Finances Decoded: From Payment Plans to Expense TrackingBy
WeddingPro Educator, CPA and wedding planner, Nadia Anderson, joined us for a full hour of decoding your finances. She thoroughly answered some of the most pressing questions that we’ve received regarding your business. What’s the difference between financial tracking and reporting, and which one do you need? How should you “postponement proof” your finances for the future? Her easy-to-understand responses are designed to help you determine what systems (and people!) you need in place to navigate this uncertain time.
Question #1: When it comes to finances, where do I even begin?
Answer from Nadia: The first step is having separate bank accounts for business and personal money. There are specific legal reasons for the separation. The separation also helps you to know how much you need to make and to develop a spending plan. During the webinar, we discussed business transactions, however, many of the same principles for tracking will apply for you personally.
Secondly, once your accounts are separate, make sure you’re tracking ALL of your financial activity for your business. This means looking at your income and expenses and grouping each transaction into a specific category.
- Examples of income categories for a planner: weddings, corporate events, celebrations, consulting, workshops
- Examples of expense categories: advertising, mileage, uniforms, supplies with subcategories for design/decor, floral, and office supplies; or if you’re a caterer/ baker – supplies with subcategories for food supplies, packaging supplies
Question #2: What’s the difference between financial tracking and financial reporting? And which one should I be doing?
Answer from Nadia: Financial tracking is keeping a record of each dollar that you receive or spend and organizing each transaction into a specific category. Financial reporting is summarizing the categories in a manner that helps you to analyze your business activity; it allows you to make better business decisions and to share your financial activity with people outside of your business. Ideally, you should do both.
Here are four things to keep in mind:
- You have to track before you can report.
- You may have more detailed reports for internal decision making and less detailed reports for external sharing.
- There are two main financial statements that help you analyze your business – an income statement (also called profit and loss statement) and balance sheet.
- There are some systems that only track income or only track expenses and produce limited financial reports. All financial reporting systems also allow you to track. If you choose a system that only allows for tracking, I recommend you identify another system for financial reporting.
- Credit card processing systems that include tracking: Square, Stripe, Shopify
- Customer relationship management systems that include tracking: Honeybook, Dubsado
- Financial Reporting systems: QuickBooks, Xero, FreshBooks, Wave
Question #3: What’s the best way to track my expenses to identify what is essential and what can be cut?
Answer from Nadia: Consider your expenses in three categories:
- Fixed – These are the expenses that you have a contractual obligation or commitment to pay to operate your business. You pay the same amount at the same time each month/quarter/year. Think: rent, insurance.
- Firm – These are the expenses that you incur regularly to operate your business, but the dollar amount or timing changes based on how much business you’re doing or what your specific needs may be. You may have a month-to-month agreement for these expenses, however you can change the agreement at any time. Think: staffing, supplies.
- Flexible – These are the items and activities that enrich your business and make your work easier and more enjoyable. Think: meetings/meals, client gifts.
Group all of your expenses into one of the three categories above. Start with the flexible expenses and consider whether continuing this expense will save you time or money, now or later. If the answer is no, these are the first expenses that can be cut. Next, consider the items in the firm category. How will reducing these expenses impact your business today? Will it cost you more to get these services back in place later? What will you give up if you eliminate these expenses? Is it worth the trade off? Finally, look at all your fixed expenses. Are you able to renegotiate your contract terms? Is there a penalty for early cancellation? What will be required of your business if you do not pay for these expenses? Will your credit score be impacted?
Question #4: What do I do if I don’t have any sort of financial systems in place?
Answer from Nadia:
Step 1: Get organized. Make sure you’re separating your business and personal expenses. Develop a system to send invoices, receive payments for the invoices, keep receipts for purchases, and to have paper or electronic evidence of each of these transactions. If you have people who help you in your business, develop a system for paying those people and completing the tax related reports for your business and those individuals. You will likely need the help of an accountant or another service provider to help you determine who is an employee vs. an independent contractor and what documentation you’re required to send at the end of the year. When deciding which expenses to opt out of, I work the other way. I begin by considering the items I have to pay and, if I have cash left, perhaps I can keep a few of the fun things. You can use this priority pyramid for budgeting as a first step for tracking.
Step 2: Find out how much you’ve been making and spending. Print out your bank statements for the past year and grab a handful of highlighters. Choose a color to highlight all the fixed expenses, a different color for the firm expenses and a third color for the flexible expenses. Choose separate colors for each of the income categories you want to track. Go through the bank statements and use highlighters to create groups. Total the numbers on the bank statement by color. Make sure each number on the statement has a color. Create a chart with a column for each month of the year and a row for each income of expense category. Fill in the totals by color for each category in each month. You can use your chart to see how your income and expenses change from month to month or in different seasons and to calculate your profit margin (how much of each dollar you’re keeping). Here’s a tool to calculate profit margin and consider how you want to increase your margins post quarantine.
Step 3: Create a plan for maintaining systems for financial organization, tracking, and reporting going forward. Here’s a blog post with suggestions for organizing paper and digital financial files. Electronic reporting systems allow you to create reports at the click of a button instead of using all this paper and highlighters.
Question #5: Which professionals do I need to have on speed dial?
Answer from Nadia: I encourage business owners to have a Dream Team: Lawyer, Accountant, Financial Advisor, Insurance Agent, Relationship Banker, and a Real Estate Agent.
Take steps now to speak with professionals, select the ones you’d like to work with, and begin building those relationships. Focus on what you do well and surround yourself with a team of professionals to advise you in their expertise. Many of these service providers do free initial consultations. Others have newsletters where they’re sharing tips and tools for free. Some others have affordable subscription services that give you access to ask questions as they arise. Do your research by interviewing a few professionals to see if they’re a good fit.
