Posts Tagged ‘cash flow’

Taking Action on Cash-Flow

December 28th, 2015

Cash Flow womanCash flow is the lifeblood of any business, and in any business there are cash flow dangers. There is a capacity for a business to accumulate costs. They gradually grow month-by-month and your cash flow gradually diminishes to a trickle and finally dries up. Your only defense is to watch, record, compare and trend your costs.

Understanding what the numbers mean is crucial to your cash flow. Are sales trending up or down? Are expenses rising faster than sales? Is one product more profitable or better selling than another? How much do I need to sell to meet expenses each month? The answers all lie in the numbers.

The best way to measure cost trends is by analyzing the expense categories in your accounting software, and ideally graphing them to get a better visualization of their impact. If your company’s chart of accounts is properly designed, you can produce the graphs for each cost item and quickly be able to see that your power bill, for example, is gradually rising. This new perspective can now lead to an informed change in behavior that will reduce those costs or at least reduce the increase in those costs.

Once you have established your costs, you should compare them against the industry average, or at least use your own common sense and business experience. If you keep your books accurate and up to date, you will be able to calculate the relationship between your gross sales and the expenditure in any category. For example, with the help of your historical accounting data, you may decide that your postage should be 2% or 3% of gross sales. When you look over your month-end reports, you may discover that it has risen to 5%. Catching it early, you can now take corrective action.

If you are able to control your expenses, you can develop a healthy constant cash flow. When your bills are greater than your sales/receivables, your first reaction is most likely that you need to increase sales and collections. Although that is always a good idea, even when there isn’t a cash flow problem, there is still very good reason to pay particularly close attention to your expenses. If when looking at your figures you see that it takes five dollars to put one dollar on your bottom line, it then takes $5,000 of sales to yield $1,000. This means that saving $1,000 in costs is exactly the same as generating $5,000 worth of sales.

You need to look at your cash flow from an informed perspective. Here are five areas to focus on:

1. Mismanaging Credit
There are two common ways to mismanage credit in small business; granting credit without specific credit policies, and using credit with no plan for how to pay for it.

Both have a huge impact on your cash flow and are often closely related. For example, you have an opportunity to work on a big project, for which you will need to order materials. Your supplier expects payment in 30 days, but you won’t receive cash for the project for 60 days. Right away you’ve put yourself into a cash flow crunch that could take months to recover from financially. In the meantime, you’ve passed on smaller jobs that would have provided quicker cash at less cost. And, if you’re unable to pay your supplier on time, you’ve endangered that relationship as well.

2. The relationship between Receivables and Payables
In a perfect world, what customers owe you would be paid just in time for you to pay what you owe your vendors. But, as any small business owner knows “stuff happens”. The customer you thought would pay this week, doesn’t. So the bills you thought you’d pay this week, don’t get paid. Are your payables in balance with you receivables? If what you owe to others is far more than what is owed to you, then you have a cash flow problem. And if your receivables are particularly old, chances are you’ll never see that cash at all.

3. Focusing on profit instead of cash flow
Is profit the ultimate goal of every business? Did you know that many businesses that fail are operating at a profit? How can that be? For the small business, cash flow is the ultimate goal. No cash flow. No business.

The difference is mostly in the decision making process. If you take on this big job, it will earn you a huge profit, but if you take on five smaller jobs, you’ll have cash to pay your bills. Yes, you want to be profitable, but every decision has to be measured against the effect it will have on cash flow.

4. Don’t forget your debt to the Tax Man
Some bills are easy to forget. Bills like sales tax, payroll taxes, estimated taxes. They just sit out there, almost off the radar. They don’t have to be paid right away. It’s easy to forget about them. But when they’re due, they’re due right now. And you better have the money to pay them or you’re in hot water with the Tax Man. That is not a place anyone wants to be. Pay them late or not at all and you end up with penalties and interest on top of what’s already due. Using the money that needs to go toward taxes to solve cash flow problems results in even more, and probably worse, cash flow problems when those taxes come due. It can take months or even years to recover.

