Scaling an ecommerce business is exhausting. And it only gets worse if you’re struggling with finances.
Your day-to-day becomes an endless scramble to make ends meets. Month over month, you find yourself facing the same problems and replaying the same questions:
When can I afford to hire?
Am I collecting the right taxes and saving enough?
Why can’t I get ahead on cash flow, inventory, and profits?
For the past 10 years, I’ve been busy making mistakes, testing, and succeeding in scaling multiple ecommerce businesses. I had the same questions hovering over my head and I needed help.
Ecommerce financial literacy has a direct causal relationship with your ability to produce profit. So, I’ve kept a running list of tools and resources that have guided me.
They are now here for you to find what you need to assist you with your ecommerce success.
Table of ‘financial’ contents: Feel free to skip ahead
Don’t miss the last section! There you’ll find my two biggest fiscal failures ever … one of which costs us +$1.3 million.
Simple Numbers is a small business finance guide geared at helping you increase profitability. It teaches you how to use key indicators as the foundation for better business decisions that will support a $5 million scale.
Straight to the point and jargon-free, Greg Crabtree and Beverly Blair Harzog use real-world scenarios to show you a better way to understand your finances.
In How Finance Works, Mihir Desai provides you with the knowledge and skills you need to fully understand finance.
Desai makes use of case studies, exercises, and visuals to help you learn how to analyze your numbers and clearly communicate your findings.
Building on a formula — because I love formulas— this team presents the essentials of finance for entrepreneurial managers.
After training thousands of professionals, Financial Intelligence for Entrepreneurs uses hands-on activities to help you develop a deeper understanding of financial data
Best-selling author Mike Michalowicz developed a behavioral approach to accounting and details it in Profit First.
Just like the title suggests, Michalowicz shows you how to take your profits first and allocate the remainder for expenses — a total flip to the traditional financial playbook.
If you believe traditional accounting is too in the weeds for you, Stark Naked Numbers will give you a practical approach for learning exactly what you need to know — the bare essentials.
It’s a stripped-down approach perfect for beginners or anyone who want a refresh on how to keep the main things, the main things.
Following the successes of eight CEOs, William N. Thorndike’s The Outsiders shares their strategies for increasing performance in their companies.
This book is written for executive leaders, in particular. But there’s enormous value no matter what your title or company size happens to be.
What does it take to get one click (V), acquire a single customer (CR), retain that customer (LTV), and deliver one product (VC)?
It starts with a line-item breakdown of everything that goes into getting what you sell into the hands of your customers — unit economics.
Understand how to scale faster by generating more cash flow from a single source of profit.
Don’t let the date or length fool you. A quick read that details how speed and balance are the secret weapons to creating value. You’ll learn how to measure performance and risk efficiently.
Even better, there’s another formula: DSO + DSI – DPO = CCC
Although its subtitle contains the words “simplest possible financial template,” the Excel files you’ll find here can look intimidating. In short, the model centers on customer cohorts. And, it’s shaped the backbone of our own forecasting and revenue models at CTC.
Building off Lightspeed’s template, here I breakdown our “three-layered cake revenue model.” Map and predict the profitability of your business with ecommerce demand forecasting and a template + video guide.
A detailed guide on everything that ecommerce businesses using Shopify need to know for managing your profits and cash flow.
This podcast discusses counter-intuitive wisdom and financial truths you can start using immediately to accelerate ahead of the competition.
I share my best practices, visions, and advice on how to grow a business’ profits and drive progress.
Andrew Faris discusses understanding and acting on your gross margin.
Wayne Richard chats with Kiri Masters about setting up a business for scaling success, self-publishing books, and awesome tips on establishing your business.
Brick-and-mortar banks are important for every business but with our new norms, most of our banking needs can be handled over the net. Whether you need a simple bank account, credit card, or business funding, you can find cash flow management help below.
As the world’s largest ecommerce investor, Clearbanc provides advertising capital in exchange for a revenue share until they’re paid back their principal plus a 6% fee.
While the cost of capital is higher than traditional lending, I love that they don't take equity or demand a personal guarantee. Their predictive models also do a great job of not allowing you to bite off more than you can chew.
Revenue-based financing for ecommerce brands.
If data analytics is not your core competency, Wayflyer has a team who will help audit your account for you and suggest improvements. This helps you grow more efficiently while obviously helping them as you build a relationship as a customer for the long run, borrowing more money to continue growing together.
