Financial Gumbo by Wendy Knutson CPA and Certified Profit First Professional

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Last week, I told you how my young business lacked a plan and was held together by Band-Aids and Duct Tape. But then, this marvelous book Profit First came into my periphery.

This week, I want to share more about Profit First.

To recap, the standard GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) equation for finances is:

Income – Expenses = Profit

Unfortunately, while mathematically sound, the GAAP profit equation doesn’t account for human behavior. Profit becomes merely leftovers after the beasts of expenses and taxes ravage your bank account. It’s something that is just a glimmer of hope that rarely appears as most businesses struggle on their check to check survival.

But Profit First says the way you look at your business should be:

Profit = Income – Expenses

Logically speaking, the math is the same, but the entrepreneur’s behavior is radically different. With Profit First, you take a predetermined percentage of profit from every sale first, and only the remainder is available for expenses. It’s the old adage, “Pay yourself first”, or as that great little book on finances – The Richest Man in Babylon put it, “Start thy purse to fattening.”

Parkinson’s Law:

Why are you bringing up a law, Wendy? Here’s why: Author and historian C. Northcote Parkinson theorized that our demand for a resource increases to meet the supply of it. That is why when we are given two weeks to do a project it takes two weeks, and when we are given eight weeks to do the same project it takes eight weeks. That is why when given $1,000 to complete our work we get it done with $1,000 and when given $10,000 to complete the same work, it takes $10,000. Profit First makes Parkinson’s Law an asset. By taking your profit first, the money available for expenses lessens, and we are forced to be more creative about how we spend our money.

FINANCIAL GUMBO – A.K.A. Bank Balance Accounting

Most likely you have one business bank account, but really it’s a nebulous gumbo of the 5 key ingredients that make up your business’ finances:

  • Income
  • Profit
  • Taxes
  • Operating Expenses
  • Owners Pay

When all these ingredients are floating around in the same bank account, do you really have any idea just how much you can take in profit, or how much you have set aside to pay the IRS? Do you know how much your operating expenses should be for the month? No, you are flying blind. The old “Bank Balance Accounting” method where you log onto your bank account every day and check your balance is a poor way to make financial decisions, but it’s where most of us are stuck. If what we see in the account looks good, we tend to be a little looser with the check book. If the balance looks low, we panic and do whatever we can to make another sale.

Profit First teaches us that we should take those ingredients out and individually assess them, even going to the extent of setting up separate bank accounts for each of the key ingredients. Then, we work a plan to allocate pre-set percentages to each key area. When we follow the Profit First plan, we can continue with our old ways of Bank Balance Accounting, but we are truly only spending what is AVAILABLE to spend.

Next week, we will dive into how Profit First works, what in the world I’m talking about with multiple bank accounts, and a few ways to whittle down those nasty Operating Expenses.

Tidying Up My Finances

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In last week’s blog post, I introduced Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and explained how I began my tidying journey.  After I purged my home of junk and clutter, I had an overwhelming desire to declutter everything in my life.  The thought echoing in my mind was:

Everything must be tidy.

How much joy could I experience by having my entire life tidied?

Tidying Up My FinancesCredit Cards

The need to simplify went hand in hand with the Profit First philosophy. As I walked through the Profit First method of accounting and banking in my company, I realized tidying up my finances needed to come next.

For years, I had accumulated credit cards. Any time a store offered a deal, discount, free shipping, or friends and family pricing for card holders, I signed up immediately. After all, I rationalized, it’s a bargain. I would be a bad steward if I didn’t take the card. I realized, however, that in order to receive free shipping on an order and redeem my $10 discount, I needed to spend $50. That just caused me to spend money on things I didn’t need and that did not bring me joy. Managing the “discount” credit cards actually cost me a large amount of energy and money, brought distraction, and cluttered up my wallet and finances. I no longer wanted to use my energy and brainpower to manage the many credit cards in my wallet. I begin to cancel them and cut them up one by one, and therefore, tidying up my finances. 

Tidying Up My Finances with MikeMy Profit Assessment Meeting with Mike

When I first started implementing the Profit First methodology in my own company, I had a strong desire to become a Certified Profit First Professional, so I applied to do so with Profit First. The first step in my journey to become certified was analyzing a Profit Assessment on my very own business with Mike Michalowicz, the author of Profit First!  We scheduled a conference call and went over the details of my Profit Assessment. During that phone call, two main points of focus came to mind:

  1. Our business was going in too many different directions. We needed to tidy up and rid ourselves of the services that were not profitable. As Mike taught in Profit First, The niches are in the riches. One specific area of low profitability immediately came to mind, it was something we had maneuvered around for years. Mike guided me to the reality that this particular service needed to be let go in some fashion. We needed to create a laser focus.
  2. My company could no longer use a credit card. Even though it was the kind that was paid off from month to month, for me to be a purist and embrace Profit First system fully, spending on a credit card just wouldn’t work. The money needed to be spent in cash via a debit card.

I needed confirmation that the right thing to do was cut up my company credit card. My initial plan was to take a month. As recurring bills hit the credit card, I would change the billing to a debit card. But I’m not much on an ease-into-things-kind-of-girl. When I make a decision, I like to start right away. I realized almost instantly, that we had to get rid of the Amex. I pulled everyone’s credit card and started paying for all our bills with a debit card.

That month was painful! I was paying for everything twice- the credit card bill with the charges in arrears and the current monthly expenses as they occurred. However, the joy I felt the next month when I didn’t get an Amex bill, made the pain worthwhile. I no longer dread the 17th of each month when I would receive a bill that was somewhat of a surprise. (I don’t like surprises. As a company, we focus on no surprise bills for our customers. This new method of tidying up my finances and paying for things up front fell right in line with that philosophy.)  

Now, I know how much money I have available all the time and I’m truly living the Profit First focus. Stay tuned for next week’s blog post – Grasping Opportunities