By Mary Beth Storjohann
As an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to bring in the money in your business. And as you know, it’s up to you to manage the money to help the business grow. It’s no different outside of your work with your personal finances.
1. Separate your business and personal finances.
If you’re a new entrepreneur, you might have fallen int the trap of not separating your personaland business accounts. It feels more convenient to combine them, but it makes keeping track of them difficult. Keeping separate checking, savings and credit card accounts makes sense at tatx time, too. And in some cases, separating your assets reduces your liability risk of losing everything if something negative were to happen down the road.
2. Track your income, expenses and cash flow. You need to be very clear about whether or not your business is making or losing money. Once again, it’s just the same in your personal finances. You can get that clarity by tracking your income, expenses, and cash flow. If your expenses are regularly exceeding your salary from the business, you need to know so you can make changes sooner rather than later.
As an entrepreneur, you probably have a variable income. That’s why you have to take it one step further and plan your cash flow. Cash flow can be tight when a large expense and a lower income month hit at the same time. It’s not just how much you make and spend; it’s also about when the income and expenses appear.
Take a look at the whole picture so you can see if you need to save in advance for a big purchase. Paying attention to both your income and cash flow will make it easier to meet your monthly obligations and still have some left for fun, too.
3. Create a budget that works on an income that fluctuates. Managing cash flow on a variable income is not a simple task. A budget helps make it easier.
Separate your spending into necessary expenses, discretionary ones, short-term and long-term savings. You now have a monthly income target. If you ever have a lower income month, you’ll know exactly what you need to pay the bills. Then you can allocate the rest according to your priorities.
4. Build up your emergency fund. As an entrepreneur, you will probably have some months where you make less money that you’d like. Your emergency fund is your first defense against an income that alternates from month to month with slow or busy periods.
The general rule of thumb is that you keep at least three to six months of expenses saved. Since your income is more volatile, you deal with more risk — and that means creating a bigger fund. Aim to save six to 12 months’ worth of expenses to protect yourself against the unexpected.
5. Take advantage of retirement accounts. Even though you’re not an employee and can’t use a 401(k), you need to save for your future. In fact, that makes it all the more critical for you to do so — it’s up to you to put aside some for the day you can’t or don’t want to work anymore.
Make the most of your hard-earned income by tucking away your savings into tax-advantaged retirement accounts. You can start by putting away some income into a Roth individual retirement account or a traditional IRA. If you’re self-employed, you can also contribute to a Solo 401(k). If your business has just a few employees, or you are self-employed, you can also choose to contribute to a Simplified Employee Pension Plan (SEP). All have different levels of contributions allowed.
6. Protect your income with proper insurance. As a business owner, there’s a lot at risk. If you were to pass away, become disabled or even make an honest professional mistake, both your business and your personal assets could be at risk. Protect your income by making sure you have the right insurance.
At a personal level, consider homeowner’s insurance, auto insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, and umbrella insurance, which gives you liability protection above the levels of other coverage. The exact specifications about what you need will depend on your personal situation. Consult with an experienced financial advisor to make sure you have what you need to protect your future at a reasonable cost.
7. Automate your finances. When you’re running a business, something always needs your time and attention. There’s no need to spend your precious energy doing work that can be eliminated altogether.
Automate your finances so the whole system runs without you. Arrange for your paycheck to go to your bank account automatically. Set up your regular bills on auto-pay. If the company doesn’t have an auto-pay option, look into sending a check from your bank. Make your investments that way, as well, and you’ll dollar cost average into the market in addition. With dollar cost averaging, your regularly scheduled investments buy more when the market is low and less when it is high, lessening your risk of getting in at the wrong time with a big lump sum.
8. Hire professionals. As an entrepreneur, you wear a lot of hats to keep everything running. But you probably get paid when you add value to clients, because you do something really, really well. Let financial professionals help you in the way you help your clients.
Build a money team for yourself, consisting of an accountant, financial advisor, bookkeeper and attorney to make sure you are covered in every aspect of your business. You’ll protect yourself from trouble and save money in the long run.
9. Outsource to free up time and energy. As your business grows, you will be often be stretched for time and energy. When you are, take a look at your workload and see if it makes sense to outsource.
Consider both your home and business responsibilities. Maybe it’s time to hire someone to clean your home, or perhaps it’s time to bring on an assistant in the business.
Hiring another person does cost money. But it enables you to focus on higher level tasks to help you earn more and scale your business.
10. Reinvest in yourself. Your business will always need money, time and attention to grow. But you are the driving force behind the enterprise. That’s why you must reinvest in yourself.
Go take a course or attend a conference. Set aside some savings so your future self can take advantage of big opportunities. You’ll grow as a person, and your business will grow, too.
Take the time to bring your personal finances to a better place. By managing your money well, you’ll reduce your financial worries so you can focus on taking yourself — and your business — to next level.
Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP, is the founder of Workable Wealth, an RIA in San Diego. She is a writer, speaker and financial coach who is passionate about working with individuals and couples in their 20s and 30s to help them organize and gain confidence in their financial lives.