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Over the last 15 years, we have been incredibly lucky to speak with hundreds of creative women, from artists and designers to small business owners of all types. They’ve all shared a mix of practical advice and motivation with our readers who’ve been anxious to go out on their own and start their own businesses. We’ve heard a lot of success stories, but we’ve also heard some hard-won lessons, too. Most of those tips and advice all share a common thread: finances.
No matter what you do, managing your finances is at the top of any successful business’ to-do list. We learned early on here at Design*Sponge that, while it can be extremely daunting, changing your lens to view even the “bad news” as good information to grow from can be a powerful way to evolve and improve your business over time.
While most of us don’t love tax season, we’ve learned that it can be a great opportunity to take a detailed look back at the last year’s financial successes, surprises, and set-backs. It’s important to be empowered by your vision for the future and remember that what your inner-saboteur may call a “failure” is really just an opportunity to learn.
For creatives and the self-employed community, cash flow problems can feel like a punch in the gut. They can sometimes even cloud over any good news we get, like a 6% increase in sales or 60 new customers in twelve months. Because if you don’t have money in the bank, you’re clearly doing something wrong, right? Nope! It just means you need to work on your planning and timing. That’s why tools like Quickbooks can help you get (and stay) on track for the year. These tools can also serve as an important reminder to be conservative and objective about every aspect of your business, except your creativity.
Over the years, we’ve organized tours for our books, hired a lot of illustrators and, of course, paid so many talented writers not only for our site, but for Good Company Magazine. Managing all of our invoices, W9s and different account payable accounts can become a time consuming process, so leaning into tools like Quickbooks has been an important part of organizing our financial lives. Running your own business or being self-employed isn’t a walk in the park on most days so having a central place for all finance related docs can really help corral papers (and organize your thoughts, too).
Waiting to get paid is frustrating and can contribute to avoiding a regular check-in with your finances. So we always suggest rewriting that part of your small business journey if avoidance is an issue you, too face. Take advantage of and invest in tools that can help. Use a weekly check in to dust the cob webs so you can get back to the creative aspects of your business.
To get over the pain point of checking in, here are my tips:
Update your books & transactions in accounting software like Quickbooks at least once a week. (You can connect your bank account and let your accounting software do this for you so you can just review the numbers.)
Make a physical note on paper with the amount of cash you have in the bank. That’s your checking account balance. How much do you have and how much do you need to spend? Calculate what expenses you’ll have next week – things like supplies, bills due or rent.
Make sure you have enough cash to cover your expenses. If you don’t, you need to figure out why. Do you have more expenses than income? Is it a timing issue because you’re receiving your income to late? Income usually comes in when it comes in, despite the terms you’ve negotiated and put on your invoices. Sadly, bills are due when they are due with out grace periods. Don’t be afraid to use tools like Quickbooks to send out statements to the accounting department every week until you are paid. Friendly personal notes or reminder to the person you worked directly with help too.
If you have more expenses than income, you have a problem that needs to solved as soon as possible. It may be unpleasant, but if you don’t addresses the issues, your business can suffer (a lot).
Here are the questions I ask myself when my business expenses exceed my monthly income:
Are my expenses too high? Am I spending too much on creating the product? Too much on general business expenses, like web hosting, software platforms, etc.? This is when you need to revise your costs and expenses that are out of balance or not absolutely necessary.
Is your pricing too low? Or do you need to sell more of what you’re selling? Review and revise your pricing, marketing or both.
Be conservative and objective about every aspect of your business, except your creativity.
Cash flow issues are a common problem a lot of businesses deal with. Take charge of the ebb and flow of your accounts by answering the following questions and taking the necessary actions.
Can you change the due dates for bills and expenses?
Can you pay larger bills in smaller amounts? For example, paying employees bi-weekly instead of once per month can sometimes help even out your cash flow.
Can you cut back on expenses in the short term to build up a cash reserve? Reining in expenses like dining out and subscriptions can help you reclaim some cash for your reserve.
Think about changing or renegotiate the terms of payments from large clients. Don’t feel bad requiring a deposit for large dollar orders or setting up installment payments that spread over the life of your production or service cycle. Think 25% upon the signing of a Purchase Order or Agreement, 25% at the time production starts and the final 50% upon delivery of the product or service. We do this whenever possible! Quickbooks helps you by sending out recurring invoices or statements so that the payment schedule stays top of mind with your customer. It will also show you visual representations of everything so that you can zero in on trouble areas.
You can borrow money with a line of credit or use credit cards and pay them off when the money comes in, but that adds a another layer on some things you’re still getting comfortable with. If you choose to go this route, do it cautiously or with the guidance of a professional account if possible. The fact that you’re even considering loans or financing can be just reminder you need about those customers who still don’t pay on time and how you might have to break up with them.
Invoice & remind every week make sure the invoices are going to the Accounts Payable department if there is one, not the person who has ordered your product or service and that you interact with or take orders from. Again, take advantage of the bells and whistles Quickbooks offers and use reoccurring invoices & reminders so you don’t have to think about it and can say goodbye to that pain point.
Review revenue goals and projected revenue. Monthly goal? How much came in towards that goal this week? Do you have enough in reserve to cover that amount you’ll pay yourself back. Will you have enough cash to meet your expenses? Will you need to reduce how much you pay yourself?
The hard part is actually doing it. In order for this method to work, you have to set aside time on a regular and consistent basis and you have to know how much your business earned so you know how much to save.
Once you’ve scheduled your weekly finance time and taken note of where you need to make adjustments to even out your cash flow, you can move towards putting some of that money in the right places. Remember, even if you’ve managed to recapture or save $10, it will make a difference over time. Look at your accounts or, better yet, your Quickbooks account. Calculate how much income your business earned for the prior week. Multiply that income number by how much you plan to save for your cash reserve and/or future tax payment account. Immediately transfer that amount from your business account to your savings account.
For example, Christine runs a small floral company. Last week she earned $3,400 and she is planning to save 25% of all income to transfer into her tax savings account. The math looks like this: $3,400 x 25% = $850 to be transferred into her tax savings account.
It may take some time to transfer significant amounts of money each week, but that’s ok. Built the habit of saving and transferring now! Next week we’ll be taking a a deeper look at the cost of goods sold versus operating expenses and how to look at financial reports to help a business set realistic goals. In the meantime, if you’re in need of some inspiration to take to take the reins of your finances, there are literally dozens of interviews with female small business owners in our archives, each with stories and advice on how they grew their businesses. Look no further than right here.
This post is brought to you in collaboration with Intuit Quickbooks. All words, opinions and images are our own. Thanks for supporting our sponsors, like Quickbooks, that help us bring you free, original content every weekday!