As a small business owner setting up a business has been both very challenging and rewarding at the same time.
Below are some tips that may be useful to you in the process of setting up and running a business.
Write a business plan, any business plan
You have a talent or idea, and you’d like to make it your profession. No matter how enthusiastic you are about your small business, it won’t be successful unless you have a plan in place for how you’re going to start and run it.
It doesn’t matter how long or detailed your plan is, as long as it covers a few essential points. Most successful small businesses will need to have a break-even analysis, a profit-loss forecast and a cash-flow analysis. Cash-Flow analysis is especially important since you could be selling your products like hotcakes, but if you won’t be paid for six months, you could still run out of money and have to close your doors.
A business plan is essential because it allows you to experiment with the strategy for your business on paper before you start playing for keeps. Or investment of funds.
Determine how you’ll make a profit and alternative sideline profits as well.
Profit is, after all, the ultimate goal of any successful small business. You should examine your business’ expenses (rent, materials, employee compensation, etc.) and then figure out how much you will need to sell to cover those costs and start generating a profit. This is known as a break-even analysis.
Start with as much of your own money as possible
Many small business owners cover their start-up costs entirely through loans, with the expectation that they will begin paying back the loans with the profits from their new business. New businesses can take months or years to generate a profit, however, and loan payments can really become a noose around the neck of a fledgling operation.
If you can save up as much of the start-up capital yourself before you open your doors, you will help ensure that loans won’t sink your new business. Remember, also, that there’s an outside chance that a lender will call a loan or add unfavorable terms if your business isn’t as successful as you initially planned. If you provide as much of the start-up money as possible, it will lessen the odds of an unwelcome surprise like this hindering your business.
Most small businesses are sole proprietorships or partnerships. While these types of businesses are nice and easy to form, they also expose their owners to liability for business debts and judgments. Creditors and judgment holders can come after the owners’ personal assets, like savings accounts and homes, once the business’ money is depleted.
While insurance can reduce this liability somewhat, it’s worth it to consider forming a corporation or limited liability corporation (LLC). These business structures will shield owners from personal liability, but there are more rules and requirements associated with them.
Everyone wants their small business to be successful, with multiple locations, lots of employees and loads of revenue, but you have to learn to walk before you can run. Don’t spread yourself too thin or take on too many expenses at the beginning, especially if your income might take a while to catch up to your ambitions.
By starting small, you ensure that you can survive the inevitable hiccups associated with running a small business. Those entrepreneurs who begin with modest operations can recover and learn from their mistakes without taking on a lot of debt. Starting small will help your small business grow into a successful enterprise.
Get it in writing
While it’s nice to do business with a handshake, there’s no substitute for a well-written contract. Indeed, many contracts are not valid unless they are in written form. The exact number of this type of contract varies between states, but here are a few common examples:
• Sales of goods worth more than $500
• Contracts lasting more than a year
• A transfer of ownership in copyrights or real estate
While contracts can be valid when orally made, they are much harder to prove and enforce. Make sure you get all agreements in writing, it will save you headaches down the line, and could even save your business.
Keep your edge
There are many ways to gain a competitive edge over other businesses in your industry: you could have a better product, a more efficient manufacturing or distribution process, a more convenient location, better customer service, or a better understanding of the changing marketplace.
The best way to hold onto your competitive edge is to protect your trade secrets. A trade secret is that information that isn’t known to others that gives you a competitive advantage in the market. There are many kinds of trade secrets, and trade secrets receive legal protection as long as their owners take steps to keep them secret. Those steps could be anything from marking confidential documents to requiring partners and employees to sign nondisclosure agreements.
Another way to hold onto your competitive edge is to stay proactive. If you know that your business is going to face challenges or encroachment by a competitor, don’t wait to react, plan ahead and you’ll stay ahead.
No matter how well you plan unexpected things can happen.
Pay your bills and taxes on time
It should go without saying, but it’s important to pay what you owe — especially when dealing with the IRS. The IRS can impose harsh penalties and even come after a business owner’s personal assets if the owner doesn’t remit payroll taxes on time.
It’s also important to pay your regular debts in a timely fashion. If you get a reputation for stalling on a debt, you could find it difficult to form business relationships in the future. Plus, if you stay current on your debts and pay them as you incur them, it will help you avoid being overwhelmed by cash flow problems if several debts come due simultaneously.
Step 1: Tally Your Income Sources
The first element of a good business budget is figuring out how much money you bring in on a monthly basis.
Start with your sales figures first (which you can easily get using the Profit & Loss report in FreshBooks), and then go further by adding other income sources you use to run your business.
Step 2: Determine Fixed Costs
Fixed costs are expenses that are charged the same price each month. As you can imagine, incorporating these is by far the easiest part of creating your business budget.
Review your past bank statements or FreshBooks reports. You’ll easily be able to spot your fixed bills and the total amount they cost you each month.
Step 3: Include Variable Expenses
Items that don’t have a fixed price tag each month are called variable costs.
Many of these purchases can actually be scaled up or down depending on the state of your business, using your monthly profit. Your profit each month will be determined by the earnings you’re left with after paying all your costs.
So, if your business does better than you forecasted, you can use the extra funds to increase variable spending enabling you to grow faster.
Step 4: Predict One-Time Spends
A great perk of creating a budget is now you will be able to factor in one-time purchases better than ever before. While some of these items may come up unexpectedly, like the purchase of a laptop to replace the one that crashed, others can be budgeted for months in advance, like that business retreat you’ve been eyeing, to protect your business from financial burden.
Step 5: Pull It All Together
The first four steps of this post detail the elements of a good business budget, so the last step is simply pulling it all together. Take action by using this handy checklist with specific examples so you can create your budget without any hassle:
• Hourly Earnings
• Product Sales
• Investment Income
• Government and bank fees
• Cell phone
• Website hosting
• Legal Services
• Raw Materials
• Contractor Wages
• Other Marketing Costs
• Travel & events
• Printing Services
• Office Supplies
Creating a monthly business budget may seem like a hassle, but I bet it’s something you’ve been thinking about for a long time. Take the leap! It’s an essential infrastructure project that gives you the ability to make conscientious financial decisions so your business can stay on track and grow.