In working with small, growing entrepreneurial businesses, I have discovered several common financial-related issues with which they struggle. When I first start working with these businesses, most if not all of these issues exist. All of them are critical to their success in managing and growing their businesses. The good news is that with time and focus they can be rectified.
In no particular order, here are five small business challenges that I see most:
1. Lack of Timely and Accurate Financial Statements
In today’s business environment, decisions are made at a fast pace. Information is readily available via the Internet, yet internal financial information to improve the decision-making process is sadly deficient. Most business decisions have financial implications, and without this basic financial information, it may be a shot in the dark. Many times the financial statements are put in a drawer and never reviewed because the information is too old (not timely); the business owner doesn’t believe the information is correct (not accurate); or the financial statements support the preparation of the income tax return, not running the business (not operational). They usually only become important when the business owner needs to meet with the bank.
2. No Cash Management
As we all know from operating a business, cash is king! It is the common denominator for all businesses: NO CASH = NO BUSINESS. Other than the current cash balance (most of the time determined by looking at the bank’s balance), most small businesses don’t manage their cash.
Cash management includes understanding your business’ “operating cycle” (i.e. cash-to-cash cycle). To improve your “operating cycle,” it is imperative you understand what it means, how to calculate it, and what influences it before you can improve it. Many times I will ask, “What do you expect your cash balance to be in six months?” Most of the time, they are fighting cash flow problems today and can’t think about the future past this week. Managing cash flow will provide a real sense of control over the business.
3. Poor Pricing Management
Setting the price of our products or services will drive revenues and, just as importantly, the “gross margin” for the business. Unfortunately, not enough time and attention is provided to this aspect of business. In working with small business owners, I find many have not revised their “pricing formulas” for some time, while others don’t really know their underlying costs to derive a sales price that provides profit. Many products are market-driven because of competition, so it is imperative to know not only the direct costs but also all costs necessary to produce a profit. Gross margin analysis by product line, products or customer is critical for small businesses.
4. Lack of Systems and Processes
Processes, whether documented or not, exist in all businesses. It is the way we perform the work necessary to produce our products or services. In most small businesses, the underlying processes to accomplish the work are rarely documented or reviewed as a whole (i.e. system). Developing efficient and effective systems and processes generally reduce costs and/or improve productivity. In businesses where there is a high turnover of people, documented processes are critical for training to ensure employees achieve higher productivity quicker.
5. Minding and Grinding Not Finding
I have developed a simplistic organizational model for small businesses. I have identified the three roles in small business as Finders, Minders and Grinders. Grinders represent the employees whose focus is about today. They generally work in the production side of the business. Most Finders start as Grinders. The Minders live in the past; their work is in the administrative, accounting, customer service or warranty departments. Minders are just as critical as Grinders to the success of the company and must be led. All Finders live in the future. They are the visionaries, innovators and relationship builders. They are the passion and the drive for the business to grow and succeed.
The entrepreneur is the Finder and must stay in the Finding role. Unfortunately, as businesses grow the Finder gets pulled into the company and works in Minding and Grinding activities. Without a change back to the Finding role, the entrepreneur/small business owner severely limits the business’ ability to grow. In working with small business clients, they almost always identify with this organizational model.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, these challenges for the small business owner can be corrected. Most of them are fundamental changes. As with most challenges and the related changes, awareness is the first step.