Business Forecasting Helps You Make Money

Summer 2017 will officially arrive on June 21 and the warm temperatures promise to seduce us with sunshine and flowers. Summer is the primary vacation season and many businesses slow down with its arrival , with the exception of tourist industry service providers and wedding planners and their usual sub-contractors: caterers, florists, photographers, DJs and videographers, many of whom are Freelancers.  The rest of us, however, have to get creative and try to maintain our discipline and resolve as the heat and humidity conspire against ambition.  This lovely time of year can present a real financial challenge for Freelancers.  How can we remain productive and scare up some billable hours? Summer is the ideal time to devote attention to positioning  your venture to make money in the fourth quarter and beyond.

I suggest that you conduct business forecasting at your organization this summer. Business forecasting is the cornerstone of business planning and business planning is the foundation of enabling business profitability.  Forecasting helps business owners and Freelancers to objectively examine the monetary value of each revenue stream that the venture generates, so that it becomes very clear which lines of business are making money and the amount of profitability of each line.  Forecasting shows you where you should devote your resources and in that way generate increased billable hours, revenues and profits.

Forecasting in your Freelance venture is crucial: client work, teaching assignments, writing assignments, subcontracting work for other Freelancers and maybe even an under-the-radar odd job along the way to fatten the coffers are among the business activities in which we engage to maintain cash-flow.  It’s very useful to know which of these lines of business is worth more attention and those that you may want to drop, since the returns are meager.

Let’s face reality—we B2B Freelance service providers often don’t know when our next client will come along, or what s/he will want to spend on services when that happens.  It’s so easy to wind up scrambling from new client to new client without getting much repeat business, or adequate control over our earning capacity. That’s why it’s vital that we:

  1. Identify where the earning potential really is (and it might not be client work)
  2. Create strategies and action plans that promote successful participation in those of your business activities that are the most profitable

There are thousands of Freelancers who make their real money not from client work, which can be both scarce and erratic, but on other related business lines.  For hiilucky Freelancers who have national renown, that could be book sales, paid speaking engagements and paid writing assignments.  For others, it’s their coaching business that is the real profit engine.  In such cases, the client work is necessary to lend credibility and enable access to the other, much more profitable, activities.

So how does one conduct business forecasting? If you use Intuit QuickBooks software, you can build a model on that system.  If you have at least three or four years’ of client data in QuickBooks, you will receive much valuable, actionable information about your business, including:

  • Profitability and profit margins
  • Average revenue /client
  • Average billable hours /client

If you keep your financial data on Excel, review the past five years’ of invoices (or as far back as possible in a newer venture) and identify your top five or ten most lucrative revenue streams, whether that is client work or other related projects.  Invoice dates will reveal seasonal revenue generating patterns and the invoices will remind you of which of your services sells the most and which the least.  Billable hours and hourly or project fee rates should also be noted. It will take longer to generate the data, but as with QuickBooks, much valuable and actionable data can be extracted from your Excel based financials.

There are two basic methods of business forecasting, Qualitative and Quantitative. Qualitative forecasting models are based on market research and they’re most effective in predicting short-term cycles. Quantitative forecasting models are based on data and the approach is more effective than the qualitative model in predicting long-term cycles.

There are various types of quantitative forecasting approaches and for small and medium size business forecasting, the Time Series Method is most useful.  The Time Series Method uses historical financial data to predict future results.  When you go to your bank for a business loan and five years’ of your financials are requested, the loan officer is using the Time Series Method to predict whether you will be able to generate enough cash-flow and sales revenues to repay the loan on time.

Once you have your financials in hand, Step 2 of Business Forecasting is the development of a marketing plan that contains strategies and action plans that create the road map that your organization will follow as you seek to expand those business lines that generate the most revenues for you and consider dropping those that perform poorly.

