What are some good financial planning tools for startups?
What state of the art financial planning tools are available for a software startup? Should we use either excel or google docs templates or maybe some good cloud software? Thanks.
A good spreadsheet can work, but unless you are a financial whiz and understand the ins and outs of the numbers, you should get a program like Quicken for Business or QuickBooks to record your financial data.
I also highly recommend you hire a book keeper to get things set up and keep it all up to date.
Another piece of advice is to hire a good accountant or CPA to help you and to understand the numbers and to do your end of year reports and taxes.
For start ups and SME's I think you have to go a long way to beat two tools:
Xero for accounting, reconciling bank statements and payroll as well
Receipt Bank for taking images of all invoices paid, coffees/lunches bought meaning you don't need to keep/find paper receipts at the year end
Declaration - at CBC we use both of these!
I prefer spreadsheet - google or excel as a planning tool both are acceptable and cloud version is the best. I will use it primarily for cash flow plan/ forecast/budget, scenarios planning and testing, pricing, break-even analysis, decision making on contribution.
Excel, plus a competent finance professional with financial modeling experience to construct and manage your model. It is exceptionally rare that an off-the-shelf financial model template will be able to adequately represent your unique business model and the assumptions and fundamental activities that your projections should be based on.
In short, if you can't answer this question with confidence yourself, hire an expert--an investment in this endeavor should yield magnitudes greater value in numerous ways, both immediately as a byproduct of the process of developing the financial model, and down the road as your business evolves. Contact me any time with any additional questions about this.
I studied management with a concentration in finance at university, but the last 20 years of having my own businesses have taught me more than my corporate jobs budgeting and forecasting.
The strategy and know-how that go into a tool are much more important than the particular tool. Y'know "garbage-in, garbage-out." In my opinion, the most important thing for a start up to plan for is cash flow. That is what will either kill you - or allow you to survive long enough - to become what is referred to as a 'going concern.'
Relentlessly forecast your cash situation, realizing that sales may not have anything to do with 'cash in' or profit. What are your collection terms? Can you get paid up-front, by taking credit cards (well worth the cost, in my opinion)?
Realize that most startups are ridiculously optimistic in terms of how long it will take to be profitable. That's just human nature. Successful entrepreneurs balance their natural optimism with a strong realistic streak.
At the risk of sounding ridiculous, in my experience, electronic spreadsheets make it easier to be wildly unrealistic. I always write down projects first on a whiteboard, then using old-fashioned paper, when working with others to come up with realistic numbers. THEN, they go into software. Otherwise, often people 'solve' for revenue numbers that will support the expense level they envision.
Accounting software only tallies what has already happened. While it may be necessary from a tax prep point-of-view, it's not a forecasting tool for a startup.
Best of luck!
"The Business Quarterback"
P.S. If you'd like to get my weekly strategy newsletter (complimentary), you can sign up here: http://www.marileedriscoll.com/subscribe/
Apart from Business in a box, what helps are things like Business Canvas, Pitch Canvas and obviously if at mid stages of product development, all the tools mentioned within the Lean Startup, by Eric Ries are very valuable tools to use.
Many financial software solutions have both your daily financial functionality necessary to run your business as well as planning tools. Even something as simple as Mint.com has some planning. It really depends on what type of planning you are doing. Is it operational, for you own measurement of your business? Or do you need high quality financial statements for investor business presentations?
Quick Books is a great program. but Office online is easily accessible, by most people. Consider everyone;'s technological availability, sometimes people still work old school.
The first thing I did when I went into business for myself nearly 30 years ago is to develop a seemingly simply but highly telling Excel spreadsheet. All it is is a checkbook estimator. It projects cash flow out as far as you like. One of the biggest problems you have as a startup or one man show is trying to handle predictable expenses along with unpredictable income. All the spreadsheet does is start with your cash position today and put expenses in each day when they fall and make your best guess on when and how much your income will be and when it should fall. It helps greatly in evaluating what specific spending choices will do to you cash flow, i.e. can I afford this? Not state of the art, but I strongly recommend it.
Excel is fine, Google docs or Office online is nice when you want to be able to quickly collaborate from multiple internet connected devices.