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Been There, Done That? is a series from award winning business journalist Rachel Bridge, exploring the most important things you may – or may not – have considered for your business. In this piece, Rachel tackles the perennially unpopular, and often misunderstood, issue of managing cash flow.
How much money enters - and then leaves - your business every week? Forgive us if we’re stating the obvious – but you really need to know these numbers.
But if the very thought of cash flow makes you want to plug your ears and cover your eyes, you’re not alone. But then the good news is that you already know the truth; it’s the lifeblood of your business. And just to hammer that home, research shows again and again that small more business failures are due to poor cash flow than anything else. Just try a Google search.
So, are you paying it enough attention?
Professor Costas Andriopoulos is Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Cass Business School. He says: “Smaller businesses typically focus a lot on their product and their customers, without thinking about how much money they’re burning. As a result, many of them run out of cash. Managing cashflow requires discipline but is vital.”
It’s simply the amount of money that’s being transferred in and out of a business, and – crucially – the rate at which that’s happening.
At any given moment, your cashflow is a snapshot of your financial position, and ultimately determines whether you’ll have enough money available.
Cashflow is different from revenue (the amount of money coming in). It’s the rate of which money is coming in, minus the rate at which its going out.
A lot of time can pass between i) when the goods are supplied and ii) the payment due date. Business customers might pay 30, 60 or even 90 days after receiving goods – and that’s assuming they pay on time.
So managing cashflow is an active thing you should probably be doing. Here are some starters for 10:
Make a weekly forecast showing the expected flows in and out of your business. Then, (never mind whatever delays are taking place in real life) you’ll be able to quickly see where your shortfalls are, and you can work on filling the gap.
Get a handle on your invoicing system. Make sure you have processes in place to get paid as soon as possible – send out invoices promptly and chase them until they’re paid.
Beware of over-trading, a common problem affecting those of us who are ambitious. This happens when your business receives a big order (yay!) but doesn’t have enough money to pay for the raw materials or staff to fulfil it (boo).
If this happens, there are ways around it, but you must address the problem immediately – either by getting more funding, or by staggering the order, or by agreeing interim payments from the customer.
Kiryl Chykeyuk is the founder of Kino-mo (www.kino-mo.com), which makes 3D holographic projectors. He and his team won the Start-Up category in #VOOM 2015.
He says: “It’s imperative for any hardware start-up to be in control of their cashflow. There are two stages for businesses like ours – the first is developing the product and setting up a supply chain.
“This is when it’s important to know your numbers – what you pay and when. Then, once you’ve set up a supply chain, you move to shipping the product to your customers. This is when you have to plan everything carefully in advance – literally everything – to manage your cashflow. You need to know all the terms on which you deal with your factory and your customers, and you need to know how much money you’ve got today. It’s not just about one spreadsheet – it’s about multiple spreadsheets. You’ve got to understand what’s going on.”
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