable credit score, investigate obtaining a business credit card through your bank.

Resist the temptation to charge business expenses to your personal credit cards!  Keep business and personal expenses separate and get your arms around the spending in each sector.  Furthermore, a business credit card usually has a much higher credit limit than a personal line and that allows you to more easily make investments in your business and earn cash back and points as you do.

Finally, if inflated business expenses, whether fixed or variable, play a major role in your cash-flow problems, then you will have some decisions to make (re: the selling expenses) and negotiating to do (re: the operating).  If you regularly pay on time expenses for inventory purchases, credit cards, or insurance, for example, get on the phone and ask for lower interest rates or a lower premium.  If variable expenses seem high, reconsider how much you must spend on marketing, advertising, sales and client entertaining.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Baccarat at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, NV, with Frank Sinatra (in black tie) as the card dealer (1959)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Baccarat at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, NV with Frank Sinatra (in bow tie) dealing the cards (1959)

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Understanding Break-Even Financial Analysis

Most business owners are familiar with the big three financial control documents: the Income (Profit & Loss) Statement; Cash-Flow Statement (or projection, when used for budget planning); and Balance Sheet. Those three statements are compiled monthly, quarterly and annually. They give useful insight into the fiscal health of the company. The smart business owner consults these statements each month, teases out the story that is revealed and makes decisions accordingly.

A fourth financial document, the Break-Even Analysis, provides forecasting information. The Break-Even is used when a new product or service will be introduced, or when a capital improvement or other upgrade is scheduled to be made.  The Break-Even indicates the amount of sales revenue the product or service must generate to cover the roll-out costs associated with its introduction or acquisition and therefore, positioned to become a decision that pays off.  A Break-Even is also generated when a new business venture is launched. The Break-Even allows the business leader to predict how long losses must be sustained and how to anticipate cash-flow comditions and management in response.

Break-Even is achieved when revenues = expenses; the business is neither making nor losing money. Business expenses are of two types, Fixed and Variable. Fixed Costs are the standard monthly operating costs and they are not impacted by sales revenue generated.  Office space rent, insurance, utilities and payroll are Fixed Costs.

Variable Costs are largely tied to sales: product acquisition or manufacturing costs, inventory purchases, the cost of materials used to manufacture the products sold and all aspects of marketing and selling costs.  As sales increase, Variable Costs increase proportionately, because more product must be purchased or manufactured to be available for sale.  Total Expenses = Fixed + Variable Costs, as recorded on the Income Statement.

When calculating expenses, it is standard to determine the relationship of Variable Costs to sales revenues.  The Variable Cost amount is divided by the number of product units sold,  yielding the Variable Cost per Unit.  In other words,  Variable Costs = units sold  X  variable cost per unit.  For the purpose of calculating Break-Even,  Total Expenses = Fixed Costs + Variable Costs (expressed as units sold  X  variable cost per unit). As always, sales revenues = unit price  X  number of units sold.

The Break-Even Point is reached when

Price  X  Units Sold = (Units  Sold  X  Variable Cost/Unit) + Fixed Costs

The difference between selling price per unit and the variable cost per unit sold reveals the amount that can be applied to Fixed Costs each time a unit is sold.  Think of it this way: if monthly Fixed Costs are $2000 and the average price of your product units sold is $2, with an average Variable Cost of $1 each,  when you sell a unit, you earn $1 to apply to Fixed Costs. With monthly Fixed Costs of $2000, Break-Even is reached when the business sells 2000 units per month.

Knowing how many units must be sold each month to achieve Break-Even is essential for effective financial management of the venture.  One can also calculate Break-Even in terms of dollars that must be generated each month.  In this example, Break-Even Revenue is achieved at $4000 in monthly sales, since the sales price is $2/unit and 2000 units must be sold each month to cover expenses.

A basic knowledge of the process of business financial calculations and the ability to interpret the data generated are must-have skills for all business owners and Freelance consultants. While it is true that one’s bookkeeper or accountant will perform the Break-Even on Quickbooks by plugging in numbers derived from the Income Statement,  it is always in your best interest to understand how the calculations are made and how to make sense of what the financial documents reveal.

