At this point in the new year, more than 25% of Americans have already given up on our New Year's resolutions -that is, if we even made them in the first place. By the end of the month, that number climbs to nearly 35% of Americans (more resolution-related stats here).
Some folks (and businesses) are just getting started. I'm still seeing people offering courses on setting up your budget and/or income plan for 2015... that don't start until February!
I hate to break it to you, but you can't get a "jump start" on 2015 if the year is already rolling along!
One of the common problems I see for entrepreneurs stems from income or revenue planning. In fact, if your business is new (less than 5 years old, or making a market transition in the past 2 years), it's not always easy to predict where the money's going to come from in your business.
For many entrepreneurs, the first couple of years feel like throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what will stick. You make offers, do some research, hone your product or service, make more offers, and see who bites. You keep what sells, and table the rest. Sometimes you resurrect that stuff, and sometimes it's gone forever. In my own business, I've had a resurgence of interest in products that I wasn't actively promoting. I had essentially tabled these offerings, so I didn't include them in my revenue planning for this year.
Big mistake. If you've got an offering available, it should always be included in your revenue plan - even if you don't sell many of them during the year.
That got me to thinking about other mistakes I've seen when it comes to planning out your income, so I figured I'd conjure a post to help save you from making the same mistakes in your business.
Mistake #1: Confusing your budget with your income plan
Your budget and your income plan are not the same thing. Because a lot of creative types feel hemmed in by the word "budget" it's become common for coaches and trainers to use a different word (abundance plan, income plan, spending plan, etc.). A budget tells you how you project you'll spend/invest the money you earn. The income plan tells you how you project you'll earn the money in the first place.
I remember one of my early years in business, I created a budget with roughly $50,000 in line item expenses. I had no income plan. Sure enough, about two months into the year, I was pulling my hair out because the income wasn't keeping up with the expenses. I had no idea HOW I was going to earn the money, I had just put down the income of my dreams with no real plan of attack on how to make that income happen. In short order, I quickly reduced my "budget" to align with the realities of the income of my business.
Budgets are often wishful thinking. Income planning is where the rubber meets the road. If you can't figure out how to earn the income, you shouldn't be creating a budget to spend money you don't have.
Mistake #2: Planning that just "covers" the budget
A direct sales client of mine was struggling to get ahead of the curve in her business. She had come to me with an income plan that included very tight margins and little "wiggle room" in case something happened.
Of course, something happened, and her husband was unable to work for an extended period of time. She was panicking about how to make ends meet. After she took a breath, we looked at where she could leverage her existing offers, find better clients and increase her average ticket sale. Then, I illustrated the need to plan for more than just "the minimums" because there's always something for which you can't possibly plan.
Rates go up and "life happens" - yet time and again I see entrepreneurs build a budget and project income based on that budget, without any realistic expectations around the "what if" scenarios of business. What if your current supplier dries up? What if your web host goes out of business or raises their rates in order to stay in business? Most companies give you a 30-day lead time on rate increases, which means you could get hit at the worst possible time of the year if you're not prepared.
Mistake #3: Relying too much on a single income source
One of my previous clients relied heavily each year on the income from one particular offering. Last year, they found themselves scrambling for most of the year to make up for the lost income when they had fewer enrollments than they budgeted for. It wasn't really "lost" income, though, because they never had it to lose! They had put too much reliance on a single source of income. It came back to bite them when they didn't have a plan in place to generate more income with some of their other offerings.
If this is your first year in business, then it makes sense to focus on one thing, get really good at it, and sell the heck out of it. But once you've been working with clients, listening to customers (you are listening to them, right?), and doing your research, you'll see other offers that you can provide to some if not all of your market. Facebook started as a connecting point for college grads (of particular schools), and only after they got good at that did they expand. Now, they've got Instagram, partnered with Google for advertising, and have their fingers in a bunch of pies. That doesn't mean you have to offer auto parts and jewelry (like Murrays Discount Auto Stores used to). If you're seeing an opening to serve your clients (and you are looking, right?), then it's more than likely you'll have more than one source of income over the years.
What if what you're doing today becomes illegal tomorrow? How can you shift and remain profitable?
This year's VAT regulations for international buyers created a firestorm of resistance, but it still went through. And international vendors of digital goods have to deal with the fallout - at a price. If all your eggs are in one basket and that basket is locked down, you're not in business anymore. On the other hand, if you've got more than one source of income, you'll stand a better chance of weathering the storm (I'm moving my "digital only" products to a platform that handles the VAT for me so I don't have to deal with it).
Mistake #4: Not planning for professional development or support
Technically, this could be construed as a budget item, but the reality is that I see a lot of entrepreneurs planning to make all kinds of money, without any kind of support behind it - whether that's a coach, learning a new skill set, or some other type of professional development. Your budget needs to include these items and so does your income plan. As you scale, costs change. You may hire a VA to handle things that you used to do yourself. If you're planning on earning more than six figured, you can pretty much guarantee that you'll need some kind of support. Your income plan needs to cover the costs of that support. Don't assume that you'll be able to cover it with the growth of the business, because, as I've already said "life happens" and you may find yourself in need before the cash-flow comes in to support it. Which brings me to mistake #5.
Mistake #5: Not planning for savings (or your own salary)
I can't tell you how many entrepreneurs I've talked to that tell me they made "six figures" in the last year - only to find out the company may have taken in six figures, but they didn't pay themselves a salary.
That means that not only did YOU not make six figures, but the company probably didn't either! There's a difference between income and profit. And no, your salary is not profit. If you're not paying yourself, then you're lying to yourself about the actual profitability (and viability) of your business.
You can bet that Donald Trump, Warren Buffett, and Oprah don't work for free. They have large businesses and each draw a salary that's part of the company expenses. Profit is money that's not allocated to covering expenses. Most businesses erroneously think profit is what's left over after covering expenses. I'll show you why that's wrong in a minute. Regardless, you need to be sure that your income plan is built to cover a salary and savings for emergencies.
Financial guru Dave Ramsey reminds us that it's not a question of if, but when emergencies will happen. The printer dies, the laptop gets dropped, the external hard drive crashes... and those are just the minor emergencies. If your income plan (and yes, budget) doesn't include a line-item for savings, you'll find yourself scrambling. What if your tax bill's higher than you budgeted? That's where savings can be a blessing.
Mistake #6: No profit plan
Regardless of what you sell - or how much of it gets sold - it's imperative that you have a profit plan. If you sell even 20 cents worth of products or services this year, you need a plan in place to ensure that your company derives a profit.
Okay, twenty cents might be a little ridiculous, but maybe not.
Mike Michalowicz, author of "Profit First" says that profit needs to be a habit - not an event - in your business. Instead of making profit an afterthought (profit = income - expenses, like most businesses expect), Mike says pay your business first and set aside a portion of your income so that you always have profit in the business. I recently led a webcast to explain the Profit First approach and help you get a handle on making sure your business is always profitable.
Whether or not you come to the webinar, it's important to see profit with fresh eyes. You don't have to build your business on the "leftovers" - which, if you're anything like most entrepreneurs I know, there aren't many leftovers to begin with. Instead, you can make an intentional step toward building a solid profit plan - and income plan (and budget) - that's built realistically around what you need to accomplish in the next 12 months (and beyond).
What mistakes have you made?
I'd love to hear what mistakes you've made in your budgeting/income planning process. What did you learn and how did you recover? Let's learn from one another in the comments!