Maintaining a robust cash flow is crucial to keeping a business healthy. However, business owners often wear so many hats that they neglect to focus on the most important thing – generating revenue. Join Will Barr, Small Business Deposits Executive from Bank of America, for an in-depth look with practical tips for managing your cash flow.
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Will Barr: Particularly for a small business owner you have to wear so many different hats every day running and managing all aspects of the business that, from time to time, you hear that business owners have just taken their eye off of what's the most important thing, and that's generating the revenue. No matter how much you cut and trim expenses, if you don't have more coming in than going out, you're not going to last long.
Narrator: Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.
Gregg Stebben: I am here with Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive for Bank of America. Thanks for joining us on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with Bank of America and ForbesBooks. Will, we are going to talk about some tips for helping small businesses manage their cashflow. Before we do, though, I'm already curious about your job and your title. You’re the Small Business Deposits Executive for Bank of America. What does that mean? What do you do?
Will Barr: Gregg, thanks for having me on. Our team is responsible for the products and services that we offer to small businesses. Those are focused on the deposits that our clients bring to the bank and the way that they access those funds and transact with the bank. It includes checking accounts, savings accounts, debit cards as our primary products, and then the services that we wrap around them. Think about online banking, things like mobile check deposit, remote depositare the specific products that we offer that allow customers to deposit their money with us and then access those funds when and where they need them.
Gregg Stebben: It's really interesting. We're going to have this conversation about managing small business cashflow. I am betting that the technology available today that is part of your purview as the Small Business Deposits Executive makes managing cashflow a lot easier, a lot more effective, a lot more efficient for small businesses if small businesses know to use those tools and pieces of technology.
Will Barr: Absolutely. We talk a lot within my team about small business owners and why they open a small business. Never on that list is because they enjoy banking. We think about it in the context of, how do we help them conduct their banking activities more efficiently, more quickly, so they can get back to why they opened and run their business, whether that's a love for what they do, to provide for their family, to be a part of other people's lives. That's why they're in business, and it's our job to let them get back to that.
Gregg Stebben: You're in a situation where you're interacting with small businesses all the time. I am guessing that for many small businesses, managing cashflow is sort of like a problem they know they have, they don't know what to do with it, and they just sort of put up with it. Maybe there's even some small businesses that don't even understand that the problems they're having with the revenue and expenses of their business is cashflow. Do you find that even on the branch level that one of the things business bankers are doing is helping educate small businesses sometimes from the foundation up on why cashflow is so important?
Will Barr: It is. We hear about that. As you said, it's the number one thing that our clients tell us they struggle with. One of the things we have done across the bank over the last couple years is really invest in building expertise in small business so that we can give exactly the advice that you're talking about when a client comes to us and has a problem, has a challenge that they're facing. We've got the products and solutions that then help address that. We spend a lot of time. We talk about things like remote deposit, other capabilities that allow clients to deposit stuff without actually having to come to the bank. How do we educate our sales force so then when a client is talking about struggles they have with cashflowas an example, that they can articulate ways that we have solutions that help solve for that problem or help them address those challenges? That's something we've really made a big investment in as a bank, both in technology and then in the sales force and the expertise to engage the client in solving those problems.
Gregg Stebben: Because I know we spend a lot of time talking with folks from the SBA, the Small Business Administration, for instance. I know that cashflow problems always rank as the number one or one of the top reasons why businesses fail. This is not something to be treated lightly. It's fundamental. If you own a small business or you're even thinking about starting a small business, this should be a number one priority of something you address, understand, and take care of.
Will Barr: I think for most business owners cashflow and the challenges it represents is something that never goes away.
Gregg Stebben: I'm talking with Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive for Bank of America. We're talking about tips for better managing small business cashflow. Let's start at the beginning here. Cashflow really involves two things, and each business may have a problem with one of these things or both of these things. It's accounts receivable, money coming in, and paying your expenses, money going out. Are there different tips for different parts of that equation?
Will Barr: I think there are. I think particularly for a small business owner you have to wear so many different hats every day running and managing all aspects of the business that, from time to time, you hear that business owners have just taken their eye off of what's the most important thing, and that's generating the revenue. No matter how much you cut and trim expenses, if you don't have more coming in than going out you're not going to last long. You've got a real challenge that you're going to face.
Gregg Stebben: But generating revenue, there's really two pieces to that. You might be generating tons of revenue but it's not coming in. You're not managing your receivables well, so you made the money, you just don't have the money, so you can't pay your bills.
Will Barr: That's right. You've got to get paid. Managing those receivables, particularly in ... Perhaps in a retail situations it's less of an issue in the sense that you should be getting paid right then, and maybe it's a couple days later based upon how you're collecting those funds and how you're getting paid. But that's very different than someone who may be performing a service and leaves the invoice with the customer and they've got to figure out how do they collect 15, 30 days later, hopefully if all goes well. That becomes a significant effort on their part to manage that while also generating the future flow of business. Being a small business owner is pretty darn complicated.