This is our favorite inventory financing option.
Setting up an account and getting approved is super simple; and for a 1% premium on your supplier invoices, they’ll pay them for you, and you can pay them 30 days later. If you need another 30 or 60 days, no problem, just tack on another 1% per month.
A credit card with traditionally higher limits and no personal guarantee. If you can get your store approved, it’s a no brainer.
If your ecommerce store has hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit, Cerebro can help get you the best financing available. They’ve built a commercial loan software that makes sourcing loans really simple. Their team is super knowledgeable and will be able to tell you your options pretty quickly.
A well known leader in the ecommerce lending space, they provide revolver loans collateralized with inventory or AR.
If you’re into DIYing, or just have to out of necessity, there are a wide variety of accounting systems and softwares available to help you create financial statements, like income statements and balance sheets.
Some even include self-guided bookkeeping tasks and budgeting assistance.
Order metrics help you better understand your unit economics.
Xero is an easy-to-use ecommerce accounting software with third-party apps for inventory, point of sale, and more.
QuickBooks allows you to create sales receipts, sales orders, invoices. Included are inventory and cash flow tracking features that seamlessly integrate with your other accounts.
Simplify your Shopify and Shopify POS accounting with A2X linked to Xero or QBO.
Multichannel inventory management for your growing business.
Cash flow forecasting for your ecommerce business.
All in one people platform for Payroll, Benefits, & HR.
Just Works is an all-in-one people platform for payroll, benefits, & human resources.
The co-founder of Clearbanc, Michele is a force in the ecommerce lending space. She’s also a judge on Dragons’ Den, the Canadian Shark Tank.
So today, we are opening this opportunity up to the whole world. Let us be your rich uncle. We’ve built ClearAngel to provide founders not only with capital but strategic advice and the right connections to succeed. https://t.co/bwRLJJeQEG— Michele Romanow (@MicheleRomanow) February 25, 2021
As the CEO of manieredevoir.com, Reece is an operator who shares transparently about her journey and combines real world excellence with financial wisdom.
January ✅ pic.twitter.com/tb9Dy4VoAJ— Reece Wabara (@ReeceWabara) February 1, 2021
Meryl is the CEO of Bean Ninjas and is living and breathing ecommerce accounting every single day.
41% of eCommerce businesses have done nothing to prepare for an economic crisis. Are you set up to come out on top?— Meryl Johnston (@meryl_johnston) May 26, 2020
Take our survey to find out. https://t.co/buJaF6drZp
Closes June 5. #ecommerce #recession #survey pic.twitter.com/8L5fcvMq0K
Magdalena Kala is a wonderful consumer investor who has brilliant insights on markets, capital and more.
0/ “What do you mean when you say you’re a ’consumer investor’?”— mags | doubledown.show 🔥 (@magdalenakala) January 11, 2021
I get asked this surprisingly freq, and my definition of “consumer” is broader than typical, so here are the 10 key things that define my professional interests/identity – my consumer investment philosophy 👇
Jay is an entrepreneur and investor, based in Toronto, who puts together fire threads on finance like the ones below. You can read his personal blog here.
Last week @theSamParr shared Gymshark's financials. They're very impressive, but what stood out the most to me was the £53m cash pile.— Jay Vasantharajah (@jayvasdigital) July 16, 2020
How could a bootstrapped eComm company w/ rapid growth have this much cash?
Answer: a negative cash conversion cycle.
Here's how it works 👇 pic.twitter.com/yqz8pLCyQQ
Jeff Sands is the author of the Corporate Turnaround Artist. His Twitter consists of a ton of finance related tweets and simple underappreciated gems like below.
Retweeting my own comment, reminded daily that this is probably the most accurate thing I've ever said. https://t.co/jcm77XgIkQ— Jeff Sands (@jeff05251) May 14, 2020
While Nate is not specifically a finance expert he is a seasoned ecommerce operator who’s constantly putting out thoughtful work.
Early Stage DTC Brands:— Digitally Native (@digitallynativ) March 24, 2021
Build a framework for the opportunity cost of your time and resources
Deciding what not to do is >= deciding what to do
Bill D’Alessandro is the CEO of Elements Brands and has some deep expertise around leveraging debt facilities and SBA loans to grow.
