Ever pop into QuickBooks and it looks like the blackboard of your high school algebra class?
Numbers literally everywhere.
I know I know...you are a busy busy business owner and you want to get to the gold; the important information that tells you how you are doing.
That is the beauty of reports. They take all of your financial records and summarize them for you; typically in a one-page format, organized and ready for your review.
Running them is easy. I will show you how to run the three most important reports. However understanding them is an art, but I will show you what to look for.
Let's get started.
1. PROFIT AND LOSS COMPARISON
The first report is the Profit and Loss Comparison. I like to run an income statement that compares your current results to either a budget or the prior year. Areas that need your attention jump right out at you and areas you're excelling in provide reasons to celebrate or bestow praise on your employees.
If you don't see this report when you click on the Reports button on your navigation bar (found on the left side of QuickBooks), Go to the "All Reports" tab and then click on the reports for "Business Overview".
When you run it, you specify a date range to use. The most common are the current month-to-date and the current year-to-date. So if it is currently June 12, run the May 1 to May 31 and the January 1 to May 31 reports, since June is not over yet.
Below is an example from a test company showing the revenue section.
You can quickly see at the bottom that this company's income is up 25.86% for the year. By scrolling through the list of the different categories of income you can see what the major contributors were; such as Design Income, Landscaping Services, Services, Fountains and Lighting and Services.
You can also see that categories like Plants and Soil and Pest Control Services were down compared to last year.
By reviewing this statement every month, you can get a jump on the trouble areas. In the example above, maybe they were not pushing their pest control services enough or maybe it was causing them to spend less time on their more profitable categories.
The same techniques can be used to review expenses. Here's an example from the expense section.
Ideally expenses should grow at the same rate or slower than the revenue. So in this example, since revenue grew at 25%, expenses could also grow by 25% without causing an issue on their profits, but in this case expenses "decreased" by 40%.
It looks like job materials were down from the prior year from either fewer of these types of jobs, or better buying.
Here's another example:
Expenses here are down 21.89% and were mainly due to professional costs for the first year of business. This was offset by higher equipment repairs from a (hopefully) one-time machine breakdown.
Here's one last example:
Miscellaneous expenses are generally frowned upon. They give no clear direction on what they relate to. In this case, expenses in this category are way up over the prior year and should be looked at in more detail to see if they can be reclassed to a better account.
2. BALANCE SHEET
The balance sheet is another of the big three.
This one can also be intimidating. But if you break it down into sections, it is not too bad.
Think of these items as things your business owns, that are material and have future economic benefit. Materiality is different for each business, but for the small businesses I deal with, this is usually greater than $500. Assets can be current (held for less than one year) or long-term (held for more than one year).
As an example, something like a notebook is a thing your business owns and maybe it could be used for several years (not likely) but since it only cost $2 you would expense it rather than treat it as an asset. However a truck purchased for the business for $25,000 would be both material and used for several years, so it would be treated as an asset.
The most common items are: cash, investments, balances your customers owe you (accounts receivable), inventory (items purchased to resell) and furniture and equipment. There are others, but these are the most common.
Here's an example:
Here we see that this sample business has total assets of $40,000 and this is a significant increase from the prior year.
The first thing to notice is that there was a nice increase in the bank accounts. This business is doing a better job of managing their cash flow then they were a year ago. If the cash accounts get too high, management will need to consider whether to invest this money where it can return more than a bank account.
The second point is that accounts receivables are down from last year. This could be due to several reasons: sales are down (not in this case), better collecting of customer balances due or changes in credit terms (requiring payment upfront).
Lastly, the business purchased a truck for $25,000 in the current year. Since it is material and will benefit the business for several years, it is treated as a long-term asset.
The next section is liabilities, which represents future outlays of cash, or what the business owes.
The most common items are: accounts payable (what the business owes vendors for products or services), taxes payable, accrued payroll and loans.
Like assets, liabilities can be short-term (less than one year) and long-term (over one year).
The most common ways to analyze this section is through a combination of comparing to a prior period (last month, a year ago) or using metrics, which we'll talk about shortly.
Here's an example from a sample company.
At first glance, what stands out is that debt is way up from a year ago, but that is because the business purchased a new truck and paid for it with a new loan.
