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This post is from Ramp's contributor network—a group of professionals with deep experience in accounting, finance, strategy, startups, and more.
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Hey there, my fellow creatives! Let's talk real for a second. We all know the drill: some months, our project calendars stack up like Jenga blocks, raining down glorious revenue. We're high-fiving, ordering fancy takeout, and dreaming of beachside retreats. Then, suddenly, the music stops. The inbox crickets chirp their lonely tune and that beach bungalow suddenly seems more like a tiny apartment on a loud city street.

The feast-or-famine rollercoaster of creative and production companies. It's enough to make even the most caffeine-fueled artist throw in the towel (and the MacBook in frustration). But hold on, before you start composing a mournful haiku about your cash balance, let's chat about some pro tips to navigate this financial wilderness with grace and, yes, even profit.

1. Embrace the budget: Budgeting isn't just for accountants, it's your roadmap to financial sanity. Forecast your annual income and expenses, then break it down into bite-sized monthly chunks. This way, you know exactly what's coming (and what you can afford to splurge on, like that fancy new font subscription... or maybe just more ramen?) Keep it simple. There are tools to help automate this such as Fathom but most creatives leave those to the CFOs. Here are some specific steps to take when setting a budget:

  • Understand seasonal trends: Use historical data and market research to understand the seasonal trends in your industry. This will help you anticipate peaks and troughs in demand and plan your budget accordingly.
  • Forecast sales: Based on your understanding of seasonal trends, create a sales forecast for the upcoming year. This will give you a clear picture of when you can expect high sales and when you might need to cut back.
  • Plan for variable costs: Variable costs such as materials, labor, and marketing tend to fluctuate with sales. Plan for these costs to increase during peak periods and decrease during off-peak periods.
  • Set aside for slow periods: During the planning phase, consider setting aside a portion of your budget for the slow periods. This can help ensure you have the necessary resources to maintain operations during these times.
  • Consider seasonal marketing: Seasonal marketing can be a cost-effective way to boost sales during peak periods. Consider investing in marketing campaigns that align with the seasonal trends in your industry.
  • Review and adjust: Once your budget is in place, regularly review it and make adjustments as needed. This will help you stay on track and respond to any unexpected changes in sales or costs.

2. Track your time (and money) like a hawk: Time is money and nowhere is truer than in the creative world. Use time-tracking tools like Monday.com or payroll software like Gusto to monitor how long projects take and where your team's hours are going. This helps you price projects accurately and identify areas where you can tighten your belt (or hire more freelancers!) Get those project cost budgets in place. And don’t forget to verify those results using your accounting software and hold a post-mortem meeting to review results and make notes for the next year.

3. Befriend the invoice and the payment term: Sending invoices promptly is like planting magic money trees. The faster you send, the faster you get paid. And speaking of payments, negotiate those deposit terms like a pro. These days you should aim for at least 65% deposits before the event and offer early payment discounts to incentivize your clients to be speedy too. Here’s some more guidance on getting the best payment terms:

  • Set clear expectations from the beginning. This includes outlining the payment schedule, the amount due, and the timeline for when the deposit must be made. By setting clear expectations, you can avoid any misunderstandings or disputes down the line.
  • Come prepared with a few different approaches. If a client isn’t able to hit the 65% mark, can they do a net 30 payment instead of a net 60 or 90?   

Also, keep a close eye on your AR aging schedule. If a customer is taking too long, be proactive and clear around collection. 

4. Embrace the power of no: Not every project is a golden goose. Learn to say "no" to gigs that don't align with your vision, budget, or margin. It might sting in the short term, but trust me, your bank account (and sanity) will thank you in the long run. And you might be surprised who comes back to the table. 

5. Automate your finances (and free up brainpower for creativity): Set up automatic payments for recurring bills and payroll. This saves you time, reduces late fees, and ensures your bills are paid on time, even when you're neck-deep in brainstorming a killer campaign.

6. Get friendly with a finance pro: Don't be afraid to call in the reinforcements! Hiring a virtual CFO or bookkeeper can be a game-changer. They can handle the nitty-gritty while you focus on what you do best – making magic happen. Think of them as your financial Yoda, guiding you through the accounting swamp with wisdom and patience. Look for a remote CFO firm that has clients in your area of expertise and, maybe more importantly, one that bills on a fixed monthly basis instead of hourly. That way they have a vested interest in delivering value over delivering surprise bills. 

Remember, cash flow management is a marathon, not a sprint. By implementing these tips and adapting to the ever-changing revenue landscape, you'll be well on your way to becoming a cash flow champion and fueling your creative empire. 

BONUS TIP: Virtual card magic! Create virtual credit cards for each project. This way, employees and freelancers can use them for project-specific expenses. You can close the card when the project is over, reducing the risk of rogue spending. Ramp has easy-to-use virtual and physical cards, spend limits, approval flows, vendor payments, and more that is simple to implement and use.

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Founder/CEO, Astero Group
Jim is a widely-recognized CFO and entrepreneur with more than two decades of accounting and profitability experience. He has successfully driven and led teams from startups to billion dollar brands and is an award-winning personal finance author. Since launching in 2021, Jim's focus has been on Astero Group, which helps business owners earning more than $2 million per year upgrade their accounting.
Ramp is dedicated to helping businesses of all sizes make informed decisions. We adhere to strict editorial guidelines to ensure that our content meets and maintains our high standards.

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