All posts by Judi Otton

Why budgeting is so important when you’re struggling

tough financial times

I meet so many business owners that are living hand to mouth.  They have that nervous feeling in their stomach every time they need to pay bills.  Worried that this is the month they’re not going to be able to make payroll, or wondering if they can pay themselves enough to cover their mortgage.  Budgeting can help.

Maybe you’re just starting out.  If that’s the case, then this is to be expected.  It takes a while to build a business, any business.  But if you’ve been in business for a few years and it’s still like this, please – stop the madness!  It doesn’t have to be this way!

It’s time to make some changes.  This is no way to live.  Here are three areas to look at to change the path you’re on.

Market/Sales

What are your sales doing year over year, month over month, do you know?  Are they flat, decreasing?  Do you know why?  What’s going on in your broader market that’s affecting your sales?  Are there adjacent markets you could be serving?  Other or different products your clients need? Are you just not getting the word out effectively anymore?  You need to really dive in here.  Be creative.  Experiment with some new marketing techniques (and measure the results!)  Do some analysis about which of your clients and market segments are still doing well and go find more of those.  Talk to your best, worst, and former clients about their businesses and needs.  There’s something there, you just need to find it.

Expenses

Requote everything!  Utilities, vendor contracts, rent/lease if you can, If you have any debt, see if makes sense to restructure it.  Do you need all the space you have?  Could you move somewhere smaller?  Do you need all the staff you have?  I know, this is a tough one, but we’ve got to consider it.  By this time, you may feel that you’ve cut everything you can but take another look.  See if you can get creative, but remember, you can’t cut your way back to health.  Which brings us to my favorite area of potential……

Efficiencies

Most businesses have so much opportunity here.  Are there ways to improve your throughput, are there investments in equipment that will pay off with greater efficiencies, lower costs, higher quality.  Could you focus more on one market, service, or product (ideally the most profitable one – not the one with the most revenue) and do that really, really well?  While all of these areas could benefit from the help of an outside expert, this one really screams for it.  An outsider is going to see things with a fresh eye, Things you’ve taken for granted, things you’ve always done the way you do them.  In those blind spots, there’s gold!

If you’ve covered all of these areas fully, you’ve enlisted the help of a fresh set of eyes, and you’ve still come up with nothing you can change, it may be time to think about winding down the business (or unprofitable product), especially if you’re losing money.  Continuing to run a losing business is just going to lose you more money.  I know it’s a hard decision, but you need to stop!

If you need help with any of this, I’m happy to have a conversation.  Just reach out to me anytime here

 

 

Why budgeting is so important when you’re thriving

I often meet business owners that are doing great.  They don’t need a budget.  They have money in the bank, sales coming in and are growing at a nice pace, but are there dangers lurking ahead?  Wouldn’t you rather know before they jump out of the closet and cause a commotion?  I sure would!

Even if you don’t want more out of your business (and I’m not sure who doesn’t!) putting a budget in place and making sure you stay on track can avoid unpleasant surprises and identify landmines.  Before you step on them!

What kinds of things could happen?

Clients

What changes are going on with your clients?  Get out and talk to them.  Understand what’s going on with their businesses.  You’ll get a heads up if their volume is likely to fall off and who knows, you might even get some new ideas of ways to serve them

Vendors

Understand what’s going on with your materials, inventory, or other big expenses.  Talk to your vendors.  See what’s coming down the pike.  Maybe you’ll even get some ideas on cost savings!

Waste

You may also find expenses that you don’t need anymore, or could be done better.  Like that old print advertising campaign – maybe there’s a more effective way to allocate those funds!

Even though you may not have been looking to be even more financially successful, who would turn that down!  Now take that extra profit and treat yourself, or your team.  You all deserve it!

Growth

Which brings us to the positive side of having a budget – are you allocating your funds in the best possible way?  Are you taking advantage of the opportunities coming your way and fulfilling your strategic goals?  Without a budget in place, I often see business owners miss out.

