The 2016 American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor reported that only 51% of entrepreneurs pay themselves a salary. By 2019, the statistic flipped,and 51% of entrepreneurs did NOT pay themselves a salary. In fact, 26% of business owners skipped pay for 2-6 months, and another 25% went OVER six months without a paycheck. What in the world?
Truth be told, many entrepreneurs pay themselves as an afterthought. I spoke with a restaurant owner just yesterday who admitted, “I could probably take a check, but I’m afraid if we slow down the business would struggle.” That’s a fairly common sentiment. Cash flow concerns have caused lost sleep and anxiety in 63% of entrepreneurs in a recent survey.
It is my personal experience that foregoing a paycheck caused even more anxiety because our personal income became unstable. I hear the wishful thinking that entrepreneurs can pay themselves, “someday.” Well, let’s start the habit now. You may not be able to pay yourself your dream salary, yet, but you need to get into the habit of budgeting for yourself.
1. Make sure you know your business “4 walls.” I like to envision your business as having 4 sides, like a house or a box, and your priority must be the expenses on the inside of that box. Expenses that cover your access to buyers, critical operating expenses and minimum inventory spend and a paycheck for yourself should be your priorities over anything else you may owe. The anxiety of worrying whether you have made “enough” this month will be alleviated by having this number. You can get the free worksheets on my website www.entremoneycoach.com.
2. Pick a number. Pick a number to pay yourself. Many entrepreneurs get stuck here. There are a few different ways to calculate your salary. One is to total up the personal expenses you need to cover your personal “four walls;” food, utilities, rent or mortgage, and transportation. When your electric and water is paid, you will be able to show up and serve with less stress.
Another method is to decide your ideal check, and take a percentage of it, say 40%. For example, if your ideal check is $1,000.00/ week, your 40% is $400/ week. Then add your taxes on top of that. So, you may take base pay of $500 week with a 20% tax rate. Every two weeks you write a $1000.00 check, deposit it and pay $200 to your self-employment taxes. Every dollar over that amount remains in operating account. As the business grows you can incrementally increase your salary.
3. Put your paydays on a calendar. And commit to paying yourself, even if it’s only $10.00. Do it. Celebrate your business, and yourself, with a tangible reward for two weeks of hard work. This pay must be in a paycheck. You are not going to live out of the till anymore. The money you earn between paydays stays in the operating account. Many entrepreneurs go through “petty cash” or take money directly from the business to pay personal expenses. This co-mingling is a nightmare for taxes and your personal finances.
The picture of the struggling entrepreneur working hard, starving even, until they make it big is the Cinderella story we love to read. But most small businesses grow slowly and incrementally. Those “overnight successes” we read about were likely in business for years before the “big break.” So, let’s pay ourselves, something, every other week in 2020. If you need a reminder, sign up for the Entre Pay Day newsletter at Entre Money Coach