Cash-Flow Woes and Antidotes

Lucky you.  Your sales pitch to prospects is working and clients are stacked up like planes landing at O’Hare.  Receivables are numerous and the balance sheet rocks.  So how can it be that you almost didn’t make payroll  (again)?  How can you come up short on cash,  with all the business you’ve created?

Like so many business owners,  especially those who are new or who suddenly acquire a competitive advantage that creates a tidal wave of business,  you did not recognize the signs that a cash-flow crash was impending,  regardless of how much money was scheduled to flow into your coffers.  You placed your primary focus on creating business (which is vital),  but neglected to monitor the ebb and flow of revenues and expenses (which are vital).  Every business owner must keep an eye on the money ball and take corrective actions as needed,  if we want to keep the business alive and thriving because quite perversely,  as sales go up,  cash can go down.

Here is one example of how a cash-flow crash might happen.   As business expands,  staying on top of accounts receivable becomes more time-consuming.  Those in service businesses  (like website design or public relations) may find that clients,  oftentimes larger businesses whose names we crave for our client list,  may unilaterally decide to pay receivables in 60 days,  instead of 30 days.   Meanwhile,  you have payroll,  office rent,  phone bills,  auto insurance and numerous other operating expenses that are due somewhere between right now and 30 days.

Another cause of cash-flow crashes is improper pricing.  You may sell a ton of T-shirts but if the profit margin is too thin,  you’ll find that excellent sales volume as demonstrated by number of items sold does not overcome an inadequate mark-up.  Revenues generated will not cover expenses.  It will be necessary to either acquire the product less expensively,  or raise the price.

A growing business brings up still more issues that keep its owner awake at night: capital expenditures.  You will need to decide whether or not and when  (or not)  to upgrade office equipment,  open a new office or move to larger quarters,  or hire more workers to keep up with the growing number of customers.

Fail to invest in capacity and you leave money on the table,  plus dissatisfied customers who are likely to kill you on social media.  Get fooled by the romantic delusion of further growth,  invest in demand that never materializes and you are stuck with potentially crippling debt that can bankrupt the business.

That is quite the dilemma and only the best fortune-teller can give the right answer.  John Terry,  of Churchill Terry business advisers in Dallas, TX,  recommends that the business owner focus on one question only when evaluating the possibility of making large capital investments:  will it bring money in the door?  If not,  find a less expensive alternative or learn to make do without it.  Successful business owners learn to preserve and protect liquidity.  Here is an effective antidote:

  • Hire a savvy bookkeeper or accountant to function as the business controller ( full or part-time)
  • Each week,  collect the data on key financial indicators: accounts payable,  accounts receivable,  available cash and the quick ratio (cash + receivables / current liabilities + payables) to monitor that all-important liquidity
  • Each month,  collect the data on these indicators: accounts receivable turnover ratio (how long does it take to get paid?),  the operating cash-flow ratio (cash-flow from operations / current liabilities)  and the pre-tax net profit margin

It is imperative that you are able to pay obligations when they are due and for that you need cash in hand.  Analyze the above indicators weekly and monthly and learn what is really happening behind the scenes of your business.  Track the available cash trends over time.

Seasonal variations may become evident.   You may have to step up collections of receivables or approach certain clients about speeding up payments.  You may have to request more money up-front before taking on certain projects,  so money will come in faster.  You may need to trim expenses.  You may need to raise prices.  The decision of whether to invest in capital upgrades will become clearer.

There are software programs that will track important data and help business owners resolve problems and set priorities.  Accounts receivable,  cash,  inventory and liquidity can be monitored,  along with confirmation on whether the business is on target to meet budget and revenue goals.  For those businesses that get a lot of repeat business,  it is also possible to track the profitability margins of key clients.

Thanks for reading,


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