Sometimes you have to give up control to gain control.
That's a painful lesson I find small business owners whose businesses failed discover too late. They're so invested emotionally in growing their ventures that they lose sight of the big picture and stretch themselves thin trying to cover all the bases. By the time they look up, they're going under.
Recently, my company, Xero, conducted a survey of small business owners in the U.S. and U.K.. We found that "financial issues," like access to capital and cash flow, were identified as the top reasons for closing up shop. But the survey also showed that small business survivors were more likely to build a strong relationship with an accountant or bookkeeper.
I'm not surprised. There aren't many of us who can claim all the skills it takes to run a business successfully, let alone have the time to do it all - and do it well.
So, when is the right time for a small business owner to turn to a financial expert? Or at least invest in financial or accounting technology (the second leading strategy among the business survivors we surveyed)? Is there a make or break moment?
My thinking is the sooner the better. Our customers tell us that adding financial expertise to the mix is liberating. They say it gives them more of a sense of control to know where they stand financially and helps them make better decisions about allocating time and money resources.
In reality, there is no absolute right time to make the move. A variety of factors affect that decision. But there is wisdom and experience out there for the taking. Here's what four of our customers told us.
...When You're on the Verge of Outside Funding
Angela Watts, Co-Owner, Slyde Handboards
When Angela Watts decided to join her future husband's two-year-old bodysurfing handboards startup in 2012, one of the first things she did was set up a cloud accounting program. But when they knew it was time to take the company to the next step and seek outside investment, the former marketing professional said they started looking for expert help.
"We got into the San Diego Sport Innovator Springboard [business accelerator] earlier this year and we got four experienced mentors, including a financial advisor," she said. " I learned about cost tracking and profit and that our gross margin was too low. That was my aha moment. So we cut costs elsewhere and our gross margin is now closer to 70% and we can afford to pay all our expenses."
...When You Realize That Spending Your Time Elsewhere Would Lead to Faster Results
Kelly Barker, Co-Founder, Prep Cosmetics
Like many new small business owners, Kelly Barker started out running her skincare line with a simple spreadsheet application and the help of a part-time bookkeeper. But since hiring a full-time CPA and bookkeeping service that handles her taxes and receivables, Barker said she's been able to recover five to ten hours of her time each week.
"If there is a job you absolutely do not like to do you end up putting it at the bottom of your list and what happens is the list just grows and grows. That was me with bookkeeping," said Barker who started building her company in 2013 and launched her first products a year ago. "Whatever it is, find a way to outsource it, especially if it's not a lot of cost. Because time is such a factor and if it isn't driving success, it's not worth your time."
...When Things Are Still Simple Enough to Be Understood
Carolina Fontoura Alzaga, owner, Facaro
Los Angeles, CA
For Carolina Fontoura Alzaga, a multidisciplinary artist who crafts and fabricates chandeliers from recycled bicycle parts, accounting was just something she resisted.
"I'm an artist. My brain doesn't really work very well around accounting. I was neglecting my finances and never knew how much money was coming in or going out," she said.
But when she needed to file personal and business income taxes together in 2012, she finally turned to an accountant. Now, she continues to follow a system set up for her.
"My advice is to bring on an accountant as early as possible, especially if you don't know anything about money management," she said. "If you learn the system when it's most simplest, you can be guided through the process and have a better understanding as you grow."
...When You Sense Your Staff Is About to Rebel
Greg Patterson, Founder, Queue
When Greg Patterson first launched his management app for music venue owners in 2013, he leaned on the accounting staff at another service he had also co-founded. But when his growing teams started to feel the burn, he realized it was time to come up with a better system.
"When you see your staff is stressed trying to get the books closed for one company and reconcile credit cards or pay bills for the other, you have to find another way to do it," he said. "Because otherwise people are either going to quit or start doing a bad job."