How to Put Profits at Your Startup First

When I started my company, I couldn’t understand where all my income went.

In 2015, I began earning a small but noticeable income from selling books, and courses for affiliates that I’d started working with.

At first, I felt pleased about the extra income. It supplemented my day-job and I paid down some debt. As my income from my side-business increased, I discovered I was spending more money on courses, software, coaching, ads, email marketing software, web hosting and lots more.

Money was going out of my business almost as fast as I could earn it. I knew I was doing something wrong, but what?

Then, I discovered how to put profits first from Mike Michalowicz, the author of Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine, as well as several other books.

What Profit First Looks Like

How much profit do you take from your business or side-hustle?

Perhaps you’re surviving from paycheck to paycheck and are more concerned with paying suppliers than taking profits.

Many solopreneurs and entrepreneurs also put paying themselves last, believing they should invest as much as possible into their business.

They apply a traditional formula of sales minus expenses equals profits. However, Parkinson’s law applies to your cashflow too.

This law states work expands to fill all the hours available to it.

The same law applies to your health or business income.

Work will expand to fill the day and prevent you from exercise without self-discipline.

And expenses will expand to consume everything your business has in its accounts if you don’t act.

For example, an entrepreneur who puts paying themselves last might spend almost all of their revenue on marketing, advertising, working with freelancers and so on.

So their business turns into a cash-eating monster, consuming everything in sight, and that’s an unhealthy way of operating.

Michalowicz said,

I would never say, “Oh, I’m going to start putting my health last.” That means it’s insignificant. If we really care about our health, we’ll say we put our health first.”

The same mindset applies to business, he continued. “[For] every transaction we have in our business, we immediately take a predetermined percentage of money — profit — allocated and hide it away.”

A New Formula for Business Owners

Michalowicz proposes a new formula: Sales minus profit equals expenses.

Putting expenses instead of profits last forces the business owner to exercise discipline about what they spend money on each month.

According to Michalowicz, more than 100,000 businesses have applied this formula. He started by explaining how he uses this formula as an author,

In the past, that royalty check would come in, and I’d say, “‘Okay, I have X number of dollars to support my business.” And I would spend it all away in marketing, in hiring a support team to help me writing my book.

Now … I take my compensation first. I made sure my taxes are reserved. I do those elements first. Then I see what’s truly left to run my business.”

How to Put Profit First

Start by setting up a bank account for your business income.

Next, set up four more bank accounts for profits, owner compensation, tax, and operating expenses.

Ideally, set up the profits and tax accounts with a different bank, so you can’t immediately access them.

At least twice a month, and on a set day, allocate a percentage of what’s in the income account toward the other accounts.

Only then should owners concern themselves with expenses.

If the expenses account lacks enough money, this is a red flag that the owner should either cut costs or increase sales.

When I interviewed Michalowicz, he told me, “With less money I say, ‘How do I get the same results I’ve always had, if not better, with less money?’ And I start thinking outside the box.”

When I first applied the profit first formula, it took time to master using so many bank accounts and my ideal allocation for each account.

According to Michalowicz, business owners will need to tweak their allocations for each category for several months until they find out what they and their businesses need to survive.

(Fear not: he provides guidelines about how to set all this up in his book Profit First.)

How I’m Using Profit First Today

After a few months of applying this formula, I found I didn’t miss the extra money for expenses. The only headache was finding a bookkeeper who could help me with reconciling the extra bank accounts.

Much like with creative work, this constraint forced me to explore new ideas for generating additional income.

Businessman’s hand and light.

I’m not alone.

Michalowicz said, “Consistently, businesses that take their profit first find ways to run more efficiently, more effectively … and grow profits like never before.”


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