Above all else, every business needs cash to survive. Not IOUs or intangible assets, but cold hard cash sitting in your bank account that your business can use in an emergency. A small business owner must manage their cash flow to ensure that the business has enough money. Banks will not just grant a loan to small business short on cash like they might with a larger corporation, so creating a positive cash flow is one of the most important things a business owner can do.
Fortunately, a lot of the steps towards maintaining a good cash flow are fairly intuitive. Here are some basic steps which every new business should do to ensure a solid starting cash flow.
Prepare a Cash Reserve
Murphy’s Law is a thing. It always seems that it is right when a business has negative cash flow that it gets hit with sudden emergency expenses or a loss in revenue. But if your business can save money during prosperous periods, it will have a cushion during tight periods and ensure that negative cash flow is not an immediate, catastrophic crisis.
Knowing how much cash reserves your businesses should hold onto at any period is tricky, but a general idea should be to keep somewhere between three to six months’ worth of operating expenses. That number can vary a lot depending on factors such as what stage a business is in as well as whether it is in a more volatile industry or not. Entrepreneur has an excellent guide on some of those potential factors.
Conduct sales forecasts
Sudden emergency expenses are inevitable for any business. But all too often, these “sudden” expenses or drops in revenue are really things which a forward-thinking business should have anticipated in advance. As an obvious example, many stores will see reduced income in January as the holiday season comes to an end.
Every business should look at past sales and expense numbers, identify problematic periods during the year, and create a forecast which will provide a rough estimate for how much your business can expect to earn during the coming months. You cannot completely simulate the future and there will always be surprises, but gathering information and making predictions in advance can ensure your business is ready to handle new challenges.
Pay bills on time, but not early
You may feel responsible when your business pays its bills in advance, but remember that time is money. There is no reason to pay a $500 bill now instead of paying $500 when the bill is due next week. If something urgent happens during that week, that extra $500 could help stave off any immediate emergencies.
If you intend to pay a bill in advance, talk to your creditor and see if they will give you a discount if you pay in advance. Similarly, you may want to offer a discount to customers who pay you early. It is often better to have cash in the bank now as opposed to waiting for a customer to pay you a somewhat larger sum eventually.
Get an Accountant
Practically no business owner wants to stare at financial numbers all day. While you may be tempted to save money by doing your business’s finances yourself, you may end up making more mistakes than a professional or losing morale by the drudgery that can be bookkeeping.
A business accountant can help your business so much more than by merely tracking expenses. Accountants can offer you additional financial advice beyond managing your cash flow, help you lower your taxes and expenses, and let you focus on the parts of running a business that you like. If you cannot afford a full-time accountant, then get a part-time bookkeeper who can still organize your business’s finances for a few hundred dollars per month.
Ensuring a positive cash flow is not just about getting as much money as possible, but ensuring that your business does not waste money as well. While slashing costs to the bare minimum may not always be the best move for your business, there is always fat that you can trim to improve your business’s bottom line and cash flow.
Some possible methods to reduce expenses include buying used equipment, not always going for the latest in technology, and employing content or social media marketing over traditional advertisements. The Houston Chronicle has a few other examples of how a business can try to slash costs without negatively affecting worker productivity or customer service.
Managing your cash flow requires preparing in advance, knowing what areas your business is struggling to make money in, and ensuring that your business is paid in time and costs are low. But if you work on keeping cash on hand, this will ensure that your business always has a cushion during more troublesome times and can keep afloat while less cautious competitors fail.
Featured photo credit: Sean McMenemy via flic.kr