Stave Off Business Problems Before They Become Critical With Accounting Software

All medium and large companies hold regular meetings at which the financial accounts are presented and discussed. While all businesses have problems from time to time rarely do medium and larger businesses actually go out of business and if they do it is invariably because financial mistakes have been made.

Small business should take note of this fact and especially self employed business that often do not have regular presentations of the financial statements and the ensuing discussion. Considering the financial state of a business is a critical area that is so often missed from the management of a small business.

Every business has to prepare a set of financial accounts. Those financial accounts may be produced manually or using financial accounting software. The main objective of producing the accounts is all too often to satisfy taxation requirements and not the financial control and management of the business.

When accounts are prepared on an annual basis the day to day financial management of the business is reduced to the size of the bank balance. When that bank balance reaches a critical low level the small business will react but the action required to fix the problem may well have been endemic for many months. Early action is always best.

By using accounting software and the financial control it can offer the small business not only provides an early warning system but also indicates where management action is required. Financial accounts should be prepared on a monthly basis to maintain financial control.

Accounting software can be a simple system of producing a monthly profit and loss account and for many small businesses that may be sufficient as the smaller the business the more intimate knowledge the owner has of its finances. Other types can produce balance sheets and with a balance sheet the value of creditors, debtors, bank balances and assets. In larger organisations the financial accounts will be more sophisticated and produce analysis of all main areas of the business.

During the financial life of a business there are types when sales grow and times when sales decline. The amount owed by customers is called debtors and the debtor balance may grow in line with sales turnover but can also move according to the efficiency of the financial control and credit control systems in place. The movement in the debtor balance potentially having a critical financial effect on the liquidity of the business.

The overall movement of the debtor balance on a day to day basis is not always obvious and only by producing a specific total at the end of each month can the debtor balance be viewed and questions asked to maintain strong financial control. Slippage in credit control procedures must be tackled at the earliest stage to avoid a serious financial impact on the business.

Purchase expenditure can also increase and reduce and the creditor balances can increase and decline. There is a tendency in businesses not making sufficient profit for the creditor balance to grow as the time taken to pay suppliers is extended. Such action may be necessary and is a natural reaction but the real cause should be addressed, that cause being an inadequate level of profitability.

The profit and loss account for a small business should not be viewed as an administrative headache but a vital tool in the financial management and control of the business. A monthly profit and loss account produced by the software should be viewed more of a financial health check on the business.

The profit and loss account will show the sales turnover and a list of purchase expenses producing a net profit or loss for the month. By comparing the current month to recent previous months the trend of financial performance becomes obvious. This is a critical function of it to produce real numbers that will indicate where action is required.

The accounting software retains previous financial information entered that enables sales to be monitored and the effect of sales and marketing campaigns to be seen in real numbers. Purchase expenses and business costs can also be viewed and patterns can be easily detected. Any numbers produced by the software can then provide the basis for management action to either improve financial control or take management decisions to grow higher sales or reduce costs.

By using a financial accounting system to critically review the business finances on a regular basis provides both opportunities for sales growth and higher profit levels but also serves as an early warning system of business problems. A profit and loss account and in larger businesses a balance sheet too are essential tools in achieving financial control of the business and producing the desired financial performance.

The absence of a suitable system or used purely for tax purposes once a year leaves the financial performance of the business to the intuition of the management and is unmeasured. Imagine if the same criteria were used in a sporting context.

A long jumper practices every day and believes he is jumping well but never measures his jumps or analyzes his physical condition, training schedule, run up speed. It would come as no surprise if another long jumper with similar ability who monitored fitness levels, worked on the run up and jumping technique and measured every jump would in competition jump the farthest.

And so it is with accounting software and regular financial control. If the numbers are produced on a regular monthly basis the numbers can be diligently analysed and an improved financial performance will follow but most importantly business problems can be detected and fixed before they become terminal.