When it is proposed that a new product or service might be sold, which might be the development of a new workshop to propose and teach or some other intangible service, a Break-Even Analysis will indicate how many units must be sold, billable hours generated, or classes must be taught before the production costs will be re-couped and the new offering will be positioned to generate ROI.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

2015 Year-End Tax Planning Thoughts

It’s mid-November and time for Freelancers to think about how much money we will hand over to the tax man this year. Tax planning is usually at top of mind as the year ends, but be advised that obsessing over taxes is not always useful. New York City CPA and small business tax specialist Michael Hanley recommends that you take a breath and consider the impact that aggressive tax strategies would have on your financial circumstances.

Hanley cautions small business owners and Freelancers against inflated spending on business expenses just to give themselves a lower tax bill, because tax deductions are not a dollar-for-dollar benefit. Every dollar written off as a deduction yields on average only 30 cents in tax savings (depending on your tax bracket and legal structure of the business). If you have a big-ticket item to buy and you anticipate that this year’s income and next year’s will be about the same, then buy when you can get the best price on the item, be it in this year or next. Your savings could be worth more than the tax deduction.

Hanley also addresses the apparently common tactic of zeroing out one’s business bank account by December 31. Paying for business expenses, adding to your retirement account, or purchasing business equipment or supplies will likely make the zero balance bank account tactic work. Paying yourself a bonus, taking a shareholder distribution if your business is a corporate entity, paying down your credit line at the bank, or paying off business credit cards will not give you legitimate tax deductions.

Professional development education is tax-deductible, so if you’re holding money and there is a potentially useful workshop or symposium offered late in the year, do register and attend. You might also consider throwing a Christmas party for clients, prospective clients, referral sources and selected business colleagues (meaning, no one who might steal a client!). Your Christmas party could turn out to be a networking bonanza that creates billable hours for you in the coming year (and beyond).

Clients and referral sources could come away with more business as well and that will make their relationship with you more valuable to them. If you can grab a big table or a private room in a restaurant that needn’t be fancy, but has a good reputation, then plan your party with Evite, even if a Monday night is all you can reserve.  Allow 7-14 days for the RSVP—last minute invitations can be just fine. Spontaneity has its charms, especially at this time of year.

To make sure that the social swirl and networking will be effective, invite 30 and expect 12 to show. Set out five or six finger foods and arrange for a signature cocktail. If someone asks for beer or wine, let them have it. Your party can run 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM. Most people will have two drinks, the restaurant will tell you how much food to set out. You will probably spend $60/pp, meaning that a table of 12 will cost less than $750.

You might also consider inviting your Linked-In connections to a party. It would be a wonderful way to introduce your colleagues to one another and billable hours could be created as a result. You may want to make this a pizza, salad, beer and wine affair, but so what? It’s a great idea, regardless. If you have 100 connections, plan on 25 showing up.

If it’s too late to host a party this year, the cards and stamps used for the December greetings that you’ll send to clients and referral sources are tax-deductible. If you act now,  there will be time to order specially printed cards for your business (you will still add a personal message).

Thanks for reading,

Kim

17 Start-up Screw-ups

Serial entrepreneur John Osher has developed numerous consumer products,  including an electric toothbrush that became America’s best-selling toothbrush in just 15 months.  He also started several businesses,  most notably Cap Toys,  where he built sales to $125 million a year and then sold to Hasbro, Inc. in 1997.

Osher’s most important contribution to American business may not be the companies he’s started and profited handsomely from,  but rather the business advice that he’s willing to share. His list  “17 Mistakes Start-ups Make”  became a Harvard Business School case study.  See what you can learn from his entrepreneurial experiences and use it to create your version of the perfect Freelance consulting business.

  1. FAILING TO ADEQUATELY RESEARCH THE IDEA TO ENSURE IT IS VIABLE

“The most important mistake of all.  I say nine out of ten businesses fail because the original concept is not viable.  You want to be in business so much that you don’t slow down and take the time to do the up-front research,  so the business is doomed before the doors open.  You can be very talented,  but your business will fail because the concept is flawed.”  Go to the library and do your research.  Read blogs,  journals and newsletters that pertain to the industry you plan to enter,  so that you’ll know what’s going on.  Develop a credible business model.

