Archive for the ‘profit’ category

Top 4 Cash Flow Tips

September 19th, 2013

Water tap dripping dollar bills, Water waste conceptProfit is important because without it your business will fail. But for small businesses, cash flow is king. Your company’s cash flow will determine its profitability, and scrutiny of your business’ cash flow will increase your control over this dynamic. Follow these 4 cash flow tips to establish the structure you need to succeed.

1. Know Your Balance Sheet
Many business people don’t understand how cash flow works and its significance to keeping their business operating. Focusing on the profit and loss statement is potentially a fatal mistake as healthy profits can mask an impending cash flow crisis. Profit and loss statements don’t usually contain the information required to make an adequate cash flow projection. What is need is a structured balance sheet that includes all the influencing items such as debts, interest payments, inventory and so on. You want to see the data that represents your cash flow and which can be employed to project the comings and goings of your cash over the period you have selected.

2. Set Up a Cash Flow Budget, Revise it Periodically, and Stick to It
Plan forward to generate a projection of likely future sales and expenses. You, or your accountant, can set up such a cash flow worksheet in Excel to automate this exercise.

Reviewing and updating your cash flow budget regularly is your best insurance against potential cash shortages. If your business has a predictable cash flow, then revising the cash flow budget on a quarterly basis is probably sufficient. But the greater the cash flow uncertainty a business has, the more frequently a new cash flow budget should be prepared.

If cash is tight, you may need to do to weekly projections, and decide which invoices you’ll pay and which customer payments you need to collect as soon as possible.

Rapid growth sounds good but, ironically, it can bring on a surprise cash crunch. Additionally, a sudden increase in sales often creates an inventory drop that can make the timely fulfillment of orders difficult.  The extra time you spend managing your increased sales often takes up your time and results in debtors not being tracked or followed up on when their accounts become overdue. Strong sales one month often means a cash shortage next month. By monitoring the business’ cash status you can arrange credit from suppliers, banks and other sources such as factoring, to cover the temporary shortfalls.

Just like your company budget, you need to continuously reference your cash flow budget worksheet in order to drive your cash flow situation rather than become a casualty of it. So set that budget and stick to it. As your cash flow circumstances evolve you will need to revise that budget and adjust to the new level of cash management it will then require. Stay on top of your cash flow process.

3. Set Credit, Accounts Receivable & Accounts Payable Policy & Procedure as One Strategy
What credit you allow, how you monitor its use, how you manage the bills you pay, and how you pay the bills you owe, are the components of your cash flow process. How you coordinate them is what determines your actual cash flow, and often times the survival of your company.

Set Your Credit Policy & Terms
If the nature of your business requires offering credit, then it is important to set clear limits to your terms of credit.

Manage Accounts Receivable Strictly
Get payments in quickly. Master the art of debtor management. Let debtors know how much time remains before due dates. Stay in close touch with major debtors as payment deadlines approach. Offer small discounts for early payment as an incentive.

Pay Your Creditors Strategically
Take advantage of credit terms and prioritize payments according to the consequences involved in becoming past-due. Wages, taxes and direct debits are at the top of the list for on-time payment. Key suppliers may be prepared to wait to keep your business. Don’t pay early just to get a discounted price unless getting the discount is better than being without the cash.

Plan for Lean Times
Monitor your bank balances, be aware of when lean cash flow periods are coming up, and plan accordingly. Avoid funding major purchases from your business’ working capital unless you are sure you have the cash to cover it.

4. Get financial products working to your benefit
Overdrafts, premium funding, lease facilities and cash flow funding products such as factoring can all be excellent tools to help match cash supply with outlays. These arrangements take time to set up, so you need to be prepared in advance. In a pinch, the business credit card can be a good way to ease the crunch as long as it can be paid off before interest kicks in.

Of course there are other items that impede proper cash flow, and are important to avoid, such as:

  • tax penalties
  • non-budgeted purchases
  • personal use of company monies
  • making advances and loans to employees
  • having un-deposited checks sitting on your desk
  • not investing excess cash
  • etc., etc., etc….

But the four major categories discussed above should be your first concern as they are the foundation for establishing control over your cash flow and the impact it has on your business’ profit, survival and growth.