What To Include In The Financial Section Of A Successful Business Plan

Having extraordinary skills and talent in a business area, being hardworking and determined, persistent, having great ideas and full of energy is a fantastic mix for a successful business career. But all those exquisite qualities mean nothing if the end result is not represented in the bottom line.

The financial section of the business plan is where all the operational items included in the rest of the business plan come together. There are three essential elements to a properly thought through and well constructed business plan. Those elements are a forecast profit and loss account stating the income and expenditure, a cash flow statement that determines the liquidity and a sensitivity analysis that indicates the risks and opportunities within the business plan.

The forecast profit and loss account should be prepared on a monthly basis for the first year with an annual projection for the second year. The first year of every new start up business can be difficult due to financing and funding growth from a standing start which is why the first financial year should be detailed.

The forecast profit and loss account is the financial calculation of all the sales, purchases, expenditure and prices contained within the other areas of the business plan. In addition full account should also be taken of the business administration costs. All the figures in the business plan income and expenditure account should be fully supported from the physical projections contained in the other sections and derived from those sections.

From the sales section multiply the sales volume of each product by the considered selling prices. Keep to a minimum sundry additional income that might be expected. The resultant financial calculation produces the expected monthly sales turnover.

Using the information in the production or operations section of the business plan and if included the purchasing section the sales volume should be evaluated at the expected purchase cost of the products and services. This produces a cost of sales figure which when deducted from the sales turnover provides a forecast gross profit figure each month.

The business plan should include notes and comments of all other main cost items including projections of staff requirements. Together with administration and overhead costs a monthly projection of the expected running costs of the business start up can be produced. The business running costs are an important area to forecast in detail as while sales prices and costs may be determined with some accuracy errors in the business running costs could cause a good business to fail.

The monthly forecast profit and loss account is complete by entering the sales turnover, deducting the cost of sales and the business running costs, overheads, to produce a net monthly profit. The bottom line may start in a monthly loss until volumes grow but should indicate a satisfactory profit. If a loss is indicated do not manipulate the numbers to show a profit which would be hiding the truth, instead go back to the sales and costs sections and consider what action is required to justifiably increase gross profit margins or reduce overhead costs.

Cash flow is often critical to a small business plan and a lack of capital or liquidity to carry out the ambitions and projections of the small business owner is a principal cause of small businesses going into liquidation before those business aspirations are achieved. The cash flow statement is based upon the volumes and prices included in the business plan and stated in such a way as to indicate the financial resources required.

Cash flow is different to the profit and loss account as the profit and loss account only states the different between sales sold and costs incurred. The cash flow statement takes account of both the profits made plus volume changes of purchases and stock, one off payments, financing debtor balances offset by creditor balances and shows how liquid and solvent a business is.

Producing cash flow statement tends to come within the province of accountants. A simple cash flow statement can be produced by starting with the net profit or loss each month, deducting the cost of stock which has not been sold yet including both raw materials and finished goods stock and also deducting any one off payments such as bills that have to be prepaid and the cost of paying for fixed asset purchases.

In addition when a new business starts up the amount owed to suppliers, creditors, is zero and the amount owed by customers, debtors, is zero. During the year these balances will change each month in proportion to the financial terms and conditions of the business and the movement of these balances need to be entered on the cash flow statement. An increase in debtors reduces the cash flow liquidity and an increase in creditors increases cash flow liquidity.

The third element of the financial section is an analysis of the whole business plan and the projections in what is called a sensitivity analysis. A technical accounting area for the majority of non accountants but nevertheless an important area as it is the financial sensitivity analysis that should indicate both the increased financial opportunities and the financial risks carried within the business plan.

All major areas within the business start up plan such as sales volume, sales prices, important cost elements and other factors that may have an impact on the business should be evaluated. For each item set an upper limit and lower limit based upon potential market conditions and risks.

Make a financial evaluate of each upper and lower limit for every item and determine the impact each would have on the profit and loss account and the cash flow statement. Also combine the financial effect of several factors to assess the impact of a combination of events on the small business. A lower sales volume may be uncomfortable for a small business but combined with lower sales prices and higher costs the risk could be severe.

