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The BEST Financial Decision I EVER Made!

Monday, September 01, 2008
NASE Members Reveal Their Smartest Financial Moves
By Jan Norman

Wise financial decisions can make the difference between long-term business survival and a quick trip to bankruptcy.

The NASE conducted an online survey earlier this year asking members about the best financial decisions they’ve made for themselves and their micro-businesses.

When it came to saving money, 43 percent of survey respondents said that starting a retirement account was their best decision.

For cash flow, 45 percent said learning to accurately forecast revenues and expenses ranked as their best decision.

Paying off a business loan or business credit card was cited as the best debt-related decision by 39 percent of respondents. Another 32 percent said their best decision was bootstrapping their way to success without incurring any business debt.

And what was the major benefit these NASE Members enjoyed because of smart financial decisions? Forty-one percent of respondents said they could sleep at night without worrying about money. That’s no small benefit for a micro-business owner.

Perhaps these stories from NASE Members about their best money moves will inspire some wise and creative thinking in your own micro-business.

BOOTSTRAP YOUR STARTUP
NASE Member Melodie Ellis

Best Financial Decision
Don’t go into debt to start the business

Why This Decision?
Melodie Ellis’ dream was to open a large studio in Grapevine, Texas, to teach music and dance. “This would have been a very large initial investment and would have required a sizable loan for startup costs,” she says. Instead, Ellis decided to go into business without going into debt. She started small, running Melodie’s Music & Dance out of her home in 1997. She continued to work a full-time job while starting the business in the evenings. She now runs the business full time.

How It Helped
The decision not to lease a large studio saved Ellis thousands of dollars a month. Low overhead maximized her profits, she says.

The decision also affected how she operated the business. She offered lessons in students’ homes, which proved to be popular with customers while saving her money.

Her initial success at bootstrapping “inspired me to continue this practice for all aspects of my business,” she says. “While it sometimes means that I have to wait for a new marketing push, it also means that when it does happen, I get to keep the money I make from it, rather than watching the money go back out to repay a loan.

“I realize starting small is not that exciting . . . and it requires a bit of delayed gratification. But I cannot express how freeing it is to know that my business will be able to withstand changes in the economy, competing businesses and all the other daunting things we small-business owners face.”

ASK FOR ADVICE
NASE Members Frank and Victoria Flam

Best Financial Decision
Invest in coaching to establish systems in the business

Why This Decision?
In 1980, Frank and Victoria Flam bought Flam’s Lock & Key, a business founded by Frank’s father in Sherman Oaks, Calif., in 1953. But in recent years they were feeling burned out and frustrated.

Without proper business systems and an exit strategy, the company couldn’t be sold. Besides, Frank wanted to continue owning the business without having to work every day.

Through a referral from a friend, the Flams hired New York business coach Jan Howard to help them learn to set up business systems, delegate, fire negative employees and hire new ones so they could build the right team.

Howard charges $250 an hour. The Flams pay a $1,000 monthly retainer.

How It Helped
“When Jan did her first assessment in 2006, she said we were working at 30 percent efficiency,” Victoria says. “Now I guess we’re at 65 to 70 percent efficiency.”

Because of the business’ location, it was hurt by the Hollywood writers’ strike. Also Southern California was one of the areas hardest hit by the housing slowdown. Revenues and profits declined initially at Flam’s, but now are up.

“Looking back, if we hadn’t invested in a coach, we’d be digging out of a big financial hole, rather than propelling ourselves forward as we are now,” says Victoria.

The decision also gives the Flams options in the future. If the business can operate without them, they can sell it or they can keep the business and retire with income, but hire others to do the work.

“I don’t care how long you’ve been in business, it’s irrelevant to future success,” Victoria adds. “Our biggest regret is that we didn’t do this when we first took over the business. I can only imagine how big the business would be if we had.”

INVEST IN TRAINING
NASE Member Lynne Walls

Best Financial Decision
To spend $399 for a comprehensive, eight-week course in starting a virtual assistance business

Why This Decision?
Lynne Walls actually ran No Worries Virtual Assistance in Bethlehem, Pa., for five months before she decided to take the course by Erin Blaskie, who coaches new virtual assistants.

“There was a wealth of information, new software, Internet marketing and social networking out there that I had no idea existed, but could help me grow my business,” Walls says.

The class met two evenings a week. Walls says the fee was 20 percent to 25 percent less than the price of similar courses “but I can’t imagine getting any more from them than I did from this course.”

How It Helped
“I got so much valuable information from this course that I have had to break it down into specific groups of tasks spread out over time to utilize all of the resources and not get overwhelmed,” Walls explains.

She spends an hour each day implementing something she learned in class, such as getting a free trial of software recommended in the class.

“I have improved my ranking in Internet searches, received more inquiries per week from prospective clients, learned what my strongest skills are and how to market them, and joined a virtual assistant team, which has boosted the number of hours I work each week,” she says. “And I have only implemented 20 percent of the things I learned.”

LIVE BY CASH FLOW
NASE Members Kevin and Katie Guenther

Best Financial Decision
Live on the cash flow of the business

Why This Decision?
Kevin and Katie Guenther started Design Resource, a landscape architecture design business in La Vergne, Tenn., in 2005, with just an outdated computer, bottom-of-the-line digital camera, old software and office supplies already on hand.

They don’t buy anything for the business or their personal lives until they have the cash in hand.

“We are completely dependent on our business income for our personal income,” Katie says. “We grow our business as we have cash flow to do it.”

How It Helped
This frugal approach helps the Guenthers remain solvent even if clients’ payments fluctuate with the seasons or are slow in coming. Cash flow in the landscaping industry is highly seasonal.

“Minimizing our debt gives us flexibility and freedom in those months where we come in below our expectation,” says Katie.

 




Jan Norman is a freelance writer whose best financial (and personal) decision was marrying a great guy who knows how to fix the computers himself! Her business blog is at http://jan.freedomblogging.com

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