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'Be willing to tinker and learn': Small business owners share tips for tackling your finances

From cashflow to coping with payments.

ANYONE RUNNING THEIR own business will tell you that at times it can be one of the world’s most rewarding jobs – but nobody will say it’s not a challenge.

And managing finances can be one of the biggest challenges of all. From getting access to business loans to coping with unexpected overheads, staying on top of your books can be a daunting task, especially if you’re not bringing previous experience to bear.

So what can small business owners do to make sure they’re not storing up financial trouble for themselves? Your nearest Local Enterprise Office can offer everything from training and mentoring to help applying for finance with its partner Microfinance Ireland. But it’s always a savvy move to seek advice from other business owners too.

With that in mind, we’ve reached out to those who’ve been there and done it – four small business owners, and one strategy expert – asking them to share their first-hand tips for making the money side work.

Here’s what they had to say.

1. Ask for expert help around finances if you need it

Jenni Timony is founder of athleisure brand FitPink and a Local Enterprise Office client. She recommends getting hands-on with your finances – as well as finding experts who are the right fit for you.

We started FitPink in July 2019. It was myself packing orders, putting them in the post. Fast forward to now we’ve just opened our second store in Blanchardstown, and we have 15 employees. 

Managing finances is something I’m very aware of the importance of. One thing I’ve done with this business is to really invest in accounting software and stock software, and ensure that they all integrate with each other. I only got my first email address in 2007, so I wasn’t particularly technical, but I built our site myself, and did a lot of watching of YouTube tutorials to get our systems in place. If you’re willing to tinker and learn you can achieve a lot.

I have an accountant who really understands e-commerce, so that has been a huge help. We were fortunate to receive assistance from the Local Enterprise Office in Donegal too, to help us apply for a Microfinance Ireland loan. It’s so important to work with people who can offer relevant expertise.

0c9844a5-d7f4-46cd-8f73-377bd1f9d94d Asking for expert help was key when Jenni Timoney was launching FitPink's second store, located in Blanchardstown. FitPink FitPink

2. Get the right systems in place from the beginning

Kamalika Ranasingha is co-founder of the award-winning Multyfarnham Cookery School. She has been a Local Enterprise Office client since the early days of her business, and recently availed of a Microfinance Ireland loan. She says robust systems helped her avoid cashflow issues from day one.

I’m originally from Sri Lanka. By the time I was 8 or 9 I could cook. By the time I went to culinary school I already knew the basics. My husband Dan is a trained pastry chef. We are now nine years gone and we have won awards for our cookery school.

We got a lot of help from the LEO at the beginning for advertising, setting up a show kitchen and things like that. They have always helped us along the way. It has been a security thing as well, it’s been great to know that we have their support. 

From the beginning, we had a system. We had a website where people could book – by the time people arrived at the premises, they had paid for the class. Or with big groups, we’d take a deposit and they’d pay the rest on arrival.

It was challenging to manage cashflow, but the fact that we knew exactly what we wanted was helpful because we didn’t need to call in experts and pay them. We knew about budgeting and costing. 

It's key to implement the right systems from day one, says Kamalika Ranasingha at Multyfarnham Cookery School Multyfarnham Cookery School Multyfarnham Cookery School

3. Find the helpers before you need them 

Ian Boltt founded FatBike Adventures, offering unique mountain bike tours through the scenery of Ireland’s Ancient East. Ian received a Microfinance Loan via the Local Enterprise Office, and he recommends knowing about all financial supports available – before an emergency happens.

Cashflow has always and will continue to be a challenge. Establishing a solid working relationship with your lender helps immensely to provide cashflow – for example an overdraft, some form of temporary line of credit, or delay of repayments. Even just knowing that those facilities are there has been a huge help.

If uncertain times are ahead, don’t wait until the last minute to put measures in place. Plan ahead and communicate with the people that can help you.

Look at the future to guard against the unexpected, advises Loughnan Hooper at Dotser Dotser Dotser

4. Look to the future, not just next week 

For Loughnan Hooper, founder of cloud software firm Dotser and a Local Enterprise client, it’s all about taking the long view.

Finance is the lifeblood of the business, and it’s challenging to manage. You need to keep an eye on it constantly. But as a business owner, you’re looking to the future, whereas your employees may be only thinking of this week or next.

You should be fine tuning what’s going to happen in February now, not thinking of it in January. We have full line of sight to January – total sales, total costs, so you can easily see what the breakdown is. Who are the customers? Can you trust that these sales will come in or is it wishful thinking?

You can make other plans too. If you want to try to grow the business, and you know you have a surplus next month, can it go to marketing to get more sales? But if you get more sales, do you have the staff to fulfil that? And if you have another staff member, do you have the sales a couple of months down the line to keep them going? The detail is so important.

5. Stay on top of your payments – even the little ones

As Head of Enterprise at Clare Local Enterprise Office, Padraic McElwee has seen plenty of small businesses in action. His top tip? Focus on when your payments are coming in.  

You need to be on top of things. In terms of businesses managing cashflow, it’s an awareness thing. It’s understanding where the money is going, being able to look at what’s coming in and out.

Businesses need to have good systems in place to follow up on sales or collect payments. Individually it might seem like small amounts, maybe you have €100 here or €500 there to collect, but it all adds up. Make sure you collect the money you are owed. 

If you yourself struggle with the cashflow side of things, seek out courses. All LEOs run practical workshops on managing cashflow. That’s a fundamental requirement for any business owner. But as your business grows, dedicate an individual within your business with responsibility to manage the cashflow. Most small business owners are busy doing everything so they need someone who can keep an eye, monitor and let them know if something’s not right.

LEO can talk to you about Microfinance Ireland (MFI) loans, but it’s important to remember that these are not there to keep you afloat – they’re to enable you to meet your costs in the 20 or 30 days while you’re waiting for payment. The aim of short-term funding is to enable you to meet your own costs pending payment.

Whether you’re a new startup, a micro-enterprise founder or a small business owner with years of experience, your Local Enterprise Office is the one-stop shop for mentoring, help accessing financial support and much more. Local Enterprise Offices and Microfinance Ireland are now partnering to offer small business loans at a new lower rate of 4.5% APR. To apply or learn more, contact your nearest Local Enterprise Office.

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