Is improving financial health for your coaching business a priority? Want more profit and cash flow this year? Well then, this guide is for you.
Want to know the secret to building a financially successful coaching business? Bookkeeping! (Yes, we’re being serious.)
Now before you start assuming things and clicking over to a new site, we urge you (for your own benefit) to put your curiosity cap on and stick around.
In this guide, we’ll go over everything coaches need to know about using bookkeeping to create a financially healthy coaching business.
- Risks for Coaching Businesses That Neglect Their Bookkeeping
- What Do Financially Healthy Coaching Businesses Look Like?
- What Top Coaching and Consulting Businesses Do To Be Successful
- Bookkeeping – The Secret to Building a Profitable Coaching Business
- Improving Cash Flow In Your Coaching Business
- Getting Paid for Your Coaching Services
- Accounting Software
- Paying Team Members
- Coaching and Consulting Business Structure
- Paying Taxes
- Cash vs Accrual Accounting
- Hiring a Bookkeeper for your Coaching Business
- Practical Coaching Business Tips from Successful Coaches
- Next Steps for Improving the Financial Health of Your Coaching Business
BONUS: Want a quick and simple way to work out your business’ financial health? We’ve created a Xero Small Business toolkit for you to use (includes cash flow forecast template and tutorial videos). Grab it here.
Reality check – in today’s fast-moving world, many coaches (and consultants) are struggling to earn enough money from their coaching business to survive.
Here are some of the things that we’ve heard coaches and consultants say…
“I worry about paying my bills every week”
“I’m not sure how many more months the business can continue to operate for”
“I want to hire someone to help free up my time, but I’m not sure if I can afford it”
“I’m not paying myself a regular weekly wage”
“I’m not sure what portion of the money in my bank account is profit”
Any of this sound familiar?
If it does, then you’re certainly not alone.
We get it.
As a coach who has escaped the corporate world to create a freedom lifestyle and business, you want to spend your days selling and delivering your service, creating content, and helping people better themselves. You don’t want to spend time worrying about arduous tasks like bookkeeping.
Perhaps you’re already doing things like KPI tracking with a data entry support person.
Maybe you’re still not clear on when you should use a bookkeeper over a data entry person. That’s ok. This guide will help you decide.
Whatever your current situation, if you’re serious about improving the financial health of your coaching business, then bookkeeping is important.
To illustrate this point let’s consider the potential impacts of not paying attention to your books.Coaches, are you neglecting your bookkeeping? Well, you might want to read this guide (It just might save your business!) Click To Tweet
Risks for Coaching Businesses That Neglect Their Bookkeeping
What happens if you neglect your bookkeeping?
Well, you could lose money, make errors, and starve yourself of the information you need to make smart decisions.
Worst case scenario?
Well, it’s either going to be…
a) a failed business,
b) having to go back to a regular J-O-B, or
c) not making the massive impact you set out to make when you started.
Which would be more painful for you?Neglecting bookkeeping = make bad decisions + lose money. Don't want that to be you? Read this guide to improving the financial health of your coaching business. Click To Tweet
This is why we put together this bookkeeping guide for coaches (by the way, if you’re a consultant this will help you too).
FREE BONUS: Want a quick and simple way to work out your business’ financial health? We’ve created a Xero Small Business toolkit for you to use (includes cash flow forecast template and tutorial videos). Grab it here.
What Do Financially Healthy Coaching Businesses Look Like?
In our experience, there are a few stages of financially healthy businesses:
1. Is having enough money in the bank to not worry about paying the bills (this could be 3+ months of runway)
2. Having an accounting system that makes it easy to process data. For example, leveraging technology like Xero and Hubdoc / Receipt Bank to automate most of the collection of data.
3. Having reports that are meaningful and accurate. This would involve having a Chart of Accounts that is customized to your business & KPIs and a review process to make sure the data entry is accurate.
4. Once your system of collecting data is working well and you are receiving accurate reports you need to have the financial literacy to make good decisions based on the data.
5. Next, you would have a cash-flow forecast and a budget. The cash-flow forecast gives you comfort about paying the bills and predicting how much money will be in your bank account in the future.
The budget helps you track progress against profit goals.
