Survey: Small Businesses Need to Handle Money Better

Chicago, we need to start doing better.

That’s what a new Staples survey has yielded, sobering intel that Chicago small businesses are among the most financially irresponsible. There’s also a giant disconnect in the findings — not in the survey itself, but in the mentality present here. Chiefly, 96 percent of Chicago small businesses are “confident in managing their finances” even though 41 percent “can define basic accounting principles such as ‘accounts receivable’ and ‘accounts payable.’”

I’m willing to overlook knowledge of basic vocabulary terms as an outlier that doesn’t necessarily mean anything bigger (per, well, the book “Outliers,” there are different types of intelligence and IQs), but it is troubling that nearly half of Chicago small businesses don’t even use software to track cash flow.

And yet, people are optimistic. Especially in Chicago: 35 percent “say they expect a lot of growth in the next two years compared to only 24 percent nationally.”

What does this mean? Well, it could mean nothing. It’s easy to discredit or ignore statistics and for every expert you’ll find quoted in a story you can find an opposite expert who will completely contradict those findings. Am I saying we shouldn’t trust anything we read? No, just that there is a kernel to this that should inform you.

It should tell you that if you are going to be tracking your finances, you have a good leg up against your competition. It also means many of your competitors are likely to run into trouble sooner rather than later.

But you should be keeping your eyes more firmly fixed on your finances than who’s going belly up.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as IFC’s comedy, film, and TV blogger, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City and an adjunct professor in DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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