When you see with irrefutable data that reveals which of your services brings home the most money, you will likely get a clearer picture of your ideal clients and the messages and marketing platforms that resonate with them.  An amended pricing strategy and/or sales distribution method may be instituted, as might tweaking of your business model.

Business forecasting reveals patterns in client activity that are often overlooked and the process allows you to anticipate demand for your services, reveals which services historically have produced the greatest sales revenues, reveals the types of clients that spend the most with you and in general, shows on what side the toast is buttered.

With objective confirmation of your best client categories and most popular services, you can concentrate on how to access those clients, including bigger budget clients within the categories and you’ll know how best to sell to them.  You will work not only hard, but also smart, to grow your client list and increase billable hours, revenues and profits and that will be the best use of your time during this glorious summer.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Doing Business As

To forge a successful career as a Freelance consultant requires courage, resilience, possession of marketable skills, relationships with people who are willing and able to help you get hired into one money-making opportunity or another, an affinity for selling, the discipline needed  to set goals, a talent for big picture thinking and setting strategies, and an understanding of human nature and motivation. The ability to attract good luck and dodge bad luck helps, too.

Precious few Freelancers are able to just “go to the office” everyday and take on the usual work.  In order to generate an acceptable number of billable hours, we understand that multiple revenue streams must be created and that we must learn to recognize the marketability value of segments of our overall skill set and learn to  package, promote and sell those segments to prospective employers, as well as target clients.

Take my revenue streams, for example. When asked, my short form elevator speech is that I’m an external consultant who provides business strategy and marketing solutions to for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. What that means in reality is that I’ve facilitated strategic planning meetings at not-for-profit organizations; edited a book and also served as its photo editor and project manager (it was published by the sponsoring organization); developed curriculum for a series of 90 minute sales skills training workshops; periodically teach business plan writing; and was made a staff writer at an online magazine targeted for women entrepreneurs.

Yes, I continue to do the business strategy and marketing assignments, but the fact is that there are always assignment gaps and I’ve learned to branch out and offer related skills that enhance my brand as they allow me to make some much-needed money.  In my experience, it is the ability to leverage your additional competencies that help a Freelancer to create and sustain a profitable business venture.

My friend Adela is a busy educational consultant who works with college bound high school juniors and their parents to first identify suitable colleges for the student and next to navigate the application process.  Her business seems to be quite lucrative, yet she nevertheless teaches Spanish at a local college (Adela was born and raised in Mexico and came to the U.S. to attend Harvard University).

Jackie, a friend of many years, launched a small, full-service fitness center that became very successful in that highly competitive market.  Yet Jackie has continued to teach fitness classes and train clients at a large downtown gym. Why? Not only does she earn a few extra dollars that a mother of four can always use, but also gets to observe sophisticated fitness center management from the inside and also receive instructor training in new fitness techniques that she can evaluate for inclusion in her own gym. Sometimes you can get paid to research the competition!

My friend Carole toggles between Freelance marketing for technology companies and corporate positions in that sector.  She’s a Lotus alumna who’s also worked for tech giant EMC, distinctions that command respect and open doors in the tech industry.  In between corporate gigs, Carole goes out on her own to develop marketing strategies for tech start-ups.  A couple of years ago, she was offered a position as director of marketing at one of those start-ups, but when the inevitable reorganization occurs, she’ll re-enter the Freelance life.

Now you, Freelancer friend, what else can you do to create additional revenue streams for yourself and if possible, enhance your skill set or obtain useful competitive information?

Sometimes an opportunity that is outside of your brand and strictly for cash-flow may present itself and I suggest that you discreetly take it anyway.  As long as running into prospective clients is not a danger, if time and energy allow, a pragmatic Freelancer understands the necessity of promoting cash-flow whenever possible.  Build up your retirement account, or use the money to attend seminars that provide professional development and potentially good networking.  It’s all about doing business as a solvent and successful Freelance professional.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

 

Achieving Objectives: Obstacles to Overcome

Whether you are building an architecture, accounting or law firm, financial services, or business consulting practice, going it alone as a Freelance consultant is fraught with challenges for all but the most well-connected. Let’s take a look at a few of the biggest obstacles that trip up those of us who’ve founded our own consulting shop.

