My favorite dad-joke about being a freelancer or small business owner is how we end up getting jobs that we never applied for.
No matter what you do, when you first start out, you do it all. You’re the head of marketing, the VP of sales and the director of finance.
If you’re in business, and you’re a little lost on what you need to be doing to stay on top of your finances, here are the things you should be looking at every week to make sure your business will be sustainable in the long run.
Review transactions + update your books
Record all your weekly transactions (cash you received from your customers and money spent on business expenses) into your bookkeeping software. It’s possible to use a spreadsheet for bookkeeping, but the benefits of using proper bookkeeping software far outweigh the costs. You can easily run financial reports which will help you with tax filings and understanding how your business is doing.
Review your cash - specifically, how much do you have and how much do you need to spend?
First, please check the balance in your business checking account(s).
Then, take a look at what your upcoming expenses are for the week. Expenses are the bills you have from vendors and contractors, the regular business expenses from subscriptions and office expenses, any debt payments for credit cards or loans and the salary or draw you’ll be paying yourself. You can do this by hand, or use a spreadsheet, a budgeting tool or application specifically for forecasting. Whatever feels comfortable for you and allows you to connect to the numbers.
Make sure you have enough cash to cover your expenses.
If you don’t, you have figure out why. Is it because you have more expenses than income? Or is it because the timing of your income and expenses are off? In other words, do you have lots of expenses landing all at once, while the income trickles in?
If it’s the former, you have a fundamental problem that needs solving or your business will not survive. Here are questions you can ask to figure it out:
Are your expenses too high? Are you spending too much on creating the product or service? Are you spending too much on general business expenses? You need to dial in your costs and expenses.
Is your pricing too low? Or do you need to sell more of what you’re selling? You need to dial in your pricing and marketing.
Focus on this until you find the answer.
If you have cash flow issues, first of all, you’re not alone. It’s a common problem a lot of businesses face. Here are some things you can do to get out of the cashflow crunch:
Can you change the due dates for bills and expenses?
Can you pay larger bills in smaller amounts? For example, instead of paying your contractors or employees monthly, can you pay them twice a month?
Can you cut back on expenses in the short-term to build up more cash reserves? The best way to cut is to look at how much your business spends on things like dining out or subscriptions you might be using enough. Can you dial it back?
If you’re working with big clients who take a long time to pay, can you renegotiate the terms of the payments?
You can borrow the money by using credit cards and paying them off when the cash comes in. You can also do this with a line of credit. If you borrow money, you need to keep an eye on this. Make sure it’s really, truly, sincerely because of cashflow timing and not because of an unprofitable business. Of course it’s normal that young businesses tend not to be profitable in the first few years, but you should understand why that is - it’s usually because of high start-up costs and initial investments.
Invoice customers and follow up on outstanding invoices
If you sell a product online, you’re probably not sending out any invoices.
If you’re running a service-based business, can you invoice your customers for prior week’s work? If you outstanding invoices from prior weeks, send a friendly reminder.
A note about how often you should invoice:
I’ve worked for businesses that invoice customers once a month, once a quarter and once a year. I’ve worked with businesses that invoice me twice a month. Figuring out what works for you is a factor of how much revenue comes in and what your expenses are. There are pros and cons to each method. Invoicing less frequently is less of an administrative pain, but if the invoices are large, they might stay outstanding longer if your clients are also managing their cashflow. If you invoice more frequently, it means you’ll need to spend more time invoicing. Smaller, more frequency invoices might mean you get paid more frequently and faster. Regular cash flow can make managing expenses easier.
Review revenue goals and projected revenue
Look at how much revenue has come in that week and for the month thus far. Are you on target with your income goals? If not, how will falling short of your goal impact you and your business? Will you have enough cash to meet your expenses? Will you need to cut some expenses or reduce how much you pay yourself?
Save for taxes
Transfer the amount you’re saving for income taxes into your income tax savings account. A general rule is to save 10-30% of income, especially if you’re a freelancer and you aren’t paying into payroll taxes. Disclaimer: please get tax advice from your accountant. This isn’t tax advice. Here are some more tips on how to save for income taxes.
Pay yourself and your staff
Whenever this applies (weekly, monthly or bi-monthly), make sure to either initiate payroll through your payroll service provider or make a transfer if you don’t use a payroll service.
Pay bills and file receipts
Review any outstanding bills that are coming due and pay them.
If you have any receipts that you’ve kept from the prior week, organize them now. If you have bookkeeping software that allows you to upload the receipt so that it’s attached to the transaction record, do that. If you’re keeping receipts on a drive, snap a pic with your phone or use a phone scanning app and upload it to the drive. Here are some pro tips on how to keep this organized.
Create monthly folders and upload the receipts to the corresponding monthly folders.
Name the pic or pdf of the receipt something like “date - vendor - expense category”.
For example, “11-04-18- Mc Donalds - meeting with Jay Moneybags.”
This system will make it easier if you need to search or reference a receipt.
Research, read and learn
Read finance articles you’ve bookmarked, research and explore financial topics you’re curious about, or keep reading that one finance book that’s been collecting dust on your nightstand.