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Getting it Right: Quick Tips On Getting A Small Business Off To A Good Start

Stacy Kildal walks us through some of the common stumbling blocks that can trip up small businesses and what we can do to overcome them.

gettingitright

Over the last 20 or so years, I’ve been an employee of a small business, the owner of a small business or had numerous small businesses as clients of my small business. During that time, I’ve been privileged to get first hand experience in what they’ve done right and what they’ve done wrong.

Yes, this subject has been written about before, probably many times over. But guess what? I’m still seeing the same mistakes, so I think it’s worth revisiting every now and again.

I think the most important thing to consider in getting it right and succeeding is to work with a consultant – small businesses are more likely to succeed when they work with a professional. My suggestion is an accounting professional that has the technological savvy to seek out solutions for your business. Another option would be a local Small Business Development Center – they have many free or low cost resources.

Here are a couple of the most common missteps I see, and some suggestions on how to avoid them.

Bookkeeping is an afterthought

I recently worked with a business coach that suggested I use a cold call approach to LinkedIn connections about doing their bookkeeping. I tried to explain to her that for many small business owners, this was akin to an addict being told they had a problem, and would not work at all.

As a rule, entrepreneurs are a rather stubborn bunch (which is another article all on it’s own!), and feel the need to just handle this aspect of their business themselves. You can tell them over and over and over that what they’re doing isn’t in their best interest, but some just need to get to that place on their own.

Sometimes, when I’m talking to an owner that seems on the fence about hiring a bookkeeping service or in house bookkeeper, I’ll ask them: “Would you represent yourself in court? Do your own surgery? Cut your own hair or try to do dry clean your suits yourself? Then why are you trying to do this?” This generally stops them dead in their tracks and by the time I ask them if they started their business so they could do a bank reconciliation every month they finally get it.

Another similar mistake, is that they have someone completely not qualified to do the books in charge of it. I physically cringe when I read a help wanted ad for someone looking to hire: “Receptionist needed. QuickBooks a plus”. Really? Really?? You’re going to have one of the most important aspects of your business, what I refer to as the backbone of every business – the basic accounting and day to day bookkeeping – done by someone as a secondary skill to what you actually hired them to do?

Solution:

Outsource as much of this as you are able to logistically, or can afford. Scale up as you grow, or hire someone full time if the situation calls for it. For instance, one client of ours started with having us manage her bank feeds in QuickBooks Online and reconcile her bank, credit card and merchant accounts.

As she grew, she asked us to take on payroll, then accounts payable and much of accounts receivables. Eventually, she outgrew our services and I had to tell her she was at the point that she needed a full time, in house bookkeeper.

Rather than being upset about the loss of a great client, I felt like a mother bird whose baby had just learned to fly. I was so proud to have been able to watch her business grow, and felt fortunate to have been a part of it. Last time I checked in, the bookkeeper had become company controller, managing a staff of 3 part time employees.

Growing pains

These small businesses open their doors and just sort of… start working (like I did!) This is one that so common, and the one that causes so much hair pulling and gnashing of teeth later, when the company starts to grow.

I see so many small businesses that originally come to me in the first year or two of being open because they’ve realized that they can’t do their books any more. When I start asking about their workflow, the sales cycle, project management, anything related to their back office setup – many times they tell me they’re not really sure or there are multiple ways things are getting accomplished.

Often they’re using multiple applications to track different aspects of their business – one for sales leads, one for accounting, one for projects, one for inventory. I liken this to a neighborhood tree house that gets built with whatever extra lumber happens to be laying around, and gets added on to as each new round of kids inherits it from their older siblings, and is sort of falling apart.

Many times the processes in place are a result of the software and hardware they have (often inherited, like that janky treehouse, from those that came before them) in place, rather than determining the most efficient way, then finding the best tool(s) to get it done efficiently. Management hasn’t documented anything, and employees are trying to just keep up with all the different tools in place, don’t have the experience, or don’t feel empowered to attempt to make the changes.

Suggestion:

Define your workflow. If you’re an existing business, take the time to map out existing processes, identify pain points and then seek out solutions to solve them. For new businesses, think about out how you would like your processes to flow – and look for solutions that will allow for that, or as close as possible.

We just finished a consultation for a business coaching firm that was using various methods to track leads, close deals, manage finances and monitor projects. They wanted an integrated solution with as few moving parts as possible, so we suggested WORK[etc] for their CRM/Project Management, synced with QuickBooks Online and G Suite.

A few last bits I’d like to share

I think one of the most important aspects of running a small business – is constantly evaluate your systems and make adjustments when needed. Ask your employees, your clients, customers and vendors, for input on the process. What’s working? What isn’t? What are their suggestions for making improvements?

The other is the reminder that most of the successes that I’ve seen have been due in large part by the principals of a small business recognizing the need to work with some sort of accounting professional or business counselor. You can’t run a business in vacuum, so get help. Set aside budget for a consultant, or seek out other resources such as the local SBDC. However you do it, why not tip the scales in favor of your success?

What stumbling blocks have you experienced? Share those and any questions in the comments. Stacy does her best to reply to everyone!

Please contact Stacy and her staff at Kildal Services LLC to see how they can help you integrate QuickBooks Online and create a cohesive business management system.  Free phone consultations and low cost process reviews are available, and as cheesy as it sounds – helping small businesses really is their passion.

  • Michael

    Great Post! Some really good points! We are no longer a start-up but we are a small business and I know we could have gotten through our growing pains if we had had something like WORK[etc] from the beginning. We went through the growing pains exactly as you describe. With multiple applications for various things and I am glad we found WORK[etc] to bring it all into one place!