Obstacle #1: You don’t own a business, you own your job

Eight out of ten consulting businesses never expand beyond the core services provided by the founder/principal. There may be administrative support staff, there may be occasional contract project-specific helpers, but these businesses are limited to the personal sales and production capacity of the founder/principal only. Typically, the founder is convinced that s/he cannot or should not bring in other talent to join in delivering the personally designed, boutique services to clients, a process that would make the operation scalable and capable of generating additional revenue.

Instead, if the founder/principal isn’t working, there are no billable hours, no accounts receivable and no revenue generated. Vacations are difficult to take, because they are financially risky. The founder pays twice: once for the vacation itself and a second time through lost revenue.  When the founder wants to retire, there will be no more money derived from the business. There’ll be no residual income harvested from decades of work done to research the market, decide the most marketable services to offer, identify the most logical clients to pursue, launch the venture, build a client list and develop a good reputation and brand. The doors will close and that is all.

Obstacle #2: Managing cash flow 

Let’s be brutally honest: many Freelance consultants do not have a truly dependable cash-cow revenue generator, regardless of the services provided. More often than any of us want to admit, we can drop a stitch when it comes to invoicing clients and that depresses our cash-flow. Too many accounts receivable may become past due and some will be difficult to collect. As a result, accounts payable may be late and interest charges may be incurred. Building up a capital reserve fund that can be used to help the business grow is therefore difficult.

Obstacle #3: Finding and keeping clients

Most Freelance consultants become founding principals of their own venture because we are respected experts of our core services, but many dislike sales and marketing. Others are too overwhelmed to keep up with the marketing plans they’ve designed.

As noted in Obstacle #1, if the founder/principal isn’t generating business and that means not only working on the in-house projects, but also networking to search for new business; identifying, if not creating, additional revenue streams; working in said revenue streams whenever possible; and trying to maintain good relationships with current clients, then none of it gets done. When new business is not created, slowdowns are likely to occur, along with gaps in income and cash-flow problems.

So what is the solution? Really, searching for a business partner who will join you would be most desirable, but that’s easier said than done. Partnerships are tricky to sustain. Hiring someone outright means that you have to make payroll every week. Is your consultancy generating that kind of reliable revenue?

There is no one answer because every consultancy is different. Founding principals of architecture, accounting, financial services and law firms may have an easier time than some other service providers — interior design or business consulting — because the former services are more “standardized” and less boutique- personal.

The latter typically guard clients jealously, because there are usually fewer of them. Sill, some cautious experimentation may be possible. The next time I hear about a project that is too big for me alone, I will think about who can help me and if I win the contract, evaluate that person for a partnership. Maybe the stars will align?

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Got Help?

Freelance consultants usually work solo,  building a client base gradually over time,  developing and refining our personal brand and deriving great satisfaction from operating our boutique enterprise.  We take pride in keeping the show on the road all by our lonesome,  whether we’re making a killing or bumping along.  Especially in a troubled economy,  fear of an inconsistent paycheck causes the majority of us to avoid hiring help.   However,  an unbiased examination of reality may show that this practice could depress one’s earning potential.  To test the premise,  I invite you to ask yourself four questions.  Do any of these conditions exist  in your business?

  • You neglect following up on leads because you’re too busy working,  servicing clients or doing administrative duties such as billing and bookkeeping.
  • You’ve turned down business,  because you don’t have time to take on another client.
  • Revenue is no longer growing because you are not meeting prospects that you can persuade to become new clients.
  • You have only one client (although perhaps a good one).

Hiring help may resolve those problems,  but the process can be scary.  Who can you trust to enter your business,  advance its goals and not make you look bad? Can you be certain that there will be sufficient cash flow to make payroll?  Which duties should you hand over to an outsider?

