“Don’t save what is left after spending; spend what is left after saving.” -Warren Buffett
In 2004, I began my business with such excitement and enthusiasm that each and every morning I could not wait to get to the shop and get to working in and on my business. In the evenings I found it hard to calm my mind down enough to go to sleep. I was like a kid trying to go to sleep Christmas Eve!
As the months turned into years, this excitement was still there but something had crept into my life that was beginning to drain some of the enthusiasm and passion. It wasn’t the work, customers, or the employees… It was the stress coming from financial strain. This strain was not only in my business, all business feels some of that; this was coming from my personal financial strain.
I was always able to move things around and make things happen no matter the cash flow. It wasn’t always easy, but it always worked out. But at home was a different story. As I was trying to figure out the problem, I became aware that I was neglecting the most important employee the business had… Me.
I was not treating myself as a real member of the team. When things were tight at the shop I would wait to write my check until things were a little better in the business checking account. The funny thing was that when the checking account would get a little better, this sense of security kept me from pulling money out of the business and I still wouldn’t write myself a check.
This went on for quite some time and I always figured I would catch myself back up when the business was doing even better. This is a very dangerous way to operate any business. The business was already 6 years old. How long was I planning on doing this?
Priority #1: Pay Yourself First
The biggest take away here is that if you own a small business and are just getting started, that you make it a priority to “Pay yourself first!” Not doing so is a common mistake I see made among new entrepreneurs and it isn’t a move that will lead to success. Instead this will eventually lead to not only personal financial hardship, but also allow fatigue, disappointment and resentment to creep into your passion.
The best I can figure is that as the owners of small businesses we treat them as though they were our children, our babies. The business is completely dependent on us to make decisions for it so that it can thrive and succeed. As a parent now, I am confident that if there wasn’t enough food for dinner I would go without so that my children could go to sleep with full stomachs. This works for the short term, but compounded over time, my children would be worse off from the loss of their father from starvation.
It’s easy to look at your business and make the sacrificing decision to forego your own income to insure that there is enough money for the business to operate on. And there are times where we have to make those choices and sacrifices to achieve our goals within our business. But what we have to do is create a system and a plan so that these situations do not become a perpetual issue that keeps our personal lives from being financially stable as well.
As entrepreneurs, we get into business for many different reasons. But the main reason is to make money and provide for our families doing something we love and have total control over. We have to keep this in mind and understand that at the end of the day, if we are not bringing home an income we are not running a business. Instead we are spending time working on our hobby. This will not sustain us long term financially if that is our goal.
For a business to truly succeed it has to know what players exist and operate accordingly. If you don’t deliberately charge the business for your work then the business has a false sense of success.
What if You Tried to Sell Your Business?
Think of your business as if you were going to sell it. Many of us would never think of selling our most prized possession, but just humor me for a moment. If you were a buyer looking at the books of a business like yours and it showed a profit of $100,000 per year consistently, you would be pretty interested right? What if you discovered that the owner didn’t have a salary at all taken out of the business in those books, and the owner provided 75% of the labor that was associated with delivering the goods of that business to market to generate that $100,000? What this means to you as the buyer is that if you bought the business and the owner was gone then you would have to hire a person to do that job to ensure that the profit stayed the same for your investment.
If a person to do that job cost $50,000 a year then your profit would be $50,000 a year on your investment not $100,000. What if that skilled person cost you $75,000 per year? The deal doesn’t look so appealing now does it?
In order for you to truly know how your business is doing financially, all labor expenses must be accounted for and no one works for free… not even you!
A Portion of Every Dollar Should Go Home
When you are getting started in your business, set it up so that the business is paying you something out of every dollar that comes in. (Here is an article that shows how I do this in my accounting, Strengthen Your Business)
This is not a bad thing for your business. Your business will always generate the money it needs to survive… as long as it knows that it needs to generate that amount. Have you ever had that month where you had no idea how the money was going to come in to cover everything? But at the end of the month you look back and see that you had just enough come in and made it work. That’s because the business knew what it had to do and decisions were made, jobs were completed, and calls were made to make sure that happened. Make sure that the business knows all the numbers it needs to hit in order to achieve its goal… including your income no matter how small it is.
Pay yourself first… no matter how small it may have to be! Pay yourself first!