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20 Financial Management Tips For Small Business Owners

April 22, 2024

Running a small business is as challenging as it is rewarding, especially when it comes to financial management. As a business advisor, I’ve observed many common errors that can jeopardize a small business’s success. Here’s a breakdown of 20 of these pitfalls and practical advice on how to steer clear of them.

1. Maintain Accurate Financial Records

Accurate record-keeping is the foundation of sound financial management. Many small business owners overlook this, leading to complications with tax compliance and financial reporting. Implement robust systems for recording transactions and ensure you have effective financial controls in place.

2. Separate Personal and Business Finances

Mixing personal and business finances can create a maze of financial records. To avoid this, open separate accounts for your business and strictly use them for business transactions. Far too many small business owners burden their companies with a personal income the model cannot sustain. You shouldn’t be going into debt or cash-starved because of your personal finance needs.

3. Forecast Cash Flow

A common oversight for many entrepreneurs is not having a clear understanding of cash flow. Prepare a cash flow forecast and update it regularly to reflect business changes. This will help you manage finances more effectively and plan for future needs. I advise looking for one week, six weeks, six months, and one year out with your projections. Please also understand that there is a difference between profit and cash.

4. Understand Cost of Goods Sold

Knowing the cost of goods sold is crucial for pricing and profitability. Identify all variable costs associated with your products or services and include a profit margin to ensure sustainable business operations. To the degree you can disaggregate this information into specific product/service line categories or geographical areas the better.

5. Monitor Key Financial Metrics

Regularly tracking financial metrics is essential. Develop a dashboard that highlights key performance indicators (KPIs) affecting sales and profits, enabling you to make informed decisions. There are general business success metrics such as sales growth, profit, cash flow, sales pipeline, work backlog, etc. that are advisable across all companies, and they should be supplemented with any specific metrics relevant to your industry, e.g., billable hour utilization, sales per square foot, inventory turns, etc.

6. Seek Professional Financial Advice

Many small business owners hesitate to seek professional advice. Consulting a financial advisor or accountant can be a game-changer, helping you navigate complex financial landscapes and avoid costly mistakes. At least once a year, have your lead internal financial person, accounting firm partner, and personal finance advisor meet to discuss your plan. Keep your banking contact in the loop on all important financial developments and seek their advice as needed. In addition, fractional CFO expertise is readily available now and should be leveraged as needed. If you are planning for an exit within the next 3-5 years, start developing relationships with investment banking firms of M&A practices.

7. Manage Inventory Efficiently

Improper inventory management can lead to either excess inventory or stock shortages. Regularly review inventory levels and use inventory management systems to maintain the right stock levels. Inventory eats cash and takes up space. If it’s not moving, figure out “plan b.”

8. Control Expenses

Understanding and controlling expenses can significantly affect profitability. Rank your expenses based on their impact on your income statement and apply the Pareto Principle to focus on the most significant costs.

9. Develop a Clear Business Plan

A well-defined business plan is vital for making informed financial decisions. Outline your business goals, strategies, and financial projections in a formal plan. Plan your work and work your plan. Have metrics and milestones in place to gauge your progress and manage accordingly.

10. Diversify Revenue Streams

Relying on a single product or service can be risky. Diversify your offerings and explore new markets to safeguard against market fluctuations. I recommend as a rule of thumb that no individual client or product/service should contribute more than 15% to the total overall revenue number.

11. Manage Debt Wisely

Excessive or poorly managed debt can strain your finances. Create a debt management plan that includes timely repayments and seek better terms for your debts. It’s also critical to understand the difference between short- and long-term debt and to use these two options appropriately. Having a good relationship with your banker can make a big difference in this regard, making sure you are in the right debt vehicles.

12. Plan for Taxes

Failing to plan for taxes can lead to financial strain. Work with a tax professional to develop a strategy and make estimated tax payments to spread out tax liabilities. I’ve seen many small businesses fall into a financial trap when it comes to tax payments. Late payment penalties and interest payments can become pretty expensive if you are not careful.

13. Monitor Receivables

Keep a close eye on accounts receivable and promptly follow up on overdue payments. Implement penalties for late payments to discourage delinquencies. It’s also important that you pay attention to the days in accounts receivable relative to the days in accounts payable to ensure you aren’t creating your own cash flow issues.

14. Invest in Your Business

Investing in technology, marketing, or training can enhance your business operations and promote growth. Understand which investments will drive revenue and prioritize those. Make sure you do a cost-benefit analysis and calculate the ROI before moving forward.

15. Adapt to Market Changes

Stay informed about industry trends and be ready to adjust your business strategy to remain competitive and responsive to market demands. It’s much better to be ahead of the curve rather than behind it when it comes to customer, vendor, and competitor dynamics.

16. Manage Risks Effectively

Identify potential business risks and develop strategies to mitigate them. Effective risk management can prevent financial losses and enhance business resilience. Most leaders have a reactive and poor understanding of the multitude of risks confronting their company.

17. Invest in Financial Management Systems

Relying on outdated systems or manual processes can hinder financial management. Consider adopting modern financial management software to streamline operations. The short term pain of a new system should be offset by better reporting and forecasting capaility and allow you to make better real time data driven decisions.

18. Understand Financial Reporting Requirements

Ensure compliance with financial reporting standards pertinent to your industry to avoid legal issues. Seek professional guidance to navigate complex regulations. Obviuolsy some industries are much more highly regulated than others (healthcare, education, freight forwarding, etc.)

19. Plan for Contingencies

Unexpected events can disrupt business operations. Develop contingency plans and set aside funds to handle unforeseen expenses. Look at the main drivers of your businesses success especially external factors and run different scenarios to to plan for exigencies and impactful trends.

20. Communicate with Stakeholders

Maintaining open lines of communication with stakeholders, e.g., vendors, customers, strategic partners, etc. is crucial for mutual understanding and support. Regular updates can prevent misunderstandings and foster a supportive business environment. Price changes are usually a common part of these relationships and should be navigated with tact, supported with facts, and provide appropriate business rationale.


By addressing these financial management mistakes, small business owners can enhance their financial performance, mitigate risks, and set the stage for sustained success. Regularly review your financial practices and seek professional advice to ensure you’re making the best decisions for your business’s future.