The decision to hire begins when you let yourself recognize when it’s time to hire.  To ease your fear,  re-frame the scenario and think of an employee not as an interloper and a drain on your expenses,  but as a potential revenue enhancer who will give you time to apply to activities that will grow your business.

You’ll need a job description,  so decide what it is you dislike doing and what functions can be taken from your plate.  For example,  if you dislike billing,  bookkeeping,  answering the telephone and/or making Power Point presentation slides,  you’d hire an administrative assistant.  A call to Katharine Gibbs or other secretarial schools will give you a source of applicants who are vetted through the school and likely to be qualified and trustworthy.

If prospecting and account executive duties are not your favorite,  then you need someone who will help fill your sales pipeline,  follow-up on potential speaking and teaching engagements,  write press releases and assist with certain client needs.   Vetted candidates with marketing and sales skills can be accessed through university MBA programs.

Next,  make a quantitative assessment by doing a 12 month revenue projection,  to demonstrate that you can comfortably expect to meet all fixed and variable expenses,  including your owner’s draw,  and also fund an employee.   Search Craig’s List to determine the going hourly rate in your geography for the skill set you need.  Following that,  check with your accountant or tax attorney and get the latest info on tax breaks for hiring within special categories,  such as the long-term unemployed,  and how that can help subsidize your employee.  Your tax attorney or accountant will also advise you on payroll withholding and may do payroll for you  (or recommend a bookkeeper or payroll service).  All those expenses will be included in your hiring process financial projections.

Interview three or four candidates.  Check references.  Start small and hire someone for a three month trial for maybe 8 – 10 hours/week,  to see how things work.  Once you get your new hire trained and operating at full capacity,  you may be pleasantly surprised by how much more revenue-generating work is taking place!  If for some reason your new hire isn’t working out,   make sure that you are communicating expectations appropriately.  If you can assure yourself that you are doing so,  then hire another candidate.

Establishing a profitable business requires the effective  management of all resources and that includes staffing.  Freelance consultants must be especially aware of resource management,  because we go it alone and the  list of what it takes to run a viable business continues to grow.   We love what we do,  but keeping the bases covered is time-consuming and can be  exhausting.  Before you dismiss the idea of hiring help,  realize that doing so may limit business growth and revenue.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Business Finance Resolutions for 2012

Happy New Year!  Thank you for coming back in 2012.  The New Year is here and the time is ripe to take a fresh look at how you can bring more revenue and profit to your Freelance business.  The purpose of this blog is to inform and inspire readers to create the conditions that will generate a successful and rewarding Freelance consulting career.  Let’s get the ball rolling and look at how effective financial management promotes that goal.

Resolve to skillfully manage cash flow

Cash is king and cash flow is the life blood of every business.  Nothing flows unless the cash does.  Cash flow management means knowing how much money is expected to enter your coffers and when those checks are expected to arrive,  along with knowing how much money must be paid to creditors and when those checks must be sent. 

Even if you show a profit on your P & L,  it’s possible to have insufficient cash in hand to pay monthly bills and other accounts payable.  We all know that working as a Freelancer can be a cash flow nightmare,  so it’s vital to get arms around the accounts receivable,  or else sleepless nights will haunt.

Cash flow management actually begins in client meetings.  Once your project fee has been addressed and agreed upon,  diplomatically state that 15% – 20%  is paid at contract signing and that invoices are payable upon receipt.  Payment schedule for the balance will depend upon the length,  type and cost structure of the job. 

Whatever you do,  don’t allow more than 35%  of your fee to be payable at project conclusion  (unless it’s a small job).  Take steps to discourage the client from preserving his/her organization’s cash flow at your expense.  Write payment terms into the contract,  right along with the scope of your work,  deliverables and start date.