Gregg Stebben: Let's talk about ways to get the money coming in if we've earned it. For instance, one of the things you recommend ... We're looking actually at an article on the Bank of America Small Business website, Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow. You talk about switching to electronic invoicing. Now, some small business owners may feel like there's going to be a steep learning curve or this is going to be intimidating. Tell us why whatever learning curve may be there, why it's worth doing, and also give a sense of is it really as hard as people might imagine to make that switch?
Will Barr: We've met with a number of providers in the industry of fintech-type firms that provide these electronic invoicing services, and our clients who've used them tell us it really helps them get an understanding of the status of their receivables at any specific point in time. The modern technology allows you to go in and see all the invoices that have generated. A lot of these electronic providers provide you visibility, tell you whether or not even the e-mail that you sent with the invoice has been opened and read. Have they scheduled to pay it? If they have scheduled to pay it, when is it going to be paid and when will you receive the funds? Those are things that you can see at a moment's notice that otherwise might take you making several phone calls, the back and forth phone tag with your client that takes time.
These tools don't solve for all of that, but can give you some insight into where do you want to spend your time? Where do you focus? Where do you need to make the phone call to the guy who has never even read the e-mail that you sent on your invoice? That's where you want to spend your time, versus the individual who has already scheduled to pay it. You're going to know you're going to get those funds. There's some capabilities there that’ll replace a lot of the hard work that has to go into managing those things, but actually tells you where to focus your time and effort and can give you that snapshot much more quickly than it might take you to review a stack of papers on your desk.
Gregg Stebben: I would imagine one of the greatest benefits, two of the greatest benefits for a company that's switching to electronic invoicing is, first of all ... I have a lot of friends who own small businesses. It amazes me how hard it is for them to create an invoice because they've never automated it, so they don't do it, so they get backlogged, so their cashflow is messed up. A really good electronic invoicing system should enable you to make an invoice in a minute or two. Everything should be standardized in a couple of options and print the thing out and send it, or just send it without printing it. Then it should also follow up. It should know when things have been paid and automate the process of, frankly, nagging companies that are not paying in a timely way, or just reminding them to pay in an important way. I would imaging picking the right electronic invoicing program is important.
I also want you to talk about the benefit of doings things like actually offering small discounts to your customers if they pay in a very timely way, because that guarantees the money's coming in. The future value is worth a little bit of a discount, and it takes a lot of cashflow worries off the top of your head.
Will Barr: Gregg, I think you said it very well. I want to be clear when we talk about this, going back to my point around small businesses, being a small business owner, being very difficult. I know that time is at a premium, and there are times where setting up some of those electronic invoicing capabilitiesinvolves that upfront investment that folks may not feel like they have today. But I do think they're things that, when appropriate and when you can carve off the time, will pay those dividends down the line. I don't want to take away from a lot of the stuff that we're talking about. I think there are tools and techniques built into these electronic invoicing or we see as standard practice within our clients to give a client incentive to pay attention to the invoice. Discounts is one way to do that.
What we try and do is help our clients understand, even when they're paying invoices, the cost savings that that can represent to them versus whether they have to use credit and the cost of credit. Sometimes we encourage clients to use credit that they have available to pay an invoice earlier because if you look at the discount in the short period of time that you're paying versus what you're paying on an annual percentage rate for that credit, a lot of times you can come out ahead just doing that math, and so there's an opportunity for our clients to do that same kind of conversation with their clients. Then, it helps them to understand and predict when they have needs or how do they manage their cashflow by be willing to giving up some of their margin to make sure that they have enough funds in their account that week to make payroll.
Gregg Stebben: One of the things you talked about earlier ... We're talking with Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive. We're talking about a story on the Bank of America Small Business site. It's actually at bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/education: Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow. One of the things, Will, you mentioned very early on in this interview was remote deposit capture. I always wonder, how many individuals and how many businesses are actually using their phone or some other digital means to deposit checks versus going to the bank? I don't know if you have that statistic. But talk about why this is such an important tool for efficiency for a small business.
Will Barr: Gregg, I'll give you a very personal example, as you did. You know many small business owners. In my job, I try and convert as many of my friends who are small business owners to become clients of ours. I have a neighbor who used to tell me about the effort he'd go to to make a deposit at one of our branches. It required him to leave his business, because he needed access to those funds. The check that he'd just received in the mail, he needed in his account to be able to pay his bills and his payables. He would stop what he was doing at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon to drive 10 minutes to our branch, make a deposit. Then, by the time he'd gone back to his work, was settled back in, it'd cost him as hour.
What we were able to do through the result of that conversation we had one afternoon in the street in front of our house was put a scanner on his desktop that moves that activity from 1:00 in the afternoon, 2:00 in the afternoon, which is a prime time for him to be building and growing his business. He now does it at 6:00, 6:30, 7:00 at night, makes that same deposit. The funds go through that night and he's kept that time open in the middle of his day to really focus on driving his business. For him, that's a time-saverthat's really accomplished the same thing as dropping what he was doing and entering the bank. We developed technology like that where we have a desktop scannerthat sits on a client's desk and they can make deposits or is, as I think you're aware, people can use their mobile phones to make a deposit right when they get that check. Both those ways are ways that we've completely changed the dynamic of getting money into the account and getting access to those funds.