We haven’t covered tax here, but a financially healthy business would also have received tax advice on how to structure their business effectively to reduce tax and protect assets. This would be reviewed at least annually as part of a tax planning session.What Do Financially Healthy Coaching Businesses Look Like? That depends on what stage your business is in. Learn more. Click To Tweet
What Top Coaching and Consulting Businesses Do To Be Successful
At Bean Ninjas, we have grown alongside a number of successful coaches.
We’ve observed that those who are most successful, have done so by:
- Repeatedly delivering solid results to their clients
- Leveraging client wins to generate highly-qualified referrals
- Effectively sharing their success stories through targeted marketing
Those efforts require considerable investment in both time and finances.
If you don’t control them carefully, you’ll run out of runway before ever getting your business off the ground.
You’ll waste money on low ROI expenditures.
Maybe even price your services inefficiently.
We want you to be one of those successful and profitable coaches.
This guide to bookkeeping will help you with that.
Bookkeeping – The Secret to Building a Profitable Coaching Business
With healthy books, you’ll:
- Have the tools to make your business lean, efficient, and growth-focused,
- Have clean data to make great decisions,
- Stay tax compliant, which takes a lot of stress out of your life.
Fortunately, coaches don’t usually have extensive bookkeeping needs (as compared to, industries like manufacturing, importing, or retail).
Having said that, it’s still a critical part of being successful and growing quickly.
Key Metrics for Top Coaching Businesses and Consultants
When it comes to running or growing a business, you need good data to make impactful decisions. Without information, you won’t know which levers to push to steer your business.
Solid bookkeeping turns raw data into meaningful metrics that help you make decisions. Here are the key metrics bookkeeping can help you track:
- Monthly Recurring Revenue – applicable if you have ongoing monthly coaching fees
- Profitability of done-for-you and/or done-with-you type products or services
- Customer Lifetime Value (LTV) – tells you how much revenue you can expect one customer to generate over the course of the business relationship.
Imagine, for instance, that you didn’t know the lifetime value of a customer it would be difficult to work out how much to spend on acquiring customers.
In that case, there’s a chance you could overspend on marketing and end up losing money for each customer you acquire. Obviously, that’s counterproductive.
Furthermore, you can’t grow what you don’t track. You need to compare a starting value with an ending value to determine whether your actions had an effect.
In the early stages of your business, you can mentally track your metrics because they’re few and simple. But as your coaching business grows, you’ll need to use bookkeeping to organize your data in meaningful numbers like the ones we listed above.
Improving Cash Flow In Your Coaching Business
There are many ways to improve cash flow, so let’s take a look at some of the strategies that have been working for our clients.
Add Strategies To Attract New Clients as part of your Coaching Business Plan
Whilst writing a 60-page business plan probably isn’t the best use of your time, having some kind of strategic plan and understanding your business model can be very useful for identifying opportunities to improve your cash position.
Some questions to get you thinking:
- Who are your best and most profitable clients? What about the least profitable ones?
- How can you add or test complimentary products or services to increase Customer Lifetime Value (LTV)? Or remove or tweak underperforming ones?
- What’s your marketing, lead generation, and sales strategy? What’s been working for you in the last 90 days? What hasn’t?
- Are there any sales and marketing tasks that you could outsource?
- Are there other funding avenues that you haven’t considered?
- How can you wow your current coaching clients better, so that they stick around longer and/or refer more clients to you?
- Are you effectively leveraging strategic partnerships as a channel for attracting new business?
Recommended tool: Create a new business model canvas
Review your cash flow statement (cash summary) regularly
What you focus on expands. So if you want your cash flow to improve then you’ll need to keep a regular eye on how your cash is moving.
Fortunately, accounting software like Xero makes it very easy to generate cash flow statements and reporting. Here’s an example of a cash summary:
We’ll discuss additional types of reports available later on in this guide.
Prepare regular cash flow forecasts using a cash flow forecast template
The cash flow forecast is one of the most important financial documents for coaching or consulting businesses.
Unfortunately, it’s also one of the reports business owners tend to ignore.
A cash flow forecast is an estimate of the amount of money you expect to flow in and out of your business every week, month or even a year.
It’s particularly useful when you foresee a cash shortage coming up, so you can apply corrective action before it’s too late.
