I say it’s a myth.
Believing this shifts attention away from the real problems. It’s like saying the leading cause of death is your heart stopping. Well, duh. But why did your heart stop? Most heart attacks hit people who haven’t been taking care of themselves for years.
Same with business. Running out of money is often the endpoint of years of bad decisions. For example:
• Not watching the numbers closely. Not having financial statements you can understand, and not getting or reviewing statements in time. You should tell your bookkeeper/accountant exactly what numbers you need to track, when, and how you want them displayed. If they don’t give you what you want, replace them.
• Not controlling costs. Keeping unnecessary payroll and other expenses. Some owners borrow money to avoid laying people off. During tough times, if you’re not ruthless with expenditures, you won’t have the reserves to take advantage of later opportunities.
• Focusing on revenue instead of profitability, therefore not paying attention to the margin of jobs or sales. Taking any work. “I’ll make it up on volume.” “Maybe they’ll grow to be a big customer.” Don’t bet your business on these beliefs. Insist that every job must make a profit. Make sure you have systems that allow you to allocate costs to profit centers, so you can know the profitability of each thing you sell.
• Under-pricing. Many small businesses try to meet the prices of large, well-capitalized competitors, rather than competing on unique services and features that set them apart and command higher prices. Set your prices to include your desired profit margin.
• Not anticipating needed growth capital, so that a growth spurt causes a cash flow squeeze. It’s very difficult to grow relying on current cash flow. People criticize companies like Apple for amassing a huge cash hoard, without realizing that this is necessary to fund growth, innovation, and keeping options open.
• Having the wrong kind of financing. Financing growth with a short-term line of credit that must be paid off each year, rather than with a 5- to 7-year term loan. And how many of us have financed growth on our credit card, thus saddling ourselves with interest payments that eat up the profit needed to repay the loan?
• Not saving during good times, so that you have a fund for tough times. Too many owners would rather spend than save because they don’t want to pay taxes on the profits.
• Not being “bankable.” For example, if you run your business to minimize taxable income, you’ll never get a bank loan. Try telling your banker that you really do have a profitable business, despite what your tax returns show. Take your banker to lunch, and ask what the bank will need from you in order to approve the loan you will need.
• Not refining your business model to stay competitive and to meet the emerging needs of your customers. Just staying the same because it’s the easy thing to do. The old cliché, “Work on your business, not just in your business,” means that you as owner need to keep looking at opportunities, challenges, alliances, and strategies.
• Ineffective marketing. If you don’t keep looking at what works, refining your offering and outreach, and dumping the rest, your business will slowly decline. Where can you get the most bang for your marketing buck? What ineffective things should you drop? How can you leverage your effort?
I’m sure you can think of others. If you address these problems in your business, you’ll never have to use “I ran out of money” as an excuse.
This is one of the lessons in How to Thrive in Tough Times—Lessons From Small Business Owners–my newest ebook, just posted on Amazon for Kindle, iPad, etc. for $2.99.