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Money Matters

Updated: May 17

An Article for Programa by Andrew Mitchell

(Founder of The Design Coach and director at MR. MITCHELL Interiors)


Image by Alexander Mils, Unsplash

Why do creatives often struggle with money matters?


Whether it’s the “front end” of the business (fees and charging), or the “back end” of the business (planning, reporting and analysis), money is the most common source of the challenges my coaching clients face on a daily basis.


In this article, I want to explore the importance of the “back end” of managing business finances. It’s apt to refer to it as the back end, because it’s often at the very end of a designer or architect’s priorities when it comes to the day-to-day operation of their business.


Knowing where we’re at financially is one of the most critical components of running a profitable and sustainable business. However, unless we’ve been to business school or have transitioned from a career in the corporate world, these skills don’t come naturally to most of us. And let’s be honest, not many of us look at managing finances as the sexiest part of running a design practice!


But there’s no escaping the fact that money does matter, and learning the skills to manage our finances is the most important thing we can do to ensure the longevity and success of our business.


Unfortunately, many of us find out how necessary these skills are the hard way, myself included.


Image by Simon Mumenthaler, Unsplash

LEARNING THE HARD WAY


In the early days of my business, I had no idea what a Profit and Loss was, how to read a Balance Sheet, how to create a Forecast, or how to analyse Cash Flow. Nor did I know where to go to learn about any of this information. The only professionals I spoke to (accountants) seemed to be speaking a foreign language that was created to make people like me feel like idiots. It felt like a secret club that was specifically designed to keep “people like us” (creatives) locked out, fending for ourselves on the streets.


The unfortunate thing about my experiences with nerdy accounting-types was that it pushed me even further away from learning about business finance, and this eventually had dire consequences.


Within the first 3 years of running my business, I managed to get into a large amount of debt. My credit cards were maxed out, I owed money to suppliers, and I had no idea how I was going to get out of the hole that I found myself in.


For a long while, I stuck my head in the sand, and refused to do the necessary review of the figures to work out exactly where my finances were at. I knew I owed a lot of money, but I didn’t know how much. Naively, I thought not knowing would make me feel better, but in reality it only served to increase my levels of stress and overwhelm.


Image by Dan Dimmock, Unsplash

Suffice to say that eventually, I had to face the facts.


Rock bottom came on the day when I presented my figures to an accountant who glared at me over his spectacles whilst I nervously clutched my scruffy shoe box full of papers and receipts. With no hesitation, he scoffed at me and told me to file for bankruptcy.


This ended up being a turning point for me both personally and professionally. Personally, I had a choice to make. Did I want to screw over all of my wonderful suppliers who have waited patiently for their outstanding payments? Professionally, I was faced with the choice to either give up, or take control of my financial destiny and become a new, more responsible, capable and accountable business operator.

Needless to say, I chose to dig my way out of the hole, and not take the easy road of filing for bankruptcy.


The way forward was to reach out for help. I went to friends, family and colleagues in the industry to get educated in the processes necessary to run a healthy, profitable business. It took a lot of hard work, commitment to reviewing the figures on a regular basis, regular communication with the businesses I owed money to, and some well-resolved plans to repay the money I owed.


Image by Northfolk, Unsplash

CARING FOR THE “BACK END” OF BUSINESS


Fast forward a couple of decades, and I run 2 financially successful businesses, and enjoy managing my finances on a regular basis. This involves weekly banking and reconciliation of payments, monthly meetings with my bookkeeper to review reports, quarterly setting and review of financial targets, and an annual creation of a budget with allocation of spending to various areas of the business.


If I was to interview the “old version” of me from the early 2000’s, I would never have envisaged that this would become an integral part of the way I run my business. Over time I would come to realise that knowing exactly where I’m at financially is always better, even when the information isn’t overly favourable.


Not only does this ensure that I know the financial health of my business at any given moment, but it also enables me to make exciting plans for the future. Understanding the financial health of my business has provided me with the right information to make measured decisions about significant expenses, such as rebranding, website overhauls, ongoing marketing activities, new team hires, booking work-related travel, and (most importantly) salary increases for myself and my team.


In this article, I want to share some of the practices that I’ve learnt over the years that help me manage my finances more effectively. I’m certainly not a master, but these exercises and habits have helped transform my relationship with money, from one of disempowerment and uncertainty to one that provides me with great joy and security.