You can build your own simple cash flow forecast template using a spreadsheet, or you can save yourself some time and use our free cash flow forecast template.
Reduce business operating expenses
Do you really need to be paying for most expensive customer relationship (CRM) software, or will a simple spreadsheet do the trick?
What about all those online courses and training that you’ve paid for that you’ve never even looked at?
We get it. Seriously, we’ve been there too.
It’s easy to get caught up in the latest technology and shiny objects. But failure to stay on top of your monthly spending can spell doom for your business.
Don’t assume that you can just write it all off as a tax deduction either. What if your business goes under before you get a chance to claim those expenses back on tax? Ouch.
Related Presentation: Pay yourself more by understanding your business finances
Getting Paid for Your Coaching Services
Naturally, getting paid is one of the most important parts of running a business, which is why we’ve included it early in this bookkeeping guide for coaches. If you want a successful business, you’ll need to make sure you’re paid accurately and timely.
It’s important to make it as easy as possible for your customers to pay you. If they have to jump through hoops to send you money, there’s a good chance it will fall to the bottom of their to-do list.
The simplest way to get paid is with a clear and easy to read invoice.
There are plenty of invoicing tools available. Here are some of the most popular tools:
No matter which tool you decide to use, you need it to do four things:
- Look professional
- Create and send invoices easily
- Let your customer pay easily through the invoice
- Integrate with your accounting tool
Those four features are so important that we recommend using accounting software that includes an invoicing function.
Your customers should be able to click a “pay” link in the invoice to send a payment, and that payment should be recorded right straight in your accounting software.
Xero is our favorite tool. We recommend it to everyone.
Here’s a quick video demonstrating how to create an invoice for a customer in Xero:
They’ll charge a fee, of course, but it’s part of doing business. Your accounting software and payment processor should integrate together.
If you run a membership site or intend to charge for repeated services, you’ll also have to make sure your payment processor lets you charge recurring billing.
Related Reading: Avoid Stripe and Xero headaches: Step by Step Guide
Billing up Front
Consider advance payments: Coaching is built on respect, trust, and mutual accountability. If a client does not pay you or pays late, it’s a sign that one of these areas is lacking.
Consider billing up front based on an agreed upon scope of service. By doing so, you’ve ensured you’ll be covered for the time you spend on agreed upon services while also maintaining a position to charge for “extra” hand-holding or uncharged work.
Chasing Late Payments
If you can’t bill upfront then make sure to stay on top of your accounts receivable. If you let your clients get away with late payments (or worse, failing to pay), your cash flow and growth will suffer. Use the tools in your account software to monitor unpaid invoices.
In this short video, we share how to quickly work out in Xero who owes you money (as well as some other tips):
Follow up on late invoices. You may want to charge a fee for late payments. Too scared to ask for a late payment? Read these helpful tips.
As an online coaching business, you won’t have as many expenses as a manufacturing or retail business. But you’ll still have some, so your bookkeeping should account for them. Identifying, calculating, and analyzing your expenses is the only way to minimize them.
Poor expense management almost always creates cash flow problems. Without healthy cash flow, you’ll struggle to pay your operational costs and you’ll lack money to invest in growth.Without healthy cash flow, your coaching business will be in serious trouble. Read this guide to stay on top of your finances. Click To Tweet
Tracking your expenses is simple with accounting software or an outsourced bookkeeper. Make sure to keep your personal expense separate and only pay for business items from your business bank account.
Related Reading: 7 tips to improve your cash-flow using Xero.
Note to our UK-based coaches: using software like these that allow digital storage of invoices will help you comply with HMRC’s Making Tax Digital for VAT requirement.
Paying via Direct Debit (e.g. Software Subscriptions)
As a coach, you’ll undoubtedly pay some costs like software subscriptions via direct debit.
The bookkeeping for direct debits is reasonably straightforward. Create bank rules in your accounting software to classify those payments to the correct account code.
Financing Larger Purchases
As a coach, your regular expenses may be quite minimal, but there could still be larger projects like building a new website or developing an online course which requires additional financing.
Related Reading: 6 Ways to Access Short-term Financing for Your Startup.