The financial section of a business plan should be accurate and reflect the projected financial performance of the start up business. It is also important it is honest and evaluates the risks involved so that should any of those risks become reality urgent management action can be taken to limit the financial effect.

In practice some of those risks will happen and being forewarned can be the difference between survival and failure with liquidity being the most dangerous risk of all.

The Nuts and Bolts of Running Your Business

There are three key processes in operating a small business-management, strategy and operations-all of which are tightly integrated. The management process provides a framework for hiring, training, and managing people to produce results. The strategic process defines your short-term, as well as, your long-term goals—where you want to take your business (earnings, sales, and revenues) and how you will get there. The operational process provides the road map, tools, and resources for getting there.

Effective business processes depend on standardization— setting standards of how things should be done and formalizing processes for getting things done to meet those standards. With basic systems in place, jobs, tasks and decisions are easily performed rather than becoming confusing challenges.

One of the most common causes of business failure is the lack of standardized systems. Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants management generates chaos and inconsistency. However, if you create basic systems and processes for performing day-to-day tasks that can be easily replicated, then you are well on your way to building a business that produces consistent results.

One of the greatest entrepreneurial success stories is that of McDonald’s, a complex, well-run business system that is operated by ordinary employees who serve over 45 million people every day. Its founder, Ray Kroc, didn’t invent the McDonald’s concept, but he did revolutionize the food service industry through automation, attention to detail, exceptional efficiency, and the highest standards of safety and cleanliness.

Standardization of processes is a necessary part of the transition from a fledgling company to a professionally managed enterprise. As your business grows, standardization of processes and procedures is essential to future growth and success.

Early stage entrepreneurships are characterized by informal management, ad hoc procedures, and, at times, a total lack of systems, processes, and procedures. At some point in the business lifecycle, standardization becomes critical. Very few businesses can manage by exception or flourish because they do not have a system for getting things done.

Standardization means creating a prototype of how your business should run, charting an organizational path, identifying key functional areas, and establishing positions to support them. It means hiring, training, and acculturating people. It means creating a system of standard processes, procedures, and guidelines that inform employees how to deliver goods or services and formalize the steps in an operations manual.

One of the goals in producing a policy and procedure manual (operations manual) is to document the core business processes that produce an optimal business model. An optimal business model should be easy to understand, should be repeated on a continued basis by other employees, in other offices, over time. Optimal models generally produce consistent results, increase profits, and improve employee morale. Consistency reduces risk and uncertainty while producing a more stable company.

Business growth does not have to equal complexity. Success sometimes hinges on elegant simplicity. Many times, when companies expand as a result of rapid, unplanned growth rather than a carefully orchestrated plan, complex inefficient operations result. Organizations find themselves with staff, resource, and equipment redundancies, lack of formal systems, duplicated efforts, and no clear line of sight to the strategy driving the business.

In order to safeguard your business from becoming too complex and inefficient, streamline your business processes. Here are some tips to help you streamline your company’s workflow processes:

o Analyze each existing business process.

o Identify gaps in efficiency and productivity.

o Develop a solid plan to redesign and formalize processes.

o Nurture cooperation from partners, investors, managers, and employees.

o Prepare your company for inevitable changes.

o Establish performance benchmarks.

o Roll out the plan using a phased approach.

o Monitor and evaluate progress.

o Consider outsourcing processes that you cannot handle in-house.

In today’s competitive market, the processes that you employ to deliver your products and services are often what differentiate your company from your competition. Therefore, make sure your company is as efficient, responsive, and as productive as it can be.

Copyright © 2007 Terry H. Hill You may reprint this article free of charge in your newsletter, magazine, or on your website, provided that the article is unedited, and that the copyright, author’s bio, and contact information below appears with each article. Articles appearing on the web must provide a hyperlink to the author’s web site.