Managing a small business can be draining and stressful. One minute you’re worried about invoicing a client correctly, and the next you’re balancing your personal checkbook and hoping you’ve estimated your cashflow correctly. Some tasks, however, are more important than others when it comes to the viability of your business and your sanity. Here are 10 ways to cure those middle-of-the-night panic attacks.
Getting a new client and delivering your product or service is exciting. However, don’t forget to bill (invoice) your client in a timely manner. The sooner you bill your client, the faster you’ll receive payment. Also, if you delay in invoicing a customer, they may not make payment of your bill a priority. After all, if it were important, the company would have billed me sooner (!) Invoicing promptly shows the client a level of professionalism.
It’s very common for a business owner to start a company without setting up a separate bank account. Initially, this isn’t a problem — you only have a few transactions (checks and deposits). Long-term, however, all business owners need to separate personal from business transactions. Separate banking allows you to see clearly where your business stands financially. Once you have separate accounts, you need to be disciplined about using your business account for company transactions.
Bank reconciliations ensure that your company records agree with your bank activity. In order to find and resolve differences quickly, you should reconcile your bank account within 5 days of receiving the bank statement. If not, you won’t catch errors on a timely basis. If there are errors in your bank account, you won’t know your true bank balance. Say, for instance, that you posted a customer check for $570 as $750 in your bank account- you just transposed the first two numbers. Unless you reconcile with the bank, you won’t realize that your checking account balance is $180 too high. The longer you delay in reconciling, the harder it is to find (and remember) what may have caused the error.
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This is a three-step process. First, estimate your sales for the month. Now, that may be tough- but give it your best shot. Let’s say you forecast $3,000 in photography sales this month. The sales estimate will allow you to budget your expenses for the month. That’s because you have an idea of how much cost you’ll incur to generate the $3,000 in revenue. Assume that you’ll incur costs of $2,700, and generate a $300 profit ($3,000 – $2,700). Finally, what will be the source of the $2,700 in cash? The source will be a combination of your current bank balance, your forecast of customer payments and possibly borrowing some of the funds.
Strongly consider paying a fee to have payroll company process your payroll. There are two reasons why. First, tax withholdings and required deposits for federal, state and local taxes (as well as benefit payments) are complex- and constantly changing. Second, the payroll service (ADP or Paychex, for example) normally takes liability if withholdings are computed incorrectly. The fee you pay to process payroll is far less the time and expense you’ll incur to do it yourself.
Much like payroll, rules for completing tax returns are complex- and also change constantly. Hire a CPA firm to wade through the complexity and complete your tax returns. A CPA firm can also represent you if a tax return they prepare is subject to an audit.
Document how you handle your accounting: how to you bill clients, record deposits, pay expenses. This process is important for several reasons. First, writing helps you think through your procedures. After documenting the process, you may decide you can improve on it. Written procedures also allow you to delegate the accounting process to someone else. If you eventually hire someone to perform accounting tasks, the written procedures will help you explain the process to them.
There are three responsibilities that a business owner should assign to different people- where possible. Those tasks are #1- Custody over assets, #2- Authority to access/ move assets and #3- recording transactions in the accounting system. Accountants call this segregation of duties. As you hire employees, try to separate these tasks. Segregating these tasks is designed to reduce the risk of theft through employee fraud.
As you grow your business by adding clients, consider the “quality” of your new clients. Your preferred client has reasonable expectations and likes your work. In addition, a good client pays you on time. Specifically, the customer sends payment within a reasonable period of time. If you add clients who- on average- take longer to pay than more established clients, you’re creating a problem. Your receivables (amounts owed to you) may grow far faster than your rate of sales growth. Assume, for example, that you grow sales 10% this month, but your new clients all pay more slowly. It will take you longer to collect receivables-, which may mean you don’t have enough cash to operate next month. If a new client pays slowly, consider whether or not you want to continue doing business with them.
Many business owners price their product or service too low. “Too low” can mean several things. First, an owner has to price and product/service so that they can cover all of their costs and make a reasonable profit. Second, some professionals don’t give themselves enough credit for doing good work(!) They price the product low, in an effort to get a sale. If you do good work, you may find that a client is willing to pay more than what you’re charging — because of the quality of your work.
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