Resolve to get paid what you are worth

Establishing value and getting paid for same is the goal in every service business,  whether it’s teaching piano or being a nanny.  Your pricing strategy should reflect the value that your services bring to the client.  Needless to say,  pricing supports  cash flow and revenue.  To identify an appropriate fee range,  pricing experts recommend that you focus on four factors:

  • The perceived value of the services your provide
  • The demand for your services  (and your reputation as a purveyor)
  • What’s involved in the delivery of your service  (time = production cost = the Freelancer’s cost of goods sold)
  • Your mark-up / profit margin

Resolve to create and analyze the basic financial statements every quarter

Freelancers have a good idea as to how we’re faring financially,  because we either have the desired amount of money in the bank or we don’t.  We either have jobs in-house or we don’t.  We have either big jobs in or small jobs.  Like a balance sheet,  your bank statement provides the snapshot of your financial picture at a given moment.

There’s nothing like creating and then actually contemplating and analyzing one’s cash flow and income  (profit & loss)  statements to truly grasp your true financial picture and most importantly,  receive clues as to what would be advantageous for you to do about the business model,  sales and/or marketing segments of your consultancy.  Smart business decisions are invariably data-driven.

As you analyze your financials over the years,  you may identify regularly occurring busy periods and decide to hire temporary help or bring in a Freelance sub-contractor,  to give you another pair of hands at those times and allow yourself to make more money. 

Slow periods will likewise be identified.  You’ll be encouraged to find a way to either stimulate business during those times by incentivizing clients to hire you,  find temporary work,  find classes to teach (if that’s one of your competencies),  or engage in prospecting,  networking and professional development activities.

Next week,  I’ll return with more business-themed New Year’s Resolutions for 2012.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Face Your Financials

Although you may have both an accountant and a bookkeeper on your payroll you, the business owner,  still bear the ultimate responsibility for maintaining the financial health of your enterprise.  Every business owner should be able to understand and make good use of business financial data.  Each financial statement has a story to tell and you the business owner must be able to decode the language and comprehend the information that the numbers relay.

There are three financial documents that are generated monthly  (and also compiled quarterly and annually): the Balance Sheet, the Cash Flow Statement and the Profit & Loss  (or Income)  Statement.

  • The Balance Sheet resembles your checking account monthly statement.  This document details business assets and liabilities,  showing the monetary value of all the business owns and what it owes.
  • The Cash Flow Statement is the business budget and shows what sales revenue will flow into the business and what expenses will flow out.  This document helps you stay on top of how much money is available to cover expenses,  like payroll and rent.  Accounts payable  (the bills)  and accounts receivable  (sales revenues)  are listed on this statement.  If you’ve ever managed a household budget,  then you can master the Cash Flow Statement.
  • The Profit & Loss  (or Income)  Statement is similar to the Cash Flow Statement.  It contains many items that are also found on the IRS tax form Schedule C,  Profit or Loss From a Business.  Sales revenues and expenses are listed on this statement,  including labor,  taxes,  inventory  and the wholesale costs of products sold.  Net Profit (also known as the bottom line)  is  the last line of this statement and this figure represents the ultimate story of business financial health.

One does not need a degree in accounting or an MBA in finance to identify which numbers on financial statements are most critical to your business and understand the story that each one tells.  Keeping track of five or six key values,  including values called ratios,  will do wonders for your comfort level with financial analysis and in the process,  guide your business decisions in many ways.

  • Gross Profit  in the P & L tells how much money remains after selling and product production costs,  or the wholesale cost of products sold,  have been tallied.  Freelancers calculate this figure as time: how many hours were spent on your contract project,  networking to create new business,  developing a new workshop? Make a reasonable estimate of the wholesale cost of your labor.  This figure gives insight into how much money/time  it takes to make a sale.  Can you work smarter and faster,  or buy materials for products manufactured more cheaply? That’s how to increase gross profit.
  • Net Profit,  or the bottom line of the P & L,  tells the ultimate story.  Every line item that precedes it impacts it.  If you want that number to be larger (and don’t we all?),  look at all expenses to see what can be trimmed and also consider ways to generate new business through strategic partnerships,  referral relationships,  networking for client development,  PR,  etc.
  • Gross sales revenues  in the P & L may be tracked in two ways,  looking back over what occurred in previous months or years  (historical comparison)  and going forward  (projections, or forecasting)  to what you reasonably expect and want to sell in a given period,  guided by sales history and current demand for your product/service.  Are you achieving,  exceeding or failing your personal sales goals?

