How Do You Run a Business Without Good Data? 5 Ways to Change That


As is my custom, I spent New Year’s weekend honing my 2024 plan and updating bookkeeping for my business as well as for several of my clients.

Yes, I was playing the role of bookkeeper for Verbeck Associates. When you have to do the work yourself, you realize again the value of a great bookkeeper. It’s great to have someone whose job it is to get all transactions in on a timely basis and ensure that accounts are all reconciled. I wish I could say I was always THAT someone for my own business! But as they say about the shoemaker’s son …

The further away from the transaction date, the more complicated it is to determine the essence of the transaction. In one case, I had to bring ten (yes 10!) months of a new client’s QuickBooks up to date. Their bookkeeper had completely dropped the ball. It was brutal, but we tenaciously got four bank accounts reconciled to 12/31.

After that, I sat with the business owner, asking “How did you run your business without good data?”

While it may seem surprising for someone to run a business without looking at numbers, it’s not all that unusual. And while some business owners LOOK at the numbers, they don’t study them in a way to benefit from the information.

Here are some reasons why owners don’t look carefully at the numbers.

The books and records are not in good shape.

This tends to happen when a finance team player (i.e. bookkeeper) isn’t kept accountable for entering transactions in a timely way and providing a quick month-end close. They may be overwhelmed with the minutia, or be in over their head. But all financial staff should be accountable to someone, even if the supervisor isn’t finance savvy. They can still ask the right questions to make sure monthly tasks are current.

They assume things.

Business owners have told me, “I’ve been in business for ten years. I know how we are doing.” They assume their books are in good shape. (Most of the time they aren’t.)

They are afraid to look stupid.

Many business owners launched businesses due to their passion and skills in a particular area. They may be great carpenters, restauranteurs, therapists or marketers so they hung a shingle and started a company or practice. That may not mean that they have the financial and administrative skillset to excel in the operational side of running a business. Deep down, they may know that they are not good at math, or an accountant. There’s no shame in that – unless they refuse to acknowledge that they need some help.

They don’t like the “report card” feel.

Many times, when owners finally look at numbers, it’s been prompted by something unpleasant. It could be tax time and they are meeting with their CPA. They may be collaborating with a lender and have to face hard facts. Bookkeeping, when done correctly, doesn’t lie. If the numbers don’t add up, they don’t. I know someone who was gently told that they were making under $5 an hour once their time was accounted for. Facing numbers and facts like this is scary. No one likes to feel like they are failing, especially when they are putting a lot of time and energy (and even their own money) into a venture. 

So what’s the answer? Here are five things you can do right away no matter what time of year it is:

  1. Face facts. The first step to change is knowing. Decide that starting NOW, you are going to make a more intentional effort to keep up with the financial overview of your company.
  2. Hold your financial employees accountable. You can do this in a way that feels collaborative. Set up a monthly or even more frequent meeting. Tell them you need their help in making more informed business decisions and you’ll need transactions entered and month-end figures in a timely way. Set a meeting early in the new month to review last month’s numbers.
  3. Educate yourself. I offer a variety of resources (and am working on more) that can help you “be your own CFO.” You don’t have to become a CPA to learn to understand basic information like financial statements, cash flow, cost of sales elements, and other standard reports.
  4. Think beyond the numbers. Once you know the numbers, figure out why they may feel out of alignment with your goals. I always look at a business’s performance from a numerical point of view, which is objective. But there’s also a good argument for looking more closely at employee satisfaction and customer service. These are harder to tangibly measure, but there are ways to see if your company is hitting the mark more often than not. Remember that dissatisfied employees and/or customers cause profit leaks.
  5. Consider hiring outside help. Whether it’s an additional employee or a contracted company that provides CFO and/or bookkeeping services (like mine) you may find that your numbers improve because you have people with a gift for that side of business playing that role.

    If I can help, contact me. At the very least, start looking at your numbers more closely, more often.