    • Thanks Michael – ironically we built WORKetc as we were/are growing WORK[etc] so a lot of the tools are a direct result of what we found we needed (and of course what our customers contributed also!)

  • Fantastic points. As a company, we grew into the mapping out workflows and slimming down the “we do everything” syndrome so much that it defined what we now do as cloud solutions consultants rather then a general IT firm. With the availability of so many niche consultants out there as well as virtual assistants, cloud bookkeepers, etc there is really no excuses anymore to try to take it all on yourself. Your tools and your team are the most important pieces to successful growth!

  • William Mullane

    Great post Stacy. I’m sharing it with the Idaho SBDC (just downstairs of me), my wife who is just starting a new business, and my clients. In addition, my own organization is working to do what you suggest by using WORKetc/G Suite/QuickBooks to manage our consulting business end to end.

  • Good post. But I’ve been through those phases and sadly… like you say.. I just know that while I agree absolutely with your points NOW (after having made all the mistakes myself) – had I read the same article when I only had 3 staff years ago – I would have said “Yeah… thats all very well but..”
    For me its all about realising that you are growing and being wise enough to look at what you are doing each day and identifying what you should give someone else to do – which runs against the grain initially I think for a great many entrepreneurs who start from nothing and by default have to do everything themselves.
    Even now – the temptation to jump back into many things that I should stay out of is still strong!

    • ” runs against the grain initially I think for a great many entrepreneurs ”

      Could not agree more, that is me every day. “It’ll be better/faster/less hassle if I just do it myself” – and this approach guarantees you’ll end up working *in* your business and not *on* your business. (kudos Michael Gerber/ The E-Myth author
      @MichaelEGerber )

      • Stacy Kildal

        I have to admit – I’m sometimes guilty of the “do as I say, not as I do” problem in my own practice. It can definitely be a hard habit to break, but it’s SO worth it!

  • Brittany McClure Thompson

    Loved Reading this! As a former small business owner turned marketer I had to learn the hard way that unless you have your finances straight the process of owning a business is so stressful. There were many a sleepless night over this very thing! This is a well written and compelling article! Its good for anyone to read because it gives you perspective on matter what your field!

  • Thomas Lawler

    Great article! I will forward to our finance team in hopes to persuade them to integrate their efforts with QuickBooks & Work[etc.]

  • Mindy

    Nice article! I am eager to speak to more of our team members to hear their thoughts! Thanks for sharing!

    • Stacy Kildal

      You’re welcome!

  • Tony T

    Good article, definitely worth discussing with our accounting department!

  • Jonathan Hickman

    We have not reached the point of fully integrating with Work[Etc], but we are constantly moving towards it.

  • David Jones

    Nice article we will be looking into this.

  • Stacy Kildal

    Thanks to all of you for the kinds words and taking the time to comment. So glad to see people are finding it helpful!

  • We use work etc for ever aspect of our company. It is an joy always knowing where things are located. The accounting section of our company loves work etc, for the reason that everything is very organized. Thank you for the hard work you guys are putting in!

  • David McGarry

    I know that our small company shaped our business processes around Work[etc] and it is integral now to the way that we operate. I guess that can have it’s advantages AND disadvantages. But currently it’s working for us and has significantly streamlined the way that we deal with sales, support, development and billing. In this respect, Work[Etc] does a lot of the heavy lifting that were previously tedious admin jobs.

  • Jason Royals

    The advice in this blog is spectacular. In a world of penny pinchers and ill founded beliefs that an entrepreneur is the master architect of all things business, I’ve found this to be a nice glass of iced sweet tea on a summer day. People set aside your ego’s and believe if not only in the sheer fact that many minds are better than one. Seek a professional and in return you are making the best business decision possible. Work {etc} w/ quickbooks is innovating your business and creating growth potential.

    • Stacy Kildal

      Jason –

      The iced tea comment – love it!

      My team is in the process of following my own advice – I had an epiphany a few months after this article (I wrote about it here: http://bit.ly/BackToMyRoots), and my team and I are currently evaluating all of our processes and bringing in new experts to help in redesigning our marketing strategy for 2015.

  • Michal Brenneman Wahli

    I wish I could tactfully pass it along to our clients and to many others I come in contact with. 🙂 We sell and support the technology side of restaurants, and we do the bookkeeping for many of our technology customers. It’s always a little disheartening to see how many business owners forget that they need accounting work on a daily/weekly basis, and it’s even more difficult to find out that they’ve been open for several months without making a single daily or weekly sales entry. We found, for our own restaurants, that it takes a weekly and monthly (and, let’s be honest – daily) review of the financial statements to know exactly where we are, and how we need to be preparing.

    In our technology/consulting company, we are in the middle of those growing pains, and it feels like we’re right back in junior high with the leg pains and binge hunger. We’re eager to take it all in and learn and grow and move, but we are having to take a step back, look at our statements, and ask ourselves, “Does it make sense to extended our arm here? Or does it make more financial sense to cut something out so we can focus more in this area?” Worketc. and Quickbooks Online definitely help pull everything together so that we can better evaluate, and wisely decide, where we are, where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there.

    From an employee of a small business, thank you, Stacy, for the reminder. From the bookkeeper FOR small businesses, THANK YOU for speaking my mind.

    • Stacy Kildal

      Michael,

      Thanks so much for the wonderful comment! PLEASE let us know if we can help your clients. This is exactly the type of work my team and I enjoy the most!!

  • The small company i work for really helped our business processes around Work[etc] and it is integral now to the way that we operate.

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