Image by Tyler Franta, Unsplash

TOP PRACTICES FOR MANAGING MONEY


PRACTICE 1: Know Where You’re At


You can’t change what you don’t know. Arming yourself with the facts gives you the opportunity to get into action. Even if the facts are scary, knowing what money is owed and what payments are coming (or not coming) will provide the foundation for making a plan. My biggest mistake was hiding from the facts, hoping that the situation would change.


Whether it’s for your personal or business banking, perform an audit on how you’re currently spending your money. This was one of the most eye-opening, jaw-dropping exercises I’ve ever done in my business. If you haven’t done this previously, strap yourself in for a bit of a reality check (delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer).


PRACTICE 2: Take Small Regular Steps


Remember the old saying (sorry Millennials) “Watch the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves”? The day-to-day actions you take to manage your money will have long lasting positive effects on your overall financial health.


Start with a budget (see Practice #3) and commit to checking it regularly and ensuring that your daily spending is in line with what you have committed to.


Really scrutinise your current spending habits to identify whether they’re aligned with you overarching goals. Developing healthy spending habits takes time, discipline and dedication.


Image by Katie Harp, Unsplash

PRACTICE #: Learn To Budget


Create a personal and professional budget.


To budget correctly requires you to do an audit on your current spending practices first to understand .


Ultimately, a budget is just a breakdown of where you’re spending your money, or more importantly, where you PLAN to spend your money.


PRACTICE 4: Learn The Language


Learn to speak the language of money: reports, banking, accounting. Get educated (people, books, podcasts, courses). It’s difficult to avoid formal terminology, especially when dealing with nerdy finance-types! Find yourself a team (see below) who are willing to take the time to explain everything in simple terms (in my case, explain everything a few times).


PRACTICE 5: Gather Your Team


Suffice it to say, I no longer dislike accountants! The key is finding the right people, who are prepared to take the extra time to explain the often-complicated details of running a business.


Make sure you invest in a great (not just good, great) accountant, bookkeeper and (ideally) financial coach. We’re only as strong as the team we build around us, and your money people are a critical part of building a healthy business.


Image by Campaign Creators, Unsplash

PRACTICE 6: Make Yourself Accountable


Set a regular meeting with someone (or a group) to check in on your finances. This could involve setting targets with an accountability partner/group or reviewing financial reports with your bookkeeper or accountant.


PRACTICE 7: Health-Check Your Business


Always check in regularly (reporting and analysis) to assess the health of your business, especially when you’re stressed financially. Sticking your head in the sand won’t make the bills go away. If this isn’t a strength, get others to help you.


PRACTICE 8: Look Forward


Learn to forecast. This is the ultimate “health check” for your business, now and into the future. When it comes to making big money decisions (eg: taking on a new office lease, employing someone, paying for a photo shoot), knowing what your cash flow looks like in the future can help make more measured decisions.


PRACTICE 9: Build A Buffer


Almost all small businesses need to manage periods of low cash flow. In architecture and design it can be feast or famine! We handle large payments from fees and procurement that can be quite intermittent. Building a buffer of cash reserves will enable you to ride the ebb and flow of money with more security and confidence.


Image by Sincerely Media, Unsplash

PRACTICE 10: Know Your Options


If your cash flow is low, it’s important to consider all your options ahead of time. To do this, we need to know what’s coming up, hence the forecasting. The last thing you want to be doing is foraging for cash to pay bills at the last minute. If things are looking a bit grim, talk to your bank about a loan or a line of credit (discuss with your accountant first) to help you through the lean times.


The fortunate or unfortunate reality (depending on how you choose to see it) is that running a business necessitates working with money. Money is a tool to do amazing things. It can change your life, and it can change the lives of the people you love, and the lives of the people in your community. While there are some individuals who wield money as a source of power to oppress others and make only personal gains, there are just as many people (I believe there are more) who actively use their financial gains to make the world a better place.


How you choose to view money, and how you choose to manage it will determine what sort of difference you’re able to make in the world. No matter how you perceive your financial capabilities, I challenge you to make money matters a priority so that you too can change the world for the better.


If you need help getting your financial matters in order, we offer a range of coaching services at TDC that can help develop healthy practices to manage your finances more consistently. Note we’re not financial agents, and don’t provide advice about legal and accounting matters. For these services, please seek the advice of a registered Accountant or Lawyer.


You can find out more about The Design Coach, who we are and what we do via our website.


Stay well and believe in you!

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