How Should I Manage My Money? As in the marketing of your business, there are two aspects to the “pricing” side: How you deal with your own issues about money, and how you interact with your clients. Until your own issues—such as payment terms and policies—are resolved, you can’t effectively begin to think about how those issues affect your clients. So, first about you. How Do I Deal With My Personal Money? Are you detail-oriented about lines and shapes, but fuzzy when it comes to money? Do you balance your personal checkbook, or do you just write checks and pray your balance stays above zero? Do you know how much revenue you need to generate in order to pay your bills every month, or do you just cross your fingers and hope enough money comes in? Are the numbers clear in your head, or is it all a blur? For many creative types, money is an obstacle to doing business. “I’m bad with numbers,” is a common refrain and, frankly, a common excuse used to neglect essential business tasks like billing. Believing you are “bad with numbers” is often the excuse for ignoring situations that can imperil a business. (You know who you are.) If your personal finances are not in order, your business finances won’t be, either. If you aren’t aware of your regular expenses, you won’t have a way to assess whether you can afford the next computer upgrade or the next employee hire, and you won’t know when and where to trim when you need to. Even if you hire someone to manage the financial aspect of your business, which you may be in a position to do, it’s important that you stay involved and aware of the big picture. Your Money Mentality One fundamental aspect of the financial end of running a design business is the mental attitude you bring to the process. Which of these statements is most familiar to you: “I can’t stand dealing with money.” or “This financial thing is a challenge, but I’m going to learn it and make it work for me.” How about these: “I can’t afford to spend money on marketing.” Or “What do I need to do in order to afford the marketing I know I need to grow my business?” It’s up to you. You can choose between an open or closed mentality. Open is better and will facilitate the growth of your business. With this positive mental attitude as a foundation, you begin planning your future. You Are in the Driver’s Seat: Planning and Managing Your Money Your business is there to feed you, and feed you well, if you want. But there is a lot you need to know about your business in order to get the financials right. Start by figuring out what you need financially. Then, go to your business and say, “Business, this is what I need.” You must be willing to do the work required to have your business deliver this to you. Robert Kiyosaki, best known as the author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, says, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” When he talks about failing, he’s not necessarily talking about going bankrupt. Another definition of failure is holding yourself back or staying static, and this is often the result of a lack of planning. Planning involves knowing what systems and elements you need to have in place, such as: – The numbers. From a financial standpoint, you must understand a few simple numbers—your basic overhead (what it costs to run your business, including your hourly rate), your profit (what you earn over and above your expenses) and your budgets (spending projections based on revenue projections)—before you can start pricing a project. – Bookkeeping, billing and collection. It’s essential to have a system in place so you can keep close track of where your time and money goes. (There is software to do that; we recommend Function Fox.) Everything that comes in and goes out should be documented. You may need a bookkeeper to come in regularly to do bookkeeping or billing, or at least to oversee what you are doing and make sure you’re doing it right. – Business policies, payment terms and conditions. You are in the driver’s seat here. Don’t wait for your clients to tell you how to run your business. One of the benefits of being self-employed is that you get to determine how (and often how much) you want to be paid. You get to decide what to do when surprises occur, such as the cancellation of a job or twenty-five rounds of revisions. This must all be spelled out in advance and included in your contract. – The paperwork. Memories are woefully inadequate, so don’t even try to rely on yours when it comes to the agreements you make with your clients. Instead, set up a simple documentation system with templates for proposals, contracts, estimates, letters of agreement, schedules, timelines and change orders that your clients will sign off on. This sets a professional tone right from the beginning of any business relationship. If you fail to institute this process at the outset, it’s much more challenging to put systems in place later on. In order to set goals and determine a budget, you must work out not only what you need to earn, but also how that number translates into the number of clients you need, and how that translates into how much marketing you must do in order to achieve that. In other words, how many proposals do you have to submit each month in order to make your numbers? How many calls (cold or warm) must you make to be asked for that number of proposals? How many prospects do you need in your pipeline in order to get that number of requests for proposals? Without taking the time to work this out for yourself, it’s unlikely you’ll achieve your goals. Plus, without this information, you won’t know when to step up your marketing, when to attend one more networking event, when to make a round of follow-up calls or when to send out an extra newsletter.