Saving Up a War Chest
Our parting advice regarding expenses is to be prepared for unexpected expenses.
One way to address this is to save up a ‘war chest’ or an emergency fund that can be used when unexpected expenses crop up. Keep this in a separate bank account to your everyday business bank account.
We’ve mentioned your accounting tool a few times so far, but we want to expand a little. Your accounting software is a critical component of this bookkeeping playbook, so pay special attention to this section.
If you take your business seriously, you need to be using cloud accounting software rather than a spreadsheet. Fortunately, they aren’t expensive.
Here’s a short video explaining what cloud accounting is and the benefits for small business:
Our favorite tool, Xero, is only $9/USD month for starter accounts (in the United States)
Why should you use accounting software for your coaching business?
Here are 10 good reasons:
- It saves time compared to manual bookkeeping.
- You can generate reports about your financial position at any time.
- You can stay on top of your cash flow.
- You become aware of financial problems before they grow serious.
- Most tools scale up to medium size businesses effectively
- They integrate your invoices and payment processor for a smooth workflow.
- No need to maintain hard-to-organize paper records.
- It minimizes mistakes (because the computer does the calculating and has inbuilt cross-checks).
- You can check your reports on any computer or mobile device.
- It makes tax time easy (for you and your accountant).
There are a lot of tools available, so choose the one that best fits your needs. Limit your search to tools that include these features:
- Cloud-based. This means the platform stores your data and makes it accessible anywhere and at any time.
- Bank feeds. You want the tool to automatically pull your transaction history.
- PayPal/Stripe/Zapier integration. If you use either of these services, you’ll want the tool to integrate with them.
- Multiple users. If you’re a solo operation at the moment, this isn’t entirely important. But someday you’ll want additional user accounts to let a team use the tool.
- Two-factor authentication. This is a security feature that requires a password plus another form of authentication, like a temporary passcode sent to your phone.
- Bank rules. By setting rules, you can have your accounting software automatically categorize transactions without your approval. This greatly reduces how much time you spend managing the tool.
- CMS integration. Ideally, you’ll want a tool that links with your website platform.
Once you’ve chosen an accounting tool, we strongly recommend you have an accountant or bookkeeper look over the setup of your software before you get started doing your weekly (or monthly) bookkeeping.
As previously mentioned, Xero is our favorite cloud accounting tool. We use it with all of our clients. We
If you would like a second set of eyes to look over your Xero Setup then the Bean Ninjas ‘Xero Health Check’ might be of interest.
Paying Team Members
You may intend to do everything yourself to run your coaching business, but you’ll be surprised how soon you need to hire contractors or employees to fulfill some function. You might not hire them full time (or even for a consistent schedule), but you’ll probably need some kind of help.
For instance, you might need to pay a designer to create some art for your course pages. Or you might need to hire an editor to touch up your videos. You might also choose to outsource your bookkeeping!
Employee vs. Contractor – Who Should You Hire for your Coaching Business?
In most places, you either pay employees as independent contractors or put them on the payroll. The rules around when you must treat someone as an employee rather than a contractor vary from region to region, but here are a couple general examples (which may be different in your country):
- Works full time for you.
- Comes into your office every day.
- You provide all of the equipment required to complete the work.
In most places, this is generally an employee on the payroll.
- Completes projects for you at different times every week.
- Sometimes you don’t hire her for a week or two.
- You give her project details, but don’t oversee the work.
- She uses her own equipment and materials.
In most places, this is generally an independent contractor.
If you need to hire someone and aren’t sure if they’re independent or should be placed on payroll, check into your local laws for clarification. If you still aren’t sure, ask your tax accountant.
When it comes to paying contractors, it’s actually quite simple. Just have them submit invoices and pay them like any other expense.
Paying payroll employees is a little more complex. It’s your job to deduct taxes out of payroll employees’ checks and send them to your tax agency. You’ll want to use the payroll feature in your accounting tool to calculate their tax liability.
Here’s what that dashboard looks like in Xero.
Another option is to utilize a full-service solution like Gusto to handle the tax calculations and filings.
Inputting your expense and payments into an accounting tool isn’t enough. You’ll realize the true value of bookkeeping when you generate regular reports.
