Call it the “B Word” – that itemized list of income and expenditures known as a budget. Although a budget is crucial to the success of any business, large or small, creating and following one can be a difficult task.
One reason, point-blank, is fear.
“Some people will take this ostrich approach: ‘I’m just going to stick my head in the sand and not look at anything. Eventually it’ll work out’,” says Sarah Harbottle, who is a Cleveland-based financial advocate. “But as a business owner, you’ll have choices that come up. And knowing where you stand makes (decisions) a lot easier.”
Harbottle isn’t the only one who says fear hinders financial planning. In a post for Forbes.com, Forbes Coaches Council member Jennifer Helene says organizing a budget can be “overwhelming,” especially for first-timers. “The advice I would give is to confront the fear associated with all of the unknowns and expand your risk tolerance,” she writes.
So what should business owners consider when planning a budget – and sticking to it? Here are some tips to help you get over the hurdle.
Keep track of what comes in and goes out.
That way, you’ll know whether you’re profitable, Harbottle says. Once those numbers are in place, she advises calculating average revenue annually, quarterly, and monthly.” In this post on Yahoo Finance, serial entrepreneur John Rampton advises tracking income as well as fixed costs. “First, understand how much you’re making each month and why,” he writes, adding fixed costs will “never change so you can make a game plan to combat how much you’re spending on these each month.”
Separate business from personal finances.
Sometimes a side hustle takes off and turns into something bigger. But the owner doesn’t create a business account, Harbottle says. “They have always just been operating as everything’s just mingled together because it didn’t start with the intent of this is a business, you know?” She says having separate accounts reinforces the idea that you are running a business and you know just how much that business is bringing in. Besides, co-mingling funds can have consequences at tax time. The IRS uses record-keeping to determine whether you’re operating as a business or a hobby.
Add savings to the mix.
It might seem premature, especially if you’re just starting out. But an emergency fund can help cover unexpected expenses. Harbottle recommends using a high-yield savings account that pays more interest while keeping money readily available. When it comes to how much to save, Harbottle suggests going back to the numbers you’ve crunched. “If you know what your numbers are on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis, you can kind of start seeing the averages. Then that can help you determine how much you need to put away.”
Regularly review your budget.
Forbes Coaches Council member John Knotts of Crosscutter Enterprises calls a budget a ”living document.” “Too often, new business owners think their budget has to be perfect—especially the first one,” he writes. “Know that the budget can adjust monthly and it’s a tool to know where you need to adjust.“
Afi Scruggs is our staff writer. Afi is an award-winning multi-platform journalist and author who lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Her articles and columns have appeared in the Washington Post, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, The U.S. edition of the Guardian, USA Today, and Essence magazine and on washingtonpost.com. Her audio segments have been broadcast on national NPR programs as well on local affiliates in northeast Ohio. She’s also written three books: Jump Rope Magic, published by Scholastic; a genealogical memoir, Claiming Kin: Confronting the History of an African-American Family; and an essay collection entitled Beyond Stitch and Bitch: Reflections on Knitting and Life. The New York Times Book Review called Jump Rope Magic a “magical, spunky book.” Afi learned to knit when she was 7 years old and to sew when she was 9. She’s forever working on reducing her stash.