The pandemic made us all realize just how important having a good accounting framework in place is for small- and medium-size businesses.
Sadly, I saw so many of my clients struggle with the basic know-how needed to fill out the forms and paperwork required for Payroll Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. For some, it cost them their share of badly needed money. For others, even more headaches at a time when they couldn't afford them.
Yes, the paperwork was complicated and confusing, but the onus is on you, the entrepreneur, to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. How can you make good financial decisions without knowing exactly what your numbers are?
Can you imagine watching the NBA playoffs and seeing your team's star player running up and down the court with his shoelaces untied? How would that make you feel? Nervous? Scared? Worried? Well, that's exactly how I feel when I come across entrepreneurs who don't have control of their bookkeeping and accounting.
This isn't a new issue. In 2014, I suggested the creation of Accountants for America, which would be modeled after the Teach for America nonprofit. Recent accounting graduates would gain hands-on experience and valuable work references. Simultaneously, the small businesses would be able to get their bookkeeping in order at a presumably lower rate than hiring a seasoned professional.
We could use Accountants for America now more than ever!
A small-business owner who isn't current on their financials is at a substantial disadvantage in more than just funding applications. It's impossible to run a successful business without knowing where your money is coming from and where it is going.
Many entrepreneurs fall into this trap because they get so caught up in day-to-day operations. They get entangled in tiny details of their business and run out of time to review and update balance sheets, accounts receivable, and even payroll. Financial records are critical for filing taxes (and avoiding fines and penalties) and determining cash flow, expenses, profitability, and growth.
Also note that no matter how great your product or service is or how brilliant you are otherwise, it doesn't mean you're also a fiscal whiz. Entrepreneurs don't go into business because they're good with numbers. They go into business because they have an idea and a great passion to make it happen.
One consequence of bad bookkeeping in "normal times" is entrepreneurs taking on high-priced debt because they need money, and their records are not in good-enough order for a bank or Small Business Administration-backed lender.
Now that we're entering into a more-normal period, it's imperative that businesses think through their financial plans and decide how to proceed. Whether you are cautious or are planning bold steps, it's time for basic cash planning.
Many businesses made significant shifts during the pandemic, which means that a significant percentage have not taken the time to update their reporting systems. That's not a surprise, as reporting and accounting often slip down the priority list in high-pressure situations. But whether you plan to keep your pandemic-revised plan in place or change to something else, mind your finances.
Take the time to think through your cash in and out every week -- and give yourself a cushion. The last thing you want to do is hit a wall and run out of money, limiting your opportunities. Understanding your cash cycles requires you to have the right reporting and infrastructure around you. Ask yourself if you feel comfortable with your financial reporting and ability to look at least 60-90 days ahead.
If you don't like bookkeeping and accounting or don't think you're good at it, you're not alone. If that's the case, get some help. Nowadays, many accountants also provide consulting services that help you understand the story behind your numbers.
Check-in with your accountant or interview some bookkeepers. Get some different opinions about what steps might be best for you. This is an investment you can't afford not to make.