Reports are the financial representation or narrative of the impact of those business decisions you’ve made over a period of time
Reports help you benchmark your business. They give you snapshots of your business at a point in time that you can compare to see how your business changes over time.
Your accounting tool can produce a variety of different reports. As a coach, you should be looking at the following 3 reports at a minimum:
- Balance sheet
- Profit & loss
- Cash flow forecast
Related reading: The 3 Essential Financial Reports Every Online Business Needs
Furthermore, it’s critical that you perform a bank reconciliation at least quarterly (ideally monthly). This is a report that compares your bank account balance in your accounting tool with your bank statement balance.
It helps you identify errors in your accounting tool or expenses/income in your bank that you aren’t aware of.
Related reading: Why Bank Reconciliations are Critical
An important piece of advice: Once you produce your reports, it’s important to actually use them. Make the time to sit down, read and understand them and create action items based on the insights you’ve gleaned. If you work with a bookkeeper, lean on them to help you understand your reports.
Coaching and Consulting Business Structure
The best structure for your business depends on your needs and the country where you operate. Most countries have a sole proprietor or sole trader structure which essentially means doing business under your own name.
If you work with another person (or a few people), or you have liability concerns (perhaps there’s a chance you could get sued in court), consider forming a company or corporation.
Make sure to consult with a tax accountant to assess your individual needs to determine the appropriate business structure for you.
Separate Business Bank Accounts
Part of structuring a business is separating its finances from your personal finances. This is as simple as opening a business bank account.
An important reason to separate your business and personal finances is to simplify your bookkeeping. In order for your bookkeeping software (more on this in a moment) to track your transactions accurately, it’s best that the only transactions that flow through your account relate to your business.
Otherwise, you’ll have to categorize all of your personal transactions within the accounting software too.
Here’s are a few more reasons why having a bank account solely for your coaching business benefits you:
- It lets you accept payments by credit card (some processors want a business account).
- It helps you avoid tax problems because you can clearly categorize business and personal expenses.
- You can delegate banking tasks to an assistant without giving them access to your personal account
- You can present yourself as a professional.
Furthermore, use your business account to get yourself a credit card. Paying workers and suppliers with a credit card is much easier than using bank transfers. Plus you gain the benefits of a credit card company, like fraud protection and the ability to initiate chargebacks.
If you are going to share your banking details with an assistant make sure to check out our article on protecting against fraud.
Whether you choose to manage your own books or hire a bookkeeper, it’s critical that you hire a CPA or equivalent to manage your tax returns and payments. This is not an area of finance you want to wade in by yourself.
Working with a tax expert who understands tax law can often result in tax savings. Gaining that level of intimacy with the tax law just isn’t feasible when you’re trying to grow your coaching business.
The best way to find a good tax accountant is to ask people you trust who they use. Don’t be afraid to conduct several interviews until you find the CPA that’s right for you.
Related reading (tax):
- US Sales Tax for Online Sellers
- VAT EU: What Non-EU Businesses Need to Know
- AU: Optimising your 2018 tax position
Cash vs Accrual Accounting
One of the first decisions you’ll have to make when you start taking your bookkeeping seriously is which type of business accounting you’ll use. There are two types: Cash basis and accrual basis.
In cash basis accounting, revenue is recorded when you receive cash from customers/clients. Expenses are recorded when cash is paid out to suppliers and workers.
In accrual basis accounting, you record revenue when you earn it and expenses when you consume them, even if you haven’t collected or paid out yet.
(Table originally sourced from boldcfo.com)
Over time, both types of accounting produce the same results. What’s different is when you record transactions.
Example: In October, you send a $700 invoice to a customer for a month’s worth of consulting, but the customer doesn’t pay until November. In accrual basis, you would record the revenue in October. In a cash basis, you wouldn’t record it until you receive the check in November.
Should a Coaching Business Use Cash or Accruals?
As a coach, you’ll probably prefer a cash basis. It’s simple and straightforward since you don’t use complex transactions like deferrals and accruals. The only challenge is that the random timing of income and expenses can make your cash flow vary.
Most large business use accrual accounting, so if your business has significant growth then we recommend coming back to review this decision and discussing this with your accountant.