Holy smokes what a year.— Bill D'Alessandro (@BillDA) December 31, 2020
It finished with a bang - today we closed an 8 figure investment in @ElementsBrands, giving us lots of dry powder to continue acquiring DTC CPG brands in 2021.
Brand owners - hit me with a DM if you want to know what it's like to join us here at EB. pic.twitter.com/eJYRDvDQTs
Monish Datta is a marketer with multiple finance degrees. He offers great insight into the relationship between each discipline.
“There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.”— Monish (@moenichedee) October 20, 2018
- Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
Josh Rodarmel runs all of our mergers, acquisitions, and finance activity for our parent company Dream Labs.
This is a great tweet to wake up to. https://t.co/osh4PpNqtl— Josh Rodarmel (@JoshRodarmel) May 9, 2020
Andrew DeSouza is the CEO of Clearbanc. He speaks to all things lending, ecommerce finance, and fintech.
Update: In January, we funded 17 business through #clearangel. In Feb, we funded 25. One week into March, we've already funded 27 startups and we’re just getting started! LFG! 🚀— Andrew D'Souza (@andrewdsouza) March 7, 2021
Wayne Richard is a partner at Bean Ninjas, CFO in Residence ADmission, and vCFO to ecommerce operators looking to achieve freedom through stress-free business finances.
1/ Staying compliant at tax time can be especially frustrating for #eCommerce entrepreneurs.— Wayne Richard (@evrydaysprhero) March 23, 2021
Furthermore, income taxes are one of the largest expenses for an eCommerce business outside of inventory.
So here are some highlights from our recent @beanninjas eCommerce masterclass
Ecommerce companies need CPA professionals who can provide finance management and bookkeeping services. Below are a few recommended accounting service providers.
Bean Ninjas is an awesome team of ecommerce growth accountants. Wayne currently serves as the CFO in residence in our ADmission Slack community and has been super helpful.
Wertz & Co. is both my personal and CTC’s accounting firm. One of their partners Katie Sterling has been an absolute rock for us for years.
MainStreet qualifies startups for 200+ unclaimed tax credits.
Offers a single point of accountability for all areas of financial management.
Fractional CFOs and finance teams that have worked with some of the biggest names in ecommerce.
Jeremy and team specialize in tax returns for e-commerce, retail, individuals and real estate businesses.
Marketplace for buying and selling online businesses
Marketplace for buying and selling online businesses
Marketplace for Buying and Selling online businesses
If you’re in the market to buy a brand, and don’t know where to start, CAPTARGET will connect you with a private equity space that recommends businesses that are often worth buying. They charge a low flat fee each month to utilize their software and no success fees.
Once you find a business to buy, don’t do it until you have Centurica perform due diligence on it. If you’re looking to sell your business in the next year or two, have Centurica perform an audit on it and tell you how to increase your valuation.
They’re not cheap, but they know what they’re doing and will get it done correctly. Kyle Leingang is a Partner and quarterbacks all things legal for us. He’s fast, efficient, and trustworthy.
ADmission has a wealth of accounting and finance information that is condensed in easily digestible courses.
Members get exclusive access tools:
I was able to compile this resource guide because I’ve made a ton of mistakes during my entrepreneurial journey. Two, in particular …
Ages ago, we launched a baby brand called Opening Day. When it failed, we had to tuck our tails and inform our shareholders that we were closing down operations.
My co-owner, Josh Rodarmel, sent them this exact email:
I am writing this email with mixed emotions.
First, and most obviously, I’m incredibly disappointed to report that we’ve decided to shut down Opening Day by liquidating its inventory and closing down the LLC.
And while it makes me ill to have to write this email telling about our failure with Opening Day, I’m also proud of this decision. It’s never easy to turn your back on something you’ve brought to life as we did with Opening Day; but we’re doing that because it’s the right decision — not because it’s an easy one.
But, we believe that Slick, FC Goods, and a new brand that we hope to be able to announce in the next few weeks are better and higher uses of the capital you’ve invested.
As with any failure — comes the opportunity to learn from what went wrong.
Here’s a short list of the mistakes we made that we won’t make going forward:
1. Don’t launch paid advertising without a completed tool kit
At CTC, we preach the importance of having a completed tool kit for clients. This includes things like photo and video content, influencers, user generated content, PR, a clear value proposition, etc.