Current liabilities are actually down compared to a year ago and is mainly in the credit card category where many start up expenses were paid for a year ago.
A common metric to use is to look at the current ratio or current assets divided by current liabilities. This shows the business' ability to pay for liabilities that will need to be paid for in the coming year with assets that are relatively liquid.
For this company, the current ratio is 2.31 ($15,000 / $6500) and compares favorably to last year's ratio of 1.28. The goal is to keep this number in the 1.2 to 2.0 range. Since this business is over 2.0, they should consider moving some of their assets into investments that pay a better return.
Another common metric is the debt to equity ratio which we'll look at in the next section.
Think of equity as what is leftover of your assets after the debt is taken out.
The most common components are owner contributions (like stock), current profits or losses and prior earnings that have been reinvested in the company (retained earnings).
Below is the equity section from our sample company.
The equity total has increased by $6000 due to this year's profits.
You can see that last year's profits of $2500 were all plowed back into the company's retained earnings.
A common metric to review is the debt to equity ratio. This is also important if you are trying to secure more debt, as the lender will want to see this number. A good ratio is to have the ratio be less than 1.0.
For this sample company, the debt to equity ratio is very high at 3.71 and this is about equal to last year's 3.6 (also high). Management needs to generate more profits and use these to payoff its existing debt.
3. CASH FLOW STATEMENT
The last report is also one of the BIG 3 financial statements but it is seldom used or understood by most small business owners.
The cash flow statement shows how a business' cash changed between two periods and then it shows how this change happened; where did the increase in cash from and where did the cash go.
Since cash is a vital asset to a business' health, managing cash is important and this report can help you do that.
Let's take a look at another example. The information on a cash flow statement comes from the balance sheet. Below is a sample balance sheet that compares the totals from this year to the totals from a year ago and shows the difference.
At the top of the balance, we see the two cash accounts called checking and savings. These two accounts increased by $3,817.47 over the year. Where did that extra cash come from? Well, that is what our cash flow statement will tell us.
If you look in the assets section towards the top, you can see that they increased by $13,495 from the purchase of a truck. Increases in an asset use cash. You need to pay for the truck and that will take cash.
Similarly, accounts receivable increased by $15,688.49. That is money owed by the customers that is unpaid. Think of like lending your customers money to pay for the goods or services they purchased. It is cash being taken out of the business.
On the other side of the balance sheet under the liabilities section, we see that the notes payable section increased by $25,000 during the year due to a long-term loan taken to finance the truck and some other needs in the business. The lender is giving cash to the business, resulting in an increase in cash for the business.
Lastly, in the equity section, we note that the business has net income, so far, of $997.75 which increases the business' cash.
Now, the cash flow statement summarizes all of those balance sheet accounts on one report and groups them into sections; cash from operations, cash from investing and cash from financing. This enables management to see where the increase/decrease in cash came from very easily.
Here is the resulting cash flow statement.
The top section shows the net cash from operations. This was a "decrease" of cash totaling $7,687.53.
The second section show cash from investments. This also was a decrease from the $13,495 used to buy the truck.
The third section shows cash from financing, or an increase of $25,000 to cash.
If you total all three of these sections up, you get $3,817.47 which exactly matches the increase in the cash accounts.
So, when looking at this statement is the increase in cash a good thing?
The increase came from a long-term loan. As long as the business is sufficiently profitable that it can pay its expenses and payoff the loan and the loan helps it do that, than yes the loan was a good thing.
The money that is tied up in accounts receivables could be a concern, especially if these balances are becoming old and possibly noncollectable. This would be a great discussion point between management and the accountant/CFO.
So, there are the three reports I recommend all business owners review each month. Ideally, have key management and the head of accounting sit and discuss the material items. This could be just two people.
If you're in need of a professional bookkeeper to prepare these statements for you and discuss them with you, I do have two openings right now and would love to discuss over the phone with you. Click HERE to connect to my contact page to set up a date and time with me.
I know. Running your own business can eat up all of your time.
If you have a small business, you are probably doing everything from sales/marketing, customer service, and balancing the books.
At what point do you delegate some of those tasks?
For example, do you need a bookkeeper for your business?
