The number of small businesses in the United States continues to rise. In fact, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 30.2 million small businesses employing an additional 58.9 million people across the country. While the importance of small business and entrepreneurship to our economy cannot be overstated, being a small business owner has not gotten any easier. In fact, research by Harvard University’s Shikhar Ghosh suggests that three out of every four venture-backed startup firms fail while data from the Small Business Administration (SBA) notes that only half of all newly established businesses survive five or more years. While the challenges facing small business owners are numerous, addressing some of the most common financial mistakes may help improve a business owner’s probability of success.
Not knowing your numbers
Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary (better known as Mr. Wonderful) has disciplined many entrepreneurs for not knowing their numbers. And for good reason – “knowing your numbers” is one of the most important aspects of successfully running a business. From cost of goods sold and profit margins to variable costs and breakeven points, many business owners do not have a good handle on the economics of their business. Why are the numbers so critical? Because when used effectively, they are point of clarity and the basis for virtually every decision a business owner makes.
The challenge is knowing which numbers are the most critical to your business. While there are common profitability metrics every business should know, there may be more specialized numbers that are more crucial to certain types of businesses. Consider working with your CPA or a business coach to explore which ratios and numbers you should focus on.
As O’Leary notes, “If they don’t know the numbers, they don’t know their business.” Knowing your business and your numbers will only improve decision making and future outcomes.
Investing in the right people is no easy task. (Notice I said investing.) One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is looking at their team as simply a cost. Viewing employees as an expense often leads entrepreneurs to “hire behind the curve” or later than they should. While it is important not to hire too early either, finding the optimal balance is critical.
Culture is also crucial and building the right team can be the difference between success and failure. Investing in the right people also means helping them to develop and improve their skills so they become an even greater asset. As Sir Richard Branson said, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
Under capitalizing the business
We have all heard the expression, it takes money to make money and when it comes to running a small business – this is often true. Too often, small businesses underestimate the amount of working capital they should have on hand for operations and expansion. Having sufficient business reserves or access to lines of credit can be critical during both periods of expansion and contraction – especially in the case of economic weakness. While the economy may be strong today, it is critical to have sufficient capital to handle the financial curve balls that might be thrown your way. Consider planning for worst-case scenarios when considering capital requirements and always have a plan b.
Forgetting to stay ahead of tax liability
As businesses grow over time, many owners fail to keep a close eye on new tax responsibilities. From payroll taxes and sales tax to state and federal income tax payments, many businesses are so busy with the day to day management that they fail to properly plan in this area. Tax liability can spike during periods of rapid growth, often leading to giant tax surprises in the future. Outsourcing works well here and proper planning with a qualified CPA and bookkeeper can help ensure you having a good handle on the various tax liabilities that a business owner may be responsible for, ultimately limiting future surprises.
Michael Gerber, the author of the classic business book The EMyth notes, business owners often “work in their business rather than on their business”. The fact is, entrepreneurs often get stuck in the “weeds” of the day to day management and operations of the business, failing to think strategically about how they can leverage their business to improve their personal finances. Specifically, many small business owners end up being extremely negligent when it comes to thinking about future retirement savings. Unfortunately, only 44 percent of small businesses offer 401(k) plans and even fewer offer defined benefit pension plans.
Why aren’t more offering a plan? Many business owners incorrectly assume that establishing a new 401(k) plan is costly. Not only can a small business establish a low-cost 401(k) plan that is just as effective as a Fortune 500 company, they may also receive significant tax benefits and deductions as well. (Not to mention the benefits of retaining key employees.) From selecting the right retirement plan for your needs and choosing providers to the implementation of the plan and monitoring results, an independent advisor that specializes in this area can help ensure you are taking steps toward planning for the future financial goals of both owners and employees.
Running a small business can be both rewarding and challenging. Knowing your numbers, investing in the right people, properly capitalizing your business, planning for tax liabilities and planning for the future may help you to leverage your business to positively impact your personal financial goals. Since everyone’s situation is unique, consider speaking to your legal, tax and financial advisers to determine the most appropriate approach for you.
Kurt J. Rossi, MBA, CFP®, AIF® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERtm & Wealth Advisor. He can be reached for questions at 732-280-7550, kurt.rossi@Independentwm.com, www.bringyourfinancestolife.com & www.Independentwm.com. LPL Financial Member FINRA/SIPC.
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The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.