If you’re a budding small business owner or entrepreneur seeking to hone your financial expertise, dedicating time to perfecting cash flow management early on is vital to solidify foundations and ensure continued success. Monitoring and leveraging financial data starts with oversight and control. How does this start for SMBs or solopreneurs with potentially few resources or background knowledge?
Explore why knowing the nitty gritty details of cash flow management is pivotal in determining your company’s legacy, relationship with B2B and B2C clients and growth potential.
Understanding the Foundations of Cash Flow Management
Cash flow management is about having visibility over incoming profits and outgoing expenses. You use this information to inform decision-making and project your organization’s development. SMBs and entrepreneurs need to master it because it influences every aspect of the business. Consider how your monetary choices affect staff morale, from wage increases to embarking on product innovation because of consistently high profit margins.
Practicing cash flow management is about more than knowing your present financial circumstances. You use it for forecasting. The more familiar you become with your immediate cash flow and trends, the better you will be at creating sustainable progress by predicting the future. You become more attuned to what financial choices best serve your current needs while satisfying your employees, customers and stakeholders.
Knowing the Challenges to Effective Cash Flow Management
Several obstacles stand in the way of excelling in cash flow management you’ll want to know before embarking on the journey. Knowing what might stand in your way from accurate data collection and utilization prepares you for roadblocks, which you will be more likely to overcome.
Late Payments and Unintended Fees
It’s almost an expectation to accrue surcharges and late fees in the first several years of operation, but this is unnecessary. You can avoid late payments and penalties that disrupt your cash flow management with strategies like a regulated tax payment schedule and strict contracts.
Let’s say you’re an entrepreneur in graphic design. You became lax in receiving payments because you needed to convince potential clients to choose you over larger competitors. In addition to writing clear guidelines in contracts, you can facilitate flexible, expedited billing and charging through invoicing software. It sends automated reminders while cataloging transaction history. Use it to negotiate payment schedules and timelines while you catch up on past-due payments.
Have you ever pursued a project in school or in your career that expanded far outside the original plan? Suddenly, it requires more resources, time and energy. This is an instance of scope creep, and SMBs and entrepreneurs fall into this trap all the time.
SMBs and entrepreneurial desires are constantly in flux, so you must anticipate the scope of your operations to change with your aspirations and priorities. If you know it might happen, you can take advantage of it.
One of the best ways to handle it is to stand your ground. If you are a wedding planner and your clients already paid for a defined package but want additional services, charge for them. Let them know the new services are outside the scope of the agreement, and even though they may have paid in full for a different package, your time and work are not free.
Superfluous requests may inspire expanding your offerings and adding more revenue streams. See these frustrating attempts at making you go above and beyond as insight into how you could develop.
Understating Your Value
You set your SMB on the wrong trajectory by making your products or services inexpensive. It is a powerful tactic to drive early sales and seal the deal with customer loyalty. After all, SMBs that recognize the gravity of repeat customers for reliable development may boost revenue by 39% more than those that don’t.
How are those customers going to feel when you obtain a steady flow and raise your prices to what you wanted to start with in the first place? Undervaluing or underpricing your products and services means a lack of profitability, which is detrimental to cash flow.
If you fear your primary offerings are too expensive for your community or target audience, consider another avenue that’s still enticing with a higher profit margin. For example, a small restaurant will have higher profit margins off of drinks than meals — investing in a wide array of artisanal drink options helps promote the worth of the food.
Monitoring and Tracking Cash Flow
Now that you know what might stop you from becoming a cash flow expert, It is time to dissect cash flow management into its most prominent categories. You navigate these categories via cash flow statements, which outline financial obligations, like debts and operations, against profits and investments. The report is crucial for knowing your monetary standing and cash flow-to-sales ratio.
Reading a cash flow statement means understanding the nuances between cash inflows, cash outflows, accounts receivable and accounts payable. While they appear similar at first glance, they have pivotal distinctions that influence cash flow consistency and certainty.
Managing Cash Inflows
Cash inflow refers to immediate and certain cash coming into the business. These are the most notable sources of consistent cash inflow:
- Tax refunds
- Investment dividends
Another source of cash inflow is loans, but it is best to change your thinking about how loans look on a cash flow statement. It feels like a positive number, but it causes more cash outflow in the long run.
The best way to regulate cash inflow management is to see inflow through a big-picture perspective. Is the loan going to pay for itself as you expand services or open a new location? Be realistic and consider interest and other factors you may still need to know.