Finally,  see your Balance Sheet and calculate these ratios,  to expand your grasp of the financial data:

  • Quick Ratio = Accounts Receivable + Cash – Inventory divided by Accounts Payable    This figure indicates how much money is available to pay bills.  A 2:1 ratio represents a business in good shape.  However,  a big receivables number can mask clients who take longer than 30 days to pay,  thus signaling the owner to step up collection efforts.
  • Current Ratio = Assets divided by Liabilities   This figure measures resources available to pay debts over the next 12 months.  A value > 1.0 shows a business in good shape,  > 2.0 is a business in excellent shape.
  • Working Capital = Current Assets – Current Liabilities   This figure also demonstrates the ability to pay off short-term debts.  Obviously,  a positive number is what you want.
  • Debt to Equity Ratio = Total Assets divided by Total Liabilities   This figure indicates how much debt the business carries relative to its assets.  A value <0.5 is excellent and values > 0.5 mean the business is carrying rather heavy debt and is considered highly leveraged.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Seven Resolutions for 2011 Part 1 of 2

Happy New Year!  You had to see this coming,  so here we go with the resolutions.  We’re at the top of the year and it’s a time-honored tradition to look forward and plan to succeed.  I hope the list that I’ve pulled together inspires you to get busy.

1.   Set financial goals  

Whether you’re 35 or 55,  financial goals are a must.  Establishing these goals as a Freelancer presents a  unique challenge,  because our incomes are often neither predictable nor secure.  A fickle revenue stream makes adequate planning even more of an imperative.  We must get our arms around the money thing and take as much control as possible.  Our ability to live a comfortable life throughout our lives depends on it.  The idea is to avoid going broke,  especially in the elder years.  Those with a  steadily employed spouse have a huge financial advantage,  while those who are single or married to a fellow Freelancer have more variables and hence  a more challenging mountain to climb.  Consider what you want your balance sheet to look like in five years and make an appointment to discuss your financial wish list with your accountant.

2.   Develop a budget  

You may be expert at monitoring and tracking expenses,  but developing a budget encourages one to anticipate the year’s fixed and variable financial obligations,  as well as revenue that is likely to be generated.  One budgeting objective can be to prepare for the inevitable peaks and valleys in a Freelancer’s revenue stream.  When do you typically bill the most hours and when the least?  Which annual conferences do you like to attend,  when and where are they held and what is the cost?  Where and when is it (or might it be) advantageous to advertise?  Have you been mulling over the idea of making upgrades in certain of your marketing materials?  What about your credit needs—do you need to apply for another card to help float strategic expenses,  or can you cancel one?  When can you make contributions to your retirement fund and what should that amount be?  Can you take a vacation this year,  when can you take it and how much can you spend?  The idea is to figure out how to pay for what you must do and also cover a couple of items from your wish list,  to reward yourself.

3.   Review business priorities  

Should you form a strategic partnership,  to give your business entrée to a new segment of your market?  Should you aim to sign more new clients,  or focus on obtaining repeat business from previous clients?  Or would it be wiser to try wringing more billable hours out of your current roster?  Which clients might be most amenable to which strategy?  Also,  should you do more teaching and/or speaking this year? Which institutions will benefit your reputation and client list the most?

I’ll be back to complete the list of resolutions next week. 

