Many business owners set ambitious goals for their companies—they may want to solve a big, thorny problem like climate change, or hit $1 million in revenue, or create a business that provides for their families and leaves a lasting legacy. But goals are the easy part. Business owners need systems to back them up.
Business owners not only need to make a great product or service, they need to market it and manage the financial side of the business in order to succeed. “A lot of business owners have a great mission, they know what they want to do but they have no system for how to get there," says Patrice Washington, a financial expert and coach who helps women create systems, structures and strategy to accelerate their business success.
In particular, “The money management part is critical for any business to be successful," adds Gregory Brooks, president of AMC Source, an association management company, and executive director of Institute of Management Consultants USA.
Whatever your business goal, here are some money management tips to help you succeed.
1. Identify key metrics—and measure them.
Step 1 is to have measurable goals that you monitor regularly. Key metrics may vary depending on the business. For example, for the membership-based associations that Brooks works with, there are two key metrics, he says: The number of members (up, down or flat?) and financials (What is the bottom line year over year? Is your revenue up or down?).
No matter what the particular metrics are, every business should develop some sort of dashboard to help monitor them, says Brooks. There are plenty of tools and apps out there to help you do that. Or you can develop on your own using a basic spreadsheet, he says. But, he advises, keep it simple—you'll be more likely to use it.
Another tip: Make use of industry benchmarks from companies in your peer group to assess your overall performance.
2. Get a handle on your numbers.
One of the impediments to meeting your business goals can be a lack of insight into the business. Traditional accounting systems are backward-looking and don't always offer the level of granularity needed. When Washington grew frustrated with the slow pace of her bookkeeper, she switched to an outsourced accounting service that allows her to do things like tag different revenue and cost sources.
By working on the things that matter, you're able to get to your financial goals sooner.
—Patrice Washington, financial expert and business coach
Now she is able to look at each aspect of her business, which spans media and podcasting as well as coaching, and identify which activities are contributing most to the bottom line–and how to optimize the mix. Armed with this new information, she schedules time every Monday afternoon to look over the numbers—a practice she calls “Money Mondays."
3. Focus on the bottom line.
That level of financial insight can guide strategy and decision-making. Washington used to enjoy doing one-on-one coaching sessions. But after she switched to the new accounting system, she discovered how much time she was spending doing that—and how little it was contributing to the bottom line. So she shifted to group consulting. By recording all of her knowledge and coaching tactics into a series of online classes, she was able to scale her coaching business and help more women. The price was less than the one-on-one coaching sessions, but the increased volume more than made up or the difference—booting her revenues by 220%. “I literally cried when I realized I had to stop one-on-one coaching. I was resistant, but it was the best thing," she says. “Because I was able to go in and look at my numbers, I was able to make that adjustment and remove the emotion from the decision," she says.
4. Enlist help.
Washington's top advice, however, is to focus on what you're good at—your genius, as she calls it— and outsource or delegate the rest. “There are things that need to be done, but if it's not your genius, it chips away at your energy." Washington recommends tracking everything you do for your business for one week. Then, go through and highlight the things “that only you can do and that light you up." In another color, highlight the things that you spent time on that don't have to be done by you. “Maybe you've gotten into the custom of doing them, but they're not really adding any value," she says. One client discovered that she was wasting 16 to 18 hours a week on non-value added tasks.
“By working on the things that matter, you're able to get to your financial goals sooner," Washington says. Business owners often think they can't afford help, but these days there are many work-for-hire sites, from Fiver to UpWork. “I think you can't afford not to get help. You can't afford to stay stuck inside the business doing things that are not your sweet spot," she says.
Brooks offers similar advice, noting that SBA SCORE volunteers helped him launch his business more than 20 years ago. “It's important to not think you are all alone in the world." Outside advisors, from trusted friends and mentors to consultants, can also be a big help, he says.
Photo: Getty Images