Despite some encouraging signs of economic recovery this year, 2011 is forecasted to be another year characterized by slow growth and fiscal conservatism. To prepare your business for this slowly recovering economy, the time is right to review your business finances and implement ways to best manage your company’s money in 2011.
Remember that your business’ finances are in your control and it’s up to you to ensure that they are well-managed. Try some of these tips to prepare for the new year.
1. Budget, budget, budget. Don’t get caught off guard. Develop a budget for what you expect, another for the best case scenario and another for the worst. Being prepared for various economic circumstances will help you quickly adapt to changing economic environments. Also create a five year business plan to keep a long-term goal in mind and to prevent over-reacting to business trends. No one has ever regretted being over-prepared, but being under-prepared will have consequences.
2. Get to know your banker. Sit down with your banker and review your business’ needs and plans for growth. Ask about new products and services that you may be able to take advantage of. Get your banker working for you and together develop a plan for regular review of your banking services. Bankers have seen businesses succeed and fail in this economy and may provide a new perspective on finances and strategies. Banks also have many measurements to rate businesses. Ask about your bank’s tools and utilize them to help your business.
Don’t be afraid to ask about loans. There’s a common misperception that banks aren’t lending money right now. However, many banks, especially community banks, have developed special programs to help businesses obtain loans in this economy. In fact, don’t be afraid to ask any question. Bankers have their own vocabulary so ask if you don’t know what debt service coverage or a loan covenant is.
3. Get educated. Take advantage of classes offered by your bank or your local chamber to learn about business finances in the recession. This is a low or no cost way to get expert advice and learn from other businesses in the same situation. The U.S. Small Business Administration can also be a resource and offers several free online classes for operating a small business in today’s economy. Other options are to take an accounting class at your local community college or to join a business development group, such as Opportunity Knocks.
4. Be detail oriented. Take the time to keep detailed records and leave a paper trail of business expenses. The time you spend now to keep careful records will be recouped at tax time. Using a debit or credit card will leave an easy-to-follow paper trail with easily accessible records.
5. Meet your needs. Review your accounting system to ensure it is meeting your needs. Accounting software changes regularly and becomes more intuitive and efficient. Make sure that the software you have is robust enough to meet your needs. You may also consider hiring a bookkeeper, either full-time, part-time or on a contract basis, to help manage your finances. A bookkeeper might be the answer to keeping those meticulous records.
6. Negotiate. It’s not a bad word. Take the opportunity to meet with vendors and business partners to renegotiate your agreements. There might be room to save money and improve your margins and bottom line. Be sure to put all of these business agreements in writing.
7. Be ready for change. Find out what laws will change in 2011. These laws, whether tax, employee or industry related, could change the way you operate. Discuss the tax laws with a CPA or attorney and understand which will impact your business in 2011. Be prepared and plan for the impacts.
8. Take ownership. Just because you have a bookkeeper and/or a CPA doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know what gross margins or retained earnings are. It is essential to be educated to protect yourself and your assets. There have been several cases of embezzlement in our community during this recession. Make sure that you have checks and balances in place to protect all parties.
9. Be efficient. Small changes can contribute to money-saving efficiencies. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs, turn off all office equipment – including computers – at the end of the day, and cut down on paper usage by printing only what’s abosluetly necessary.
10. Reevaluate. Don’t lock the budgets you prepared away. Periodically review them, compare to actual results and make adjustments in a timely manner. Be flexible and adapt to changing demand in volume, products, or services to position your business for all potential revenues/revenue sources, efficiently manage expenses and optimize profits and cash flow.
Following these steps will help you approach 2011 fiscally prepared. Business success in this economy takes real determination and persistence. Better managing your business finances will position you for growth as the economy strengthens.
Mike Donaca is the vice president and commercial relationship manager for Umpqua Bank. He can be reached at MikeDonaca@UmpquaBank.com or 541-312-4807.