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8 critical financial skills that SME leaders must possess

The inability to manage cash flow and poor budgeting can undo all the hard work. To ensure their businesses thrive in the long term, SME leaders must have these financial skills and more. Read on

March 18, 2023 / 10:28 AM IST
For an SME leader, managing finances is a must-have skill.

For an SME leader, managing finances is a must-have skill.

Globally, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) play a crucial role in the economy, accounting for the majority of businesses worldwide and providing employment for millions of people. However, leading an SME comes with its own unique set of challenges, especially when it comes to managing finances. In order to succeed, SME leaders must have a strong grasp of certain essential financial skills.

Let me share two cases of SME leaders failing due to a lack of essential financial skills.

The first one is because of the inability to manage cash flow. One common financial skill that many SME leaders lack is the ability to manage cash flows effectively.

For instance, a business owner may have plenty of revenue coming in but may struggle to keep up with payments because the business owner has not mastered the art of cash flow management. In this scenario, the business owner may end up defaulting on loans or missing out on investment opportunities due to the inability to effectively manage the cash flows.

The second case is poor budgeting. This is another critical financial skill that many SME owners/leaders lack. Without a clear budget, it can be challenging to allocate resources appropriately and prioritise spending.

This can lead to overspending, missed opportunities, or lack of investment in critical areas of the business. For instance, a business owner may spend too much money on marketing and advertising without considering the impact on other areas of the business, such as product development or customer support. As a result, the business may suffer from a lack of resources in these areas, leading to decreased customer satisfaction and revenue over time.

So, what essential skills should SME leaders possess in order to ensure their businesses thrive?

1  Financial planning: One of the most essential financial skills SME leaders must possess is the ability to plan their finances effectively. This involves creating a budget that takes into account all expenses and revenues, as well as forecasting future cash flows. A well-crafted financial plan can help SME leaders identify potential risks and opportunities, and make informed decisions that will help their businesses grow.

2  Bookkeeping: Keeping accurate and up-to-date financial records is crucial for SME leaders. Bookkeeping involves recording all financial transactions, including expenses, sales, and payments, and reconciling them with bank statements. Accurate bookkeeping allows SME leaders to track their financial performance and make informed decisions about their businesses.

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3 Financial analysis: Financial analysis involves using financial data to evaluate the performance of a business. SME leaders must be able to analyse financial statements such as income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements to gain insights into their businesses' financial health. This analysis can help them identify areas where they need to cut costs or invest more resources and make strategic decisions to drive growth.

4 Cash-flow management: Effective cash flow management is essential for SMEs, as it helps ensure they have enough cash on hand to meet their financial obligations. SME leaders must be able to forecast their cash flow, manage their accounts receivables and accounts payables, and make smart decisions on ways to allocate their resources to maximise the cash flows.

5  Financing: Access to financing is often a challenge for SMEs, but it's essential for their growth and success. SME leaders must have a solid understanding of the different financing options available to them, such as loans, equity financing, and government subsidies. They must also be able to create compelling business plans and financial statements to present to potential lenders or investors.

6  Risk management: Every business faces risks, but SMEs are especially vulnerable due to their limited resources. SME leaders must be able to identify potential risks and implement strategies to mitigate them. The skills include developing contingency plans for unexpected events such as natural disasters, economic downturns, or changes in regulations.

7 Taxation: Having a basic understanding of taxation and the laws and regulations that govern it is essential for successfully leading an SME. The knowledge to calculate and file taxes, understand deductions and credits, and comply with relevant laws and regulations are vital. Failure to do so can result in penalties or legal action that can be detrimental to the business.

8  Communication: Effective communication is essential for SME leaders, especially when it comes to financial matters. They must be able to clearly articulate financial information to stakeholders such as employees, investors, and customers. This includes explaining financial statements, forecasting future performance, and making financial decisions transparent.

SME leaders must have a strong grasp of essential financial skills to ensure their businesses thrive. Mastering the above critical financial skills can help SMEs navigate the challenges of leading a business successfully. By investing in financial education and developing these skills, SME leaders can position their businesses for long-term growth.

M Muneer is the managing director of CustomerLab Solutions, a consulting firm.
first published: Mar 18, 2023 10:28 am