  1. MISCALCULATING MARKET SIZE, TIMING, EASE OF ENTRY AND YOUR POTENTIAL MARKET SHARE

“Most new entrepreneurs get very excited about their concept and don’t look for the truth about how many people will want to buy what they they’re selling.”  Take the time to research and understand targeted customers and get to know why they will want to buy from you or hire you.  Calculate your potential to penetrate the target market and grow a client list you can live on.

  1. UNDERESTIMATING FINANCIAL REQUIREMENTS AND TIMING

“Based on inadequate research noted in Mistakes #1 & #2,  fledgling entrepreneurs operate from the premise of over-stated market size and their ability to enter it.  They then start spending more money than they should on start-up costs,  creating costs that require those inflated sales projections to be met,  so they run out of money”.

  1. OVER-PROJECTING SALES VOLUME AND TIMING

“You have already miscalculated the size of the market.  Now you over-project your portion of it”.  Always another way to run out of money, no?

  1. UNDER-PROJECTING EXPENSES

“Cost projections are often far too low.  Part of the problem is that you’ve projected market share and sales volume that are too high.  There are always unknown reasons that come up to make expenses higher than planned”.

  1. OVER-SPENDING ON AN OFFICE, OFFICE EQUIPMENT AND EMPLOYEES

“Now you’ve got lower sales,  higher start-up costs and then you layer on too-high operating costs.”  I have seen colleagues maintain fancy offices when they have the ability to run the business from the kitchen table at home.  If you can take clients out to a restaurant for meetings,  then why pay for office space?  You can get a telephone answering service to personally take messages,  so it looks like you have a secretary.  I’ve done it for a dozen years.  Besides,  no one answers the telephone these days,  especially not in major corporations. When you need another pair of hands to take on a big project,  hire in another Freelancer and spread the wealth.

More next week.  Thanks for reading,

Kim

Year End Tax Planning 2013

Lo and behold it is the first week of November and time for you to begin your year-end tax planning.  If you have an accountant or bookkeeper,  pick up the phone and make an appointment.   If you perform these functions yourself,  then take action now,  before Thanksgiving and Christmas ambush you.  Your mission is to minimize the tax bill payable in April 2014.

Let’s start with your place of business.  Do you work from home?  Then consider taking the home office deduction.

Next,  take a look at revenue generated in 2013.  If this was a lucrative year,  you are advised to push income into 2014,  especially if you expect next year to be less flush.   Study the matter before you invoice late 4th quarter projects.  Call clients to confirm that it will be OK to invoice in January.  Many are not on a January – December fiscal year,  so deferring payment until January may not be a problem.

If you expect no substantive change in revenue generated from 2013 to 2014,  consider investing in your business and creating additional tax write-offs this year,  rather than next.  Remember also  to make a contribution to your Solo 401K,  IRA or Roth retirement account.  Freelancers who have already celebrated their 50th birthday are eligible to make a maximum $22,000 tax-deferred catch-up contribution to their Solo 401K each year,  on money generated from self-employment only.

Further,  those who’ve had a good year and hold a Solo 401K may deposit up to 25% of their income into the account.  The tax-deductible and tax-deferred income limit is $49,000 for those under 50 years and $54,500 for those aged 50 years and older.  See my post https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/the-self-employed-401k-plan/  for more information.

The Affordable Healthcare Act must now be factored into your year-end tax strategy.  Freelance soloprenuers who qualify for a health insurance subsidy (approximate income maximums of $45,000 for a single person household and $94,000 for a family of four)  need not worry about the subsidy being treated as taxable income.  However,  if your insurer refunds to you a portion of premiums paid,  that refund will be taxable and a 1099 will be sent.

Healthcare Act subsidies function to limit out-of-pocket  monthly insurance premium costs for those who generate revenues below a certain threshold.  The subsidy may be requested as follows:

1. Premium assistance credits, to reduce the monthly cost of health insurance

2. Up-front lump-sum payment

3. Tax credit on Form 1040, to reduce any taxes owed and perhaps create a refund

A statement that documents any subsidy will be issued and there will be an annual reconciliation.  If you underestimated your 2014 income,  you will be required to pay back a portion of your subsidy.  If 2014 income was overestimated,  then a refund will be somehow issued.  Visit the website of either your state or federal health insurance exchange to obtain information about how to estimate your 2014 income.