If you want to grow your business, it takes cash, for more staff, more space, more inventory, marketing initiatives, and other investments.  Trying to grow without a plan in place is a recipe for disaster.  What if you hire too soon and don’t have the cash or credit for inventory, or expand into that big space and can’t get the word out to fill it?  Growth is often pretty messy, but it doesn’t have to be quite so bad.

Lay out your plans – all of them and estimate the costs associated.  IT will give you a good picture of the cash you’re going to need to realize those plans and allow you to make tradeoffs before you’ve committed cash to something that might not be your highest priority.

It’s not hard to create a budget and a process to track it.  Contact me here.  I can help.

Is your business healthy or just big?

Financial Fitness

I meet a lot of business owners that are doing everything they can to build a big business.  I also have met quite a few owners of big businesses that are struggling.  What all of these business owners really want is a healthy business.

Does this sound familiar? Have you been focused on growing a big business? (whatever that means to you)  Or do you aspire to grow a healthy business?  And do you know the difference?

The business owners that are happiest with their businesses have healthy businesses, regardless of size.  What does it mean to have a healthy business?  Here are some questions to ask yourself

Big vs. Healthy

Are you getting a paycheck?

1) The owners are taking home a very nice salary.  Regularly and without (too much) stress.  After all, it’s your business, and you’ve taken the risk.  If you’re not reaping the reward, what’s the point?

Is there something left over?

2) There’s profit left over to reinvest in the business.  For growth, for new initiatives, to reward your team, to support your community or whatever else you’d like to do with your business.

Is there a cushion

3) There’s cash in the bank.  Some like to call it a war chest, but I’m a pretty peaceful person so I prefer rainy day fund.  The point is, there isn’t going to be a panic if there’s a sudden large expense or your biggest client has cash flow problems or disappears.

Are you diversified

4) You’re not relying on one client or industry.  That’s too many eggs in one basket.

Is Uncle Sam happy?

5) There’s money set aside to pay taxes, and your quarterlies are getting paid on time.

Do you have the right team?

6) You’re able to hire the quality and quantity of people you need.  Maybe not every single time (there are always the few that get away) but on a regular basis.  This is an area where the investment can really pay off.   A few (or ten) thousand dollars a year more for the right team member can really make a huge impact in your business and your personal workload (assuming you’re still working in your business)

And the right equipment?

7) You can afford the right equipment, and afford to maintain, replace and upgrade it as necessary.  For certain types of capital equipment intensive businesses it makes sense to put money away for this regularly.

Can you get more?

8) You can borrow money easily at a reasonable rate.  Sometimes those business opportunities come up that you just don’t want to pass by.  Being able to borrow money when you need to, as leverage, can be key in growing your business.

Can you monitor your health?

9) You can get financial information, and answers to financial questions, and “what-ifs” easily.  Frankly, you won’t have any of the other aspects of financial health if you don’t have the right systems in place and know how to use them.  Having insight into your finances (past, present, and FUTURE!) is critical to making good business decisions.

In conclusion…

Granted, this is a lot, and for newer companies this should all be something to aspire to (except number 9!  You can’t get anywhere without number 9).  It takes time to build up to this, but with these goals in place, your business should be humming along, generating the cash that it should be for you, so you can go enjoy your boat or beach house or travel, or whatever you love to do with those you love!

Ready for the new FLSA Regulations?

dreamstime_s_4224551You may have heard recently the overtime regulations based on the Fair Labor Standards Act have changed.  You may also have wondered “what does this mean for me”?  Well, I’m here to tell you.

First of all a little background:  This act defines who is and is not entitled to overtime wages when working more than 40 hours per week.  Employees can qualify as “Exempt” from the act for a variety of reasons, but they are not exempt just because they are paid a salary (as opposed to hourly).

Classifications

In order for an employee to be classified as exempt, his or her job must pass three tests. The employee must:

  • Be paid at least the minimum weekly or yearly dollar amount as mandated by the Dept. of Labor.
  • Be paid on a salary basis.
  • Perform specific job duties.