Here are nine reasons for hiring a bookkeeper. At the end of this post, all nine reasons are summarized in one graphic.
This is a worthwhile exercise for many tasks in your life.
Figure out what an hour of your time is worth. It could be as easy as taking your annual earnings divided by 2000 (40 hours x 50 weeks) or a subjective number like what is that hour worth to you? I’ve had weeks where I wouldn’t take $1000 to give up an hour with my daughters.
Now, if you have a choice of having someone mow your lawn, clean your house or doing it yourself, you can compare the cost of hiring someone to your hourly rate.
As a result, if an hour of your time is worth $300 per hour and you can hire a bookkeeper for a whole month for that same amount then why not turn it over to them?
I once bought a drawing program and spent probably 40 hours learning how to use it for a graphic I needed. It looked horrible.
I contacted someone on Fiverr and received a beautiful graphic for a price cheaper than the software I bought, and that didn’t include all the other hours I spent using it or going online to look up how to use it.
Lesson learned: let someone else handle what you don’t (or want to) know.
Hey, not everyone enjoys working with numbers like I do.
If you dread trying to balance your bank account balance to what the bank shows or trying to determine why the balance your top customer shows as outstanding against what they show, why not turn that pain over to someone who can do it for you?
When it comes to financials, isn’t it nice to have someone else double-checking the accuracy so you don’t have to worry when you do your taxes, wonder if you have enough money to meet next week’s payroll or if you’re spending too much on office supplies?
What price would you put on that peace of mind? Compare that to the cost of hiring a bookkeeper.
Let me ask you a question.
If you had 20 hours to spend on your business, what do you think would bring you more to your bottom line over time?
Saving a few hundred dollars a month by doing your bookkeeping tasks yourself, or spending those 20 hours drumming up new business or talking with your current customers?
The latter right?
New business should by far bring in more money than the amount you’ll saving on bookkeeping.
How do you make sure your bills are paid on time and not duplicated, or not paid too early? Who gets a 1099?
Many things can go wrong with your bill payments. You can forget to pay your vendors, pay them late, pay them too early or pay them too much or too little.
Any of these mistakes can jeopardize your credit, your vendor relationship, cut you off from future purchases or leave you without enough cash to manage the rest of your business.
A good bookkeeper can do all of this management for you.
I remember having a paper route as a kid and dreading having to ring the doorbell to collect the customer’s payment.
Most people don’t like doing this. If you don’t like it, or if you don’t have time, let a bookkeeper do it for you so your business will have its cash in your bank and not in your customer’s bank.
Payroll is one of those tasks you must delegate to someone who knows what they are doing.
Bookkeepers can either do the whole process for you or coordinate with a payroll service to have it done for the business.
There are too many rules, regulations, tax changes, and potential for errors to make this an area to skimp and save on.
Income tax filings are best left to a CPA, but bookkeepers can help by preparing supporting documentation needed by the CPA and by preparing and filing other tax returns like sales and use taxes.
These are returns that most states require to be filed monthly or quarterly and many bookkeepers can do them for you at a rate much lower than your CPA would charge.
From the time and money savings, to the focus on expertise and greater cash flow, a bookkeeper makes good sense for your business.
For a limited time, I do have an opening for another client in my bookkeeping business. If you're interested in talking to me so you can enjoy some or all of the benefits listed above, please click the link to my contact form
How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb
The Art of the Start 2.0 by Guy Kawasaki
Bold by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler
The Entrepreneur Roller Coaster by Darren Hardy
80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Influence by Robert Cialdini
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
Zero to One by Peter Thiel
Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Sounds impossible, doesn’t it?
You know you should make one of your goals this year to improve your finances. But how can you do that when you’re never sure how much money will be coming in?
The experts simply say to prepare a budget. If you don’t, you’ll overspend, you won’t have enough to retire, your credit score will suck, and you’ll never have the things you desire. So just budget, they say, and your financial problems will be solved.
But hey, your income changes every month. You’re not like all those people who get a fixed salary or a set rate per hour for forty hours a week. You’re a freelancer. One month you kill it, and the next you’re scrambling to get something in the bank account.
How can anyone with an income that fluctuates do a budget, especially someone like you who has no time at all?
There is a solution that works for others, it doesn’t take long to implement, and I will show it to you.