5. Spending your company’s future on a sailboat
Haven’t you always wanted a boat, a fancy car, or a trip to Tahiti? It might be tempting to try to pass your personal purchases off as tax-deductible business expenses. But, it’s a bad idea for two reasons.

The people at the IRS are over-worked, but they weren’t born yesterday. The last thing you need is an audit that could reveal your transgressions and result in an unexpected tax bill plus penalties and interest. No company’s cash flow should have to suffer that indignity.

The other reason it’s a bad idea is that you are spending your company’s future on unnecessary expenses. Small businesses operate close to the edge. Unless you have a reserve to see you through the tough times, you’re always in danger of being on the wrong side of that edge. You must take care of the cash flow first. Then, you can pay yourself a properly taxed bonus and buy all the toys you want.

Turning Dead Inventory into Cash

September 22nd, 2015

Dead InventoryMost small retailers struggle with dead inventory at some point. Slowly, gradually, almost imperceptively over time, the percentage of dead inventory grows. The problem is thought to be modest, because the rate of growth appears to be modest, so modest measures are taken to deal with it. An extra markdown here, a special promotion there, but still there seems to be more of it this month than there was last. Finally, when the sheer amount of inventory involved becomes inescapable, and the realization that the measures to deal with it aren’t close to being sufficient, the whole thing starts to feel overwhelming.

So if you’re looking at a buildup of dead inventory, here are a few ideas to help you get started turning it into cash.

1. Patience and persistence
You didn’t get into this situation overnight, and you’re not going to get out of it overnight (Unless, of course, getting 10 cents on the dollar from a jobber or liquidator makes sense to you, which it may in extreme cases). Build ups of dead inventory are frequently accompanied by a cash flow crunch, so the instinct to search for a quick fix can be strong. The solution, however, rests with a persistent, sustained effort designed to deliver consistent, incremental results. The first and most important step is establishing reasonable, attainable expectations for what can be accomplished in any given period of time.

2. Can you return it?
You never know until you ask. And if you ask firmly, and structure your request as a win/win proposition, most vendors will be reluctant to respond with a flat out “No.” What do you have that your vendor might find valuable in return for its help? Your next purchase order perhaps. A test order on that new item or program your vendor has been after you to try. Maybe an increased share of your business. Open the dialogue, show your vendor the inventory you’re sitting on, it might have outlets that it can sell it to. Make clear that your request is a one-time thing, not a new standard operating procedure. Maybe the best your vendor can do is offer markdown money, or an additional discount off your next purchase order. At a minimum, that would help with cash flow.

3. Segment your dead inventory

It is critical to recognize that dead inventory is made up of merchandise with dramatically different characteristics and market value. Break your dead inventory into three categories, which could be referred to as Still-Sellable, Not-Sellable, and everything else (or Who-Knows-If-It Might-Sell).

A. “Still-Sellable” is the most desirable inventory of the items you haven’t been able to move. It’s the most marketable, and appears to be the easiest to sell and turn into cash quickly. Start here. Break out a style or item, feature it, sign it, price it to move now, and get your cash. When that style sells through, break out the next style or item. If you’ve been struggling with tight cash flow, this will be your quick fix. Most importantly, if you can move this dead inventory you’ll feel like you’re finally making progress.

B. “Not-Sellable” is all the merchandise (aka, junk) you know no one is going to pay a cent for. When you see it mixed in with or merchandised near the “Still-Sellable” items, it makes that look like junk too. So get that junk off the sales floor, away from the rest of your dead inventory, and most importantly, away from your customers. The truth is that since these items have no market value, it doesn’t merit the time and effort necessary to try to sell it. Think about donating it to charity. The resulting tax deduction is one tangible benefit you will receive; another benefit is that the rest of your dead inventory won’t look quite so bad and will likely be more highly valued by your customers. In the end, if you can’t find a charitable organization that will take it, donate it to your dumpster.