These specific exempt job duties are broken into five classifications:

  • Executive – Executive job duties must include supervision of 2 or more employees and input on personnel decisions such as hiring, work duties or promotions.
  • Professional – Professional job duties include well educated specialists like attorneys, doctors, teachers, architects, accountants and nurses.
  • Administrative – Administrative job duties must require an exercise of discretion and judgment with the authority to make independent business decisions without immediate supervision. For example, human resource, finance, payroll, marketing and advertising professionals are all generally exempt. Your administrative assistant probably is not.
  • Outside sales – outside sales professionals whose primary job duties are sales conducted outside of the office are exempted.
  • Some computer related jobs – Computer related job duties need to include performance of high level work that involves significant decision making. Examples could include the duties of network, internet and database administrators.

Highly Compensated

In addition to these five classifications, employees that are “Highly Compensated” can be exempted even if they don’t pass the duties test.

The changes just signed into law and taking effect on December 1, 2016 have adjusted the salary thresholds for all exempt positions and the Highly Compensated exemption.  The standard threshold for exempt employees has risen to $47,476 from $23,660, so this means that in order to qualify to be exempt from the FLSA an employee must make at least $47,476 per year.  The threshold for Highly Compensated individuals has risen to $134,004 from $100,000.  In addition, benchmarks have been set to adjust both of these thresholds for inflation.

One important note, the Department of Labor expects written justification of an Exempt classification.  If investigated, the Department of Labor will be looking for your Compliance Plan.  Within it should be a stated policy and workflows that outline how you arrive at Exempt or Non-Exempt classification decisions.  When in doubt, the DOL has workflows tools online to answer any gray areas:  Visit http://www.dol.gov/elaws/esa/flsa/overtime/menu.htm.  Failure to pay overtime could result in 2-3 years of back pay per affected employee plus back payroll taxes and fines.  This is an expensive mistake to make!

What does it mean to you?

So now finally, what does this mean to you?  If you have employees that have been classified as exempt that do not meet the minimum salary threshold ($47,476/year), or if you have employees that you were relying on the Highly Compensated Employee exception for exemption that are making less than $134,004/year you have three options:

  • Raise their salary to the threshold. Remember, these thresholds will now change annually so you will need to continue to keep pace.
  • Change them to salaried non-exempt. You can continue paying them salary, and will also have to pay them overtime for any hours worked over 40 in a week.  You’ll need to start tracking hours.
  • Change them to non-exempt hourly. You’ll need to start tracking hours

Some final thoughts:

Rolling this out to employees needs to be done thoughtfully.  Even though employees may now be eligible for overtime, some may take the reclassification to non-exempt as a demotion

The exemption is based on the position, not the employee.  If you have some folks classified as exempt and some as non-exempt in the same position, you’re likely to get yourself into trouble.

If you have any questions or concerns, talk to an expert.

This is a great opportunity to make sure all your employees are correctly classified.

Rock the second half of your Year!

Can't stop time!
You can’t stop time

Here we are beginning the second half of the year, and if you’re anything like me, you’re wondering where the time went.  You may also be wondering what the heck happened with your business (or personal!) goals.  Well, the good news is there’s still time to recommit.  That’s exactly what I’m doing.

For me, the dog days of summer have always been a time to take a step back and see what’s working or not working.  Here are some suggestions based on my own experience:

  • How are you performing against your budget? The good news is, there’s still plenty of time to catch up
  • Did you have any big business initiatives you have yet to accomplish? I do (more on that in a month or so!) and I’m using the slightly quieter time in the summer to jump start those initiatives.
  • How are you doing promoting yourself and your business? If you’re like me and you find speaking engagements to be effective (and fun!), now is the time to start lining them up for the fall.
  • Are you taking time for self-care? This is the one that I have the hardest time with, but for the rest of the summer, I’m not working weekends!  So, if any of you get a business email from me after 5 PM on Friday, please, PLEASE call me on it!

