Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The Biggest Mistake New Entrepreneurs (Almost Always) Make

The point: have a plan for the money you earn within your business, and be ruthless about it. Otherwise, you'll only succeed through sheer luck.

A short meditation, today. Losing power for forty-one hours during the busiest week I've had in my practice has set me back a little, but I had to share this with all of the new and hopeful entrepreneurs out there.

First, some context: I have been intimately involved with the start-up planning and financing of at least six small businesses - eight if you count my practice and my husband's renovation company. I know what it's like to build a business, feed a family, pay a mortgage, and save for tomorrow (and next year, and the years after that) on irregular and sometimes insufficient income. I am completely sympathetic to the feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, and stress that entrepreneurs feel, because I am one. But this has got to be said:

Please, please stop saying "the business will pay for it." And stop saying "but it's a write-off" while you're at it.

People, the money your business makes is a real, finite resource. The operating account for Joe's Plumbing isn't an endlessly renewing cup of Red River Cereal like that one you made on that camping trip last year but didn't add enough water to, so every bite you took was rapidly replaced and you despaired of ever finishing the stupid stuff.


I've seen it too many times: in the first flush of success, when the cash is flowing, the operating account is full, and it looks like wild success is right around the corner, it's so easy to pay yourself a celebration bonus or invest in new equipment instead of setting aside money for next year's income tax bill or your HST installment.

Justifying an unnecessary purchase because it will allow you to pay slightly less money in income tax is like buying something you didn't really need because it was on sale. 

When your business buys something, it can't buy something else. If your hand is always in the till, and you don't ever manage to get (and keep) your business money separate from your personal money, you're guaranteeing yourself years of one cash flow crisis after another, years of stress and frequent burnout, and - eventually - you'll give up or be forced by desperation to abandon your business and try to get someone to hire you again.

Be as careful with your business income (and - I hope it's obvious but I'll say it anyway - your business borrowing) as you are with your own income. Set yourself a start-up budget and be ruthless about what you do and don't need. Set cash flow goals for your future purchases, as in: that new piece of equipment is "affordable" once the business starts making X amount every month for six months.

You probably have a great idea, and you're very likely really good at what you do. Don't let disorganization and poor impulse control ruin a perfectly good business.
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Sandi Martin is a fee only financial planner who specializes in business and personal budgeting, investment advice, and debt management strategies.
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