Business data, business information
Information or business data is critical to the success of any business but even more so for a small businesses. This information can not only let you know when there are issues with your business but can also be used to help guide decisions for critical business initiatives and ventures.
But getting the right business information requires having certain elements to ensure that the information you are basing your decisions on is accurate and relevant.
I spent several years as a business analyst providing information, reporting and decision support to business leaders and have found the following is necessary:
Good data - remember GIGO? (garbage in, garbage out) It is important to ensure that the data you are entering into your systems and software is correct if not any report based on this data is irrelevant and useless. Good data provides a strong foundation for business reporting, analysis and decision support.
Relevant data - Not only does the information that is entered need to be accurate, you have to determine what information is important to capture. You know you need sales and the date of sales but what other information is important? Do you need the location of the sale to compare the performance between markets? You can't analyze business performance with data you do not have.
Ask the right business question - This one is a bit tricky. Business reporting and business analysis requires pulling relevant data and applying parameters. If you ask the wrong business question you may pull the wrong data element or use the wrong parameters. It is important to fully understand what information you need or what business decision you need to make.
The three elements above are important in ensuring that business leaders have the information they need to make the best business decision possible for their small business.
Mobil apps for small businesses
With the move to mobile devices applications are turning smartphones and tablets into productivity tools for your small business. Need to fax something or scan it? No problem, just take a picture with your phone and send it via email or text. But what other functions can you perform on your mobile device that may be beneficial to your small business? Here are a few mobile apps that are available.
Need to store files but keep them accessible? Dropbox is an app where you can store files in a cloud and easily retrieve them. Dropbox provides 2 Gigabytes free and the app is free as well.
Need to jot notes or ideas? Try Evernote. Again, the app is a cloud based app that allows you to save notes and not only retrieve them later, but allows you to search by keyword or tag.
Need to process a credit or debit card? Apps such as Square allow you to plug in a small swipe device and your mobile phone becomes a credit card processing machine. Several of the apps charge a percentage of the transaction amount and the app and sometimes the dongle are free.
Need to have a virtual meeting? Skype and WebEx allows for virtual meetings. Skype allows for face to face and WebEx gives you the ability to share files so that those you are meeting with can view the files as you review them.
Need to review files created in Office? Docs to Go is a mobile app that allows you to open, Word, Excel and PowerPoint files and even allows you to create Word and Excel documents.
Too many passwords to remember? Password Keeper and other applications like it have the ability to keep user id's, passwords and even the website url giving people the ability to store all their passwords in one application. So instead of trying to remember all your passwords or having a list, you only need one password, the one to get into the password keeper app.
With mobile technologies capacity continuing to grow the mobile platform will have continue to see newer and better applications that can help with running a small business.
Improving a process
Some people assume that technology can improve any process that is inefficient or broken. While technology can be a great tool it is not always a silver bullet. The process has to be effective. If the process is producing errors or poor quality end products, technology may only help you make errors faster.
Take a power saw. A power saw will allow me to cut boards in less time with less effort on my part as compared to a hand saw. But the power saw will not prevent me from cutting a board short. I have to understand what the board is for, how long it has to be, and the angle of the cut. If not I will waste a lot of time and lumber trying to make one cut.
To improve a process you can follow the DMAIC model.
So holidays have been celebrated and we are in the New Year. Now, it’s time to get back to work with your small business or micro business, But in what direction? This is where your budget comes into play. Hopefully your assumptions are directionally correct. But how do you measure how you are doing against your budget?
The way to measure is to have an actual to budget statement. This will allow you to see where you are compared to what you budgeted. A detailed statement with each account will help you focus in on the line items that are over budget. Now, do not assume that your small business spent when it shouldn’t. There needs to be some analysis of the transactions in the accounts that were over budget. Where these transactions necessary but out of the ordinary? These would be ok if they were unexpected but necessary expenses for your business such as a repair to a business vehicle or your office. Now if one of the business assumptions was incorrect this may cause the variance to the budget. If so this may carry out throughout the year. Sometimes what comes out of the analysis is that sometimes transactions were posted to the incorrect account and this may explain the discrepancy.
But is there a way to know which direction you are going financially before the month is over and there is no chance to correct? One would have to be proactive and even implement certain financial processes to stay on track. One thing you can do is run your actual to budget financial statement mid month to see how close you are to your budgeted amounts.
