No business is too small for a proper budget

Many business owners mistakenly think their operation is too small for a formal budgeting process. The budget (of sorts) that many business owners keep inside their heads is often more like a basic recipe, and is usually inadequate to deal with the constant change that every business is subject to.

This is according to Jeremy Lang, regional general manager at Business Partners Limited, who says that no business is too small for the discipline of hammering out a formal budget – which needs to be used daily in the management of a business.

He says that proper and thorough budgeting is beneficial to a business as it clearly impacts on its long-term growth prospects. “Business owners who compile and use formal budgets know well in advance when cash will run out and can plan for it. They can also plan properly for business expansion and their financial decisions are often based on carefully thought through facts and figures. In short, budgeting gives them financial control over their businesses.”

Lang says that a business owner must ideally budget at least once a year for the 12 months ahead, but in order for the exercise to be in any way meaningful, the process must meet a few crucial requirements:

  1. The business owner must be involved in setting up the budget. This exercise provokes thought (on the part of the business owner) and it assists in planning once he / she sees the detail. One shouldn’t be leaving a budget up to a bookkeeper or accountant.
  2. An annual budget that is drawn up only to be kept in the bottom drawer means nothing. The value of a budget comes to the fore only when a business owner constantly reviews it, consults it, adapts it and compares the forecast figures with the actual figures – at least once a month, in order to identify material variances.
  3. A budget based on actual figures from previous cycles is a good platform to start with.

A budget for any business should include at least a sales forecast, a cash-flow forecast, and income and expenditure forecast, a capital expenditure forecast and a balance sheet forecast, says Lang.

He explains that of these, the most important working document for any entrepreneur is the cash-flow forecast. “Without a cash-flow forecast, a business is at a high risk of running out of cash at some point.”

“Many of the common mistakes that business owners make in budgeting has to do with the cash-flow forecast. It is very important that the cash budget takes into account the realities of the business’s debtor and creditor cycles. Business owners must take into account the cash lag from the date of having to pay suppliers to the date on which payments are received from customers.”

Lang adds that often business owners neglect to work taxes such as PAYE, VAT and provisional tax payments into their cash-flow forecasts.

Another crucial part of budgeting is the sales forecast, which needs to be as accurate as possible, says Lang. “One of the greatest strengths of entrepreneurs – their optimism and can-do attitude – can also be a limitation if sales predictions are set too high. Realistic yet challenging sales forecasts should be set.”

He warns that despite its obvious benefits, budgeting is still often neglected by business owners, due to factors such as sudden spikes in sales and increased cash flow, or absolute focus on day-to-day operations. “It is very easy to drop your guard and take your eye off finances and business owners need to guard against these bad habits.”

Lang advises such entrepreneurs to rope in support from an advisor or reputable accountant who could help with drawing up a budget. “The mere step of making an appointment with an accountant helps to enforce the discipline of preparing for the meeting, and taking a step back from the operations to reflect on the finances.”

He says that business owners who struggle with budgeting often find that, once they grasp the basic principles, and become comfortable with using spread sheets, compiling and reviewing budgets do not take much effort. “It is not a complex, nor daunting exercise. All business owners need to do is seek proper advice and support, and then dedicate time to draw up a budget,” concludes Lang.

Open communication can turn family into a valuable business asset

In a sense, almost all owner-managed businesses are family businesses. The fortunes of even those run by a single entrepreneur without the direct involvement of other family members are heavily influenced by what goes on at home.

Such lone-operating business owners can turn their families into one of their greatest assets – a refuge of emotional support and healing when things are tough at the business, a source of inspiration during tedious times, a sounding board to help with difficult decisions. But like all relationships upon which an enterprise depends, this relationship requires concerted effort and focus, says Jeremy Lang, regional general manager of Business Partners Limited.

The ideal is to get your family to incorporate your goals for your business into their own goals. They must know what your goals for the business are and they must want you to reach them. If they do, they will always be ready to support you when you need them.

This does not mean that you are unnecessarily burdening your family with the worries of the business world, says Lang. Aligning your goals with theirs allows them to be part of your ups as well as your downs. It lets them share in the adventure of your business journey and allows them to be engaged in your life, which, after all, is what most family members need from one another.

Lang sets out a number of principles and pointers for engaging with your family about your business:

  • The basis of making your family part of your business is open and transparent communication. Keep them abreast about good and bad developments in your business. “They have to understand why they can’t go to the restaurant this month (when your business is going through a hard time),” says Lang.
  • Don’t try to shield your family from the bad news in your business because it may make them anxious. They are much more likely to become anxious by noticing that you are under pressure without knowing the context. Rather try to allay anxiety by describing to them the whole picture.
  • The first step in communicating to your family about your business is to clarify your goals. You have to explain to them what your definition of success is. For some entrepreneurs, success is reaching a certain net-worth target, for others it means financial independence, retirement at a certain age or freedom from eight-hour work days.
  • Invite your spouse and children to spend some time in your business. Make a point of celebrating the achievements of your business with your family. If you land a big contract, for example, arrange a family treat.
  • Allow your family to take care of you when you’re down. Keep communication channels open and honest so that your family can offer emotional support when you need it. Being vulnerable takes courage and always leads to a stronger family bond. Use technology to communicate with your family when you are at work, and vice versa. Accept that the work life of a business owner is more difficult to separate from home life. Fortunately, modern technology makes it possible for you to sort out a crisis at work or at home without always having to physically go in.
  • When you have to spend long hours at work, try to make it up to your family by spending quality time with them on another day.
  • It is always a good idea to have a mentor, someone who can help you with the business side of things, but also with family issues. An ideal mentor would preferably be someone who has successfully managed the same kind of lifestyle.
  • If you miss the goals which you have set for yourself and communicated to your family, renegotiate. Don’t just ignore them and hope that no one will notice. The more seriously you take your own goals, the more seriously your family will take them too, even when they change from time to time.

Daily communication around the dining room table is crucial to keep the family informed, but nothing stops entrepreneurs from having a more formal discussion, perhaps once a year, about the state of their business to their family, just as they would to a shareholder or a potential joint venture partner. It helps to focus the exercise and give it weight. The family is, after all, one of an owner-managed business’s most important stakeholders.