5 Ways to Become Profitable

August 23rd, 2013

5 Ways to Become Profitable

All businesses want to make money. And of course if they don’t, then even those with great products or services will fail. Making more money and becoming a profitable business is what it’s all about. Here are five strategies that can help.

1. Change the Way you Operate
Analyze your existing business models and try to establish ongoing revenue streams. If your customers are buying infrequently then you might, for example, sell an ongoing re-supply program or a maintenance plan instead of just a one-time or stand-alone sale. Establish a relationship with new customers and change the relationships with established customers to tie the profitability of their business to your products or services.

Look around, analyze and learn from what your competitors are doing. Think about what you can innovatively apply from those lessons to your business.

2. Become Visible and Connected
If you have a long established company with a great reputation, loyal customers and respected industry experience, then you are probably running a successful business. But along comes the new guy who puts his business on the Internet and posts his credentials all over the place. Everyone, including your customers, can find him. You can’t sit there and assume that just because people know who you are you will remain dominant.

You have to have a marketing plan that addresses the current methods used by potential customers to find the products or services that you offer. When they search the Internet, and you’re not there, or they can’t find you, then in 100% of those cases you will not get their business. A lot of older small businesses don’t have a web-presence. If that’s you, or you don’t have a strategic marketing plan in effect, then you need to take your reputation online through social media, a website and a blog to connect with customers, including the ones you already have, or you won’t have them much longer.

3. Raise the Bar on Marketing
A lot of small businesses think about sales but not marketing. You can’t just go out and try to make sales; you have to have a plan with a strategy coherent to your industry, your company and the prospects you want to target.

In order to track the leads your marketing program generates, you will need customer relationship management (CRM) software, although a well-designed Excel application may be OK as you get started.

Consider using search engine ads, email marketing and other such online advertising.

Give your business an immediate web presence through social media networks including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Offer tutorials, demos, or new certification sessions as webcasts or podcasts for immediate download.

All these types of promotional vehicles need to be on the table because that’s what your competitors are doing.

4. Make Every Person a Salesperson
Some employees don’t think they’re there to promote sales or the business and are just there to collect a paycheck. But those days are gone and those people are the first to be laid off. Everyone should be an income-producing part of the business no matter what their main function might be. Everyone needs to pitch in to help cut costs, sell, and network on the web. Motivate employees to spread the message and reward those who make the extra effort or are producing new business.

5. Streamline Your Costs
If a business is having profit problems, the options are pretty straight forward. You can increase sales, decrease expenses, or do both. Due to the sluggishness of the current economic recovery, sales may not be where you would like them to be, and increasing sales may be a slow road. Decreasing expenses may be a faster way to turn things around. Try fitting expenses into three categories: fixed costs, such as rent and other overhead, sales-related costs that are tied to producing revenue, and discretionary expenses, such as new equipment and bonuses. Examine every single line item looking for ways to save, even with the fixed costs. Telephone and insurance costs may be fixed, but they are also competitive, and therefore negotiable.

6 Myths About Starting a Business

July 17th, 2013

Lots of people decide to take the entrepreneurial path and start their own business. The idea of being your own boss, making it big, and having a company that you can point to as your life’s work is very appealing. But the realities of starting up a small business are sometimes overshadowed by myths which make it difficult to deal with the real challenges that arise in those first few years, resulting in unreasonable expectations, frustrated entrepreneurs and potentially a failed business.

Here are some small business startup myths that might keep you from realizing your vision:

1. You should spend a lot of time preparing a detailed business plan
A client of mine in Gardena believed, as many business owners believe, that they should spend a lot of time preparing a detailed business plan, and that the business plan needs to include lots of what-ifs and elaborate financial projections. A grain of truth obscures a much larger point here. Yes, it’s smart to have an overall strategy in mind before diving into a business of any kind.  However, it’s very possible that by the time you finish your do-all-end-all business plan, the market will have changed so much that it will be about time to start on a new one. Business plans are especially important in the initial phases, as it is essential your businesses road map includes your goals. It is also important that you refer back to your plan every few months, check these goals, and add or change them accordingly.

