It seems simple. Your business needs money and so you begin looking for it. It then seems impossible. You discover you have limited options, if any at all. You are frustrated because you are not getting the answers you want and can’t understand why no one wants to help. If you are like most entrepreneurs you have probably failed to explain the problems that have lead to your request for money. You have probably failed to explain the solutions that your business is pursuing to address the problems and how money will help to facilitate a positive result. In short, you have failed to provide a compelling reason for someone to help your business. There is a simple way to present your request and get the money you are looking for.
“Got our year-end financials and need your input!!!”
Reading the financial statements for your business can be a very boring and unproductive exercise if you don’t know what you are looking at and what you are looking for. While entrepreneurs are rarely financial experts, they do have access to financial experts who can help answer their questions – which is part of the problem. Many entrepreneurs don’t know what questions to ask and are easily confused by the terminology, presentation and results found on their Balance Sheet and Profit/Loss Statement. Knowing what questions to ask can help you understand what you need to focus on and if you can find a way to keep your perspective simple, you might just unlock some hidden value.
“If you don’t know where you are going you’ll end up some place else” as said by Yogi Berra and used in different variations in almost every business book or self help book. There can be truth in common sayings and any quote or wisdom about getting where you plan to be even if you have no plan is more than half true. It is 100% true. Every business will end up exactly where it plans to be. In the face of no plan a business will do fine during a good market and will be in trouble during bad market. To the extent that a business knows what its goal or destination is, it will be able to grow and survive during good and bad times. For many small and medium sized businesses the “goal” can often be one of survival with no long term hopes or expectations. This is unfortunate because I believe many businesses fail due to their lack of planning and goal setting. My own experience teaches me this as does twenty years of working with entrepreneurs and business owners that have found themselves in need of financial help.
They say interest is a silent killer in any business. This is because you don’t really notice the impact it has on your profitability until you can look at an accumulated amount over a period a time to see how much of your profit actually goes to interest. It turns out that the money taken out of a business by an entrepreneur or the owners can also be an unnoticeable drain on profitability. Many small and medium sized business owners treat their business finances as an extension of their personal finances instead of treating their business like an investment. What many fail to realize is that without a policy or process around how owners take money from their business they may be doing more harm than good to their bottom line.
What is your balance sheet going to look like next year? The year after? What about three years from now? Do you care? Many times the answers to these questions are: not sure, no idea, don’t know and yes I care but I don’t have the information to properly answer these questions. It’s very typical for a small or medium sized business to not know what their financial statements are projected to look like over the coming year much less the next three years. Many times they will have a budget (that is usually inconsistent with their historical performance) but haven’t done the work to take the budget one step further and have it flow into an actual set of pro forma financial statements.
What are pro forma financial statements and why do they matter?
There is no such thing as easy money right? Are you sure? There are really only two ways to grow your revenue: cut costs or sell more. There is a limit to how much more revenue your business can earn by cutting costs whereas selling more is limitless. If you only had time to do one thing in your business it should be focusing on how to sell more. There is no easy way to do that then by figuring out how to sell more to existing clients either directly or indirectly. The more systematic you can make this the more profitable your business will be and ultimately your business will be worth more.
So how do you sell more to existing clients or customers?
Answers are easy. Asking the right question is hard. Over twenty years I have developed a skill for asking questions (to the dismay of my wife and family but that’s for another post). Many businesses get really good at delivering their particular product or service to the market but can experience challenges or problems that end up redirecting their efforts and sometimes causing them to lose sight of what they were trying to achieve in the first place. This past week I had the chance to have a coffee with an individual have known for many years who has had his fair share of challenges but like any good entrepreneur he used his lemons (bad circumstances) to create lemonade. Now that the moments of desperation are somewhat behind him he was looking to get himself on better financial footing and wanted some input from me. I asked him #OneQuestion that changed the rest of our conversation and ended with him sending me a lengthy email with all of his answers. I asked him:
“How much money does your business need for it to do more?”