Business startups are all about the bottom line — profitability is the standard by which success is measured. For many first-time entrepreneurs, “profitability” is an elusive concept. At its base, it makes perfect sense — bring in more cash than you spend, and the business will be profitable. At its core, however, there are numerous factors that keep a viable idea from ever actually turning a profit.
One of the most common problems in business startups boils down to poor financial management. The fundamental mistakes that entrepreneurs make can be easily rectified with just a little effort and attention to accounting processes.
The most common financial mistakes made when starting, and how to avoid them, are:
Lack of fundamental accounting knowledge
Entrepreneurship requires a strong basis in basic business essentials, and standard accounting skills in particular. Simply purchasing an off-the-shelf accounting system is not enough — the tool is only as useful as its user. From correctly categorizing expenses to ensuring debits and credits are balanced, knowing how accounting systems work, and why they work, is not only a good idea, it is an absolute necessity.
Failure to develop accounting procedures
Every financial transaction in a business should follow a consistent, written, formalized procedure from decision-making to recording. That is, every income and expense should follow the same path from approval to data entry into the accounting software.
Without standard procedures, transactions get lost, decision-making becomes inconsistent, and the numbers never seem to quite work out. Everyone involved with the company’s accounting system need to be handling transactions in the same manner, and those procedures need to reflect an understanding of financial controls.
Inaccurate data entry
Along with developing standard accounting procedures, it is essential to include steps that verify the accuracy of the data entered into the system. This may seem obvious, but every struggling business we have encountered had serious data entry errors in the books. A small error — an extra digit, transposing numbers (2521 instead of 5221) — can wreak absolute havoc in a fairly short amount of time. Establishing at least one double-check procedure can eliminate the majority of these mistakes.
Failure to review and analyze
One of the great features of every available piece of accounting software is a set of easy-to-create financial statements. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs are number-phobic and do not take the time to learn how to use these crucial tools for financial management. A simple, consistent review of the numbers and running a few basic financial ratios can be extremely revealing, both in terms of potential problems and identifying exploitable opportunities. Business owners do not have the luxury of being “not-a-numbers-person” — business is all about the numbers, thus it is essential to use the available tools to keep control over your venture.
Failure to budget
It is nearly impossible to launch a successful startup without a well-researched budget, and even more difficult to survive without planning out the business’s financial future. No budget generally indicates no planning, and tends to result in throwing good money after bad, especially during lean times in the venture. Setting a budget allows a business to maintain focus on a well-developed strategy while ensuring the cash flow is sufficient to keep the business alive and growing.
It is a common but inadvisable error for first-time entrepreneurs to underestimate the importance of solid financial management. Simply ball-parking expenses and taking a see-what-happens attitude with the cash flow are quick paths to failure. Doing your homework and mastering the fundamentals of accounting are not just a good idea, they are the only way to build a viable business idea into a thriving company.
K. MacKillop, a serial entrepreneur with a J.D. from Duke University, is co-founder of LaunchX and authors a blog focused on starting a business. The LaunchX System for Business Startup will help you avoid financial management mistakes as you are starting your business and includes Peachtree Accounting software to help you manage your finances. Visit LaunchX.com to find out more about our complete business startup kits.