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Notes from a small business: Bringing in the cash

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No business owner can afford to ignore their second job: that of actually bringing in and managing the cash, declares Guy Browning.

I don’t need to tell you that running your own business is incredibly hard work. So hard, in fact, that sometimes you forget something rather crucial. Money.


With all this hard work and sweat and blood and tears, it’s very easy to lose sight of that fact that the reason you went into business in the first place was to make a bit of money.

Of course, we all know that some people set up their own business for the sheer love of it. But the harsh truth in our world is that love can’t buy you money. 

Money. It almost feels like a dirty word. Something it’s a bit rude to talk about. What’s really shocking is that many businesses fail not because they aren’t selling enough but because they aren’t managing their money well enough, because, well, because, you know, it’s money... 


But you’ve got to get to grips with it. Money is like gravity. You can’t escape it and if you don’t pay attention, it’s going to bring you down. 

Every small business owner has to be their own accountant. You have to learn to love the spreadsheet. It’s like when you have a child and you have to read Thomas the Tank Engine to them every night. It’s very, very dull but it’s something that has to be done for the good of the child. Surprisingly, you may even learn to love Thomas the Tank Engine.  

So whatever business you’re in – florist, haulage, IT support – you actually have two jobs. The one you think you’re doing – and book-keeper. The only exception to this are people who set up as book-keepers who, ironically, are usually a bit rubbish at their own accounts.

Quite a few people hate doing their books, but an equal number actually quite enjoy it.

Lovingly entering all the data into your spreadsheet and then seeing the bottom line come out positive is one of the sweetest moments in running your own business – right up there with receiving emails entitled ‘Remittance Advice’.

On the other hand, seeing a negative bottom line can be really quite depressing. But this is when your spreadsheet really comes in handy because you can see that it’s your costs and cash flow dragging you down.

Most people see their accountant once or twice a year, unless for some reason you regularly attend support groups of Spreadsheet Anonymous. 

Ideally, you want to be so on top of your own figures that your accountant wouldn’t recognise you in the street. In fact a lot of small businesses are deciding that they’re better off doing all their books online and having a virtual accountant. It also saves money. Which you’ll know, if you’re on top of your accounts.

The end of the tax year is a peculiarly intense time for small business owners. It’s when you get to see in black and white whether your dream is being built or your nightmare is unfolding. Or, what is most often the case, that building your dream is a bit of a nightmare.

Finally, when you’ve got all the last-minute expenses done, chased all your payments and squeezed in a few final sales, you manage to get all your figures in and – bang – your tax year is over. 

Then, to celebrate, you have a quick cup of tea and start the whole thing all over again the very next day. Next year, though, is going to be even better…

Guy Browning is a writer, film director, after-dinner speaker and author of Never Hit a Jellyfish With a Spade