Let’s get started.
For the FREE companion spreadsheet that goes along with this post, click the link at the end of the post.
To begin with, you need to determine the bare minimum you need each month to pay your bills. Not all expenses, just those you truly have to pay—the mortgage, car payments, utilities, credit cards, and so on.
Ignore, for now, all of the expenses that are optional like going to restaurants, taking vacations, or buying your nephew a graduation gift.
You can do this review by looking at a month or two of expenses, but it is better to look at a whole year.
Looking at a whole year will catch expenses that only happen once a quarter, a couple times per year, or just once a year. If you pick the wrong month to look at, you could miss those expenses.
Again, only look at the expenses you absolutely must pay.
Once you’ve done that, add them up and divide by the number of months you looked at and that’s the number we’ll use. That’s your baseline.
Transfer enough money into your checking account until you have your baseline. If you have too much in there already, transfer the difference out of checking into your savings account, but if you have too little then transfer enough savings into checking. When all is done, your checking account should have your baseline amount in it on the first of the month.
Don’t have enough in your savings to build up your checking account? Go back and review your expenses. You either have to cut expenses or figure out how to increase your income.
NOTE: If this is just a temporary issue, then we will discuss later how you can set up an emergency fund to help cover expenses during the months when your income is low.
Now that you know how much you need on average each month, do you regularly make enough to cover that?
Look at your earnings for the last twelve months and average them.
Does your average monthly income exceed your baseline for expenses? If so, you’re in great shape. If not, you need to either reduce your expenses or increase your income, or you are going to get in a hole over the long term.
After you do the above, forecast your earnings for the next several months. Do you foresee any months where you won’t meet your baseline? If you do, then make sure you have enough in your savings to cover it. If during your review you noted that your income was below your baseline from November through February, for instance, then you should keep at least four times your monthly baseline amount in your emergency fund to cover those months in case it happens again. In addition, you won’t be able to spend any money over this baseline amount, to ensure that you’ve got all your basic expenses covered.
If you earn more than your baseline, where will you put the difference?
It could go into any of the following (in no particular order except for the first item, which is the most important):
1. Increase your emergency fund (you want 3-24 times your baseline amount, or at least enough to cover you when your income is low)
2. Fund saving for large purchases (new house, car, vacation, wedding, computer, etc.)
3. Treat yourself (put an extra $300 into your restaurant expenses, add some funds to your baseline amount in your checking account next month, go out for coffee twice a week instead of once)
4. Start a play fund or education fund and use these amounts to invest in yourself or reward yourself for you hard work
5. Give to charity
6. Fund retirement accounts
7. Pay down debt
Make sure the first place your extra income goes is to fully fund your emergency fund. With a fluctuating income, you want to make sure you have savings for the months where you don’t make your baseline.
1. Keep separate bank accounts for personal, business, checking, savings, and your emergency fund (some banks, like Capital One, make this very easy to do by giving you one savings account that you can divide into sub-accounts and label them “emergency fund,” “vacation fund,” and so on).
2. Hire a bookkeeper and a tax accountant. It pays to pick people who are specialists. Generally these are two different people because your CPA probably won’t want to do your bookkeeping.
It’s also less expensive to have a bookkeeper maintain your records rather than a CPA.
3. Set aside money for your quarterly business taxes right away. Don’t wait until they are due. This way you won’t be scrambling or borrowing to pay your taxes.
4. Try to avoid impulse spending. When you find something you want to buy, delay the purchase a week and see if you still want it.
5. Prioritize your spending. If you’re income is high enough in the prior month that you can afford some discretionary expenses, put the money toward what you value most.
6. Live off your spouse’s income. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to do this, you can dump all of your earnings into savings.
Hopefully you are excited and can see the value in taking these steps. Most of the work is up front, and once you review your finances and get your accounts set up properly you won’t have to do much going forward. Just make sure your checking account has enough to cover your baseline expenses and whatever else you budget for discretionary expenses, then transfer the rest to savings, starting with your emergency fund until it is at the desired level. The key to your success will be only spending out of your checking account.
If you would like to download an Excel spreadsheet to help you crunch the numbers, click the link HERE and you can download it.
Don’t wait. There isn’t a better time to start than right now.