For a small business owner, managing your cash flow, (the movement of cash to and from your business as opposed to cash deposited in a bank) may be your most important responsibility. In fact, in a recent poll conducted by CPA2Biz, the marketing and technology services subsidiary of the American Institute of CPAs, 83 percent of the 500 small businesses surveyed reported that their prime concern is maintaining adequate cash flow.
And according to the Small Business Administration, the federal agency that provides support and resources to small business owners and entrepreneurs, the failure to manage cash flow is a significant reason why so many small businesses close their doors each year. Make no mistake about it: Even if it’s unintentional, just a mere oversight or misstep in your handling of the company coffers can cause untold damage to your reputation, brand, and credit rating. How then can you prevent such errors from happening while optimizing your cash flow? Here are five cash flow best practices that can steer you in the right direction.
1. Negotiate with vendors
This takeaway can be a great method for pre-empting future financial headaches. If you’re experiencing a fiscal pinch, talk to your vendors about extending due dates. Or try re-negotiating payment terms. Remember, your vendors are also in business and they, like you, want to get paid on time.
John Burger, owner of the online toy company Playfully Ever After, has made this tip a key underpinning of managing his company’s cash flow. And based on his experience, most vendors are willing to be flexible if it guarantees payment.
To bolster his point, Burger, whose company is based outside Dallas and has seven employees, recounts an experience where re-negotiating with a vendor garnered positive results.
“We hit a cash-flow crunch after spending quite a bit of money at the Toy Fair 2013 expanding into new toy lines,” he recalls. “There was no way we could place the large orders we needed to make to sustain our top-selling brand. I called and talked with our rep and they were more than willing to work with us. In fact, they even offered us special terms. From now on, we only have to spend $3,500 to get the same 10 percent discount or $1,500 to get a 5 percent discount. This meant we could reorder more frequently and keep items in stock, which increased sales for both of us.”
Almost every business goes through an up-and-down cash cycle. Such fluctuations can often be dictated by myriad factors that range from seasonal trends to the overall health of the economy. During periods when your cash flow is booming, don’t get complacent and risk your business with extravagant or unnecessary expenses. Be prudent in your spending and start saving for those periods when money might not be flowing like champagne.
Adrienne Polk, operations and strategy manager of the Washington, D.C-based Ross Business Management, a provider of financial and operational solutions to small businesses, agrees. “You want to create a buffer along the way, not just once in a while,” she says. “This will allow you flexibility and more breathing room in your business. When you are down to the wire all of the time, it can be completely paralyzing. Although you may need to spend money to make money, if you are paralyzed by fear or lack of funds, your business will suffer.”
3. Trim unnecessary expenses
If you want to attain a strong grasp of your cash flow, then it behooves you to make a thorough and detailed assessment of the items that can be cut from your balance sheet and what can stay in. Scrutinize your expenses. Figure out what is essential and what can be excised.
“You don't have to buy the employees lunch, take a client golfing, or spend money on a birthday cake,” Burger explains. “Those types of things can wait. It's more important that your employees get paid and you have money to buy product.”
4. Request prompt payment of services
This might sound like a no-brainer solution to cash flow problems, but it bears repeating when dealing with vendors and/or clients.
Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers, a personal finance website, agrees, but notes that debtors might need to gain an incentive to ensure prompt payment. “To motivate debtors to pay quickly, offer a small discount for prompt payment,” he says. “So even though you may take a bit of a hit on profits, it's ultimately worthwhile.”
5. Tighten up employee hours during slow times
To better optimize your cash flow, you might consider reducing hours for employees during the slow periods. This tip has worked wonders for Burger’s Playfully Ever After staff. When his business was experiencing the doldrums, Burger had his hourly staff start work one hour later. And on days that were especially slow, staffers were told to go home earlier than expected.
“This saved an extra $600 a month in payroll,” he explains. “Every bit helps.”
Along the same lines, if your cash flow problems are growing increasingly dire, short of terminating your staff, you might also want to change employees’ salary status to an hourly basis. “Most employees hate this and it can be a tough sell,” admits Burger. “But it allows you to save money on slow times when employees may not be working as much. If your business is in jeopardy, this is an option you should think about.”
Other ways to solve your cash flow problems courtesy of Burger are as follows:
- Offer one free vacation day instead of pay raises. “To improve cash flow for the next year, give everyone in the company an extra day off each month in lieu of pay raises,” he says. “I had an employer do this once, and at first people were upset, but then we learned to love having the first Friday off of every month.”
- Establish a line of credit. “Talk with your banker,” advises Burger. “Most banks are more than willing to help you establish a line of credit for your business. You don't have to use it all the time, but this can help when cash gets tight.”
To maintain the longevity of your business operations, it’s imperative to manage your cash flow as wisely as possible. In this area, there’s no room for carelessness or irresponsibility, especially if you want your business to survive the long haul.
Disclaimer: Since the details of your situation are unique, you should always seek the services of a qualified CPA or other qualified financial professional.