What are you doing to make sure you rock your year?

No Time for Forecasting?

No time for Forecasting
No time for Forecasting?

I don’t have time to worry about forecasting or budgeting

I hear from a lot of business owners that they don’t have time for forecasting or to do budgets or forecasts. I get this, I’m a busy business owner too, but that’s foolish and short sighted. But, let me ask you this – do you have time to scramble on payday to make sure there’s enough in the bank? Do you have time to waste and deliberate when you’re making a big investment? Or would you rather have the financial information to make the best decision? Do you have time to hound your customers when you really need them to pay you because you haven’t kept on top of things to start with? Do you have time to recover from making a big financial commitment that you really couldn’t afford? Do you have time to waste because you didn’t make the investment you could afford? NO? I didn’t think so!

So this is why you need to be looking ahead in your business. Yes, it takes a little time, but it saves a lot more time plus the stress and uncertainty.

I’ll tell you how I fit it in – a little at a time. Yes, it takes some time to build the initial forecast, but once that’s done (and you can get help) maintaining it is not terribly time consuming. Personally I’ve picked Friday mornings to do my “admin” work, and part of that includes updating my forecast. If you look at it weekly, and keep it up to date, it’s not a big deal. It’s also available and valid when you do need it. When you do have that big business decision to make and you’d like some insight into your financials.

Try it. And then let me know how it works for you.

7 Top Tips to Avoid Excel Errors

5395284268_d4d99151f8_oErrors in Excel spreadsheets are very common. I make them too! We’ve been hearing more and more about how much it’s costing companies here, here, here, and here.

I’ve written about using purpose specific commercial software products here, but what if you just HAVE to use Excel? Well, today, I’m going to give you a few tips on avoiding the most common Excel errors.

Design / Build / Test

Just like ‘real’ software, an Excel spreadsheet will be better designed if you take some time to do some minimal design work up front. At least for a moment, think about what you’re trying to accomplish. The data you’ll need, the data you have, the formulas you need, etc. Thinking in advance will prevent you from building something that isn’t going to suit your purpose. Or isn’t going to do it easily.

Step by Step

One technique I particularly love it building the model step by step. This means you may have some extra columns. Here’s a very simple example. If I was building something to calculate (A + B) / 3, I’d create a column that was (A + B) and then another column that takes the result of that and divides by 3. You can always combine the formulas later (be sure to keep your step by step model and check the results along the way) or hide the intermediate calculations. See below for an example.

Avoid Errors with intermediate calculations
Make intermediate calculations in Excel

Row by Row

Build your model for one row of data first. Test it, proof it, and then, and only then copy it for all data. Test it again as your data varies, but start with one row to make things simpler.

Check your Totals

One error I see commonly (and have made more than once myself!) is forgetting to extend the totals at the bottom when new rows are added. Just double click on the total, to see the range of cells included. Check this after making any major edits or adding new data. This works for any formula – you can make sure you’re using the cells you expect, by double clicking.

Another Set of Eyes

The single best way to catch errors in your spread sheet (or even in your thought process) is to explain it to someone else. This means you need a willing victim – oops – I mean collaborator, but if you can find one that will go through all the details with you do it. And then buy them lunch!

Lock it up

Another very common cause of spreadsheet errors is overwriting formulas. Before you share your spreadsheet (and even if you don’t) protect the calculated cells. It’s also a good idea to provide a visual indicator of either areas where users can and should enter data and where they should not. This is relevant even if you’re the only one using the spreadsheet.

Use your sanity

If a result seems surprising, or unexpected, question it. That’s probably good advice in any circumstance, but especially here. If you can, try to make the calculation by hand and make sure that unexpected result isn’t the result of an unexpected error.

With these tips, you’ll be much less likely to make a big Excel error, but still – be careful! And please – share your favorite tip in the comments!