One of the most common issues I encounter when I work with small business owners is that very few of them are consistently paying themselves.
It’s shockingly common, in fact.
You started your business to create your own career. So if you’re not paying yourself, what’s the point?
Take one of my clients, for example. Someone looking in from the outside would perceive her as a highly successful small business owner. Her business relies on time and labor. As her business grew, she hired contract labor to help her get her work done. The more clients she took on and the busier she got, the more hiring she did to take things off her plate and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
With so many moving parts, it’s easy for things to get sloppy behind the scenes. In all the chaos, employees were getting overpaid and clients were getting undercharged. Small oversights, compounded over time, were leading to big problems. Everyone was getting paid, but she wasn’t. And at the end of the day, the only place there was to cut was her income.
So many things get in the way of paying yourself. I get it. When you own your own business and you’re leading a team, you tend to put yourself last.
You’re the first one in and the last one out, and yet everyone gets paid before you and you get the leftovers. If there are any.
It’s fine in the beginning when your passion is fueling you. But years of not getting paid is unsustainable and quickly loses its luster. You might start to ask yourself, “where is the payoff?”
Just because you are your own boss doesn’t mean you can’t have a reliable paycheck.
Here’s my challenge to you: pay yourself as if you have a boss paying you.
Put it on autopilot so it’s non-negotiable. Prioritize paying yourself automatically and consistently. It might seem impossible, but with the right systems in place, giving yourself an income will keep burnout at bay and keep you aware of your business’ earnings all year long, not just during tax season.
So, how do you start paying yourself?
1. Figure your minimum viable income.
For starters, you need to determine the amount it takes to cover your basic needs. This isn’t the goal, but it’s the best place to start. What’s your monthly minimum?
2. Stash it away in a business savings account.
Take that monthly number and start setting aside money in a savings account- if you can save 2-3 months of your minimum salary you’re ready to move on to step three.
TIP: this is easiest to do in a peak season (rather than a lull)
3. Put it on autopilot
We all carry some sort of mental junk around money. Whether it’s feeling more secure with the money in a specific account, spending everything ‘available’ or simply needing to remember to make the transfer– remove yourself from the mental chatter and make it automatic.
Susan Shain in her article The Psychology of Savings notes: “Trick your brain is to, well, not really involve it all. By turning your savings on auto-pilot, you’ll relieve your subconscious brain of its decision-making duties.
Once you’ve padded the account (step 2), continue to drip money into your savings account automatically.
Finally, set up a payroll system- even if you’re the only *salaried employee*.
For this, I personally use (and love, love, love) Gusto– a software system that pays me consistently (and pays/submits my taxes automatically 🙌🏻). It removes all the drama of shuffling and stashing “the right amount” of money around and worrying about having enough here, there, or everywhere.
The cherry on top- at the end of the quarter you can pay yourself a bonus with extra profits above your minimum salary!
If there’s one thing you can do to go PRO–– it’s paying yourself as if you work for someone else. If you’d like to give Gusto a try, use this link for a $100 gift card towards your first payroll.