4 Rules of Thumb for Fiscally Fit Business
Most folks who start a new business go in to it with a rather naïve belief that a good idea, product, service and/or group of people can be successful just because their idea, product, service or people are good. Unfortunately, that isn’t’t the reality of starting up and running a business. Regardless of how great and innovative the idea is, the business only works if it is sustainable and profitable. Otherwise, it was just a great idea. For many entrepreneurs, developing an understanding of the financial underpinnings of running a company isn’t the most exciting of ideas. The compulsion is to outsource the responsibility to someone else like an accountant or financial advisor. While I completely and utterly agree that every business owner should work closely with their accounting professional and financial advisor, I also know that those very same business owners will get more value from their advisors if they have a common language to speak (business finance) and are working toward a common goal. The goal is fiscal fitness – the creation of a sustainable and profitable business. Just as physical fitness supports a healthy body, fiscal fitness supports a healthy business.
The successful business operating in this economy adheres closely to 4 main beliefs, rules of thumb perhaps, relating to fiscal management and fitness and which are generally communicated in detail using the language of business finance.
Rule 1. Plan before you start. Then plan some more. Starting a business isn’t like going to college; you’re supposed to know what you’re going to do BEFORE you start up rather than paying to explore the options. It is also very important to recognize that the plan may require some adjustments as you go along (“No plan survives contact with the enemy”), taking care to not equate focus with intractability. This plan should also include the “exit strategy”, which is really a plan for what the owner wants to ultimately get out of the effort. It could be a plan to sell out for gobs of money, to leave a legacy for the children, or maybe just to have an awesome quality of life and do what they love at the same time. Knowing what it will take to get in, get it done, and get out the way you want is all part of the plan.
Rule 2. Keep a close eye on the numbers. No, not all of them, but the really important ones. Some of these numbers have to do with the relationships between price, volume and cost. This is the stuff a business owner needs to know like the back of their hand – hairs and all. Not every business will focus on the same key numbers (mostly, but there are certainly variations), but every business owner should know what to look for. And they should be looking very frequently so things don’t get out of whack before corrections can be made.
Rule 3. Manage the cash, manage the growth, and know how one impacts the other. Cash flow and growth are priorities number 1 and 1 in business but they aren’t the same thing. Consider that reducing prices (and profits) to get more sales may work as long as the volume of sales supports the effort and generates the cash. Without the extra sales revenue to rely on, reducing profits could result in devastation (maybe sticking with the prices the way they are and not pushing for fast growth is a better idea).
Rule 4. If you must borrow, be informed and do it smartly. There are a lot of different options for borrowing money for the business, just as there are a lot of different reasons to do it. There is a great deal of research available which describes the benefits of borrowers being educated in basic financial literacy, with better financial decision-making being among those benefits. Looking for financing is kind of like choosing between the apple and the candy bar: one may promote the fitness you’re looking for while the other does not (but it looks sweet!). It’s nice to have the foundation to support knowing which one you should choose.
Building and maintaining a fit business requires an understanding of how the business works – how and why it makes and spends money, what makes it profitable and what it takes to create and support growth. While outside advisors may be available to help, the best performance is achieved when the business owner masters the essential skills required to run and grow a fiscally fit and sustainable business.
Measure, Manage and Succeed. It’s all about knowing how to speak the language of finance