Question #6: What is a cash flow plan? And how do I create one?
Answer from Nadia: A cash flow plan is future-focused. It sets expectations for the money you will receive in your business and the money you will spend in your business. It predicts what your cash balance will be at the end of a specific period. It answers the question: How much cash will I have in the bank at the end of a specific time period? You need to make some assumptions about sales, collections, and spending. Start with your current cash balance (money in the bank and cash on hand), add in sales you know you will receive this week/month, subtract out expenses you know you have to pay this week/month, calculate an ending balance. I think the time period depends on how much cash you have on hand. The more cash you have, the longer the time period. You can look at income and expenses by the month if you have six to nine months worth of cash in the bank. If you have less than three months cash in the bank, I recommend you update weekly. Update your expectations as your assumptions change. For example, you book a new wedding, your client postpones, you cancel a service, you hire a second shooter.
Question #7: Which numbers should I always have at the ready?
Answer from Nadia: The five figures that you should always know are as follows:
- Automatic payments or renewals and due dates
- Monthly operating costs – how much you spend each month on average – include the amount you pay yourself
- Minimum cash requirement – the minimum amount of money you have to collect each month to operate your business
- Minimum personal spending amount – what you must pay yourself each month
- Break even sales target – how many weddings you have to book to meet your monthly operating costs
Question #8: How do I pay my bills when I don’t have any revenue?
Answer from Nadia: Use these four basic steps to determine what’s possible.
- Decide the priorities for the cash that you currently have. Can you use any of that to pay bills?
- Talk to creditors and/or service providers to find out if any of their payment terms are flexible right now.
- Examples: I live in Virginia. Currently public utilities will not be disconnected for non-payment. Apartment complexes are waiving late fees. The state is delaying sales tax payments. The federal government is delaying payroll tax payments. Research what’s available in your area.
- Negotiate lower rates or no finance fees
- Ask the credit card company to lower the APR. Tell them you’re considering another card and ask what changes they will make to your current card.
- Downgrade your cable and/or internet package or lower the level of a subscription service
- Lower your consumption/ usage of utilities
- Consider peak usage times and unplug appliances
- Use the dishwasher instead of handwash – limit shower time –
- Sometimes it is less expensive to increase your data plan and use your phone as a hotspot for internet than it is to maintain a cell phone plan and a home internet plan
- Pay your bills late
- Find other vendors or suppliers with lower cost or longer payment terms
- Share the service with another friendor
- Can two planners split the cost of an assistant?
- Does it make sense for two caterers split the case cost of a box of chicken to save on delivery fees or take advantage of minimum order quantities that lower the per unit cost?
- What if two photographers share the cost of an editor?
1. Consider your available credit.
- Apply for a line of credit before you need it
- Use credit cards to pay bills, only if you have to
- Get an additional credit card before you start paying bills late, while your credit score is still intact
- Look for balance transfer options that will lower the interest rate
2. Consider ways you can keep cash coming in.
- Micro deposits – Consider collecting a smaller-than-normal deposit to hold a date
- Incentive sales for your entire staff
- Is there any opportunity to offer bonus services to current clients? Add in something that has no or low cost to you that they would find valuable and be willing to pay for
- Can you offer new services to past clients? Examples: anniversary or holiday photos, special occasion cake, customized playlist
- Can you expand to a new market? Examples: travel with your couple, choose to offer services in a different destination, add new venues
- Ask past customers to update their review or provide direct referrals and incentivize them for sharing – payout when the client books or when they reach a certain number (think: rewards for loyalty)
- Bundle services with other providers – start a referral loop
Question #9: Any advice on utilizing or restructuring my payment plans?
Answer from Nadia: The most important piece of advice I can offer right now is to be honest and flexible with existing clients. Speak directly with couples to determine how you can provide them with the best service when we’re allowed to celebrate again. Explain how and when you will communicate moving forward. Try to limit the number of reschedules. Request payments per meeting, per milestone, or per month.
Secondly, it may be important to revise your contracts for new clients. Consider when you do the bulk of your work and restructure your payment plans to align with that timing. The money should match the work. I recommend that you incentivize upfront cash payments, which is different from penalizing other payment methods. Offering review and referral bonuses can be a great way to build your business. Consider subcontracting clauses that allow you to make more money.
As Nadia Anderson mentioned during the webinar, “People often say, ‘I can’t afford an accountant.’ The truth is: you can’t afford not to have one.” Fortunately, if you do not have an accountant during this difficult time, you can use the step-by-step advice above to get started with tracking your expenses, analyzing your income, and potentially making some necessary cuts. Now more than ever, wedding pros must deep-dive into the nitty-gritty financial details of their businesses and think toward the future. Events will begin again, and people will always get married. #LoveIsNotCanceled
If you weren’t able to join us live for the webinar, or if you want to brush up on the content again, you can view the recording at any time.
- Priority Pyramid for Business
- Profit Margin Tool
- Stay Ready Blog Post
- Sign Up for QuickBooks at 30% Off
- Sign Up for Business Finance 101 Classes Four Tuesdays beginning May 12
- NadiatheCPA Website Find more Free Resources, Services and Pricing
Please note: WeddingPro and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, financial or tax advice and should not be used as such. You should always consult with your financial and tax advisors about your specific circumstances. This information contained herein is not necessarily exhaustive, complete, accurate or up to date and we undertake no responsibility to update. In addition, we do not take responsibility for information contained in any external links, over which we have no control.
Photo Credit: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock.com
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