The problem is that detailed plans work best when you are pursuing a fixed goal, such as losing weight or sticking to a budget. In these cases, a planned sequence of steps will best accomplish the goal. In business however, the goal is meeting consumer demand, which is often a moving target. Look at all the businesses (like Google) that are now doing something radically different from their original plan. So create your business plan, and then get busy developing a product and trying to sell it. Then resolve to be open-minded and react to opportunities as you see them emerge.

2. You have to develop the coolest, most innovative product
Many entrepreneurs think they have to develop the coolest, most innovative product. Entrepreneurs are often creative-types, dreamers and inventors, and they get so caught up in the coolness of their product that they forget that they need see if anyone will actually pay money for it.

What you do need to do is get your product to market as soon as possible, to start generating revenue and gain customer feedback. All companies, large or small, need to be more customer-oriented than engineer-oriented. You have to take into account customer demand, and develop products based on that feedback. Too many entrepreneurs so endlessly improve their products before starting to sell them that by the time they finally do, they’ve run out of capital and have to shut down.

Get a workable product out the door and fix the bugs as you go along. That way you also get valuable feedback about its strengths and weaknesses, for the market doesn’t necessarily agree with you about what’s perfect.

3. You’ll have more time to do what you want
Yes, you do own your time. By, ironically, you will find yourself using more and more of this time to run your business. Whether this hoped-for scenario actually pans out, is largely a function the business you are in and how much time you devote to it up front. Early on, you will almost definitely not have more time on your hands.

As a client of mine in Manhattan Beach found, there are many benefits (personal and financial) to having your own business, but plenty of free time is not one of them. You will probably have a little more flexibility, as many small business owners choose to work late at night so that they can spend time during the day with their families; but there are still some major sacrifices, such as sleep. Starting up a small business requires that you work until the work is done, without exception. Those fantasies of taking long vacations while your business grows itself are just that, fantasies.

None of this is to say that you will not ultimately have more freedom as a result of running your business. However, to expect a lot of it in the early days would be an exercise in self-delusion. So prepare yourself for immense demands on your time.

4. You’ll be able to write everything off
Absolutely not, unless of course, you have a desire to get audited. I can’t tell you how many clients have come to me over the years for help getting their books in order only to have to be told that even with a complete set of transactions and reconciliations, their books won’t be clean until we remove all the personal expenses they’ve burdened their profit picture with. Personal expenses should not be expensed to your company, and the business expenses you do incur should be clearly connected to the business you’re running. While it’s true that business owners can write off more than employees can, there is great risk in taking this too far.

Typical real expenses can include your computer and business operating and account management software, rent, employee salaries, money paid to independent contractors, advertising costs, and your business phone bills. You probably will not get away with deducting 100% of your car payments, nor gas and repairs. You can write off the portion of auto expenses that you can document as being essential to your operations. The key word here is “document”. Keeping good records is critical. Basically, if you cannot document it and cite a clear connection between the write-off and the operation of your business, your attempt at a write-off could trigger audits, fines or worse.

5. If you build it, they will come
Despite the Field of Dreams reference, setting up shop and getting your startup ready for business, doesn’t mean that the world will beat a path to your door. A former client in Torrance found out the hard way that today’s consumers have an endless array of choices, meaning simply “building it” will not cause customers to walk through your doors and snap up your products. No matter what type of small business you choose to start, it will rarely, if ever, be sufficient to open up shop and idly wait for business to start pouring in.

You still need to market and advertise your business strategically. That means having a plan and a budget.  It also means researching the most effective methods for marketing and advertising. There is no shortage of ways to waste money in advertising, as a client in Lawndale discovered, and it can end up being a huge financial drain on a fledgling company. No matter how good you are, there is lots of competition and your small business has to establish a presence and reputation to go along with your talent.

Consider your number one priority after opening your doors to be spreading the word about your product to your target market as much as possible.

6. Starting a Small Business is Rewarding
One other common myth about starting a small business is that it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. But unlike the myths presented above, this one has great potential to become true.

The independence and the satisfaction of turning a business idea into a successful enterprise are probably what most small business owners find the most rewarding. And there are all kinds of other satisfactions, including creating a successful new product or service as a result of solving unforeseen problems, or from customer feedback. So don’t let the myths of starting a small business put you off; the reality is so much better.

