I believe all Americans need a financial plan. I've built a business on this passionate conviction, so clearly, I'm biased here.
But it's particularly true for small business owners -- whether you're an entrepreneur with the next $20 million idea brewing or you're setting up your Etsy store, your cupcake shop, or tutoring business.
By definition, a financial plan is a strategy that helps you achieve the goals you've set for you and your family. It takes into account your overall financial health, and assesses your budget, investments, retirement goals, and lifestyle to create a pathway to personal financial security.
Here are the biggest reasons any small business owner or entrepreneur should have one:
It keeps you organized.
As a small-business owner, depending on what type of company you establish -- whether it's a sole proprietorship, an LLC, or a limited partnership -- you ultimately end up running your business taxes through your own personal taxes. To keep from confusing the two, you must have strong discipline.
You want to have a clear visible way to see how the business is doing versus your own finances. From the get-go, a plan will establish transparency and separation.
It mitigates risk.
Anyone who is going into business with themselves is inherently taking on risk. One of the things that provided me comfort as I dropped out of business school and started LearnVest was that I had in place a basic plan with nine months of savings.
I like to call it my Cinderella moment: I knew that at the end of nine months, if I hadn't fund-raised and put myself in a position to be able to pay myself a salary, that I became Cinderella and had to send myself home from the ball -- or in this case, back to Plan B, which was getting a job.
As an entrepreneur-loving entrepreneur, I want to tell all burgeoning business owners out there to never, ever, ever give up on themselves.
But as a savvy number-loving financial planner, I need to tell you that drowning in credit card debt, having no retirement savings, and getting no paycheck is not a lifelong strategy. As a result, having a plan in place that tells you how much risk you can take on before you're taking on too much will force you to follow your dreams without ruining your future.
For me, after dropping out of business school, having nine months of savings empowered me to say, if by my Cinderella date I'm not earning, then I have to look my Plan B in the face. (Note: Those nine months included eating ramen and working on my boyfriend's--now husband's!--couch, like all good entrepreneurs.)
It keeps your head in the game.
I believe the absolute best business decisions happen from a place of calm and long-term thinking. And if you're under stress personally, I worry that fear drives leaders to make short-term business decisions that may or may not be the most valuable long-term play to build your strongest business. A plan provides you the comfort to know you can always do what truly is in the best interest of your business.
In addition to your lawyer and accountant, you need a financial ally on the team in order to tackle your best, brightest -- and hopefully -- most innovative future.
Not to mention, understanding your own money is a really good first step to understanding your business. So think of this as a dry-run -- your own personal business finance 101.
I want to know: How has a financial plan helped your business stay on its toes?