Over the last year and a half, as I’ve been meeting and speaking with small business owners and nonprofit leaders, one thing has amazed me. I’m always surprised to learn how many businesses do not have a budget. Either they are small enough that they don’t see the point. Or they have never had one, so why start now? One for-profit business told me that their entire purpose is to make money and who needs a budget for that? Maybe most concerning is when the leader has a strong understanding of the finances, but they just keep it all in their head.
Allow me to explain why I believe everyone needs a budget. This goes for nonprofits, for-profits, and even your home finances. A budget is simply a plan; with numbers. Most business leaders, whether they write it down or not, have a plan for their business. They know that they want to grow, maybe add a staff person, possibly expand into new markets, etc. In order to do all these things and more, you need a plan. And more specifically – you need a budget.
Why Avoid Budgeting?
It seems that many leaders avoid the budgeting process because of a fear of numbers. People decide early on that they are “not good at math.” And that leads them to steer clear of anything with numbers. This is why it can be helpful to think of a budget as a plan that you assign numbers to. With modern technology, a simple Excel or Google Sheets workbook can be designed to do all the math for you! If that’s too techy for you, a piece of paper and a calculator will do the trick too.
Another reason leaders disregard budgets is that they do not want accountability. A budget tells you what you should be bringing in and what you should spend. That creates stress and frustration for some. Keeping in mind that you’re the boss of your business can be reassuring. YOU are the one holding yourself accountable!
Along the lines of accountability, people will forgo a budget because they think they need to be able to predict the future. Meteorologists can’t do that, and neither can you. Fortunately, no one actually expects that of you. However, based on your knowledge of your industry, of your business, and of trends, you CAN be expected to make educated assumptions. If you’ve been growing steadily for 3-years, it can be reasonable to expect that trend to continue. If you’re in a more volatile industry, you might have to work harder to see trends, or plan for ups and downs. It’s not predicting the future, it’s developing a plan based on your expertise.
Creating and following a budget will empower you in the following ways:
- Making sound decisions
- Educating you on what is really going on in your business
- Helping you control your spending
- Identifying problems
- Being proactive
Making Sound Decisions
Business leaders make decisions every day. Everything from the epic to the mundane. Your ability to make really good decisions will likely determine how long you stay in business and how successful you will be throughout your career. Fortunately, you have at your disposal a super-power-like tool that can help you to make great decisions. And, you guessed it, that tool is a budget.
Think you need to add a staff person to improve production? A budget will tell you if and when you will have the finances to make that addition. Thinking about expanding a product line? Your budget will tell you if that’s a good idea or not. Want to give raises to your amazing employees? A strong understanding of your revenue and expenses will make it clear when and how much will be appropriate and responsible.
If nothing else, the process of creating and monitoring a budget will give you a strong understanding of where your money is coming from and where it is going. With super-powers like that, confidence in your decision making abilities will go through the roof!
Educating You on What’s Really Going On
As stated above, a budget puts your finger squarely on the pulse of your money’s comings and goings. It will tell you which product lines are kicking butt and which ones are under-performing. The amount you spend on staffing will become crystal clear; not just in terms of salaries, but also taxes and benefits. You will understand the true cost of doing business. You can even break it down so you know how much it costs to produce each item or service you sell.
Over time you will be able to see if your business is going in a positive direction or a negative one. As you develop your budget you will be able to see how things look for your year. From there you can make decisions that can help make your year look better. If your budget for the year doesn’t show revenue covering expenses, you know this up front and have the ability to change plans. You can also build-in decision-making check-points. For example: If things are still trending up after the first quarter you may want to plan for additional investments.
Helping You to Control Your Spending
If you are not tracking your expenses, you are definitely losing money. There’s an old saying: What gets measured gets managed. It might not be much. A few dollars here, a few there. Not knowing where your money is going can really add up. A great example is the daily coffee many people indulge in. Even if you go econo-coffee from the local convenience store, this likely amounts to $5 to $10 per week. Left unchecked, that’s over $500 a year! What would it look like if you saved or invested that money instead?
If a daily coffee is important to you, keep it in the budget. This is not intended to anger the coffee drinkers! The purpose of a budget isn’t to take away things you need or really want. Rather, it shows you where your money is going. You are likely spending money without realizing how quickly it adds up, or considering what you can do with that money with a little bit of planning and intentionality. A budget brings bad habits to light and allows you to do something about them.
In addition to teaching you what you are spending money on, a budget can help you find problems. This is how embezzling is discovered! Does something seem off, but you can’t put your finger on it? The power of a budget will help you figure it out. By comparing the amount that should be coming in with the actual revenue you can find discrepancies and dig in. If spending seems off, your budget will help you root out the source of the added expenses.
As this suggests, it’s not enough to just create a budget. You have to put your eyes on it. A monthly review is best. Once a month look through and see if your actual revenue and expenses are on track with the plan you created. If so, do a little happy dance! If not, you will be able to make decisions that will get you back on track. (This monthly comparison also allows you to monitor changes in trends so you can make great decisions.)
Finally, a budget gives you the power to be proactive about the future of your business and your life. Whether this is in the area of saving for emergencies or planning for your retirement, a budget makes saving possible. A survey from Bankrate.com revealed that over 80% of people are not saving enough for retirement and 20% are not saving anything at all.
A mistake often made is that people “plan” to save “whatever is left over” after all expenses are paid. As you may have guessed (or experienced), that’s not a plan at all. With that approach, nothing will ever go into your savings. And when there is an emergency, your business may not survive. By putting together a budget, and planning to save for emergencies and retirement, you are much more likely to invest in your future and the future of your business. By including ALL of your expenses in your budget, you will know what it really costs to run your business and support your life.
Numbers do not lie. They are not there to make you feel good or feel bad. Using a budget makes you knowledgeable and in control of your business and your life. Wield it as such.
I am not necessarily a “numbers person.” But I do love a good plan and a solid spreadsheet. I also love making good decisions with as much information as possible. This is why I’m a budget superfan! If you are interested in receiving a budget template, email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com. I can also help you to transfer your plan into numbers and set you up with a budget that works for YOU. Let’s connect!
Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.