Too many small businesses operate without budgets. And many small businesses that do have budgets aren’t getting as much out of them as they could. We’ve seen it time and again.
It isn’t because the mechanics are difficult to manage. Everyone knows the basics of how budgets work: you track money coming in, you track money going out, and you do your best to plan for the future. In fact, the very simplicity of that formula is what leads some small-business owners to consider budgets not worth the trouble.
Therefore, what we’ll discuss here isn’t what budgeting entails, because if you don’t already know that, you can find it out with ease. We’re more interested in why you should budget in the first place. Our suggestion, to put it plainly, is that budgeting is a way to amplify the very creativity and adaptability that allow small businesses to thrive.
You don’t become an entrepreneur because you have a burning love of spreadsheets. At least, not usually. Being an entrepreneur isn’t supposed to be about budgeting. It isn’t supposed to be about paging through endless columns of variable costs or putting caps on spending. It’s supposed to be about having the freedom to blend innovation and risk-taking with passion and expertise. It’s supposed to be about removing barriers, not building them.
That being the case, small-business owners often see budgets as antithetical to the very spirit of entrepreneurship. According to this perspective, budgets impose stifling limitations. They’re artifacts of mega-corporate culture devised by clammy-handed people in windowless rooms with poor lighting. They may be necessary evils for sprawling, inhuman conglomerates, but when it comes to organizations that rely on individual personalities and individual decision-making, budgets are more burdensome than helpful.
You might say the constraints imposed by budgeting make small businesses less nimble. Since nimbleness is one of their main advantages over larger rivals, budgets actually decrease small businesses’ ability to compete.
Or so the story goes.
Some of it is accurate. For instance, it’s true that passion and innovation go hand in hand with entrepreneurship. It’s true that small businesses should strive to leverage their size into a competitive advantage. And it’s true that budgeting for small businesses is much different from budgeting for colossal corporations.
What’s not true is that budgets impose constraints. Budgets don’t actually impose anything. They merely describe constraints that are already present. Perhaps more importantly, they describe a business’s ability to cope with and even manipulate constraints placed on it by forces internal and external.
Constraints and Entrepreneurial Creativity
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re aware that your business doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It’s part of a staggeringly complex system. For instance, you have your relatively immediate concerns, such as your employees and your local government. You also have your relatively big-picture concerns, such as national debt and foreign trade policy. No matter what, when you start a small business you’re going to be hemmed in by laws, regulations, and unavoidable economic realities, all of which will have a major impact on how you operate.
In other words, no small business starts out in a position of unfettered freedom. The very conditions that allow small busines