Negotiate Your Way into Healthy Cash-Flow

Lovely summer is here, generously rewarding us with warm breezes, long days and abundant sunshine.  Summer gives us many gifts but unfortunately, a generous amount of billable hours may not be one of them.  Two possible solutions to the impasse are to step up your networking activity starting in early spring, to help yourself meet and connect with potential clients who are in hiring mode and to let family, friends and referral sources know that you’re looking for projects.  Don’t be shy!

As a self-employed professional, you are the captain of your ship and it is your responsibility to take all reasonable measures to improve your financial position.  Your survival depends on it.  Smart marketing and prudent financial management are the foundation of a successful enterprise.

The most critical aspect of financial management for Freelance consultants and small business owners is to collect accounts receivable as quickly as possible, so that adequate cash-flow is maintained and accounts payable, employees and subcontractors can be paid on time.  Regarding your accounts receivable, I recommend that you take the following actions to encourage on-time payments:

  1. During the project specs discussion propose a payment schedule, perhaps tied to the timing and achievement of certain project milestones.
  2. Request a down payment of 20% – 35% of the total project fee and unless you’ve previously worked with the client, don’t start the project work until it is in hand.
  3. Invoice according to the agreed-upon payment schedule.

I cannot overstate the importance of these three actions.  Accountants estimate that in a given year, 5% – 10% of professional services providers’ invoices will be uncollectible.  The client is not always entirely at fault.  Freelancers must demonstrate that we intend to get paid and that’s done by being serious about the project payment schedule, requiring a project fee down payment and on-time invoicing.

Another helpful tactic is to make money by saving money.  Examining your accounts payable might help you gain a few dollars each month.  The number one accounts payable tactic is to avoid paying late fees by any means necessary.  Several years ago, many companies recognized that late payment fees are a very lucrative passive revenue stream and so they doubled, or even tripled, their penalties.  Some also shortened the length of their grace period window, when a late fee could be avoided.  Defend yourself from this predatory practice by flagging all accounts payable with their due dates as they arrive and make every effort to pay on time.

Another reason to pay on time is that a good payment record can sometimes be used to negotiate a lower credit card interest rate or request that certain fees might be waived or reduced at your bank.  While you’re on the phone and in the mood to negotiate, call your cell phone company and internet service provider and see what they can do to lower your monthly bill.

Adequate cash-flow is the life blood of every business, required to finance all business operations, including marketing campaigns, technological upgrades, professional development and other activities that support the venture.  No business can function effectively, much less grow and thrive, without healthy cash-flow.  Your diligence and negotiation skills can contribute substantively to its maintenance.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Fruit and Vegetable Seller (1631) by Louise Moillon (France, 1610 – 1696) Courtesy of La Musee du Louvre, Paris

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Cash-Flow Therapy

So many businesses in the U.S. are undercapitalized; insufficient cash-flow is a factor in the demise of many ventures that might otherwise succeed.  Cash is king, it is often said, and the wise business owner will do what is necessary to maintain adequate cash-flow in his/her organization.

Make friends with the basic three financial documents and learn to use them as analytical tools.  They exist to enable your success and they will signal you when corrective action must be taken.

Monitor the top line of your company’s Income Statement (sales revenue/ billable hours).  Observe the ebb and flow of the accounts receivable (who owes your business money) and payable (to whom you owe money) on your Balance Sheet.  Make note of the beginning and ending cash balances on your Cash-Flow Statement.  Also on the Cash-Flow Statement, notice the cash sales (representing billable hours payments received as checks, for example) and the operating expenses.

Seasonal variations in billable hours/ sales can potentially exacerbate cash-flow problems if that is an issue in your business (the Christmas to New Year’s slowdown, for example) and pop-up emergency expenses can do the same.  Unfortunately, the outcome for Freelance consultants or other business owners can be a cash deficit, an especially unwelcome state of affairs in a month that involves holiday expenses.

But the primary cause of cash-flow woes is usually a result of persistently insufficient billable hours for services rendered or product sales, perhaps secondary to an anemic client list.

Former Wall Street Journal Assistant Editor Serenity Gibbons points out that if you  struggle to generate enough at the top line, you’re probably facing one of the following challenges:

  • The optimum target clients have not been reached by your marketing campaigns, or the message doesn’t address their priorities or aspirations.
  • The product/ service has limited value to the target clients, or your offerings are overwhelmed by dominant competitors.
  • The product/ service is perceived as too expensive for the value delivered.

It’s time to take control and consider what can be done over the short and long-term to correct the problem.  Do some homework and discover the basic challenges, concerns and goals (as defined by their respective industries) that would motivate your prospective clients and guide their decisions.  Determine why they’re doing business with your competitors and not you.  Moreover, make sure that you are pursuing the best target markets for your products/ services.

A second issue is an administrative one that plagues many Freelancers—-we fail to invoice in a timely and regularly scheduled fashion.  Help your clients to take you seriously and treat you like a “real” business by invoicing when promised. Take measures to improve the odds of getting paid on time and in full.  I’ve lived through this challenge and can report that with a small amount of discipline, it can be overcome.

Third, watch your operating (fixed) and sales related (variable) expenses.  How much are you spending to generate sales revenues/ billable hours? Limit what must get dropped into accounts payable and expand what drops into accounts receivable.

There are usually ways to stem the tide of cash-flow problems, that is, if you take action early enough.  You might start with revisiting your pricing strategy.  Ensure that your pricing reflects the value of your product/ service; that your prices are comparable to what competitors in your area charge for similar services/ products; and that you charge close to the maximum of what clients expect to pay for what you offer. Do some in-depth pricing research, using GSA MOBIS, the federal contract system, as a benchmark.  http://gsa.federalschedules.com/industries/gsa-mobis-consulting-pss-874/

Another useful tactic that serves as a band-aid for cash-flow glitches that are more inconvenient than problematic is your business credit line.  While you’re still able to pay bills on time and have a respectable credit score, investigate obtaining a business credit card through your bank.

Resist the temptation to charge business expenses to your personal credit cards!  Keep business and personal expenses separate and get your arms around the spending in each sector.  Furthermore, a business credit card usually has a much higher credit limit than a personal line and that allows you to more easily make investments in your business and earn cash back and points as you do.

Finally, if inflated business expenses, whether fixed or variable, play a major role in your cash-flow problems, then you will have some decisions to make (re: the selling expenses) and negotiating to do (re: the operating).  If you regularly pay on time expenses for inventory purchases, credit cards, or insurance, for example, get on the phone and ask for lower interest rates or a lower premium.  If variable expenses seem high, reconsider how much you must spend on marketing, advertising, sales and client entertaining.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Baccarat at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, NV, with Frank Sinatra (in black tie) as the card dealer (1959)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Baccarat at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, NV with Frank Sinatra (in bow tie) dealing the cards (1959)