As I get rolling on a new startup with my partners at Startup.SC, a startup incubator in South Carolina, I am reminded of a few painful mistakes many entrepreneurs, myself included, make when starting a business.
Now, if you are starting a business, you probably have not put too much thought into how you are going to exit. There are, after all, countless considerations to make as you get started, from applying for business licenses, developing working prototypes to setting up your website. If you ever plan to sell your business or bring on investors to grow, how you run your business from the start is just as important.
Fortunately, it is not difficult to get started properly. Simply consider these four tips, often overlooked by most startup entrepreneurs.
1. Prepare your general ledger.
Setting up your accounting books may seem bland and tedious, especially for entrepreneurs without experience. Many rely on off-the-shelf accounting software, which provides general guidelines and templates to get you started. These are fine and completely acceptable for most startups, but to fully understand the financials of your company and, in the future, provide the evidence of the value you have built, you should give your set up careful consideration. Although a little pricey, it would benefit you to hire a professional when getting started.
2. Keep business business.
It is completely acceptable for entrepreneurs to pay for a variety of expenses with company funds, so long as those expenses meet the generally acceptable accounting standards (GAAP) for business expenses. Too many entrepreneurs, however, use company funds for personal use, trying to justify it with very liberal interpretations of GAAP or simply improperly reporting.
Not only could this get you in hot water with the IRS and open you up to a great deal of liability, it will be difficult in the future to separate these expenses when valuing your company. From the onset, it is best to just keep all personal expenses out of the business.
3. Report all revenues.
It is not difficult, and definitely enticing, to skim money from the business at the start, especially if you do most of your business in cash. Again, not only could this ultimately get you in trouble with the IRS, but it undervalues your business in the long run. It is going to be difficult to prove value and growth if you are not reporting real numbers from your business.
4. Keep careful records and receipts.
OK, excluding personal expenses and reporting all of your revenue just means giving more of your hard-earned money to Uncle Sam in terms of taxes. Not necessarily true. If you understand the extent of what you can expense and, more importantly, you keep copious records of your activity (both for audits and due diligence of potential buyers and investors), you can ultimately work down your taxable income without hurting the value of your company.
I was part of a business team that looked at investing in businesses a number of years ago. It was not uncommon to meet an entrepreneur of a small business whose only proof of success and value was a shoebox full of cash. A few would emphasize that the company was paying for personal utilities, auto expenses and even groceries and that we should consider these expenses as part of the value.
The problem was that they often could not prove these claims satisfactorily because they had not accounted for them properly. In the end, it hurt the valuation of their company and gave us tremendous leverage during the negotiations.
Most entrepreneurs are not thinking about an exit when they are in the startup stages of a business. If you ever have a goal to divest or grow through investment, how you run your business before you start is just as important as after.
Do you have any experience with buying or selling a company? What startup tips do you have for entrepreneurs? Please share in the comments section below.