YOU will be responsible for monitoring your annual income and ensuring that you receive the correct subsidy.  Ben Tallman of Tallman Tax Service in Atlanta recommends that Freelancers monitor revenues and expenses at least quarterly and contact their health exchange and get themselves re-certified in the event of a large increase in income generated,  to reduce the chance of facing a subsidy claw-back at tax time.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

2012 Year End Tax Planning

OK folks,  it’s time to think about what  to do before December 31,  so that you can reduce your tax burden.  If you retain an accountant or a business and tax attorney,  make an appointment to discuss year-end tax planning.  You will have a few of the following issues in mind:

Full deduction vs. Depreciation

Depending on how much money you’re on track to make this year and your ability to reasonably project earnings for next year,  you will either make purchases before December 31,  or wait until after January 1.   Further,  you will either take the full up-front deduction on business equipment,  or depreciate business-related purchases and spread the deductions out over several years,  to soften the tax bite on future earnings.

If you did well financially this year,  you’ll probably take the full deduction on business equipment such as your new computer,  printer,  scanner and/or smart phone this year,  to add more expenses to charge off against gross earnings.   But if subsequent years appear more financially rosy,  then use the depreciation method and spread those deductions forward.

Remember all selling expenses

With the passage of time,  it is easy to allow a few expenses associated with generating revenue to get lost in the shuffle.  Did you attend a professional development conference this year,  or take a course?  Did you buy business books?  Pay to attend networking meetings?  Pay dues to join the chamber of commerce or Rotary club? 

You may deduct these expenses.  Proper labeling and immediate filing of receipts and posting of expenses into QuickBooks,  Excel or even an old-school ledger ensures that you will take all legal deductions in the quarter where they should be documented.  Make it easy for yourself to take advantage of every allowable deduction.  If you have not been on top of this stuff,  start looking for receipts now,  before you get tied up with Chanukkah and Christmas,  and record the transactions,  so you’ll be all set for the January 15 quarterly tax filing.

Retirement plan contribution

Especially if you had a good year,  make the maximum retirement fund contribution.  If you are 50+ years old,  or will celebrate your fiftieth birthday on or before December 31,   you are eligible to make the catch-up contribution of $5, 500.00 maximum.  If revenues generated were not stellar,  try to make the largest retirement fund contribution you can manage  (if you can manage). 

It’s not always possible to set money aside for retirement,  unfortunately.  Making money is often difficult,  slow paying clients ruin cash flow and living  expenses are rising.  It’s been reported that 40%  of the self-employed have no retirement funds available.   Many drew down to stay afloat while re-engineering  professionally,  following a lay-off.  Others used retirement money to launch their business enterprise.   As a result,  the retirement fund deduction is much underutilized,  according to the IRS.

Home office expenses

If your fancy smart phone or land line with bells and whistles are dedicated to business,  then you may fully deduct their purchase and monthly billing charges.  Ditto for your office supplies,  internet connection and other office expenses.  You may also deduct a portion of your heating and electricity expenses  (based on the square footage of your office space as a percentage of your living space).

Create boundaries

The fail-safe way to keep track of business expenses is to open up a separate business checking account and maintain a business-only credit card and thus separate your business and personal spending.  Automatically,  there will be a record of all business expenses.  Most business credit cards will provide a year-end summary of charges,  to help you along  (AmEx does this regardless).

Before the year ends,  get your arms around your business expenses,   allowable deductions and the impact on your tax burden.  As millionaires know,  it’s not just what you make,  but also what you keep.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Mind Your Budget

As you brainstorm survival strategies for yourself and your business, creating a budget may be a good item for the to-do list.  A good budget can help you manage costs, understand where your profit centers are (and are not) and most of all,  let you know if you’re really making money and if so, how much.

For Freelancers, the temptation is to simply add up the 1099s at the end of a quarter or year and assume that tells the story. Yet there are always costs of doing business and it is very important that we know where, how and for what purpose we are spending our money.

Do you really need to rent office space?  Is it necessary for clients to visit your office, or might it be perfectly acceptable for you to go to them?  What is the ROI on the networking events that you attend?  Be strategic and selective about the rooms you pay to enter and go to events where you get the most bang for the bucks.

After you’ve been a few times and met a few people, try cutting back to bi-monthly or even quarterly appearances.  If you want to keep in touch with colleagues in between, invite them for a coffee.