C. “Who-Knows-If-It Might-Sell” is everything in between, and can be segmented yet again. After you sell through the “Still-Sellable” items, slice off the next most desirable layer of inventory from this category, feature it, sign it, and price it to move. Understand that each successive layer of inventory is likely to require a greater discount to stimulate customer response. As you go along, in fact, the least desirable inventory in this category will likely start to look and feel more and more like junk, which is a good sign that you’re near the end of the process.

4. Selling dead inventory is not like running a clearance sale

Dead inventory is different than clearance merchandise; it’s generally older and lacking in current demand. If you find a layer of dead merchandise that customers aren’t responding to, pull it back and bring something else forward, then bring the first layer back forward at a later time at a greater discount. If you attempt to move it merely by taking an additional markdown without remerchandising it, as you might with clearance merchandise, you only reinforce in the customer’s mind that it may not be desirable even at that new, lower price.

5. Develop merchandising and selling strategies to minimize the impact on your regular business

The last thing you want is for your store to look like it’s going out of business. You want to protect the brand integrity of your store. This is why a slow, steady approach works best, so that your dead inventory never represents more than a small piece of your overall offerings. For some retailers, it may be a small feature just off the front of the store, or perhaps a dedicated table or rack on a traffic aisle further back in the store.

6. Price it to be irresistible

Forget what you paid for it, or what you are carrying it on your books for. It’s not relevant. Let me repeat this, because it’s an easy point to get hung up on: Forget what you paid for it, it’s not relevant; that was then, this is now. What is relevant now is the price your customers will pay for it, now. And like most everything else in retail, your customers will tell you very quickly whether you have it priced right or not.

7. And then there’s eBay

EBay has emerged as a viable avenue for retailers to sell off dead inventory, but not everything necessarily lends itself to eBay. If you are sitting on highly identifiable, branded items with an established market position, even if those items appeal to a very specific customer, eBay may work for you. The typical eBay shopper is sophisticated and well informed. They are usually looking for something specific, down to a manufacturer’s stock number. They understand the value of what they are looking for so you have to be priced sharply. It’s an absolute must that you competitively shop similar items on eBay before you post your items there.

When you are confronted with a buildup of dead inventory, it’s critical to make a clear headed but realistic assessment of what it’s going to take to move it through. It’s losing market value every additional day it’s sitting there. It represents cash that is likely needed for other critical business purposes, such as paying vendors, reducing debt, and/or fleshing out assortments or stock levels of key items or categories. The time to get started is now.

8 Reasons Small Businesses Can’t Make a Profit

November 11th, 2013

8 Reasons Small Businesses Can’t Make a ProfitI know from running an accounting and bookkeeping practice that many small business owners are making the same mistakes, and those mistakes prevent them from accomplishing the goal of being profitable. After all, a business isn’t there just to make money, it should be profitable.

This list of eight common mistakes that reduce or eliminate profitability is one all small business owners should check themselves against:

1.  Underestimating all the costs involved in producing, packaging and shipping a product
2.  Overestimating the size of the market for a product or service
3.  Undercharging for their services
4.  Not classifying expenses properly to take advantage of tax codes
5.  Purchasing too much, not enough or the wrong kind of insurance
6.  Overpaying on bank fees and credit card fees
7.  No collection process in place for customers that have not paid
8.  Not having accurate, up-to-date reports to provide the above information so corrections can be made

Many business owners try to keep their own records, (or have a spouse or friend help) and because they lack the knowledge and/or time to do it properly, they don’t have the information needed to evaluate and correct potential problems.

Sometimes there is enough money coming into the business to continue despite making many of these errors but correcting them could mean a much better payback for the owner. More often what happens is that the owner gets frustrated and overwhelmed. In such an environment of confusion time is not leveraged properly, decisions can be made in desperation, and more and greater mistakes are made, further distancing the company from its profit objective.

