Owning a small business takes confidence, determination, and a willingness to take on many roles. One of the most challenging of those roles is managing the business’s finances, as most owners don’t have a background in finance and their priority – understandably – is on running the business and taking care of customers.
It may often feel like a balancing act, as owners stretch themselves to strategize, organize and execute on their business model while also keeping an eye on the future. Unfortunately, it is common for business owners to find themselves in financial situations that hinder success, from cash flow and debt issues in the short term to strategizing a solid retirement plan in the long term.
With all the time, passion and effort invested in the business, often alongside family members and close personal connections, it’s essential for owners to understand the financial considerations they will inevitably face along the way. A financial advisor makes a trusted and unbiased sounding board to keep owners on track to meet their financial goals while also helping them avoid some common missteps.
Here are six common small business money mistakes to avoid:
- Premature lifestyle changes and unnecessary purchases. When getting to a stage of being cash-flow positive, owners often first feel a sense of relief. Continued success then leads to confidence in looking beyond covering overhead to making a few well-earned lifestyle upgrades. Should they buy a new home? Purchase that new car? The issue here isn’t in the reward but in the timing. Especially in our 40s and 50s, it’s critical to be thoughtful about making any lifestyle changes that may not be sustainable, especially without mapping out a clear vision of the future.
- Underestimating tax requirements over time. Taxes are a way of life and of business, and owners at the start-up phase often overlook the importance of hiring a professional to manage their taxes. There are many layers at play here, and it’s very difficult for a business owner to stay up to date on changing requirements. Just in the past year alone, we’ve seen many proposed changes to tax laws that could significantly impact small business owners. And every business is unique in its liability based on its size, location, the type of business you operate, etc. Your business plan’s financial projections can help you estimate your tax liability and a good rule of thumb is to pay quarterly taxes on your income. Another wrinkle to consider is your movement between tax brackets in your working versus your non-working years.
- Not sticking to and evolving your budget. This one is fairly straightforward, but you would be surprised how many business owners slip from a budget or fail to update their budget as the business grows. Without a solid budget, it’s difficult to plan for future tax requirements, insurance, and even potential emergencies. This may lead to taking on unnecessary debt that can be really detrimental to your success. From another perspective, with a structured budget in place, an owner can pivot quickly to minimize expenses when needed (for instance, during the worst of last year’s pandemic that impacted many small businesses) and also feel confident in making necessary large purchases that benefit the company.
- Mixing business and personal finances. This one also seems very obvious, but as a small business owner who manages everything day-to-day in their personal and professional lives, it can be easy to blur the lines at times for the sake of convenience. However, failing to keep business and personal expenses separate makes it very difficult to keep track of how much money the business is actually spending or making. Over time, this can lead to cash flow issues from balancing accounts, estimating appropriate taxes and calculating profits, and even impact your ability to get a business loan.
- Overlooking your employer-based retirement plan. One of the most attractive benefits a business can offer employees is a solid retirement plan. Without spending the appropriate time understanding your options and the tax implications of your plan, you might unknowingly be short-changing your people and doing the business a disservice. Should you choose a SEP IRA or a simple IRA plan? Can the business afford to match contributions and if so, at what percentage? Keep in mind tax diversification strategies also (pre-tax or post-tax).
- Sleeping on a succession plan. With many owners focused on the here-and-now, it can be difficult to find time to plan ahead for retirement and for selling the business, especially when that timeline is potentially far into the future. It’s important to start the planning years in advance, however, and it starts with a discussion that balances your personal goals with what carries value. What are you hoping to achieve in 5, 10 and 15 years that would make you look back at your business proudly? What’s the most important thing for you to get out of selling your business down the road beyond the money? With that mindset, you can then assess how you can make small changes to your business early on that could add more value down the road. Maybe it’s key hires, or streamlined processes, or technology upgrades. Bigger changes might be location changes or advertising investments. You can operate in the present with the perspective of always asking, either “How is this adding value?” or “Does this align with my personal goals for the future of my business?”
While every business owner has a unique set of circumstances and experiences, awareness of these common mistakes, as well as partnering with professionals who specialize in managing finances are key to staying on track for a bright future.
BerganKDV has a team of financial advisors who help small business owners navigate their personal and professional finances. Want to learn more about what we can do for you? Start here.
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The views expressed are those of BerganKDV Wealth Management. They are subject to change at any time. These views do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other firm. Investment advisory services and fee-based planning offered through BerganKDV Wealth Management, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor.