Your Startup Needs Financial Planning Now
Financial planning for your startup is a real buzzkill. It’s a long, potentially arduous process that can feel like a gigantic distraction from the actual work needed to make your company grow. Not to mention the plans that founders create that end up closer to WAGs – wild assed guesses –than accurate plans.
But overlooking the importance of financial planning will cause major damage to your company. And if you’re only working on your plan once a year, you’re already doing it wrong. Your annual plan needs to be reviewed every month and possibly readjusted after every quarter. By reevaluating your financials every three months and checking in regularly, you’re performing maintenance on your startup—finding the weak parts of your business and testing your assumptions from the previous year. This is good discipline for any startup CEO.
Establish rigorous financial planning in your business and you’ll better understand how your unit economics are trending, whether headcount projections have created the expected outcome and what’s needed in the next few quarters to stay on track. In the early days it may be exhausting to reassess every quarter, but in the long-run you’ll be building a stronger business.
Tomasz Tunguz recommends creating and sharing two different financial plans every quarter with both the board and your company. The board plan includes the projections that you have 90 percent confidence in executing. With your board plan, you’re making a predictable commitment so you’re not over promising results, but still getting everyone on board in the room that the company is producing real growth. It’s the management team that will bear the responsibility if this plan goes awry, so setting responsible projections is essential.
Tunguz also advocates for a company plan that includes the goals you have 70 percent confidence in achieving. This should be broader, more ambitious and include the individual goals of each team. Your company plan is your reach plan, which helps fire up your troops to do more without applying too much pressure if you fall short. Every company plan should also help you measure department performance and reveal any under performing parts of the team.
The plan should be as detailed as possible so you understand the underlying factors of your business model. If your plan is just a sales number, that won’t show you where you need to improve or where your assumptions may be wildly off. Break out the plan into your different channels and show the key metrics for each. Whether it’s your cost per acquisition, number of marketing leads or customer lifetime value, it’s essential to have everything regularly measured to know if something is going wrong.
It’s not necessary to share all this information with your investors unless requested. Your investors are likely too busy to dig into the weeds. Stick to KPIs and telling the story of your company with your developed board plan. By creating two plans you are speaking to two audiences and maximizing the impact of your message. You’re setting up both ambitious goals and proper expectations. That’s financial planning without unnecessary stress.
Once you’ve hit the end of the quarter, if you feel like your business has only slightly over performed or underachieved on its performance, it’s best to stick to the plan for the next few quarters and not overreact to a potentially short-term trend. Especially if things are going well, the natural inclination of someone building a business is to think that positive performance will continue uninterrupted. Adjusting plan too quickly could cause you to overshoot your company’s ability in the next few quarters. As for under performing, even a one-time loss may provide a reason to add to headcount to help cover the gaps created so you can get back on track to hit your end of year goals.
Falling short of your quarterly goal could be a sign of bad planning on your end as well. Maybe you assumed all your reps would hit 100 percent of their quota instead of the more realistic 80 percent. If you’ve missed consecutive quarters or if your numbers are wildly off, readjust your plan for the next quarter. There may be external factors that are causing the plan to be disrupted as well, like unforeseen market forces or key employee loses that you didn’t expect. Either provides a reason to adjust your quarterly and annual figures. However, make sure these changes are being communicated to your board.
You wouldn’t avoid making constant improvements in any part of your business. A financial plan is no different. These exercises will keep you in constant communication with all parts of your business and allow you a better grasp on different aspects. This will be especially helpful when you face specific questions from investors. It will make you a better founder and executive.