The Dreaded Finance Hat: 21 Small Business Budget Tricks Jonathan Herrick Even a simple personal budget can be complicated, so putting one together for a small business is a feat unto itself. As if sticking to it weren’t bad enough, creating a budget is often so daunting that we simply avoid it (or do it poorly to get it out of the way). There are so many moving parts. It can be difficult to get a handle on what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and–most importantly–how you’re going to pay for it. Small business owners find themselves wearing many different hats, but the Financial Planning Hat is one we often worry will look terrible on us. But you can’t let your vanity cause your head to freeze. If you need to determine unique ways to plan for things like purchases for your business and investing in marketing, this is a very timely article for you. So get your pencils (and hats) ready for the 21 small business budget tricks! 1. Plan your needs. The first step is the most important one: You have to plan out what you need. Look at it in segments; you can separate them into quarters, projects, or events, but be sure to make a distinction between the “buckets” so you can asses how money should be allocated and budgeted. 2. Rank the buckets. Determine which buckets are most important, and rank them. Be methodical about your approach to this: Weigh the impact of the thing you are planning to spend money on and determine which does better for your business overall if implemented first. 3. Be aware of your cash flow. The first two steps are fun; they allow you to daydream about what you want to have and get you pumped for the way the business will look once you get your hands on those things. Now it’s time to look at how much money is actually coming in. Be honest with yourself here, because every dollar makes an impact. 4. List your expenses. All of them. It is important to know how your company spends money so that you can have a clear picture of what is left-over. Include overhead bills, salaries, and current subscriptions. Round up, not down. 5. Account for ebbs and flows. Seasonal ups and downs, costs of overhead, or a variety of other factors will cause changes in your income patterns. By anticipating when the money is thin, you can be ready with the budgeting changes that will keep you out of potential trouble. 6. Save a Little. Just like your personal budget, it’s always good to have an incidentals fund. You never know what might happen. And, if nothing does, then you have more annual revenue than you were expecting. Win-win! 7. Pare down. This is often the hardest part. Where can you reduce? Cutting your spending in one area will allow you to accumulate more money for your budgeting buckets. Really pay attention to discretionary expenses and ask yourself if you truly need it right now. 8. Compare your budget. Take a look at how other small businesses are spending their money. Learn from their mistakes, and improve on their good ideas. 9. Price shop. You know what you want to buy and you know how much you have budgeted toward it. Now do a little legwork to find the best price. If you’re lucky, you budgeted more than you needed. 10. Network for discounts. It’s all about who you know, so don’t be afraid to make use of the relationships you’ve fostered. Go through your networking list and search for ways to reduce the cost of items or services you are looking for. 11. Barter. If exchanging your goods or services for an item that you were budgeting for is an option, do it. Bartering is an age-old way to get things done, and for good reason; it’s a win for both parties. 12. Clip coupons… really. Buckle down and clip coupons. Coupon-esque websites (like Groupon) offer occasional discounts for a wide variety of products and services. When possible, use them. Reinvest the change in your business. 13. Wear more hats. You don’t have to be a handy person to step in and do more yourself so that you save on labor, and you don’t have to be an expert to troubleshoot. Youtube houses tutorials on nearly everything. If you can do it safely, give it a go. 14. Eat casseroles. Your personal lifestyle habits will make a difference in the money you have available to reinvest in your business, so do what you can to slim down on everything from your meal plans to your Saturday night adventures. 15. Rent the space you need. Less overhead = More revenue. Enough said. 16. Use energy saving options. Light , heating, or water conservation tricks are available if you think outside the box. Your utility companies often have great ideas for conserving and cutting back on how much energy you are using. 17. Keep a swear jar. Use the money you collect for a budgeting bucket. Don’t swear? Just stop using change. If your morning coffee and muffin comes to $5.01, give them $6.00 and drop the .99 into a jar. It adds up surprisingly quickly. 18. Do brown bag lunch-and-learn trainings. Catering costs too much, and does little to improve the quality of the training (or the attendees’ attention spans.) 19. Work the plan. Stick to your budget. You spent all of this time evaluating, creating, and hoping. It’s up to you to run with it and make sure it works. 20. Test and Tweak. Your budget is a living document. Pay attention. Analyze. Brainstorm potential changes. Adjust it often. A/B tests work for budgeting, too! 21. Be patient. Putting on the hat doesn’t mean you should expect to be an accountant overnight. Your strategy and delivery will get better with time. You’ll get there! In the end, budgeting for business is much like budgeting for your household; you have to know how much money is coming in, where it goes, and what you want to do with the excess. Bonus: Budgeting is good for the soul, too. Improving awareness and saving for the things you want in the future builds character and forces you to value what you choose to spend money on. Increasing your revenue and improving your life? Another win-win!