Small business is one of the most exciting arenas for earning a living.  There is plenty of creative potential, and a chance to really make something tangible for yourself and your family. But doing so requires more than just the vision and determination of a bold risk-taker. You need to be intelligent about how your business is framed in the marketplace, and what obstacles there are to overcome. You also need to be aware of the tools and support that you have at your disposal. Staying focused on these realities, and avoiding the myths that many fall prey to will only increase the chances of success and longevity in your small business.

 

6 Tips for Cost Improvement

June 12th, 2013

6 Tips for Cost ImprovementMost small business owners can agree that saving more money is a continually reoccurring topic. Cutting costs, boosting cash flow and paying less in taxes, will allow you to keep more of what you make, and is a good entrepreneurial frame of mind to be in.

To take this from prudent thinking to actual practice, and put more money in your own pocket, utilize these six tips to put your business on the path to fiscal improvement.

1. Talk to your employees
Employees who are on the front lines of your business, dealing with customers, processes and systems, often have ideas for ways you can cut costs. Have you listened to them? Sit down with your employees and brainstorm ways that costs could be cut without sacrificing quality. Make it more interesting for them by offering a bonus to the people who come up with ideas that have a positive impact on the bottom line.

2. Pay attention to detail
Often, substantial sums of money slip between the cracks a few dollars at a time. One good crack to seal up could be done by reevaluating your businesses recurring expenses. This could be a subscription you signed up for a year ago, insurance that you no longer really need, or a monthly membership fee to an organization you’re no longer involved with. Auto billing is a great way to reduce the cost of paying reoccurring expenses. But it is common that these fees can get rolled into your monthly credit card bill to the point that you no longer notice them. And little sums do add up. Go over all invoices and bills in detail and cut out anything you don’t really need. And don’t stop after looking at auto payments, review everything that isn’t providing a return on investment (ROI).

3. Negotiate with vendors
What you’ve been paying your vendors does not have to be the final word on what you continue paying. Ultimately, vendors want to stay in business too, and they’re dealing with a tough economy just as you are. Many are often willing to negotiate lower prices rather than lose a regular customer. The potential to save money, without even having to change vendors, can result in better prices on everything from office supplies to the phone bill. You certainly won’t lose anything by trying, and you may find yourself able to shave several hundred dollars off your monthly operating costs.

4. Stay on top of your invoices
One of the biggest cash flow problems for small businesses are the slow-paying customers. To speed up the process, make sure your invoicing system is working smoothly. Your invoices should be clear, easy to read, and simply state what is due and when. Make sure you’re meeting any special requirements of each customer, such as including purchase order numbers, and that your invoices are going to the right person at the right address. This may sound basic, but simple errors like putting the wrong suite number on an invoice can cause delays.

5. Enable customers to pay invoices faster
Once your invoicing system is cleaned up, look for other ways to encourage customers to pay you even faster. Depending on your industry and financial situation, this could mean offering a discount for cash payments or early payments. Encourage your customers to use e-payments. This will not only enable faster payment, but also saves processing time on your end.

6. Partner with your accountant
Sure, you have an accountant, but do you only get together at tax time? A good accountant can help shape up your business’s finances all year long. Enlist your accountant to give your company a checkup. What could be improved? Where could you cut costs, free up cash, or make more by putting profits back into the business? Check in with your accountant once a month to follow up on results, fine-tune systems, and make sure your company is on track. There is a wealth of information in your books for improved business decisions. Have your accountant help you access it and be rewarded with higher profits, better cash flow, lower expenses, reduced taxes, and more money going into your pocket.

Making Any Money? Can You Tell?

March 11th, 2013

Profit means making more money than you spend. Many confuse profit with income. As a result, they don’t understand why all their income isn’t getting them ahead; why no one wants to invest in their high-sales company; why the bank won’t extend their line of credit.

Let’s look at the most basic way to tell if your business is actually profitable, making money, not just recording sales.

Most small business people are very good at tracking their income. Each widget sale is recorded in a spreadsheet, and each payment from a customer or client is recorded in the checkbook. Each is totaled frequently.

