Most small businesses experience cash flow problems from time to time and urgently need working capital. Business owners immediately think of their bank (or loans) when they’re short of money. But there are many more resources you can draw on before you ask for that expensive loan.
You can often free up funds from within your business by re-examining your business systems. The money you need might already be there, locked up in:
Although it may turn out that you will need a short term business loan, it’s a good idea to exhaust other options first.
Are you letting some, or most, of your customers pay late, effectively giving them interest-free use of your money for months?
Here’s how you fix the problem – bill your customers promptly. Ideally, you’d like people to pay immediately, but this isn’t always possible. If you’re invoicing customers, make sure your process is firm.
Work out whether the use of money gained earlier is worth the discount you’re offering. Never give the discount if the person has missed the due date for the discount offer. Yes, some will try this.
Selling your invoices to a finance company (or factoring) is another option you can take. So instead of having to wait 30 days or more until a bill is paid, you receive your money upfront from the finance company that, in turn, collects the money from your customer.
The finance company will of course charge you a commission for this service. Be aware that there are pros and cons to consider. For example, the finance company might be quite heavy-handed about collecting the debts it has bought from you and could antagonize your customers.
Talk to them first about their collection methods.
Do you have too much money tied up in inventory? This can occur by:
Regularly review your inventory levels, your inventory turnover rates, and your purchasing policies. Can you free up money by reducing inventory? What about moving out of the slow-moving lines or having a quick sale of the slow-moving inventory?
It might pay you to reduce some items quite heavily to get some money in quickly.
Can you approach suppliers to take back some excessive inventory you may have ordered? They might help you out of a temporary tight corner as a goodwill gesture if you explain you have a temporary cash flow crisis, but that you wish to build a long-term relationship with them.
These include prepaid expenses, vehicles, plant and equipment, fittings and property, and they’re a possible source of funds.
Ask yourself if you put all your assets to full use. You might be able to sell off little-used assets such as machinery and hire suitable replacements when you require them.
It might make sense to sell your vehicles and lease them for a lower cost instead.
You might, for example, pay your insurance bill for the year all in one hit – but you could arrange to pay small monthly amounts. There might be an additional cost for doing this, but you must weigh up the extra cost against the advantages of 12 small payments that your cash flow can comfortably handle versus one large annual payment.
Then approach your accountant to ask if you can pay a set amount monthly instead of facing a substantial bill once a year.
Do the same with your utility bills – ask to average out your bills, instead of paying relatively small bills in summer and being hit by big ones in winter. Watch out for automatic payments, too. These can often throw out your cash flow projections because you’ve forgotten to include them in your cash flow forecasts.
Apart from the good debt collection habits already discussed, you could consider not offering credit to keep the funds inside your business rather than locked up in accounts receivables.
If your customers are cash-strapped, they can use their business credit cards for purchases from you. However, be aware that you’ll have to pay a percentage in commission on credit card purchases. You might want to take this into account in your terms of trade by including a surcharge for payment by credit card, provided this doesn’t discourage some customers from dealing with you.
If you supply goods over a period of time, or if you’re a service business, invoice for agreed periodic progress payments. This is a common method of ensuring you get some cash flow during a project instead of waiting until the end of a project or delivery period to invoice – and then still waiting at least another 30 days for payment.
What it all boils down to is that every business is capable of squeezing extra cash from several areas, if the business owner can think creatively and make cuts where necessary. Even if you do still need a business loan, it might not be as much as you initially anticipated, if you can raise cash in other ways.
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