It seems simple. Your business needs money and so you begin looking for it. It then seems impossible. You discover you have limited options, if any at all. You are frustrated because you are not getting the answers you want and can’t understand why no one wants to help. If you are like most entrepreneurs you have probably failed to explain the problems that have lead to your request for money. You have probably failed to explain the solutions that your business is pursuing to address the problems and how money will help to facilitate a positive result. In short, you have failed to provide a compelling reason for someone to help your business. There is a simple way to present your request and get the money you are looking for.
“If you don’t know where you are going you’ll end up some place else” as said by Yogi Berra and used in different variations in almost every business book or self help book. There can be truth in common sayings and any quote or wisdom about getting where you plan to be even if you have no plan is more than half true. It is 100% true. Every business will end up exactly where it plans to be. In the face of no plan a business will do fine during a good market and will be in trouble during bad market. To the extent that a business knows what its goal or destination is, it will be able to grow and survive during good and bad times. For many small and medium sized businesses the “goal” can often be one of survival with no long term hopes or expectations. This is unfortunate because I believe many businesses fail due to their lack of planning and goal setting. My own experience teaches me this as does twenty years of working with entrepreneurs and business owners that have found themselves in need of financial help.
They say interest is a silent killer in any business. This is because you don’t really notice the impact it has on your profitability until you can look at an accumulated amount over a period a time to see how much of your profit actually goes to interest. It turns out that the money taken out of a business by an entrepreneur or the owners can also be an unnoticeable drain on profitability. Many small and medium sized business owners treat their business finances as an extension of their personal finances instead of treating their business like an investment. What many fail to realize is that without a policy or process around how owners take money from their business they may be doing more harm than good to their bottom line.
What is your balance sheet going to look like next year? The year after? What about three years from now? Do you care? Many times the answers to these questions are: not sure, no idea, don’t know and yes I care but I don’t have the information to properly answer these questions. It’s very typical for a small or medium sized business to not know what their financial statements are projected to look like over the coming year much less the next three years. Many times they will have a budget (that is usually inconsistent with their historical performance) but haven’t done the work to take the budget one step further and have it flow into an actual set of pro forma financial statements.
What are pro forma financial statements and why do they matter?
Answers are easy. Asking the right question is hard. Over twenty years I have developed a skill for asking questions (to the dismay of my wife and family but that’s for another post). Many businesses get really good at delivering their particular product or service to the market but can experience challenges or problems that end up redirecting their efforts and sometimes causing them to lose sight of what they were trying to achieve in the first place. This past week I had the chance to have a coffee with an individual have known for many years who has had his fair share of challenges but like any good entrepreneur he used his lemons (bad circumstances) to create lemonade. Now that the moments of desperation are somewhat behind him he was looking to get himself on better financial footing and wanted some input from me. I asked him #OneQuestion that changed the rest of our conversation and ended with him sending me a lengthy email with all of his answers. I asked him:
“How much money does your business need for it to do more?”
If you have ever been confused about what net profit is you can take comfort in knowing that even the great Sir Richard Branson admits that understanding net profit can be tricky (click here to read more). I have had numerous conversations over the years with entrepreneurs and individuals running businesses that have done a great job explaining how their business generates gross revenue from the products they sell or the services they provide but can’t easily sketch out how the business earns net profit. It can be tricky but it can also be the difference between having a great business and a business that barely gets by or seems to never have enough cash.
Have you ever wondered about what is involved in leasing (or financing) equipment? I chatted with Danilo (Dan) Terra of Leasex Financial this morning and we covered lots of ground. Dan is quite optimistic about the current economy here in Alberta and is excited to see the growth that is happening with his clients. Having been an ex-banker Dan has been able to become a specialist in equipment leasing and financing and he shares his opinions, thoughts and advice on our Google Hangout.
I chatted this morning with Calgary based consultant and CA, Brad Celmainis about small business finance. Brad is an accountant with a great personality who thrives on helping small businesses. In addition to being somewhat of an Instagram celebrity (click here for his account) Brad specializes as a contract CFO and/or controller. We chatted about some basic finance topics that every small business owner should consider including why a balance sheet is so important to review on a regular basis and clean-up as necessary. Brad drew a comparison based on his experience that many business owners treat a balance sheet like a junk drawer or a garage – lots of items in there but no one really knows what they are.
I talk about this often but it’s always good to repeat valuable pieces of information – especially if it saves someone from wasting their time. One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that their bank has their interests in mind. I am not saying that banks do not care about their clients but I do think it is important for people to know that banks are businesses not charities. As such they have a business plan, target customer types, sales goals, profit margins, etc. which all attribute to their ability to help someone looking to borrow money. Many people think that just because they know their banker they can ask for whatever they want and if the bank says no that they have no other options. Here is how it really works.
I had a great meeting with a new contact yesterday who was seeking some financing for her business. When asked what the funds were for she advised that the money would be used for marketing. Her business has already had a small measure of success and has accumulated a few hundred interested prospects and a handful of customers. Her reason for wanting to spend money on marketing the business was to try and drive more people to the front door of her business. I have heard different versions of this story from many entrepreneurs and businesses including Bridge Capital who has had outside investors.