Managing Cash Outflows
Cash outflow encompasses expenses leaving your organization. Here are the most prominent sources of poor cash outflow management:
- Employee wages
- Utilities or rent
- Loan payments
- Digital transformation
- Rapid expansion
You manage cash outflow by being curious. What are ways you reduce expenses while having enough for growth? Additionally, you must read the fine print of every agreement. If you sign on with an electricity provider, did you lock yourself out of price reductions because you didn’t read the terms and conditions? Ask questions and do market research to ensure your expenses make logical sense.
Additionally, you keep better tabs on outflow when you prioritize spending. For example, you may want to incorporate more technology throughout your business, but is spending money on that more important than paying outstanding debt? It may or may not be, but it is up to you to weigh the pros and cons by looking at future impacts.
Managing Accounts Receivable and Payable
The difference between AR and AP to cash inflows and outflows, respectively, is ownership. AR is money you are owed that hasn’t been delivered to you yet. You may have performed the service to earn it, but the payer still has it in their hands. This might look like an unpaid invoice.
AP is the opposite, and it refers to outstanding debts you owe others, such as a loan.
Dedicating yourself to the prompt collection of AR bolsters cash inflow management. Adversely, timely responses to AP improve transparency and dependability. There are strategies for helping both.
Consider offering payment plans or discounts for clients who pay in full to clear out AR. Be empathetic yet stern, because you can also incorporate a collections process as part of agreements. This will help you catch up on AP, but another way to ensure prompt payments is to anticipate charges.
For example, if you hire tax assistance several times a year, earmark additional funds for the months you anticipate higher expenses. You can also negotiate terms that hold you accountable while considering your business performance.
Minimizing cash outflow is another way to secure funds for AP, such as reducing utility or management travel expenses.
Using Cash Flow for Predictions and Analysis
Now, you know what cash inflow and outflow refer to and how to manage it better. The most exhilarating part of that knowledge is using it to see your SMB or entrepreneurial journey in the future.
How to Forecast Cash Flow
Move past pen-and-paper methods of tracking money and use software instead. Programs like Quickbooks made cash flow forecasting automated and more accessible, even to those without higher education in financial subjects. Seek advice from accounting professionals to see what tools fit best for your business model if you don’t want to try and test options yourself.
Programs define KPIs, like operating cash flow and forecasting variances, by pulling historical and incoming data. Many programs explain how they source each metric so you can review each questionable number with evidence.
However, always take this information with a healthy dose of skepticism. You never know when circumstances outside of your control, such as inflation, may impact the data unexpectedly. Cash flow fluctuations are inevitable, so be sensitive to that possibility.
How to Use the Data
You have the data, and you must use it in the most impactful way possible. Process discovery is the most significant application. If you don’t know how to improve or expand your business, cash flow forecasting motivates you to enact more data-driven decisions. For example, your SMB noticed a revenue spike after you began using sustainable packaging. This may correlate to even more bolstered profits if you undergo more green business shifts.
If you don’t want to dive too deep into massive company changes, you can use cash flow forecasting for planning and evaluating how your company is performing. It helps with budgeting, managing working capital, and controlling cash outflow if you have historical data to prove when and where financial assets are going.
Using data for financial planning will assist with investments, too. Noticing how trends are leaning can incentivize deeper commitments or pulling away and reallocating funds to more lucrative ventures.
Additional Cash Flow Improvement Strategies
You know how increasing promptness and reviewing priorities are a few ways to get a grip on improving cash flow. But what are some other strategies you can consider for creating more financial resilience?
- Do market research and segmentation to ensure products and services always stay in demand because you know what is relevant to modern buyers.
- Offer varied payment options.
- Know the industry and what products are causing supply chain disruptions and delays so you know to rely on something other than those products and services.
- Eliminate unnecessary expenses, like company-sponsored dinners.
- Leverage automation to improve productivity and minimize labor costs.
- Refinance assets when applicable.
- Avoid outsourcing when possible.
- Improve customer well-being and safety for reduced liability and insurance claims.
- Invest in brand awareness and deepening customer advocacy for reach.
How creative will you be in finding ways to make cash flow stronger?
Regulating Cash Flow for SMBs and Entrepreneurs
The scope of cash flow management flow is vast. Everywhere SMBs exchange currency is a part of your SMB’s cash flow. Even intangible assets like employee morale and industry knowledge influence the value of every incoming cent. Now that you know how influential cash flow management is to SMBs and entrepreneurs, you’re better equipped than many at the beginning of their journey.