If you were driving 80 miles an hour, in the dark, with your lights off, heading toward a cliff, would you like me to yell, "STOP?"



Do you run financial reports - the balance sheet and income statement - every week? Do you analyze sales, costs, cash flow and debt every week? Do you check the score? If not, you may be heading for the cliff.

STOP. And find out. A "known financial position" is essential to your success and profitability. "Known" is the key word. It may be that you are losing money or deeper in debt than you would like to be. No problem. Find out how much and how deep. That's the starting place. (Think of it as the "You Are Here" arrow on the map of life.) I promise you can improve any financial position. But you must know where you are right now, now and always.

Certainly this seems obvious and intuitively true. But from my personal experience as a business consultant, nine out of 10 business owners don't know where they stand financially. There are a couple of reasons for this.

They don't know how to keep score.

They are afraid to look because they don't want to know how bad it is.

Change is uncomfortable, but it is the only way to succeed. Face it: If you had all the success you desire, you wouldn't be reading this. Let's get you to a known financial position. We'll start by addressing the reasons you don't know where you stand right now. Brace yourself. You are going to have to change the way you think and the way you operate your small shop.

Keeping Score

In "Bookkeeping for Plumbers," business expert Wesley A. Fink says:

"It is not the case that plumbers are uneducated or uninformed generally, or that they are deficient in the mechanical part of plumbing, but they are unfamiliar with modern business methods. The first thing that a plumber contemplating going into business should study is the successful methods of successful concerns. If he does not know them, he is sure to lose money; if he appreciates his lack of knowledge, he will find a way to acquire it, and it is cheaper to learn before an investment is made in stock and fixtures, tools, etc., than it is to learn afterwards by sad experience."

"Bookkeeping for Plumbers" was published in 1918. Basic business and accounting information is available. Frankly, this information has been available for hundreds of years. How come you don't know your assets from your liabilities? Unfortunately, business basics are not taught in school. That's a shame, because if we taught kids how to read financial reports, we'd do a lot to improve the survivability and profitability of small businesses. However, as Mr. Fink points out, "If he appreciates his lack of knowledge, he will find a way to acquire it É"

Appreciate your lack of business knowledge and find a way to acquire it. You could take a small business accounting course. Or you could learn the basics from books. My books - "Where Did the Money Go?" and "How Much Should I Charge?" - are terrific for learning to read and understand financial reports. Check out my Web site, too, at www.barebonesbiz.com. Also, buddy up with a good bookkeeper or accountant and have him or her explain accounting in plain English. And yes, at least at first, you'll feel uncomfortable.

You can learn to keep score in the game of business. It's really no big deal. If you have a computer, you probably have an accounting program loaded on it already. Each week, run a balance sheet, an income statement and a cash flow report. Review the number of billable hours. Look at gross margin, net margin and total sales.

Once you know the score, you can start changing the behaviors that can change the score. The most important change? Your selling price is going to have to go up. Really. There isn't any other change that will have a significant impact on your financial position.

Still stalling? Let's look at the other reason, the real reason, you are in the dark about your current financial position: fear.

Lessons From Trump

Donald Trump is not one of my favorite people. He is a liar and a womanizer. He has a bad hairdo and his lips are too small and too white. He takes advantage of poor, weak and ignorant people. But, I gotta hand it to him: The guy is fearless.

In the late 1980s, Donald Trump was upside down. He owned a lot of real estate in New York and New Jersey and the real estate market took a nose dive. What was worth $100 million on Tuesday was worth $25 million on Wednesday. All of a sudden, he owed more in loans than he had in assets. Even if he sold everything, he couldn't have paid off his debt. Not even close.

He was behind on his loan payments. One of his bankers called in a loan of $64 million dollars and Z'Donald didn't have the money.

Now, when you, a small shop owner, can't make your loan payment, the lender gets tough. The bank turns you over to an aggressive collection agent and puts a lien on your house. But, when a bank loans $64 million, Donald Trump's problem is the bank's problem as well. And Z'Donald knows this.

Trump didn't panic. He didn't have a heart attack or a stroke. He understood he had a solid business plan in place. That plan just needed a bit of time to work. All he had to do was convince the banks to hold tight. He assured them they would all make a ton of money if they would just be patient.

Trump's plan was simple. Plunk down a few casinos in poverty stricken Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Ever been to Atlantic City? I suggest you take a trip to Trump's Taj Mahal. Park your car a few blocks from the boardwalk and stroll over to the casino. You'll witness the lowest level of living that our country has to offer. Most folks in this neighborhood are poor and ignorant, as far as making money is concerned. Trump knows he can count on these good people to deposit much of what they earn or collect right into his slot machines. When you walk into the Taj, notice the opulence, all thanks to local customers' contributions.

Even better, other ignorant folks will travel from all over the East coast to hand over their earnings to The Big Z'D. A steady stream of buses deliver starry-eyed gamblers to the Taj Mahal and other Trump casinos. Of course, rich people gamble, too. Considering gambling dollars as a percentage of total income, however, the rich patrons are lightweights compared to the poor folks. Rich people know that casinos are good places to party and drink and lose money. Rich people, with very few exceptions, didn't get rich playing slots.

I bet Trump doesn't play the slots.

Think Fearless

I don't admire Donald Trump. But he is fearless. He was perhaps the "broke-est" bloke in America. He knew the numbers. He knew the financial position. He worked out a plan that could turn those numbers around. And he succeeded. I tell his story because if a schmuck like Trump can pull out of a hole like that, well, you can turn your small shop around.

Financial success starts with a known financial position. Rich, powerful people like Donald Trump know where they are financially. They keep track and play the numbers. You don't have to behave like Donald Trump. But I wish you knew what he did about money. Money and power are great tools, particularly in the hands of great people.

Masses of people in Atlantic City are shoving billions of dollars into Trump's pockets. I imagine these folks shedding their ignorance and learning to make their own fortunes, without depending on Trump's stingy slot machines. I'm committed to eradicating business illiteracy because nothing is more equalizing and empowering than learning how to make money. Gosh, wouldn't it be interesting if the dollar flow into Trump's organization slowed to a trickle?

From here on out, I want you to operate from a known financial position. I challenge you to make lots of money doing the wonderful, honorable work you do. Learn the basics. Shed your ignorance. Handle your fear. Raise your prices. Turn on the lights and watch out for the cliff.

It's time Donald Trump had some competition.