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How to Budget for Growth

How to budget for growth

Greg Crabtree wrote two great books (Simple Numbers & Simple Numbers 2.0) that I continually reference when managing our business. I find these books invaluable when working with colleagues and peers as we discuss the challenges & opportunities faced with growing our businesses.

Now, I’m a numbers guy. I graduated with an Accounting degree from the University of Akron, I passed the CPA exam a century ago, and I have benefited greatly as a business owner by having a deep knowledge of bean counting and all its intricacies.

That said – ‘accounting’ is an arcane art and I’ve seen many business owners forced to wade through it all in confusion or come up with their own to manage profitability and cash flow.

Greg Crabtree does a great job of taking all that information and sharing it in a way that just about anyone can understand. Where it’s really powerful, I’ve employed his methodology to create financial reporting that our management team can truly understand so we can all make better decisions about where we need to go next. By having a common vocabulary and understanding of the fundamentals, we can talk about the business opportunities ahead – and not get lost in the murky waters of cash flow, EBIDTA, and balance sheets. You know, the boring stuff.

It helps us answer these questions:

  • Can we hire someone right now?
  • How efficient are we in getting all the work done?
  • When to keep or when to sell and how will your business practices change as a result?
  • How much cash should I have in the bank?
  • Does it really make sense to buy this equipment at the end of the year for tax savings?
  • And most importantly, how much should we invest in our growth?

The Difference Between Budgets, Forecasts, and Targets

The first takeaway: Budgets are a license to spend. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a discussion with someone who’s in the unenviable position of spending down their budgets for fear that next year the amounts available will be greatly reduced. It creates a mindset in the organization of, “Use it, or Lose it.”

But Forecasts and Targets are tools for growth and profitability.

When planning your upcoming year, we start with Targets. These are defined financial goals we want to reach. There’s usually a minimum target, a primary target, and a stretch target.

The planning process can fall apart in two ways:

  • When you don’t take into account the ramping effect of what you are currently doing. For instance, if you plan to increase sales by 10%, it will take time to reach that number as new sales roll out. You might fall short by 10% in the first half of the year, forcing you to make up the difference by 12-15% in the latter half to average out at 10% by year-end.
  • When you build your annual plan on a monthly incremental basis but miss the bigger opportunity of stopping unproductive activities. In our world, this means continuing with strategies that have worked before without testing them against your control model to weed out the least profitable campaigns. Without regular testing and adjustments, you risk wasting resources on campaigns that no longer deliver optimal results.

Crabtree demonstrates that you can prevent these shortfalls if you first target where you want to be in 1-2 years and THEN build a forecast that will get you there. He also reminds us to not be bound by a fiscal or calendar year. But to measure results against a rolling 12-month view.

Some common mistakes with forecasts include:

  • Having too many levels of detail in your forecast.
  • Only accounting for the Profit & Loss (P&L) statement, without considering Cashflow and the Balance Sheet to provide a full picture for you and your team.
  • Not basing the forecast on a rolling 12-month model.
  • Creating a model that isn’t easily updated throughout the year.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s still plenty of accounting work involved. However, once you have a model in place and someone adept at keeping it current, the numbers you and your management team review for decision-making will become much more meaningful and impactful.

Model in place

Some great tools are available online from Simple Numbers.

An example from Chapter 7 of Simple Numbers 2.0 is below. Don’t worry, the book explains this very well so that you can learn terms like ‘ROIC’, and ‘dLER’ and what a realistic target is for your business based on past results. And ultimately, you can get a simplified dashboard to reference throughout the year to find out if you’re on pace with a few key metrics pulled from here.

Growth chart

How Much to Spend on Growth?

Contrary to common belief, Growth is not about Sales. It’s about Profit.

We’ve been a Weatherhead 100 company reaching as high as #4 on the list of Ohio’s fastest-growing companies. But frankly, that’s when a lot of troubles began. I’ve talked with many other business owners who grew sales so fast, they couldn’t manage the underlying cost structure to do it profitably.

By focusing on Profit and the concept of Return on Investment Capital (ROIC) over a rolling 12-month period you can start to measure the success of your investment metrics over time and use this to forecast your Minimum, Target, & Stretch goals to stay on track.

We find it helpful to look back three years on a rolling 12-month and rolling 3-month basis.

A snapshot from Chapter 6 in Simple Numbers 2.0 shows the following example:

Growth chart 2

And then from there you can understand if your rolling investment in growth is begging to pay off in both the short and long term.

Don’t get frustrated if you don’t see an immediate hit return after a few months. That’s why we look back over the rolling 3-month & 12-month periods compared to the same 3 years back.

The 3-month view gives you a measure if something is dramatically off plan and you need to pivot. The 12-month view gives you an eye to the long-term and whether you’ll moving to your goal (or away from it).

Spend Based on Your Growth Targets

You can find plenty of rules of thumb, peer recommendations, and advice for almost any business type. Some might suggest spending 12% of sales on marketing, while others might recommend just 2%—but none of these are particularly satisfying.

Spend based on your growth targets

You’re aiming to build a profitable marketing model tailored to YOUR business.

What we’ve found works best for our team and the organizations we work with is to game out different scenarios based on your specific growth targets.

For instance, if you aim to reach $10 million in sales within five years, analyzing this scenario from your current position and using past performance as a guide can help you determine its feasibility.

However, consider this: if you’re currently at $5 million in sales with a 15% net operating income ($750k), does it make sense to double your sales to $10 million if your net income drops to 5% ($500k)?

Additionally, you can map out your minimum, target, and stretch scenarios to achieve growth profitably while allowing flexibility for testing new strategies, investing in digital marketing, and hiring new team members.

By using the models and tools provided in Simple Numbers and Simple Numbers 2.0, you can forecast these scenarios and set a reasonable timeframe for your investments to pay off. And then watch it happen in real time!

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kelly Brown
About Kelly Brown:

Kelly Brown has 25+ years of experience leading entrepreneurial organizations. As Managing Partner and CEO of Sanctuary, Kelly has had the opportunity to serve a leadership role in every functional division of the organization.

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