How to handle your money as the owner of a startup is one of the first business decisions you face — even before you’re actually making any money. Why? According to credit insurance broker Credit & Business Finance (CBF), lack of cash flow is one of the biggest reasons that small businesses fold — even if they appear to be profitable on paper. Here are a few tips on handling money as a startup.
1. Develop a forecast for your monthly income.
Calculating an accurate idea of how much income you’ll generate each month is key to managing your businesses solvency to ensure you have the cash needed to keep facilities running, inventory on hand, and money available to pay vendors and staff. Unfortunately, an analysis by FreshBooks reveals that small businesses typically wait 30 days to receive payment —and tend to wait even longer to receive payment from clients who are geographically nearby. The more you can proactively manage your monthly budget to your client’s actual payment schedules, the better equipped you are to weather slow periods without serious disruption in liquidity.
2. Devise how you can receive payment faster.
Eliminate wasted time from your invoicing process, internally and for clients. For example, explore how tools like electronic invoicing and accepting credit card payments online may help you incentivize clients to pay you in a more timely manner, and help you reduce the time and money you spend issuing and mailing invoices, following up on past due payments, and even making trips to the bank to deposit checks.
3. Budget for taxes early.
Your estimated taxes owed are calculated based on the accounting method your business uses, but be financially prepared to make four estimated and equal quarterly tax payments to the Internal Revenue Service throughout the year. Because there are fines and penalties assessed for not making timely payments, and/or being significantly “under” in the estimated taxes you pay throughout the year as compared to your income, it’s wise to establish a separate bank account dedicated to tax obligations. Make regular contributions for your next quarterly tax payment as your receive client payments.
4. Prioritize building credit.
It’s in your best interest to keep your personal and business finances separate — including a separate credit identity for your business. Open a business checking account to manage business finances from, and apply for a credit card in the businesses name — even if you don’t want to get in the habit of borrowing. If you’re established enough to secure a major business credit card, apply for credit card accounts offered through smaller B2B vendors like office supply stores to build a credit history (and confirm that they report account activity to the credit bureaus). Over time, your responsible management of the credit account will build your business credit history so you are equipped to apply for larger loans you may need to pay for future expansion and growth.
5. Focus on expenses as much as sales.
Your financial security in business is only as valuable as your profits, which you can boost by managing sales—and expenses– strategically. Although paying for the help of professional service providers like accountants, lawyers and tech support may be justified, be mindful about which services are worth paying for “in full” — and where you can reduce expenses with the help of software and automated tools. For example, a CPA on retainer may provide inherent value in ensuring that you are compliant in your financial processes, but you can offset a CPA’s billable hourly fees by investing in an automated bookkeeping software that equips you to manage the basic and daily bookkeeping the accountant needs to manage your financials. Similarly, Web marketing experts may be worth their cost when you’re devising how you’ll execute major initiatives — but you can handle smaller marketing-related functions, like tracking Web analytics, email open rates and response rates to campaigns, on your own.
It can be challenging to forecast the best way to manage money when you lack much history to draw from, but managing your money as a startup is a critical business function based on a basic formula: Keep your expenses low, sales strong and income healthy. By proactively looking for ways to cut costs, reach customers and improve cash flow efficiently, you’ll be better poised to grow steadily.