Successful business owners who struggle with their own personal finances are somewhat of a mystery. Somehow, these people show brilliance in starting and growing a business but do the absolute opposite when it comes to managing and growing their own net worth.
The key to helping these people get their personal finances on the right track isn't about teaching them a new set of skills. Rather, it's teaching them that everything they do in their business works just as well in their personal finances. Even if you don't own your own company, the principles that contribute to success in business can also go a long way toward helping you achieve your financial goals.
Successful Small Business Owners See the Big Picture
One of the hallmarks of successful small business owners is that they've figured out what works and what they do well. Then, armed with that knowledge, they throw 95% of their energy and resources in that direction. To break it down a little further, small business owners are masters at "prioritizing, assessing and restraining." If you can learn to implement these principles in your personal finances, you'll be on your way toward financial independence. (For further reading, see A Corporate Approach To Personal Finance.)
Prioritizing means that you're able to look at your finances, discern what keeps the money flowing in, and make sure you stay focused on those efforts. For most individuals, this is going to be about your primary place of employment. In a practical sense, this means guarding your cash flow by striving to be the best employee possible, by being a team player, and by taking advantage of every opportunity for training and growth. It also means changing jobs if the one you're in isn't compensating you adequately for your skills, talents and passions. In short, prioritizing means treating the most important contributor to your financial health with a true sense of importance.
Assessment is the key skill that keeps business owners from spreading themselves too thin with other promising opportunities. Many great businesses have died because their management tried to do too much, too quickly. The same often applies to ambitious individuals who always have a list of ideas about other ways they can hit it big, whether it is a side business or an investment idea. While there is absolutely a place to investigate new opportunities, running your finances like a business means stepping back and truly assessing the potential costs and benefits of any idea. It means asking questions about your own track record, other people's success with similar ideas, and the potential cost and strain placed on your most important priorities, like job and family.
Restraint is that final big-picture skill of successful small business owners that must be applied to personal finances. Time and time again, financial planners sit down with financially successful people who somehow still manage to spend more than they make. Earning $250,000 per year won't do you much good if you spend $275,000 per year. (To learn more, check out Top 5 Budgeting Questions Answered.)
Learning to restrain spending on non-wealth-building assets until after you've met your monthly savings or debt reduction goals is crucial in building net worth. No matter how much sense purchases makes for a company, small business owners know that if they don't spend less than they earn, it's a matter of time before they go out of business. Personal finances are no different.
Successful Businesses Maximize Their Tax Breaks
If there is one thing many business owners have become great at, it's letting Uncle Sam help them build wealth through tax deductions and credits. Due to an overly complex tax code, many individuals leave hundreds or even thousands of dollars sitting on the table every year. By becoming deliberate about maximizing your tax savings, you'll free up money that can be invested in the reduction of past debts, your enjoyment of the present and your plans for the future.
The most important ingredient is getting organized. If the first time you attempt to think about your tax saving opportunities each year is when you go to file your return, you'll undoubtedly miss the lion's share. You need to start each year deliberately saving receipts and tracking expenditures for all possible tax deductions and credits. Many business supply stores sell helpful "tax organizers" that have the main categories already pre-labeled. (For further reading, check out Next Year, File Taxes on Your Own.)
After you're organized, you'll then want to focus on taking advantage of every tax deduction and credit available, as well as deciding between the two when necessary. In short, a tax deduction reduces the amount of income you are taxed on, whereas a tax credit actually reduces the amount of tax you owe. This means that a $1,000 tax credit will save you much more than a $1,000 deduction.
Because many people don't even know where to begin looking for deductions and credits they aren't taking advantage of, you'd be wise to spend some time searching online. Search out topics, such as "the most commonly missed tax deductions." For high-income households, it may also be wise to spend a few hundred dollars on a certified public accountant (CPA) to get an opinion on missed tax opportunities.
Never Forget Your Best Employee - You!
Your personal finances have one key employee - you. If that employee isn't happy, cared for and rewarded, he or she will probably grow unproductive. One of the biggest traits of successful business owners is that they're consistently taking care of themselves on every level. You've got to do the same or you won't have the stamina to help your finances go the distance.
Above all else, be sure to create space for rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. If life becomes nothing but a battle to get financially ahead, you'll likely burnout and become disheartened. Just like the most successful business owners, you need time away from thinking about the projects at work and your 401(k) balance. Some people do it daily, in little bursts, by working out, reading, or meditating. Others escape on a vacation once a month, quarter or year. Whatever it is, make sure there's a light at the end of your tunnel.
Next, make sure you allow yourself some reasonable rewards now. While the best business owners put their profits back into the business, they also put some into their enjoyment of life. Whether it's a hobby, charity, or an occasional night on the town, you need to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Doing so gives you a taste of the financial independence you're working so hard for.
Last but not least, don't forget to delegate when needed. The most successful business owners know what they do and don't do well. Even though you might be competent enough to do your own taxes or manage a portfolio of individual stocks, it doesn't mean you should. If you can create more wealth by working a few hours more at your job than by doing your taxes or researching stocks, then delegate that to your partner or a professional.
Above all else, the reason small business owners succeed is determination. Not just a determination to work as hard as they can, but also a determination to work as smart as they can.
Successful business owners are determined to take an honest look at how their choices help or hurt their long-term goals. They're determined to take advantage of every opportunity out there to improve their revenue and lower their costs. They're determined to learn the complex rules of the game, especially the tax system, so they can use it to their full advantage. Most importantly, they're determined to remember who their most important employee is and to care for themselves in a way that promotes personal and financial health. If you can find the determination to do these same things in your own personal financial decisions, there is no doubt that you can reach your goal sooner than you thought.
For further reading, see Enjoy Life Now And Still Save For Later.