Winning a large piece of new business or an influx of new clients is every entrepreneur’s dream. But that dream can quickly turn into a cash-flow nightmare if your business doesn’t do the right preparation and have a solid growth strategy.
Cash Flow Basics:
What is cash flow? It’s basically the movement of funds in and out of your business. You should be tracking this either weekly, monthly or quarterly. There are essentially two kinds of cash flows:
- Positive cash flow: This occurs when the cash funneling into your business from sales, accounts receivable, etc. is more than the amount of the cash leaving your businesses through accounts payable, monthly expenses, salaries, etc.
- Negative cash flow: This occurs when your outflow of cash is greater than your incoming cash. This generally spells trouble for a business, but there are steps you can take to remedy the situation and generate or collect more cash while maintaining or cutting expenses.
Achieving a positive cash flow does not come by chance. You have to work at it. You need to analyze and manage your cash flow to more effectively control the inflow and outflow of cash.
Profit versus Cash Flow
Profit does not equal cash flow. You can’t just look at your profit and loss statement (P&L) and get a grip on your cash flow. Many other financial figures feed into factoring your cash flow, including accounts receivable, inventory, accounts payable, capital expenditures, and debt service.
A positive cash flow is actually needed to generate profits. You need enough cash to pay your employees and suppliers so that you can make goods. It’s the sale of those goods that helps generate a profit. But if you don’t have the money to make the goods, you don’t end up with the profit. So you really need to structure your business to have a positive cash flow if you want your business to grow and increase profits.
How to Improve Cash Flow
Most business owners see growth as the solution to a cash-flow problem. That’s why they often achieve their goal of growing the business only to find they have increased their cash-flow problems in the process. Plan for growth and the related cash outlays in advance, so they do not come as a surprise.
- Collecting receivables– To speed up the receipt and processing of receivables, the SBA suggests several steps. Spring for a lockbox service, post office boxes serviced by banks so that customers in far flung locations can mail payments there and the checks will be processed by the banks more quickly. Ask customers to preauthorize checks so that banks can draw against their accounts at timed intervals. Centralize your banking at one bank. Ask customers to pay with depository transfer checks, a relatively cheap fund transfer. You can also try offering discounts to customers if they pay bills quickly.
- Tightening credit requirements – Businesses often have to extend credit to customers, particularly when starting out or growing. But you have to do your research beforehand to determine the risk of extending credit to each customer. Can they pay their bills on time? Is their business growing or faltering? Are they having cash-flow problems? The SBA recommends getting a Dun & Bradstreet report on potential customers and asking them to fill out a credit application. You should also check references.
- Increasing sales– If you need more cash, it seems like a no brainier to go out and try to attract new customers or sell additional goods or services to your existing customers. But this may be easier said than done. New customer acquisition is essential to a growing business, but it can take time and money to convert prospects into sales. Selling more to existing customers is cheaper and you may be able to do this by analyzing what they’re buying and why – information that may even lead you to increase your profit margin and, hopefully, generate more cash.
- Securing loans– Short-term cash flow problems may sometimes necessitate a business taking out a loan from a financial institution. Some possible types are revolving credit lines or equity loans, according to the SBA. Most of the time this type of borrowing accomplishes its goals, although during the financial crisis many banks were canceling credit lines and calling in loans.