For over a decade, cash flow problems have topped the U.S. Small Business Administration’s list of reasons small businesses fail.
Every business grapples with the best way to manage cash flow, but it can also be an indication of a trend to help your business go from reactive to strategic and ready to seize opportunities.
As you work to optimize your business’ cash flow, these tips can help spark important conversations with the right small business banker.
1. Tighten up your receivables process and get paid faster.
The wider the gap between when you service your customers and when they pay you, the more risk you shoulder that they won’t pay you at all. There is also an opportunity cost to not having use of money you’ve earned –sometimes for as many as 90 days after you’ve finished the work.
Don’t forget about the waste of what should have been more money-making hours used instead to chase down payments. These delays in getting paid can cause a dangerous imbalance between cash coming in, and cash going out.
What’s the remedy? Do everything possible to tighten up your receivables process: Invoice promptly, use online invoicing tools that automatically send payment reminders, offer incentives for fast payers, and easy online/mobile payment options if you don’t already.
2. Set and enforce a payment policy.
There’s nothing wrong with developing and communicating a simple, written payment policy up front to your customers. It can even contain good news, like your offer of incentive pricing for prompt payment within a specified window (immediately or within 10 days’ time).
Your policy should use plain English to describe when and how you expect to be paid (including forms of acceptable payment, the currency you deal in, and late payment penalties). Build in some insurance by requiring 50% up-front deposits on larger projects/orders. Having a credit card authorization on file that allows for charging of the client’s credit card on past due bills helps eliminate the time and effort of collection activity.
3. Expand the ways customers can pay you.
For many small businesses, accepting credit cards can seem like a waste of money and an over-complicated fix to something that may not seem broken. But there may be upsides to expanding the ways your customers can pay you. Yes, you will incur a small processing charge for accepting card payments (usually something like 2-3% of the transaction amount), but that fee buys you more than you think. In addition to the convenience factor, getting paid immediately for your work means your money is available for your own business activities right away. On large jobs, this can be huge.
You may already be accepting mobile, credit card and online payments, but can your service provider do more for you? As part of your relationship, are you getting insights about your company, customers and competitors based on card use (like geographic and contact information that can help you stay in touch with customers who already know your business)? Does your bank’s merchant service platform help you automatically encourage customers to come back? Does it help you own the conversation about your business on sites like Yelp, Google and Facebook? Does it alert you when customers post about you, so you can respond to feedback and build a community of loyal, repeat clients?
These tools are invaluable to maintaining healthy cash flow because people visit review sites when they’re looking to spend money. In these and other ways, make sure your merchant services provider goes far beyond just card processing. If not, explore your options. A bank that’s dedicated to helping you thrive will offer that and more.
4. Maintain access to a line of business credit.
Rapid business growth is a positive sign, but it can sometimes be accompanied by cash flow constraints. You might well be increasing your overhead and costs faster than you can bring in the cash to pay for them. Using a business line of credit (LOC) will give you a cushion of available capital to use when needed.
The best part is that you don’t have to pay for any portion of a business line of credit you’re not currently borrowing. Apply for a LOC before you think you may need it, and be sure to adjust your line of credit with your bank relationship manager at least once a year, to keep pace with your rising sales.
5. Negotiate an extension of your payables.
You may be surprised that many of your vendors and suppliers may be willing to extend your payment window if you simply request it. Of course you need to pay your bills on time, but from a cash flow perspective, there is no reason to pay them early. You may even be able to get terms as far out as net 90 days on some of your larger payments, which could significantly improve your immediate cash flow.
Think about whether you will use ACH vs. Wire transfers (there is a difference!) to pay your suppliers. Consider developing a payment policy for your business payables too, so that you know exactly what kind of electronic fund transfer method you’ll use in every payment scenario. Ideally, once your policy is in place, you don’t have to think about the differences.
6. Use cash flow data to make informed decisions.
Using business credit cards and purchasing cards can help you track everything from travel and entertainment costs, to how much you’re spending on office snacks. Cards can also provide special opportunities, incentives and cash back rewards for your business. You also have net 30 terms on most cards, so you can avoid interest charges and still take a breather before the bill comes due.
Card data can also plug into your accounting software, and can keep your expenses in one account. This can ultimately streamline your accounts payable process and save you time and money.
A good business credit card will offer analytics that can help you see your cash flow trends, spot opportunities, or troubleshoot problems before they become too big. You’ll be able to more clearly see when you have reliable cash flow to make transformative decisions like when to make that key new hire, invest in that equipment upgrade, improve your space, buy more inventory and otherwise take your business to the next level.
7. Get advice.
Connect with a business relationship banker to learn more. The simple act of having a conversation with a personal banker about your business’ cash flow can help you focus on your goals, and alert you to opportunities you may not yet be aware of.
To learn more, visit bank.mtb.com/cashmanagement or connect with a relationship manager.