Why Manage Cash Flow?
One of the most difficult parts of running a small business can be managing the cash flow. You may ask, “What is cash flow and why is it important?” Cash flow is essentially the money coming in and flowing out of your business. Managing cash flow can be a deciding factor in whether your business will succeed or fail.
Your business will fall into one of two categories at any given time – positive or negative cash flow.
If you take in more cash than you pay out, good for you – you have positive cash flow! Sources of cash coming into your business can be customer sales, investor funds, interest earned from savings & investments, and loan receivables. Having a large positive cash flow can lead to new business opportunities such as hiring more employees, opening new locations, and adding services or product lines.
If you have more cash flowing out of your business than coming in, watch out! This is negative cash flow, which could mean your business is losing money or simply reflects poor timing of income and expenses. Negative cash flow does not necessarily mean loss; however, it may indicate ineffective credit management, leakage of funds through fraud, or actual loss. A business with long-term negative cash flow is unsustainable. Long-term negative cash flow is harmful to your business’s finances and over time, you will run out of funds if you cannot earn enough income to cover expenses. Good news is you can remedy this situation by generating or collecting more cash while maintaining or cutting expenses.
Here are some Cash Flow Management tips for small business owners:
- Improve Incoming Cash Flow. The ultimate goal is to convert sales into cash as quickly as possible. Create and maintain good Accounts Receivable management policies. Be sure to be specific, consistent, and stay on top of these accounts. Keep cash balances in interest-earning accounts. Consider requiring deposits on large product orders or retainers on service contracts. Having a streamlined and efficient AR process can positively impact marketing, sales, customer service and overall operations.
- Manage Payables. Watch your expenses carefully to make sure cash inflow exceeds cash outflow. Anticipate future needs. Note any patterns, seasonal trends or other contributing factors that might affect your cash flow. When choosing suppliers, consider payment terms as well as price. Review expenses and suppliers regularly to lower costs. Consider repairing capital equipment rather than replacing. Buy used equipment. Delay product upgrades until absolutely necessary.
- Establish a Base Minimum of Funds to afford the day-to-day Operating Expenses. Figure out what your break-even point is. A good practice is to have a list of monthly recurring bills for the business (rent, utilities, insurance, office supplies, dues & subscriptions, payroll). Take it one step further and build a budget!
- Build Reserves. In managing a business’s cash flow it is vital to plan for contingencies and the future. Put a portion of income away into reserves to cover operating expenses during slow times, plan for large purchases (equipment, buildings, land), save for taxes, and so on. Set aside funds for the unexpected cash flow shortages, expenses, or losses. Have a plan to build up and maintain reserves to cover at least 3 to 6 months of operating expenses.
- Too Much Cash? Most business owners understand the trouble of not having enough cash on hand. But what about having too much? (Crazy, I know!) Having too much cash on hand for precautionary measures can cause you to miss out on investment opportunities that can increase future cash flows. Too much cash on hand can also spark inadequate control of spending and increase risk of careless decisions such as spending cash on wasteful acquisitions and bad projects. Examples would be a company buys equipment, hires staff, or moves to a larger office which in turn incurs ongoing implications like adding or increasing fixed costs.
- Keep Accurate, timely Accounting Records. This is essential to understanding your business’s financial standing. Invest in an accounting management system that fits your business needs. Consider hiring internal accounting personnel or outsourcing to a qualified bookkeeper and accounting firm to maintain the company’s records and provide guidance. Accurate, timely accounting records provide you with real-time data for better reporting and forecasting which help you make smart decisions.
- Track Cash Flow on a regular basis. At a minimum track cash flow weekly, monthly or quarterly.
- Avoid Debt. Having a good handle on your company’s cash flow can limit the exposure to taking on debt.
Many business owners have the common misconception that profits and cash flow are the same thing. They are not. Remember cash flow is the amount of available cash in a business at any given time as a result of the inflow & outflow of money. Understand profits do not always correlate to having a positive cash flow. Your business may have high gross profit; however, at the end of it all can have a negative net profit. This means your costs are greater than the income coming into the business.
Cash flow is the lifeblood of your organization and owners that cannot efficiently manage their business cash flow are almost destined to fail. It is a key component to the financial health of your company. Make a habit of managing your cash flow.
Crystal Haight, Principal Consultant of Northwest Books Pros –
A reliable, efficient & adaptable full-charge bookkeeping firm