This may let you know that you are about to hit your budgets but do you still have a handle on your finances? The best way to get a good handle is to implement a purchase order system with a declining balance worksheet. You can use Excel to do this. Set up a template, enter your budgeted amount and with every purchase assign a purchase order, estimate the cost and reduce the balance. The benefit is that this allows for a control of purchases and allows you to see how much of your budget is left. When you have a tool like this it makes you more mindful of what you budgeted for these expenses and how your spending your small businesses money.
Some additional processes that may also be beneficial are to have one point of contact that is responsible for the purchase of items such as materials, office supplies and any other business needs. Also designate one day per week or per month that you purchase items such as office supplies. That way you compile your lists of items to purchase and you can eliminate shipping costs either because you have a large purchase order or you only get charged for the limited times that items are shipped per month as opposed to every time you order a couple of items.
These are some things that you can implement that can help you to stay in line with your budget and will help you better understand what is happening with your small business or micro enterprise.
Why budgets are important.
Most people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan. – John L. Beckley
Have you or your business put together a budget for next year? For larger businesses the budget process is under full swing with meetings, analysis, calculations and submissions. Larger businesses and organizations have a formalized, mature budget process that they usually begin at the start of the fourth quarter or earlier in some cases.
But what about smaller businesses? Some businesses do not put a budget together at all. But a budget is critical for a business, especially a small business. The first thing to realize is that budgets are your roadmap for the coming year. No one has to have a crystal ball or needs to be psychic and budgets are not chiseled in stone. If you have a good understanding of your business and industry you can put together a good budget.
Beyond having a template to enter numbers, how do you build a budget? You can estimate a number and enter it every month but this may not help you build an accurate budget. Also, how do you measure the success of your budgeting? Is your business going in the right direction?
The first thing you need to do is ask where you want your business to be in five years. It does not have to be specific or detailed. This will help you frame your budget for the following year. Think of your budget as the first steps in a five year journey.
Next, there are expenses that are consistent and will never change or fluctuate with business activity such as non-business utilities, membership renewals, rent or leases. These are your fixed costs. Keep in mind that some costs will fluctuate. For example here in south Texas we know that our electricity costs increase in the summer because we will use our ac more due to the high summer heat. Businesses in the north may want to adjust for fuel for the winter in the same fashion. Also make sure to exclude any one time costs that were out of the ordinary that you will not see in the next year. Some budgets are built off of last year’s numbers and sometimes include onetime costs.
Next item is to look at your variable costs. These are costs that are impacted by business activity. One of the best ways is to forecast sales volumes and multiply by the costs of producing/providing the goods or services. The quickest way to calculate this is take the cost divided by products produced or services provided. You may want to make this calculation for each month of the current year to see if there were any trends. Your production costs may have increased during the year and you would be using an average as opposed to the new production cost. If you perform this calculation during the year you will know this number beforehand and will help you to be proactive in addressing costs.
Now you may feel unsure about forecasting your sales volumes. What you can do is look at the previous three years, is there some seasonality in your numbers? In other words, are there months where you do more business than others? Some businesses provide goods or services that are in demand in the summer and others see their demand during the holidays. If volume growth has been small you may be able to take the current years volumes and add the average increase in your year over year activity. If not take your current years volumes and enter them. You can then take the volumes and multiply them by the costs to provide the good or service, for example, this task requires so many hours from my employees at this pay.
The best part about forecasting out volumes is now this will drive your sales revenue numbers. It is best to break out products or service volumes and apply the dollar figures item to provide a more accurate budget number, for example, dollars for product a times volumes for product a, and then the same methodology for product b. Trying to create one sales revenue budget number may not be accurate and may skew your budget.The next step is to review any projects or improvements you may make during the year. Large businesses usually have initiatives for either streamlining processes or carrying out major marketing initiatives or any other major project. Large businesses will usually calculate the impact and adjust their budgets accordingly. You may not carry out any major projects but if you know that in the coming year that you will purchase tools and equipment that will make work easier or allow for more products to be produced you need to adjust your budget for this. Also, if you know you want to market your business in the following year get a reasonable estimate and add it to the month or months that you will market for both the expense and the increase in sales volumes. Here historical costs based on previous efforts are helpful. Even though this may be difficult to know the impact (if any) but just be conservative in your expectations.
The items above are, at a high level, some of the most important things to keep in mind when developing your budget. Again, this will not be held against you, as long as you know what the variances are due and realizing that some variances will carry out through the year.Next blog: How do you measure the success of your budgeting?