Thanks for reading,

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 Marketing Strategy Part III

Even if you will not seek financing for your business and the marketing plan is for your eyes only, you will thank yourself many times over if you take the time to thoroughly research and account for all aspects of marketing, especially sales expectations for your products and/or services.  Make sure that you  understand  exactly how you will  make sales contact with prospective customers.  In your plan, note whether your business will sell primarily  B2B,  B2C  or  B2G.

THE SALES STRATEGY–PROJECTIONS

Sales is the tactical manifestation of marketing.  The theories of marketing are brought down to earth to make contact with the customer and will be validated (or invalidated) by the sales revenue generated.

When planning a new business venture it will be necessary to make sales projections (also called forecasting), ideally for 36 months into the future, to give yourself an idea of the revenue potential of your business.  It’s sort of like fortunetelling, but there are resources available to help you make a reasonable estimate.

Marketresearch.com gives current industry profiles and other data, covering 16,000 lines of business in 300+ markets. You’ll need to become a registered user;  some (but not all) info is free.  Another excellent source for business data is Boston Public Library’s Kirstein Branch. You can access certain info online at bpl.org and most is free.

Example:  in your business, you are the only sales person during the first year.  If sales are promising, you may decide to hire 1-2 sales people in year two and maybe another 1-2 more sales reps in year three.

There is data that gives the average sales revenue per full time sales representative in nearly every industry. That data will allow you to chart your expected gross income for the year, based on the number of people selling for you.

However, bear in mind that a new business is unlikely to achieve the benchmark figures during the first 3-5 years of operation.  Remember also that gross revenue is not net revenue—there are expenses associated with selling like salaries, product brochures and office supplies.

Competitive intelligence data can help confirm the accuracy of your sales projections.  However,  Freelancers and those competing with privately held companies will not be able to ascertain how much revenue is historically generated yearly by those competitors since the data is not public.

What I’ve discussed here is known as the Comparative Method of projecting sales.  It is generally more useful to project for new businesses using this method. There is also the Build-up Method, where the entrepreneur identifies all likely revenue streams and then estimates the dollar volume that can be extracted from each source in a given month (or quarter).  The Build-up Method tends to work best for businesses that have been up and running for a few years and therefore have a sales history and documented revenue streams.

Finally, consider the impact of  sales trends for your industry (meaning consumer demand) and the relative strength of the local and regional economies on your products/services.   Sales projections will never be 100% accurate.  It will be wise to keep your forecasts conservative.

THE SALES STRATEGY–CUSTOMER CONTACT

How the business owner makes contact with prospective customers will be governed by a number of factors, one of the biggest being is this an online business or is it in real time?

If  you expect to sell online, be sure to have a website with a good shopping cart set up and secure credit card processing.  Your website will function like an ambassador and an employee,  so create  it with respect. The site must communicate your brand very well, must download quickly every time and must be user friendly.  A content management system will allow you to keep the site updated yourself.

Driving traffic to the site will be your #1 job and search engine optimization will be critical.  As was suggested in a  comment to last week’s posting, internet discussion groups are a very useful way to connect with customers and create buzz.  They are a great way to drive traffic to your website.

Catalogues do double duty, allowing customers to order by telephone or the website. They are expensive to produce (product photography is costly) and print, but they still catch the customer’s eye and are widely used by the likes of LL Bean and Staples. To the customer a good catalogue is a keeper, so you don’t have to print more than once a year.  Get a toll free phone number for customer convenience.

Next, decide whether the best way to sell to customers will be face to face or by telephone.  What is traditional for your business, meaning what do competitors do? Of course, you can create your own style.  Your sales may occur primarily by telephone, but a visit to prospects to introduce yourself to decision makers and gatekeepers can be a wonderful way to separate yourself from the pack and develop relationships.

Other selling methods include bid submission (e.g. the trades or selling to the government), referral arrangements and inclusion on preferred vendor lists (e.g. caterers and florists  at a function space).  For some businesses, two or more customer contact methods will be used to generate sales.

Next week we’ll start talking about money.

Kim