Once a proper bookkeeping system is set up and brought current, the owner can see the whole picture and assess where changes need to be made. Sometimes minor changes like switching to a different bank or credit card company, increasing prices, or outsourcing a specific task can have a big impact on profitability. Other times something more involved is necessary such as implementing a system of pricing levels, changing advertising tactics, or even changing the direction of the company to be able to offer a more competitive and profitable product line.

Having accurate bookkeeping, and its associated reports, provides the business owner with the necessary information to get a clear picture of the economics of the company. Evaluating business operations and making the day-to-day decisions becomes a process based on the facts of the business not the “feel”. Even if your company makes pants, you shouldn’t be running it by the “seat of your pants”.

Top 4 Cash Flow Tips

September 19th, 2013

Water tap dripping dollar bills, Water waste conceptProfit is important because without it your business will fail. But for small businesses, cash flow is king. Your company’s cash flow will determine its profitability, and scrutiny of your business’ cash flow will increase your control over this dynamic. Follow these 4 cash flow tips to establish the structure you need to succeed.

1. Know Your Balance Sheet
Many business people don’t understand how cash flow works and its significance to keeping their business operating. Focusing on the profit and loss statement is potentially a fatal mistake as healthy profits can mask an impending cash flow crisis. Profit and loss statements don’t usually contain the information required to make an adequate cash flow projection. What is need is a structured balance sheet that includes all the influencing items such as debts, interest payments, inventory and so on. You want to see the data that represents your cash flow and which can be employed to project the comings and goings of your cash over the period you have selected.

2. Set Up a Cash Flow Budget, Revise it Periodically, and Stick to It
Plan forward to generate a projection of likely future sales and expenses. You, or your accountant, can set up such a cash flow worksheet in Excel to automate this exercise.

Reviewing and updating your cash flow budget regularly is your best insurance against potential cash shortages. If your business has a predictable cash flow, then revising the cash flow budget on a quarterly basis is probably sufficient. But the greater the cash flow uncertainty a business has, the more frequently a new cash flow budget should be prepared.

If cash is tight, you may need to do to weekly projections, and decide which invoices you’ll pay and which customer payments you need to collect as soon as possible.

Rapid growth sounds good but, ironically, it can bring on a surprise cash crunch. Additionally, a sudden increase in sales often creates an inventory drop that can make the timely fulfillment of orders difficult.  The extra time you spend managing your increased sales often takes up your time and results in debtors not being tracked or followed up on when their accounts become overdue. Strong sales one month often means a cash shortage next month. By monitoring the business’ cash status you can arrange credit from suppliers, banks and other sources such as factoring, to cover the temporary shortfalls.

Just like your company budget, you need to continuously reference your cash flow budget worksheet in order to drive your cash flow situation rather than become a casualty of it. So set that budget and stick to it. As your cash flow circumstances evolve you will need to revise that budget and adjust to the new level of cash management it will then require. Stay on top of your cash flow process.

3. Set Credit, Accounts Receivable & Accounts Payable Policy & Procedure as One Strategy
What credit you allow, how you monitor its use, how you manage the bills you pay, and how you pay the bills you owe, are the components of your cash flow process. How you coordinate them is what determines your actual cash flow, and often times the survival of your company.

Set Your Credit Policy & Terms
If the nature of your business requires offering credit, then it is important to set clear limits to your terms of credit.

Manage Accounts Receivable Strictly
Get payments in quickly. Master the art of debtor management. Let debtors know how much time remains before due dates. Stay in close touch with major debtors as payment deadlines approach. Offer small discounts for early payment as an incentive.

Pay Your Creditors Strategically
Take advantage of credit terms and prioritize payments according to the consequences involved in becoming past-due. Wages, taxes and direct debits are at the top of the list for on-time payment. Key suppliers may be prepared to wait to keep your business. Don’t pay early just to get a discounted price unless getting the discount is better than being without the cash.

