Are my financial goals realistic?
The most frustrating part of budgeting, for me, is reconciling it with the bank accounts. Every month, without fail, my app has different numbers than the bank. I go through each transaction one by one, and most of the time I notice somewhere I made a mistake so I fix it. But every once in awhile, the mistake is nowhere to be found. The solution is to add a made-up transaction for the correct amount, and move on with my life, but this drives me absolutely bananas. Numbers are supposed to be the one thing in life with a right answer. They don’t lie. They’re objective.
Except, when they’re not.
I’m no mathematician, clearly, and there’s a reason that word sounds like magician, but for the most part I’m pretty good at numbers and finances. What I’ve noticed is that business math is not like regular math. There is no right answer. The numbers don’t always add up. Predictions are fluid.
And I know you’ve experienced this before. Your website takes longer to build than you thought, costs more, and you find out there are ongoing maintenance fees. You budget a certain amount for a program, but the exchange rate fluctuates and now your monthly payments are higher than expected. You don’t account for the credit card fees.
When you do the math, things have a tricky way of not being what they seem.
But here’s the thing…it’s still good to do the math.
I’m an advocate for facing your finances head-on, and not burying your head in the sand. Understanding money is learned, and you have to decide to be good at it because it won’t just happen on its own. (Make sure to refer back to my article about Profit First for how I recommend structuring your business finances.)
In case this isn’t clear before we go on, not only am I not a mathematician, but I’m also not a trained financial professional. Please consult someone you trust if you’re making any important financial decisions.
This is more of a back-of-the-envelope type of discussion.
What do you really want to know?
Let’s get back to the main question of if your financial goals are realistic.
First, and you know this already, you have to establish what your goals are in the first place. Not the goals you think you “should” have, but the ones you actually want.
Step 1: Take some time to add up what that will actually cost. Usually it’s less than you expect, but it’s important to know what you’re aiming for.
Next, we need to look at the feelings you want to have. You might think you’ll feel secure and safe if you’re making $250k/year, but will it really? Is there any dollar amount that can make you feel that? Or is something else at play? Can you feel that way even if you never reach your financial goals?
And let’s take a minute to notice the word “realistic” in the original question. This brings up thoughts of self-doubt and questioning of abilities. On top of that, it brings you out of the dreaming state and into the day-to-day of your business. While I think being realistic is super important, let’s leave that to the next part. For now, stay in the hopes and dreams state.
Before we leave this section, quickly do a little calculation:
Step 2: Go back to the article about Profit First and distinguish how much you will personally take as your pay, and how much your business needs to make to pay you that much.
Let’s Do the Math
Real quick, before we go too far, we have to distinguish between short-term financial goals and long-term financial goals. There’s a big difference. For everything below, you can do it for both.
But there’s a reason I do this back-of-the-envelope style.
Life throws you curveballs. You change what you’re interested in. You get excited about a particular project you didn’t see coming. You find a partner to work with that shifts things wildly. A new marketing platform emerges. Your ideal client changes. You learn more and start getting better results in less time.
Life, and your business, are about growth. You’ll never be able to predict exactly what will happen, especially when we’re talking years down the line. All we’re doing here is getting a ballpark figure to see if your financial goals are even possible, and what you might have to change to make them possible.
For example, my sister who is a Virtual Assistant has been thinking about her goals. She did the math.
To make approximately $100,000 gross (before accounting for taxes and expenses) she has to charge $71/hr, 7 hours/day, 4 days/week, 50 weeks/year.
When she looked at the math, she realized that wasn’t going to work for her. Her financial goals were not realistic based on the lifestyle she wanted and possibly even what people would be willing to pay (though she hasn’t tested that yet).
Here are the components you need to consider to make this calculation:
1. How much you want to work
2. How much you want to make
3. What you sell
Most of the people I work with, whether it’s a personal chef, interior designer, consultant, or other service-based professionals, offer something that takes their direct time to execute. For them, and myself, this math stays pretty simple.
Step 3: Do the math. Based on what you sell now, and the amount you want to work, what income will that get you if you’re at capacity? What is the shortfall (or surplus) based on your goals?
Beyond this there are all sorts of other levers you can play with like hiring a team, selling things that don’t require your time to deliver, investing, diversifying your income, and more. These are the next steps for most of my clients because they’re finding when they do the math, they’re not happy with what they see.
Things To Watch Out For
I see business owners making assumptions without doing the math all the time. Every day they’re busy, but when they get to the end of the month or the end of the year they’re disappointed. Their profit is lower than they expected, or non-existent. Their services took longer than they expected so they were actually underpaid for their work. Or maybe they discovered they’re not working as efficiently as they could be. Even if the money all works out, many of them are completely burned out from working way too much to reach their financial goal.
Remember to be honest with yourself about how much you can actually work (including unpaid time like lunch, travel time, training, getting sick, taking vacation, holidays, admin tasks, managing your team, etc.) and how much time it takes to deliver your service (for real, not just how long you hope it will take). To know this, start tracking your time now and get a clearer picture of what that looks like without guessing.
Finally, just another reminder that things change. If you become more efficient, you could take on more clients or actually work less. As your business grows you may find yourself with more referrals requiring less time marketing your business. You may hire an assistant to help with the admin which has a cost but can also give you the ability to focus on your zone of genius. Every day, week, month, and year, you get to decide how your business is run. I believe that we can all have the businesses we want, we just need to decide what that is and make it happen. Truly.
Let me know how you do with the math. I know it’s not everyone’s strong suit, but stick with it and keep it simple. Clarity is an important part of confidence.
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