Business Goldmines: Use Cash Flow to Build a Passive Income

Author: Leah Oliver
Many businesses are sitting on a goldmine, particularly in trades. What steps can they take to leverage business for personal wealth?

Tradie businesses can take off very quickly after an initial start-up phase. But, quite often, things plateau shortly after, and cash flow difficulties start to present. This can be a particular problem when there is debt for capital equipment or to trigger growth.

While these initial acquisitions can enhance income, the debt funding drains cash flow and slows momentum. The good news is that if you have a business, there are a few ways you may be able to leverage it to build wealth.

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Three golden rules

Before we look at some of the smart decisions you can make to grow your personal wealth, there are three things to remember when it comes to making money in business:

  1. Turnover and cash balance is not the same as profit
  2. Moderation is key. There is no medal for growing your business too big, and business owners do not need to set out to build an empire
  3. Business is all about balancing your resources to match your revenue goals, so you can leverage the success of your business and translate this into personal wealth

You need to know your numbers first

To start establishing your wealth portfolio, you have to know what you are working with. This begins with understanding your existing financial position.

It’s imperative that the money coming in and going out for your personal expenses is scrutinised, much like a profit and loss statement is when assessing the performance of a business.

First, create a personal wealth accounting file (essentially a budget) that captures all your income and expenditure data. This will give you your personal profit and loss.

The formula is simple: cash in less cash out equals a surplus/deficit. If it shows a surplus, things can only improve from here. Alternatively, if you are in deficit, you should try to identify the reasons for that and address them promptly.

Here are some things you could do to enhance your position:

  1. Creatively maximise and introduce new income streams
  2. Shave away unnecessary spending and negotiate discounts
  3. Using your surplus, project the number of years it will take to achieve a goal

Overheads can’t be avoided, but how are you funding them?

Many businesses – especially trades businesses – have significant overheads. Purchasing materials and capital equipment to set up and maintain a trades business can be eye-watering, as many of the requirements are big-ticket items.

The majority of these costs are incurred just as the business is starting. For example, the need to buy expensive tools and machinery or specialised plant equipment.

Often, there’s also the need to outlay on a ute, van or truck, which also needs to be fitted out with tool safes and equipment boxes. When you add ongoing costs to the mix, the money going out can exceed the money coming in.

Many tradies worry that if they don’t have all the tools and equipment from the outset that they will miss opportunities. So they spend up big, sometimes unnecessarily, and most times too quickly. The money they spend is often from personal savings, loans or, worse, credit cards.

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A lot of business owners are over-extended because they don’t look at their numbers and plan ahead in line with where they stand financially.

Down the track, they look back and wonder where the money has gone. They wonder why they are short of cash, and why they have little to show for all their hard work. This is why it’s so crucial to understand your numbers before you do anything.

Step up to hammer down – start with securing your home

Ideally, we should only use debt for assets that go up in value. It can be a good idea to start with a home and aim to pay this down first, thereby securing a roof over your head.

Once you own your home (or almost), you may want to use debt to acquire growth assets as additions to your wealth portfolio. This is called stepping up.

You step up into assets that appreciate in value, such as property, as opposed to assets that depreciate, such as vehicles. The debt enables you to enter a market that may be otherwise inaccessible to you.

Once the asset is in place, you then strive to hammer down the debt, as fast and as streamlined as possible. Your priority is to constantly move your assets into the positive. After the debt on each asset is paid down, you can step up again.

Over time, this process presents you with a string of healthy debt-free investments in your wealth portfolio that feed from each other, accumulating capital growth and passive returns. This is a very comfortable place to be.

Using business income to build passive income. Dual income families get there faster

In many situations with tradies in business, we find that the husband is on the tools and the wife/partner is working behind the scenes in an admin capacity. In the early years, it can be difficult for a family business to generate a double wage, and this puts the family under financial pressure.

Dual income families – where one partner maintains a part- or full-time wage external to the family business – tend to be the families that do best in the personal wealth zone.

A sensible strategy for a dual income family is to attempt to live on one partner’s wage. This wage pays for the lifestyle, and the business owner’s wage is paid directly from the business to the house mortgage, or if the house is paid off, to an investment mortgage.

The business owner’s wage is silently building up their wealth portfolio behind the scenes, and they don’t miss it. It just happens. By diverting one wage, it simply isn’t there to spend.

Passive income is the key to wealth and the path to financial freedom

What would you do if your active income was taken away from you overnight? One of the key elements in accumulating wealth and having freedom of choice is passive income.

Passive income is money that you make while you’re sleeping, as distinct from active income, which is made from personal effort. Passive income comes from holding investments, such as property or shares, as they grow and generate earnings passively in the background, while you are busy at work.

Over time, it’s sensible to acquire multiple revenue streams. These may be a mix of active and passive. When faced with a change in market conditions, or an economic downturn, multiple income streams will have you well prepared, as the loss of one income may be backed up by another.

The primary focus of a wealth portfolio is capital growth. Ideally, your portfolio should comprise a combination of smaller investments with high capital growth potential. In most instances, rental returns and tax breaks should be considered a secondary bonus.

With any investment, there’s normally a minimum of a seven- to 10-year holding period for it to become a worthwhile addition to your profile. Each and every investment should be a long-term decision.

You need to have patience to allow your investments time to grow, to avoid losses and achieve the best results. The stronger (and safer) your assets, the more lucrative your portfolio, and the more protected and financially secure you will be.

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