We had some great photo and video assets and a seemingly clear value proposition for launch, but we never signed an influencer; and therefore, we had no influencer content to add to our mix of assets.
This was a huge miss for us as we believe that price and recommendation from someone you trust are two of the biggest influences on purchase decisions. In a product line for babies, trust must be established above all else.
We never did that.
2. Launch with a narrow SKU set
Advertising is expensive.
The more products you have to advertise, the more expensive it is to figure out which customers want which products. With the strict low-dollar budgets we create for ourselves, we shoot ourselves in the foot when we have to spend x amount across eight different products.
A key part of our business is learning through Facebook Advertising data, and when we divide the amount we spend by the number of products we have, we learn far less (in this example, 1/8th of what we would have learned if we focussed on one great hero product).
3. Don’t launch a new brand on Black Friday
Black Friday, Cyber Monday is typically the best weekend of the year for ecommerce brands, so we assumed it would be a great weekend for Opening Day.
We were wrong!
We rushed to be ready to launch for that weekend, when in actuality, Black Friday is probably the worst day possible to launch a brand new brand with no customer data.
CPMs (cost per thousand impressions—how Facebook charges advertisers) are the highest all year on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and when you don’t have customer data to know who exactly to serve ads to, you can run through an advertising budget pretty quickly.
We knew these principles, but let hubris get in our way of listening to them. That won’t happen again.
4. Trust but verify manufacturing capabilities
Reagan may have learned this Russian proverb when dealing with Gorbachev, but I think he’d agree it’s good practice for manufacturing relationships as well.
This one was 100% my fault.
I put my trust in a company who seemed like they had the ability to produce our soft goods at scale without verifying they actually could, even when I felt in my gut that something wasn’t adding up.
I won’t let that happen again.
5. Don’t rely entirely on paid social
This partially coincides with number one, but it goes a necessary step farther.
With our experiences at CTC, our core competency is clearly Facebook Advertising. However, no matter how good CTC is (and I’d argue there’s no one better at Facebook advertising), without a team driving other types of traffic to their web stores, no brand can win long term.
CPMs are on the rise which makes it even more critical for us to get all of the other elements that go into creating winning e-commerce brands correct. At 4x400, our current structure with Slick and FC Goods supports this effort, whereas it didn’t with Opening Day. We are focused on improving this daily and increasing traffic to our sites.
6. Use guardrails to help us fail fast and fail cheap
We spent about $25k of investor money on Opening Day, which was the amount we agreed to internally to give Opening Day one last chance to prove viability.
We budgeted $5k for influencers and $20k for Ads. The result was not good, but it was clear, so we followed those guardrails and stopped spending money against it. Unfortunately, for CTC in 2017, we didn’t institute proper guardrails of time or money.
Spending money and time is easy. There’s always one more SKU that we could have in our line or one more light to rent that we could use in our videos; but at the end of the day, those things cost money. And how each dollar is spent has to be evaluated against results, a budget, and a potential better use of capital. Time is the same way.
We understood those fundamentals intellectually, but hadn’t implemented the necessary guardrails to make sure we stuck to them. That won’t happen again.
In closing, despite our best efforts to make Opening Day a success, we could not. But, part of the beauty of 4x400 is that we get better with each brand we launch and that we get to apply learnings from one across our entire portfolio of brands; and because of that and in spite of our failure with Opening Day, I am more confident than ever that 4x400 will succeed.
I’m excited to get back to more positive emails soon. If you have any questions or concerns in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
All my best,
And the failures don’t stop there.
In 2019, we paid $44,566 on one lease buyout. Then, the pandemic hit in 2020. Our second buyout burned $702,432 … plus another $597,311 to the pile for the cost of renting a vacant building.
Grand total? $1,344,309 🤢
I have torched a Rockefeller’s fortune on lease buyouts.— Taylor Holiday (@TaylorHoliday) March 10, 2021
Easily my worst financial decisions as a leader.
Keeping track of your ecommerce business finances can pile on more work than you initially bargained for but I hope this resource list will provide you with the help you’ve been looking for.
Finally, I would love for this to be an ongoing, living, and breathing set of resources. If there is something you have read, watched, or heard that brought you immense value, share it with me and I will add it.
If you found it helpful, then grab the full guide and share to save an ecommerce business today.
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