Tally your gross revenues and cast a cold eye on expenses. These are the foundation of any budget for any business, or household for that matter.  Managing expenses has a huge impact on the bottom line.  It is possible to lose money overall even if sales are strong, because you either spent too much (money or time) to make the sale or overspent on other operating and production costs.

So if you make and sell jewelry, for example, watch how you buy the raw materials.   Do you have the best available sources?  Should you buy more and stockpile inventory in order to get a better price? Pay attention to market fluctuations and buy big when prices drop.   Managing the cost of goods sold adds to your profit margin.

On the expenses side, be sure to divide fixed expenses (rent, salaries, utilities, long term payment obligations, etc.) from variable expenses (sales commissions, advertising, travel, etc.).  Make note of seasonal fluctuations.  Does business slow down in July and August—or pick up? Identify where you can trim expenses or negotiate a better deal.

Once you’ve figured out the money coming in and money going out over the past 2 or 3 years and assessed where you are,  you can then decide what financial targets you’d like to reach.   Maybe you want a certain overall profit margin on goods sold, or perhaps you’d like to have average net quarterly earnings of a certain amount?

While you’re analyzing gross revenue,  you may even discover that spending a little money will make it possible for you to make much more.  For instance, hiring an assistant at $18/hour to answer the phone,  send invoices,  deposit checks,  post transactions into a ledger or help make jewelry in preparation for Christmas or Valentine’s Day can give you more time to network,  prospect,  make sales calls or double your output of jewelry available for sale.

Especially for Freelancers and other sole proprietors,  how you spend your time can be factored into the budgeting process.  Digging into your company finances may just turn up some buried treasure.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Kim

Starting A Business? Consider Your Financials Part II

Learning to create the financial documents for your business  is a worthwhile endeavor.  Make yourself do it! You will gain a significant understanding of your business.  You will learn the art of financial analysis.

Retaining a bookkeeper and accountant to produce the monthly statements and prepare the taxes is not enough.   In most cases, they don’t know your business well enough to make important decisions.  They can tell you when to cut expenses, but they lack the hands-on overview that effective decision making requires.

That responsibility (and privilege) is yours alone.  Little by little, even those who may be intimidated by numbers can become comfortable with the process.  Every business owner is the company CFO.

THE PROFIT & LOSS (INCOME) STATEMENT

This statement demonstrates whether or not the business is making money.  It will be useful to generate  a P & L statement every month, to chart your progress and help you pay attention to what the numbers are telling you.  It is an excellent analytical and decision making tool.

Many entries from the Cash Flow statement will also be listed in the  P & L:  sales revenue generated from each product and service;  variable selling expenses such as raw materials, labor, equipment rental and advertising;  and fixed costs such as rent, office staff salaries and utilities.  When you’re financially able to do so the owner’s draw,  i.e. what you pay yourself, will be listed here as a fixed expense.

At the top of this statement, enter gross revenues (sales). There are also lines for beginning and ending inventory and cost of goods sold.  Subtract COGS from gross revenues to reveal the gross profit.

Fixed and variable  expenses are tallied and subtracted from gross profit earnings to give you the EBIT: earnings before interest and taxes.  Loan interest payments and all taxes are then entered and subtracted also, to reveal in the bottom line of the statement the net profit or loss.

THE BALANCE SHEET

The Balance Sheet shows the financial picture of your business on a particular date.  It demonstrates what the business owns and owes on a given date, usually at the end of the fiscal (or calendar) year.

The Balance Sheet is divided into 3 categories:  Assets,  Liabilities and Net Worth (owner’s equity).  All business assets such as cash in the bank,  equipment owned,  inventory, property owned, office furniture and accounts receivable are considered assets and are entered in the plus column.

Business debts and obligations, e.g. loans and loan interest payments, accounts payable and taxes owed are entered into the minus column.  Net worth emerges when liabilities are subtracted from assets.

THE QUARTERLY BUDGET REVIEW

The Pro Forma Cash Flow statement, which provides a projection of what cash can reasonably be expected to flow into and out of your business in a given month (or quarter), should be validated by a Quarterly Budget Review.   Also called the Cash Flow Statement, this document gives the actual cash flow numbers for your business and is created after the fact.