Hiring a Bookkeeper for your Coaching Business
It’s smart to reduce your expenses as much as possible, but proper bookkeeping is a specialized skill that takes time to learn and manage.
If you take one thing away from this bookkeeping playbook, let it be this: Sometimes it’s better to hire someone else to manage your books for you.Sometimes it’s better to hire someone else to manage your books for you. Click To Tweet
The bookkeeper’s role is to manage your day-to-day transactions within your accounting software. They’ll make sure each item is categorized properly in your chart of accounts.
If your payments and expenses aren’t organized accurately, it will create a ripple effect that will disrupt all of your finances.
You can also request that your bookkeeper works directly with your tax accountant, to reduce the time you need to spend on accounting tasks.
Bookkeeping is actually one of the most common services companies outsource. So when you are next doing your own bookkeeping think about whether this time would be better spent on growing your business.
Related reading: 10 Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Bookkeeper
Accountant vs Bookkeeper – Who Should I Be Working With, and When?
This video gives a great explanation of when to work with an accountant:
The bookkeeper’s role is to handle the day to day transactions in the accounting software and to make sure that each item is allocated correctly to the right account in the chart of accounts.
Want to know who else you’ll need on your accounting team at each stage of business growth? Read this post.
At Bean Ninjas, we specialize in bookkeeping for online businesses including coaching and consulting businesses. If have any questions about Xero or bookkeeping feel free to get in touch.Looking to hire a bookkeeper for your Coaching Business? Read this guide first. Click To Tweet
Practical Coaching Business Tips from Successful Coaches
Mandi Ellefson, Growth Strategist:
“1. The best way to increase profits in your business when you offer high-level services like consulting is to increase your fees. You do that by looking for bigger problems to solve so that you can provide more value. Then clients will happily pay more.
2. An easy way to increase cash flow is to always get paid upfront for your services. Otherwise, you have to cover the costs in your business before you get paid which is risky.”
Michaela Light, Intuitive Leadership Coach:
“Ask your intuition to give you signs to help make a decision or to confirm you have made the right decision. Ask yourself ‘WWIT (What Would It Take) to know the ideal decision for me to solve this problem?'”
Paul Higgins, Coach:
“From running a coaching practice for the last seven years and mentoring other coaches, the key way to improve your cash flow and reduce admin expenses is to have clients set-up on a recurring monthly payment. We use thrivecart. It makes it easy to have direct debit payments and reduces unnecessary admin and awkward follow-up conversations which can impact a relationship.
You can also set-up a discount and set-up a sequence for the forms you set up and it will automatically integrate with your preferred payment gateway (ours is stripe) and CRM.”
Angela Henderson, Business Consultant:
“1. Open a new business bank account.
2. Purchase an accounting software that is right for your business.
3. Allocate time each week to ensure your bookkeeping is up to scratch”
Willo Sana, Transformational Business Coach:
“Delegating is a fantastic way to save you time and move your business forward, but you’ll save way more time (and money!) when you are diligent about being specific with your requests.
Help your team succeed by giving them the proper attention and training they need. This will ensure they’re not just working for you, but that they’re working smart, efficiently, and it will increase the odds that everything will go swimmingly.”
Geoff Hetherington, Profitability Coach:
“It is all about profitability. Without the ability to sustainably make profits businesses go out of business. Profitability is more than cutting expenses or raising prices. It’s also about convenience.
A smart operator knows that the less friction involved in doing business with them, the more profit & sales made. If dealing with you is easy and convenient then customers tell others and come back. Convenience is sticky.”
Next Steps for Improving the Financial Health of Your Coaching Business
We just threw a lot of information at you, but bookkeeping is simpler than it seems. Hopefully, we’ve expressed that in this guide.
Key takeaway: If you want to be a serious business that runs smoothly and grows consistently, you must take bookkeeping seriously. Whether you do it yourself or hire someone to manage it.
At the least, we recommend that you start by creating a simple cash flow forecast. Use our free cashflow forecast template to make this step easier.
Once you invest in accounting software, learn how it works, and set up a simple workflow for you (and your team), bookkeeping won’t take up a big portion of your time. If you outsource everything to a bookkeeper, it will hardly take any time at all.
We hope this guide has prepared you for your journey to freedom!