Gregg Stebben: Let's change the conversation to payables, the things we pay. We're talking about a story called Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow. It's on the Bank of America Small Business site, bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/education. I'm talking with Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive for Bank of America. How do we apply the same kind of efficiency of thinking and these tools and these processes to the part of our business which is where we pay our bills? What kind of things can we do there to be more efficient?
Will Barr: A couple thoughts in that regard about being smarter with the way that you pay for things. In our space, we've built online and mobile capabilities that can do a couple things. They can, one, help our clients avoid incurring late fees and penalties. But they can also manage when you make a payment and actually holding onto your funds longer. Think about that, Gregg, in the sense that a lot of folks are very financially responsible and will want to pay an invoice the minute they get it so they can move it from the inbox to the outbox. I think that's a great practice. But that doesn't mean that the funds that you're paying have to go out today, and that you can schedule that payment to say, "Hey. I got this bill today. It's August the 7th. It's not due till August the 31st. Why do I want to pay that guy before August 30th?" I can do that. I can go into online banking and I can schedule that payment. I get an e-mail confirmation that it's going to go out.
But that gives me access to those funds over the course of the month if I may need them for other things or I need ... something comes up that's more urgent. A lot of these capabilities can help somebody hold their money longer, or setting up those same type of scheduled payments can make sure that you don't miss important dates that might ... a rent payment or a mortgage payment. Those types of things are other ways that people use these electronic tools and reminders to make sure they're not missing those dates.
Gregg Stebben: One of the things you suggest in this article is to negotiate with vendors. Is that something I do now or is it something I do when I'm having a cashflow problem? Or do I do it now so that when I have a cashflow problem we already have a good friendly relationship?
Will Barr: I think it's something you want to do in advance, in the sense that you want to understand and communicate to your vendors that being timely, being responsible is something that's of critical importance to you. That openness in many ways will generate that sense of trust with the vendor. I think it's always important to have that conversation upfront. Certainly the particulars of any given situation may be hard to cover or anticipate when you're initially doing that. But as soon as you know you're going to have a problem, I think vendors will appreciate that transparency, and that trust that's built as a result of that is likely to get you ... not a guarantee by any means, but is likely to get you the break that you're looking for or the patience or the understanding on the part of vendors.
At the same time, Gregg, you've got to realize that those vendors are in business and they want to get paid on time. You need to be thoughtful and careful about how to do that, when to do that. But I'm of the opinion that upfront communication anticipating if and when those situations may occur, you've already had the conversation, is advantageous.
Gregg Stebben: It seems to me that this is one of those times where if you think about how you would respond to this circumstance will be really helpful. Obviously if someone's going to have trouble with a payment, you'd rather know earlier than later. You'd rather have it be transparent. You don't want to feel like they're trying to pull the wool over your eyes. So treating those vendors like you'd like to be treated is probably a really good way of figuring out the best way to proceed.
Will Barr: I agree. This probably applies in a lot of different aspects of life. But if a due date for a bill comes and goes and you don't hear anything, there's much more consternation on your part than if somebody has called you in advance and said, "Hey. I'm working through a bit of a tough time. It's three days before it's due. I'd like you to know I need a couple more days and I'll plan to get it to you on this date." They're much more inclined to understand that than they are if they just never hear from you.
Gregg Stebben: Absolutely. One of the other things you suggest in this article, which is called Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow, it's at bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/education, you suggest upgrading your payroll system. I think that's a much longer conversation, and I hope we can have that conversation sometime. I want to move on to the last part of the article, which is you suggest that during periods of positive cashflow that small businesses make sure they're setting aside some money as a financial cushion for when there might be a down cycle. Do you find that even on the branch level this is something that your business bankers are able to coach your business clients through to help them understand how to do it, how much to set aside, and where to put it?
Will Barr: I do. I think this is something that we talk about both on the personal and the business side of our role as a financial advisor to our clients, is really understanding the priorities that you face, the stages of where you are both from a business and a personal lifecycle standpoint, and this is a key component. Saving for that rainy day. Recognizing that when times are good there may be times that are not so good, and how do you prepare now for those? In many cases I recognize this is easier said than done, but it is something that we're prepared to talk about and help clients understand how best to use excess funds that they may be holding, whether it's to save them, save portions of them, use that frankly in those good times to apply for credit that you may need in a later date. Those are all things that we really spend a lot of time with our sales teams talking about and helping them prepare for these conversations with our clients.
Gregg Stebben: He is Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive. We're here on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with Bank of America and ForbesBooks. We've been talking about an article on the Bank of America Small Business site. It's at bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/education. Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow. Will, thanks so much for joining us.
Will Barr: Gregg, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Narrator: Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks, at forbesbooks.com, and Bank of America, at bankofamerica.com.