Plan for Lean Times
Monitor your bank balances, be aware of when lean cash flow periods are coming up, and plan accordingly. Avoid funding major purchases from your business’ working capital unless you are sure you have the cash to cover it.

4. Get financial products working to your benefit
Overdrafts, premium funding, lease facilities and cash flow funding products such as factoring can all be excellent tools to help match cash supply with outlays. These arrangements take time to set up, so you need to be prepared in advance. In a pinch, the business credit card can be a good way to ease the crunch as long as it can be paid off before interest kicks in.

Of course there are other items that impede proper cash flow, and are important to avoid, such as:

  • tax penalties
  • non-budgeted purchases
  • personal use of company monies
  • making advances and loans to employees
  • having un-deposited checks sitting on your desk
  • not investing excess cash
  • etc., etc., etc….

But the four major categories discussed above should be your first concern as they are the foundation for establishing control over your cash flow and the impact it has on your business’ profit, survival and growth.

5 Ways to Become Profitable

August 23rd, 2013

5 Ways to Become Profitable

All businesses want to make money. And of course if they don’t, then even those with great products or services will fail. Making more money and becoming a profitable business is what it’s all about. Here are five strategies that can help.

1. Change the Way you Operate
Analyze your existing business models and try to establish ongoing revenue streams. If your customers are buying infrequently then you might, for example, sell an ongoing re-supply program or a maintenance plan instead of just a one-time or stand-alone sale. Establish a relationship with new customers and change the relationships with established customers to tie the profitability of their business to your products or services.

Look around, analyze and learn from what your competitors are doing. Think about what you can innovatively apply from those lessons to your business.

2. Become Visible and Connected
If you have a long established company with a great reputation, loyal customers and respected industry experience, then you are probably running a successful business. But along comes the new guy who puts his business on the Internet and posts his credentials all over the place. Everyone, including your customers, can find him. You can’t sit there and assume that just because people know who you are you will remain dominant.

You have to have a marketing plan that addresses the current methods used by potential customers to find the products or services that you offer. When they search the Internet, and you’re not there, or they can’t find you, then in 100% of those cases you will not get their business. A lot of older small businesses don’t have a web-presence. If that’s you, or you don’t have a strategic marketing plan in effect, then you need to take your reputation online through social media, a website and a blog to connect with customers, including the ones you already have, or you won’t have them much longer.

3. Raise the Bar on Marketing
A lot of small businesses think about sales but not marketing. You can’t just go out and try to make sales; you have to have a plan with a strategy coherent to your industry, your company and the prospects you want to target.

In order to track the leads your marketing program generates, you will need customer relationship management (CRM) software, although a well-designed Excel application may be OK as you get started.

Consider using search engine ads, email marketing and other such online advertising.

Give your business an immediate web presence through social media networks including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Offer tutorials, demos, or new certification sessions as webcasts or podcasts for immediate download.

All these types of promotional vehicles need to be on the table because that’s what your competitors are doing.

4. Make Every Person a Salesperson
Some employees don’t think they’re there to promote sales or the business and are just there to collect a paycheck. But those days are gone and those people are the first to be laid off. Everyone should be an income-producing part of the business no matter what their main function might be. Everyone needs to pitch in to help cut costs, sell, and network on the web. Motivate employees to spread the message and reward those who make the extra effort or are producing new business.

5. Streamline Your Costs
If a business is having profit problems, the options are pretty straight forward. You can increase sales, decrease expenses, or do both. Due to the sluggishness of the current economic recovery, sales may not be where you would like them to be, and increasing sales may be a slow road. Decreasing expenses may be a faster way to turn things around. Try fitting expenses into three categories: fixed costs, such as rent and other overhead, sales-related costs that are tied to producing revenue, and discretionary expenses, such as new equipment and bonuses. Examine every single line item looking for ways to save, even with the fixed costs. Telephone and insurance costs may be fixed, but they are also competitive, and therefore negotiable.