When to Share Financial Data

I caught up with a friend who’s seasoned in the restaurant industry. He’s helped build some of the most successful restaurants in Atlanta. He’s now taking his experience and opening a consultancy focused on helping restaurateurs run their restaurants efficiently and profitably.

During our chat, he told me he encounters a problem with some clients: they won’t share their costs with him. Their explanations vary, but the result is the same. Without seeing all the costs, he can’t tell whether the restaurant is profitable or how efficient it is. His ability to add value is severely hampered.

Many years ago, when I was an early-stage founder, I was lucky enough to land a meeting with someone who had a $300+ million-annual-revenue business. He was busy, and I wanted to make the most of the meeting. I prepared my financials and presented them to him as soon as we sat down. He looked at the numbers, peppered me with questions, and started sharing relevant experiences and making suggestions. Seeing the numbers helped him quickly understand the current state of my business and identify where he could add value. The meeting was transformative for my business. The seasoned entrepreneur thanked me for being transparent, trusting him, and coming prepared. We remained friends for years after that.

Entrepreneurs are sometimes reluctant to share their financial data. Often, that’s the right decision. You don’t want your numbers floating around. You also don’t want to take advice from people without relevant experience. But when you’re seeking input from credible people who want to help your business succeed, the risk/reward ratio changes. The upside to sharing your data dwarfs the downside. In those cases, it’s often worth being an open book (after your adviser has assured you that they won’t share your data). One idea or comment from a credible person can propel your business forward or help it avoid trouble you didn’t see coming.

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