Small Business Owners: Are You Unknowingly Going Broke?

Dan Nicholson

The financial health of small businesses has been a growing concern, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many small business owners are unknowingly heading towards financial instability, exacerbated by a lack of understanding of their financial statements. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20% of small businesses fail within the first year, and 50% fail by the fifth year. One of the primary reasons for this high failure rate is poor financial management, particularly related to cash flow issues and misinterpreting financial data.

Understanding and properly utilizing key financial documents, such as the balance sheet, is crucial for maintaining the financial health of a business. The balance sheet provides a snapshot of a company's financial condition, detailing its assets, liabilities, and equity at a specific point in time. Despite its importance, many small business owners focus more on the Profit and Loss (P&L) statement, which can lead to an incomplete understanding of their financial situation.

In this article, we will explore why the balance sheet is the most important financial statement for your business, how to monitor your equity, and the significance of the current ratio in assessing your business's liquidity. These insights will help you avoid common financial pitfalls and ensure your business remains on a path to success.

Understanding the Most Important Financial Statement: The Balance Sheet

The first and perhaps most crucial question is: What is the most important financial statement for your business? While many might instinctively say the Profit and Loss (P&L) statement because it shows revenue and expenses, the correct answer is the balance sheet.

A balance sheet provides a snapshot of your business's financial health at a specific point in time, detailing assets, liabilities, and equity. This document is essential for several reasons:

  1. Evaluating Financial Health: It allows you to see if your assets exceed your liabilities, which is a positive sign. If liabilities outweigh assets, your business could be at risk.​
  2. Informed Decision-Making: A well-maintained balance sheet helps in making strategic decisions regarding investments, expansions, and other business activities​. 
  3. Securing Financing: Lenders and investors often require a balance sheet to assess your business’s financial stability before extending credit or investing​.

Nine out of ten times—and more accurately, 99 out of 100 times—small business balance sheets contain errors like negative assets or liabilities, which indicate deeper financial mismanagement. For instance, negative balances on accounts like Chase or Capital One often incorrectly imply that these institutions owe the business money, which is rarely the case.

Tracking Equity for Business Growth

Now that you know the balance sheet's importance, the next question is: What should you look for on your balance sheet? The answer is equity. This figure, found at the bottom of the balance sheet, represents your business's net worth. An increasing equity figure signifies that your assets are growing faster than your liabilities, a positive indicator of long-term financial health. Some other key reasons why equity matters are:

  • Funding Retirement: Growing your business’s net worth is crucial for funding retirement or achieving financial independence.
  • Avoiding Financial Pitfalls: Focusing solely on revenue without considering liabilities can lead to a situation where, despite high revenue, the net equity is declining due to increasing debts.

Monitoring Liquidity with the Current Ratio

The final question to consider is: What ratio should you monitor monthly? The current ratio is vital for understanding your business's liquidity, which measures your ability to pay short-term obligations.

The current ratio is calculated by dividing current assets by current liabilities. This ratio indicates how easily your business can cover its short-term debts. A ratio of 2 or higher is ideal, showing that you have twice the assets needed to cover your liabilities. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Current Assets: These include cash, accounts receivable, and other assets that can be converted to cash within a year.
  • Current Liabilities: These are obligations that need to be settled within a year, like accounts payable and short-term loans.

Businesses often overlook liabilities such as unearned revenue, which can cause issues later. Accurately accounting for all liabilities ensures your current ratio reflects your true liquidity.


By understanding that the balance sheet is the most important financial statement for your business, focus on growing your equity to ensure long-term financial health. Regularly monitor the current ratio to maintain liquidity. By following these guidelines, you can avoid the common pitfalls that lead to financial instability and ensure your business remains financially healthy.

Maintaining accurate financial records is not just about compliance; it's about making informed decisions that can save your business from potential failure. Regularly review and update your financial statements to reflect the true state of your business. Consider outsourcing your accounting needs to ensure accuracy and gain expert insights into your financial health.

For more detailed advice and professional accounting services, consider consulting experts who can help you navigate these complexities and secure your business's financial future.




U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Sage Business

Dan Nicholson is the author of “Rigging the Game: How to Achieve Financial Certainty, Navigate Risk and Make Money on Your Own Terms,” deemed a best-seller by USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. In addition to founding the award-winning accounting and financial consulting firm Nth Degree CPAs, Dan has created and run multiple small businesses, including Certainty U and the Certified Certainty Advisor program.

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