Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Budgeting Part III: How to use your budget to manage your business

The question that I often receive from small businesses regarding creating a budget is “What’s the point?” Underlying that question is the real question, “How do I use a budget to help me manage my business?” So let’s attempt to address that question.

First of all, when we talk about creating a budget, we usually mean a Pro Forma Profit and Loss Statement. In essence, if everything goes as planned, this is what our profit (we will only think positively here) will look like. I recommend taking this one step further and also creating a Pro Forma Cash Budget, budgeting for when you actually expect to receive and spend your cash. This will allow you to anticipate when you are going to have an abundance of cash and when you are going to have some cash needs so that you can plan for them. For example, if you run a retail business you can expect to do most of your business in November and December so you will end the year with a large cash balance. Before you spend it all or hand out large bonuses, look at your Cash Budget for January through April to see how much you money you need to keep in cash to get through those tough sales months.

Once you have your budgets prepared and you have finished your first month in the new year, do a comparison between your actual amounts and your budgeted amounts. Most importantly, be sure that you can explain the variances. If your Cost of Goods Sold is higher than expected you might want to be sure that it is because your Sales are higher than expected as well. If your labor expense was higher than anticipated can it be explained by an unanticipated order or have you not been watching your overtime closely enough? If you are a restaurant and your food purchases have increased but your sales have not, you may need to make sure that someone is not stealing food from you.

For each of the explained variances you will also want to consider whether it is a one-time anomaly or if this is something that you expect to continue. If it is a one-time event and you have overspent your budget then you know that you will need to adjust your spending down in a different month. If it is an event that you expect to continue, then you will want to adjust your budget to take the change into account. The favorable adjustments are easy. It is the negative variances that require some decisions on the owner’s part. Just remember that you developed your budget based upon your company’s strategy, which means that you need to make sure that all adjustments to your budget are also in line with your strategy.

The point of a budget and a good financial management policy is that you have planned for what you expect to happen and you are now analyzing the data and reacting quickly to your business needs.

A strong grasp of your business finances is essential to running a successful business. As with all things financial, if you find that this is not one of your strengths, then don’t just push it aside and ignore it. Get the help that you need.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Focus Your Business With An Effective Budget: Part II

So how do you create a budget for your small business?

In these challenging times, it is more important than ever to put together a comprehensive budget for your business to use in the next year. We recommend creating both a budget for your Profit & Loss and a budget for your Cash Flow needs. For those of you who are new to the budgeting process, here are a few pointers:

Pull out your prior years’ income statements and look at your historical data. Which income streams have been most successful for you and have provided you with the highest margins and therefore the most money? Which products or services have not performed as well as expected? Consider whether they can be improved and if not, eliminate them.

Look for patterns in your income stream and expenditures. If your money coming in from sales doesn’t match with timing of your major expenses such as seasonal inventory purchases, real estate tax payments or insurance premiums, setting a budget can help you make sure you are saving enough money to pay for these items.

Think about using zero based budgeting. Don’t just take last year’s budget and add an arbitrary increase in sales and expenses. Do some research and consider what a reasonable sales figure will be. Figure out what your staffing needs will be based on this sales figure. Talk to your major suppliers and your utility providers and see what price increases may be in your future. Consider what items are necessities and which expenditures are really luxuries. Evaluate every item in your budget and consider whether it is in line with your strategy for your business. With the economy still recovering, you need to maintain a lean approach to both your budgeting and the actual managing of your business. There is a wealth of information available to help you with the creation of your budget if you do a little research.

A well planned budget process can take some of the stress and fear out of managing your cash flow throughout lean times and allow you to spend your money wisely and avoid running up credit card balances.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Focus Your Business With An Effective Budget

We often encounter resistance at this time of year as we begin to speak of budgets with our small business friends. The feeling is that budgeting is a time-consuming process with little benefit. What's the point. We disagree. This blog is the first of a three-part series to make our case for the need for small businesses to devote some time in the next two months to establishing a good budgeting process.

Before you can create a budget, you need to know your long term (the next 5 years) and short term (2010)goals and your strategy for reaching those goals. So pull out your old business plans and take a look. Have you been following your plan? If you have not been following it, why? With the changes in the economy, do you need to rethink the direction of your company or are you just taking a little business detour?

If you do not have a business plan, then now is the time to at least formalize your operating strategy. What is your business? What differentiates you from other businesses offering the same services in your industry? Who is your target market? Are you reaching them? Do they know that you exist? After you have given some thought to these questions, take out a piece of paper and draw 3 columns with the following headings: 5-year vision, 1 year strategy, and tactics.

Under the 5-year vision, write down specifically how you want your business to be defined. Where do you want to be in 5 years? For example, you might want to be known in your market as the cutting edge new idea generator. Be clear here to define on paper who your target market is for the cutting edge new idea generator. Who do you expect your customers to be? Do some research to find out who these people are; who they are currently buying from so that you know who your competitors are; why they are buying from them. What is happening in your industry as a whole? Do you need to be considering alternative products and services if you think that your current products are going to be obsolete in the future? Under the 5-year vision you might also want to consider internal operations as well: what skill positions do you think you will need? What work environment do you want to create?

Next analyze where your business is compared to that 5-year vision. How close are you to achieving those results? What do you need to do to get there? Under your 1-year strategy column, write down where you need to be by the end of 2010 in order to be on track for your 5-year vision. This may include some specifics as to the dollar amount of sales that you need to achieve or the staff that needs to be in place by year end, etc.

Under the Tactics heading, start writing specifics. This is where you place your need to develop your specific advertising and promotion plans, your foray into social media, your need to create a specific video for your website. You might have a tactic to develop job descriptions and procedure manuals for your staff. Be as specific as possible here as this is the content that you will use to create your budget.

Now that you have your vision and strategy in place, you are ready to create a budget that helps you to reach your goals as opposed to a budget that merely states how you have been spending your money over the past few years. Tune in next week for a discussion on how to use this information to create a good flexible working budget.