10 Steps to Cashflow Heaven
1. Set cashflow targets
One way of controlling cashflow is by preparing and maintaining a cashflow forecast. Andrew Johnson, financial controller for telephone conferencing provider Powwownow, advises that this can be updated weekly, to provide an accurate outlook for the next six to 12 months.
He says: "Setting targets for the credit controllers is an excellent way to ensure it is given the attention necessary and provides a level of satisfaction and ownership to hit and beat these."
2. Agree clear payment terms
"If you don't start off knowing what your payment terms are, it is difficult to know when you are going to get paid, " she says. "If you don't know when a payment is overdue, how are you going to manage your cashflow?"
For construction firms working on government projects, an Act of Parliament commits to payment within 30 days down to the third rung of the supply chain. But Nichol says businesses in other sectors would do well to insist on the same terms: "In our view it is also good business to pay within 30 days. Your employees need paying in 30 days and your suppliers also need paying in that time."
3. Invoice quickly
Some factors that influence cashflow are in a business's own hands, including when to invoice. Marion Thomson, of Embarc Ltd Accountants, advises SMEs to invoice clients as soon as the work is completed.
"If you wait two weeks after the work has been complete, then it should be fairly obvious that it will take a further two weeks before that cash arrives in your bank account," she says. "Issuing your invoice by email will mean it will get there immediately and you will have a record of it being sent."
4. Make payments easy for customers
Making payments should be made as easy as possible for your customer, Thomson advises. "Try to avoid being paid by cheque as it will result in delays before the money arrives in your bank account," she says. "Online payments are a much better option."
5. Offer clients fixed rate payment packages
One way that SMEs can ensure good cashflow is by offering periodic payment packages, a strategy which Yva Yorston of Boost Business Support has adopted for her clients. She says the hourly rate, which she has traditionally used for her virtual assistant business, offers no way of predicting her income from month to month.
"To overcome this, I have developed retainer packages for a fixed number of hours each month, which are billed in advance," she says. "This way, I get paid up front rather than in arrears, and I can plan my spending and business growth more easily. The peace of mind this gives me is priceless."
6. Establishing payment arrangement that minimises debtor days
Every business experiences a gap between invoicing and payment, but Powwownow's Andrew Johnson suggests they can minimise these.
"One excellent way to ensure these remain stable is to establish direct debit as a business norm for collecting receipts. It allows a business to scale without increasing the costs required to collect the debt, while also providing a stable inflow of cash from which all payments can be made from."
Fitness instructor Tanya Pascal who runs an adventure bootcamp franchise in Surrey, says her business has seen a "massive turnaround" since moving to direct debit payments from upfront payments for blocks of sessions. "For my customers it's a no-brainer to go onto direct debit and it's a regular income for me," she says.
7. Use technology to manage cashflow
Technology can make it much easier to manage cashflow. Andy Harrold, of Aberdeen Gardening Services, said cloud-based accounting is the biggest time-saver for his business, allowing him to work more effectively, free up time, and keep a better track of his business cashflow.
He adds: "Not only has it given me flexibility on where I can view my accounts, but it has also removed the worrying hassle of backing up all that data. I can now view my accounts on the move via my laptop, tablet or mobile phone and keep up to date with my financial situation."
Accounting software can also help entrepreneurs with limited time for administration such as Ali Hardy, who runs design consultancy Studio Husky in his spare time. "The convenience of having reliable accounting software and advice available 24/7 is a real key," he says.
8. Do not focus on profit, focus on cashflow
Agnes Cserhati of AC Powercoaching estimates that 90% of the SMEs she works with do not have a cashflow plan from day one, despite having forecasts of profit margins for years ahead. She says this is a common reason for early business failure.
"If your cashflow is in order, your profit will be in order," she says. "A lot of businesses do not make it past six months. They might have been a profitable business eventually, but they need to have good cashflow to survive."
She also encourages young businesses to work with reliable, quick-paying clients initially, even if it means smaller clients and slimmer profits margins.
"You need to look at your payment terms," she says. "Don't be blinded by profit margins."
9. Train an employee to monitor your cashflow
Joanna Norris, partner at Ratio Law LLP says: "As a small law firm, we have to be particularly clever with our cashflow, as we have a lot of regular and substantial outgoings and our income stream can be unpredictable.
"To counter this we've trained our office manager to keep an extremely close eye on our daily credits and debits to ensure there is always sufficient cash in the bank. At the end of the day, cash really is king."
10. Keep the bank informed
Banks can offer businesses useful services like overdrafts or credit, particularly when they are starting out.
"If we see anything unexpected, we go away and let the bank know so there are no shocks. My partner is on first name terms with our banker and gives them the same respect as we would give to our clients. We speak to our contact at the bank every four to six weeks and we are incredibly frugal about what we spend our money on – our bank appreciates that."