Managing Your Cash Flow In A Tough Year

A lot of small business owners are looking at new ways to maintain cash flow through the end of a tough year.

A survey of small businesses in the U.S. shows the comfort level with cash flow holding steady over the second and third quarters – about 55 percent said they were comfortable with their cash flow in July vs. 56 percent in May.

Less than half of the retailers in the survey said they were comfortable with cash flow, according to the Q3 Small Business Index by MetLife and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, 57 percent of small businesses in the service industry reported being comfortable with theirs.

Small businesses are especially vulnerable to the financial impact of the coronavirus and an uncertain economy so staying on top of cash flow is critical.

“One of the most important components that contributes to the success of your business is bringing in and maintaining a healthy cash flow,” says a post on the software and services comparison site Merchant Maverick.

If you’re looking at ways to manage cash flow at your small business through the challenges this year had brought, consider these ideas (or reminders):

Send Invoices Quickly. Staying on top of invoicing customers is particularly important for small businesses that already run tight cash flow margins.

“Sales and invoices are the lifeblood of a small business,” writes Chelsea Krause for Merchant Maverick, which reviews merchant account providers, credit card processors, loans, accounting, and point-of-sale software.  “You can’t get paid if you don’t send invoices. It’s as simple as that.”

Keep Assessing Expenditures. The key to increasing cash flow is not just bringing in more cash inflows, but also limiting outflows. This means managing your expenses just as aggressively as your sales.

You may have already made cuts in response to the pandemic, but it may be time – as you close out the year – to scrutinize further expenditures at your small business.

Small businesses should re-review expenses for consultants, freelancers, staff, rent, telephone, equipment, and applications/software, advises a post on XU Hub, which is collaboratively produced by an independent group of accounting software Xero users in the U.K.

“Every subscription making it past the cutting room floor is mission-critical,” says the XU Hub blog. For example, it says, if you’re using one app for messaging that also offers video conferencing — don’t use another service for that.

Keep capital sources lined up. Whether it’s about accessing lines of credit or other cash positions like cash-value life insurance, business owners should have potential capital sources lined up.

“This might include tapping into savings, liquidating stock holdings, or borrowing from family members, writes Glenn Curtis in an Investopedia post.

“A small business owner must have access to capital or have a creative way to obtain funds to make it through,” he says.

Careful Where You Cut. As you review ways to improve cash flow, be careful not to cut expenses that could affect your sales negatively.

While it’s crucial for small businesses to keep a handle on costs in tough times, be wary of making dramatic changes to key components, writes Ben McClure in a post for Investopedia.

As an example, he cites a pizzeria that might be considering purchasing cheaper cheese or sauce ingredients.

 “Note that the strategy could backfire if customers become dissatisfied with the taste of the pizza and sales decrease,” McClure says.

“The key is to make cost and other cuts that don’t compromise the quality of the finished product. Perhaps there is a way to cut the price of takeout boxes or paper napkins instead.”

Streamline Processes. Another important aspect of managing cash flow is finding ways to run more efficient operations. Identify areas you might be able to streamline processes.

“Focus on cutting time, not just costs,” says the Merchant Maverick blog post. “Analyze all of your current business processes and judge how efficient the current process is, and if there’s any way to speed up that process.”

For example, Krause writes, “that might mean implementing accounting software to send invoices faster or rethinking your employees’ inventory assembly process.”

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