Now you can compare your best guesses to reality.  Are you over or under budget? What has been over- or underestimated? Do you need to trim or stagger certain expenses in order to pay the bills every month? How accurate were your sales projections? Moreover, how much are you spending to make the sale?

Needless to say it will benefit you to trim expenses wherever practical and control COGS by locating the lowest cost wholesalers and raw materials sources, to free up cash so you can comfortably pay the bills each month,  pay down business debts and  perhaps  allocate money for useful promotional and advertising campaigns. You will also want to take that owner’s draw as soon as possible!

We’ll conclude the money portion next week with a look at what investors and lenders will also want to see.

Kim

Starting A Business? Consider Your Financials Part I

So now we do the math. You will attach actual numbers to those sales projections, advertising strategies and monthly operating expenses. You will add up the items on your wish list and learn what you can and cannot afford to do.

You will see where adjustments must be made. You will develop a budget for the project,  devise a plan to finance it and greatly improve your chances of launching and sustaining a successful business. You will make your dream come true!

We’ll examine five financial documents:  Pro Forma Cash Flow;  Profit & Loss;  Balance Sheet;  Quarterly Budget Review and Break Even Analysis.  We’ll also take a look at the Financial Assumptions Summary and the Summary of Financial Needs, which are required for those who seek investors or a lender.

THE PRO FORMA CASH FLOW STATEMENT

This is the monthly (or quarterly) budget for the business.  If you run a household,  you already know how to do this.  The statement documents the expected ( projected) money that will flow into and out of your business. You as the entrepreneur will learn how much capital investment your business will need to keep the doors open and the products available for customers to purchase.  Investors and lenders will know if there is enough money to operate the business and if your business is worthy of a loan.

Accounts receivable are what customers owe you as payment for services provided by your business or payment for products sold.  Invoice= paycheck—with the important caveat that some customers will not pay you on time and a few will not pay you at all.  Accounts payable are the bills the business must pay each month.

At the risk of sounding painfully obvious, make sure that you have a very good chance of bringing in enough money each month to cover the bills, at least after doing business for 18-24 months.  Maybe this means you can’t give up your day job just yet.

If your day job is gone, then expect to dip into savings or convince friends and family to help you float the venture.  I will caution you that when it comes to friends and family, money can change the relationship, sometimes not for the better.

Refer to your marketing plan before you begin the cash flow statement.  Look at your advertising calendar and your desired ad campaigns, products that must be shipped, required travel to see clients, etc.  Determine the selling, or variable,  expenses.  These change whenever sales volume increases or decreases.

Labor is a variable expense, as it is tied to the production of what will be sold.  If you plan to open a restaurant and hire a chef, that employee is labor since he/she produces  the product.

Get a firm grip on your Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), meaning the wholesale price or the cost of raw materials needed to produce your product.  An intangible product or service also has a COGS— time and talent.  Knowing COGS helps you determine a mark-up, or profit margin, that guides your pricing strategy.  The objective is to not only cover production costs but also to generate money to sustain business operating costs and you as well.  COGS impacts pricing, which impacts  sales projections.

Fixed expenses are administrative.  They don’t change much month to month.  Rent, utilities, insurance, office supplies and wages to non-production employees (e.g. the sommelier at your restaurant) fall into this category.

New businesses producing the first few months of Pro Forma Cash Flow statements will be documenting start up costs.  If start up costs are too heavy, trim or stagger expenses wherever practical.

Quarterly tax payments,  loan payments,  loan money received and planned inventory purchases  are also documented in Pro Forma Cash Flow.  In other words, whatever you expect to spend that month and whatever you expect to sell that month,  document in this statement.

At the bottom of Pro Forma Cash Flow there is a line called Ending Cash Balance. Your mission is to have that number be positive and greater than zero.

If the numbers show that expenses will be very heavy,  do not even think about increasing your sales projections to disguise a cash shortfall! Unfortunately,  many entrepreneurs inflate projected sales revenue.  That practice will take you straight to cash flow hell when the projected accounts receivable do not materialize.  I can assure you that the accounts payable will materialize.

Your best option is to dial back on certain costs.  Consider less glamorous product packaging,  lower cost advertising,  lowering the COGS by finding another source or using less costly raw materials, or renting cheaper office space.

Nest week, we’ll examine the P & L and the Balance Sheet.

Kim