“Never take your eyes off the cash flow because it’s the lifeblood of business.” (Sir Richard Branson)
Managing cash flow is often one of the biggest challenges business owners face and is also the reason for a concerningly large percentage of business failures.
Cash flow can be defined as the total amount of money that comes in and then goes out of a business and – crucially – the timing between cash flowing in and cash flowing out.
A positive cash flow means the business earns more than it spends and is a key indicator of the financial health of your business. A consistent, positive cash flow ensures there is cash on hand to cover payroll, expenses and loan repayments on time and enables business growth by ensuring cash is available for timely equipment purchases and upgrades, and investment in new opportunities that arise.
As such, proper cash flow management is key to your short – and long-term financial success, and cash flow strategies should be a priority in your business planning. Good cash flow planning will allow you to predict when money can be expected to be received, and when it must be paid out. With this information, you can plan ahead and make smart business decisions.
Implementing the ten top tips below for maintaining a strong cash flow will ensure businesses can enjoy all these benefits in a short time and with little effort.
- Increase sales – More sales are obviously the preferred strategy for a business to grow the amount of cash flowing into the business, and it provides more benefits than other options such as liquidating assets or taking out a loan.
- Collect client payments quickly – Late payments from clients are one of the most common reasons why businesses experience cash flow problems. Manage this proactively by invoicing clients promptly and sending monthly statements early. Verify the invoice was received, and contact late payers well in advance, reminding them to pay on time. Follow up on late payments right away, offer discounts to clients who pay early, and implement a cash-on-delivery policy for chronic late-payers.
You could also consider requesting deposits when taking orders, and if you offer credit to clients, make sure to do credit checks first and maintain stringent credit policies.
- Adjust inventory – Inventory that doesn’t sell well will also negatively impact your cash flow. Move outdated inventory and offload less frequently purchased items for discounted prices and don’t replace this stock – rather invest more into stocking items that do sell well.
- Manage and trim expenses – Cash flow reduces as and when expenses are paid, so managing your expenses better and eliminating unnecessary costs will immediately boost cash flow. Also consider other ways to conserve cash flow, such as leasing instead of buying equipment.
- Prioritise payments – Know exactly which payments must be made when, then order according to priority, and spread payment dates so the most important bills are paid first and the less critical account payments with more flexible payment dates are paid later. Where necessary, negotiate payment terms with your suppliers.
- Increase efficiencies – Take advantage of technological advances and artificial intelligence-enabled solutions, such as apps, software and equipment to streamline your business processes and increase efficiency. Also, consider identifying operations or tasks that can be cost-effectively outsourced to freelancers and third-party service providers.
- Use a business credit card – A well-managed business credit card could be used to pay day-to-day expenses during the month to free up cash. This will require keeping a tight record of those expenses and being disciplined in repaying the full balance within the interest-free period. It will also allow the business to benefit from any rewards programs that can reduce expenses, such as a certain percentage of cash back on some purchases.
- Keep a line of credit – A business line of credit can be a saving grace for small businesses and companies impacted by seasonality. It provides quick access to funds when needed, for example, to bridge gaps between invoicing and payment, to buy equipment, to cover seasonal or unexpected expenses, or to take advantage of growth opportunities. The business will have to negotiate such a facility before cash flow problems arise.
- Make your money work – At times, there may be a surplus of cash, for example, in seasonal businesses, and at these times, it is crucial to make sure this money works for the business. This can be achieved through building up a reserve fund for emergencies, which experts suggest should ideally be sufficient to cover six months of business expenses; making smart short-term investments and paying off debts faster to reduce interest and shorten loan terms. Consider investing any surplus cash, short-term or otherwise, in a money-market call account to earn interest rather than leaving it idly resting in the bank account.
- Use accounting expertise – Successfully monitoring and projecting cash flow often requires professional assistance. Alongside the balance sheet and income statement, the crucial cash flow statement is one of the three main types of financial statements. Generally covering three main areas: everyday business operations, investment activities, and financing, it reveals trends and allows potential cash flow problems to be identified and managed in time.
Projecting future cash flow requires assessing the previous year’s numbers as the basis of cash flow for the following year and then adjusting these numbers for anticipated changes, such as new pricing, more staff and new funding sources. Of course, these forecasts will change continuously, so it’s important to monitor cash flow on an ongoing basis.
Speak to your accountant about accessing cash flow reports regularly and for professional assistance in understanding what they reveal about your business, to enable more accurate and relevant business decisions.
Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.