Editor's note: "The First 90 Days" is a series about how to make 2016 a year of breakout growth for your business. Let us know how you're making the first 90 days count by joining the conversation on social media with the hashtag #Inc90Days.
Money is always on the minds of entrepreneurs.
It's not so much the idea of winning lots of money by finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Instead, founders worry about whether they'll have enough cash--whether from customers or investors--to pay their employees and suppliers each month.
While trying to meet their monthly cash needs, founders are always planning their next big push to raise the capital needed to reach their venture's growth goals.
The start of a new year is a great time for founders to think about money questions. Here are nine such money questions and my tips on how best to answer them.
1. How strong are our systems for tracking and forecasting cash?
Since cash is the lifeblood of a company, founders ought to have systems to track all the cash coming in and going out of the company when it happens.
Moreover, founders ought to forecast for at least the next six months how much cash will flow into and out of the company from all sources.
If your venture can't track and forecast cash, you need to build a system that can--and it better be working well in 90 days or less.
2. Do we have enough cash coming in from customers?
Many startups give away their product for free with the hope that they will make the money back later.
For most ventures, cash from customers is critical. You ought to know how much each customer is expected to pay each month and consider whether you are doing enough to make sure they pay you quickly and predictably.
If you don't know when or how much customers will pay you each month, you need to get a clear picture of that right away. And if you don't have clearly communicated and tightly enforced payment policies, putting them in place should be your top priority.
3. Are our suppliers offering favorable payment terms?
The flip side of this cash equation is that suppliers may be willing to give you a break on how quickly you must pay them for their goods and services.
If suppliers are requiring you to pay up front or even within 30 days, you may want to explore whether you could persuade them to give you more time to pay.
4. Can we cut spending on frills that don't fit our mission?
If you're running a startup, you probably should keep your cash outflows as low as you can.
For example, it's rare that expensive office space is critical to your company's survival. Moreover, if you are buying desks, consider whether you could get the desk for less by foraging plywood from construction sites and propping it up on bricks.
If your startup's mission is sufficiently compelling, top employees will be glad to sacrifice expensive frills for a chance to burn the midnight oil to make your venture a success.
5. How long before we burn through our cash reserves?
You ought to know how many months will pass before your startup runs out of cash.
The calculation should be simple enough--divide your startup's cash in the bank (or money market fund) by the amount of cash you burn through each month.
If you don't know the number, you must build the systems needed to find it, fast.
And if you only have a few months' worth of cash left, it may be too late to raise enough to keep your startup's lights on.
If you have at least six months left before you run out of cash, you should have enough time to raise money from investors.
6. How strong are our ties to angel investors and venture capitalists?
You ought to have good relationships with potential angel investors and venture capitalists who have experience with your industry and can help your company with capital and advice.
Those potential investors ought to be in a position to help your venture get customers, partners, talented employees, and great suppliers.
If you have not met and built relationships with such people, you ought to do that immediately. And you should assume it will take at least several months to build those relationships before you go out to try to raise money from them.
7. How much capital should we try to raise?
When you go out to raise capital, you need to know how much money you are trying to raise. To do that, start with your goal.
For example, if your venture has $20 million in sales and wants to reach $100 million, it may need to expand from, say, the U.S. to Germany, Japan, and China.
To do that, you may need to hire sales people to cover each country, add some engineers who can tailor your product to these countries, and perhaps build manufacturing facilities in each location.
Such considerations should help you develop the assumptions you'll require to estimate how much capital you need to raise.
8. How would we use that capital?
Those assumptions should also help you explain how your company will use that capital.
But you should have a clear explanation for why spending the money for those assets will help you meet your revenue target.
If you don't know how much capital you need to raise, how you'll spend it, and why those investments will boost your revenues, you might answer these questions in 90 days or less.
9. How can we persuade potential investors to invest?
If your capital is running low, you must persuade potential investors that they will be missing out on high returns unless they write your venture a check.
To do that, start off by telling a story of a person in pain and how your venture will relieve that pain better than any other company.
Continue your tale by toting up the number of people who suffer from the same ailment and how much they are willing to pay for your product.
Conclude by explaining how much market share your company can win, how much capital you need to generate those revenues, and how much your company will be worth once you hit your target.
Use these nine tips in the next 90 days, and your startup's finances should be fine.