Actually, that’s not what you made. That’s income, not profit. It’s what’s coming in. In order to determine profit you have to subtract what is going out from what is coming in.

(PROFIT = INCOME – COSTS)

Calculating Costs
Your business has two basic types of costs; fixed and variable. Fixed costs are costs that don’t change based on your level of business activity, such as rent. Whether you produce 100 widgets per day or 150, your rent will stay the same. Variable costs are directly tied to how many units of goods you produce. If you need $10 of screws to produce 100 widgets, you will need $15 worth of screws to produce 150 widgets. The cost of screws is a variable cost.

Fixed Costs
For the most part, fixed costs can be closely estimated at the beginning of the year and accurately projected for the next 12 months. For example, you know the rent on your facility is $5,000 per month. You may know of, or expect, a rent increase in April to $5,500 per month. As a result, your fixed cost for rent will be $64,500 for the year (3 months at $5,000 plus 9 months at $5,500).

Fixed costs include things like rent, depreciation, licenses, equipment lease payments, some taxes, and indirect labor.

Variable Costs
Variable costs are those that depend on your production level. As the production volume goes up, the variable costs go up as well. If I make lamps, I have to purchase one lamp pole, two light bulb fixtures, a lamp shade and five feet of wire per lamp. If a lamp pole cost $3 and I need enough to make six lamps, my lamp pole costs will be $18. However, if I need to make 20 lamps, my lamp pole costs will be $60. I can estimate variable costs at the beginning of the year, but my estimate will not be as predictable as was my estimate of fixed costs.

Variable costs include such expenses as cost of materials used in manufacturing, certain utilities, some taxes and fees, and direct labor.

Telling the Difference Between Fixed or Variable Cost
Some costs the business incurs, such as labor will have to be split between fixed costs and variable costs. The wages you pay production labor, called direct labor, is a variable cost. It is tied to how many units you produce. Other labor costs, such as the salary you pay your administrative assistant, are fixed costs. These indirect labor costs are not tied directly to production levels. If your production increases from 100 widgets per month to 150 widgets per month it is unlikely you would hire an additional administrative assistant.

Utilities are another cost that is split between fixed and variable costs. Your phone bill, for instance, probably won’t change much as production increases or decreases. However, the demand for electrical power, and the cost of it, will increase as production lines run longer and lights stay on further into the night because of increased production.

Income
When someone pays you that is income. Income is usually related to production levels, but is not tied to it directly.

You may produce more or less than you sell. For instance, if you have 100 widgets in the warehouse when you receive an order for 150, you only have to produce 50 additional widgets. If you make widgets for skis, you may make 20 widgets every month during the summer even though you don’t sell any, just so you have enough in the warehouse when winter arrives.

So income is when you actually get paid, not when you make the product you are going to sell. Total income is just the total of all your payments received during the year.

Break-Even Analysis
The break-even point is the production level where your income for a certain number of units produced equals your fixed costs plus the variable costs for that number of units. For instance, you have fixed costs of $500, variable costs of $20 per widget, and you sell the widgets for $25 each, so your break-even point is 100 widgets.

If you reduce your fixed costs to $400, your break-even point is 80 units. Or if you cut the cost per unit from $20 to $15, your break-even point drops to only 50 widgets.

 

Profit
Any sales beyond the break-even point are profit. In the final example above (fixed cost $500, variable cost $15 each, income $25 each) your break-even point is 50 units. If you produce 50 units and sell 50 units you will break even. Your costs will equal your income. You will have a profit of $0. If you sell less than 50, you will have a loss. If you sell more than 50 you will have a profit.

For example, if you sell 70 units your fixed costs are $500 and your variable costs are $1050 ($15 x 70), so your total costs are $1,550. Your income is $1,750 ($25 x 70) and your profit is $200 ($1,750 – $1,550).

Bottom Line
To make a profit, you must be able to sell each unit for more than it cost to make it and you must be able to sell it for a price high enough to cover both the variable cost of making it and its share of the fixed costs.

This is true whether you are selling widgets, boxcars of apples, dance lessons, or hours of financial consulting.