The economy is pretty strong right now? But no matter what the economy is doing on any given day, your small business will not survive if you have more money flowing out of it than you do coming in.
You must have a cash flow strategy for your business if you plan on staying in business.
Here are some tactics to help you keep your bottom line in the black.
- If you bill for work after it’s been completed, don’t be an invoice laggard. Get that invoice out the door as soon as the work is completed. No need to wait thirty days to bill. Do it now and you’ll have your payment in hand sooner.
- Get a merchant account or set your business up with PayPal so you can accept credit cards. This will cost you a few bucks, but you’ll have your money in days rather than weeks. Then all you’ll have to say to your customers is, “May I put that on your credit card?”
- Consider setting up your billing on an incremental basis. There are no rules that say you must do the work and then get paid. When you negotiate a contract, set it up so you receive a portion of the payment when you begin, another portion when you are half done and the rest when the project is complete. Setting payment milestones will go a long way in keeping the cash flowing.
- Package your products or services to deliver on a regular basis and take advantage of recurring billing. You could set up a product or service of the month club or an exclusive membership that your customers can subscribe to and pay you every single month.
- Partner up with a complementary business and have them sell your products or services as a value-added benefit. The two of you can brainstorm to find where you can get the most bang for your buck and then split the proceeds.
- Stay on top of outstanding invoices. Everyone wants to save money. Offer a small discount — two to five percent — to your customers for paying within fifteen days rather than waiting the usual thirty. Monitor and act quickly on any invoices that cross the thirty day threshold with no payment.
- Study your sales patterns. What are you selling that’s selling the best right now? Use the 80 / 20 rule to focus your efforts in the high sales area to increase your client base and create more cash for your company.
Whatever approach you take, remember one thing. Cash is king (queen and ace too!) in your business. You cannot survive without cash flow. And never forget that hope is not a strategy. Hoping for better cash flow won’t help you make progress. Taking action will — especially in these trying economic times.
I agree with most of the point above.
Recurring Billing is often overlooked but can radically improve cash inflow with a low footprint on customers. Unless your business in inherently one shot, this option is to be considered.
Even the point about late payments is paramount. A bad payer does a lot of harm. Not only because it lowers your cash flow but also because it may compell you to revert to the bank. This may easily transform a credit to a debit!
Staying proactive in regards to your cash flow is important these days. I always recommend accepting credit cards or Paypal. I have found it so much easier to get payment after I started taking credit cards. I also noticed that you get more clients who spend more money when you can accept cards.
Not only are these things going to increase cash inflow, but they are going to save countless hours.
And depending on the business, I would opt for a merchant account over PayPal. Because PayPal is a private company and not backed by a banking system, they control your cash flow. What do you do if they decide to freeze accounts?
I have to mention there are solutions, like ours, that that provide the ability to accept credit cards and ACH/eChecks while providing recurring billing and email invoicing. Having all of this in one simple system pairs creativity with efficiency.
These are excellent ideas. Thank you. And welcome to the community.
Thanks for the tips. I have used incremental payment plans before, and they really do help ease your mind a little. Instead of doing all of the work and not seeing a penny, you are getting paid for what you do as you do it.
Bobbi Jo Woods
I’ve agree with your point about incremental billing and have been doing that myself.
I always insist on either half or a third down, before work begins, then the customer and I agree on a mid-point (if total fee is split into thirds), and then final due upon completion.
I have been thinking about doing the “work with complimentary businesses” thing for a long time but haven’t committed to it yet. I’m thinking of packaging web site design projects with SEO and/or WordPress blog or Etsy page setup.
Also, one should consider buying a commercial credit report on a client *prior* to compleating the sale. If the client has bad credit or a bad track record, demand payment on delivery or an advance payment.
The commercial credit report, available to anyone from commercial credit bureaus,is a key tool when evaluating customers.
You can get one a Dun and Bradstreet (www.dnb.com) or at Experian Commercial (www.smartbusinessreports.com). They are worth the price.
These are great tips.
As important as invoicing quickly is collecting quickly. Businesses should have a collections policy and make contact with anyone past due as soon as it becomes past due. Often, it’s a case of “the missing invoice”. The longer you take to bring it to your client’s attention, the longer you wait for cash. Also, the squeaky wheel really does get the grease.
I also always recommend establishing a credit policy. You don’t *have* to give credit to everyone. It’s important to decide who is worthy of using your cash.
You are correct, you can’t survive without cash. My favorite cash saying: Cash is Cash, Only Cash is Cash, Only Cash will ever be Cash.
Point #1 re billing as soon as possible. This is particularly true and desirable if you are selling business to business. Companies I’ve worked with (to set up their management processes) often have overlooked same day or next day billing. Yet when we developed and sent out customer surveys often one of the more surprising responses was that the business to business customer want to be billed immediately because that allowed them to bill their customer immediately. You can imagine that those were popular changes to make in the invoicing systems – the net benefit was shorter billing cycles, faster payments (still 30 plus days in the industries I work in but 30 days after billing same day is better than 30 days after billing on day 10), and improved cash flow.
Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments.
@straycat – Yes, recurring billing is a good option to keep the cash flowing also.
@amanda – Accepting credit cards is really a must these days. And you’re right about getting customers to spend more money with your business. The easier you make it for people to buy, the more they will buy from you.
@zane – You’re welcome and thank you.
@misterprinter – Glad to hear about your success with incremental payments. I bet it works well in your business.
@bobbyjo – In your field, working with complimentary businesses could be a real winner. Just get your team together and go for it.
@invoicefactoring – That’s a good reminder about credit reports. Although I’ve never gone that route myself, it may be a route that some businesses should take.
@kelly – Yes, collections are crucial. The longer you let an invoice remain outstanding, the less your chances are that you will collect what you deserve. And your point about the credit policy is a good one too.
@kris – That’s a good tactic for business to business billing when your client has to bill someone else also. It shortens the time it will take to get your money.
Good list. The 80/20 rule (Pareto principle) is a very useful tool.
@martin – You bet it is. It helps you keep focused on the right things.
Hi Denise, I would like to know what is this – 80 / 20 rule?
Mary Grace Ignacio: Read this page on the 80 / 20 rule. http://www.answers.com/topic/pareto-principle
Denise: I worked for a company in Ohio that belonged to a big group of companies with its HQ in Chicago. Every company worked according to the Pareto principle, through the whole organization.
@martin — Thanks for pointing @mary grace to that answer. It’s a good resource. Focusing business efforts using the 80 / 20 rule is a really good way to keep the business on track. One of the biggest problems is that small business owners have a tendency NOT to focus in that area and that wastes a lot of time.
@chad — Sorry I missed your comment before. I think it’s a good idea for high volume businesses to have both a merchant account and PayPal — it gives customers a choice. I’ve had a PayPal account since 2000 and have never experienced problems. Good company to work with, but there are others who have had issues which is to be expected for a company that has millions of customers. PayPal is attractive to many customers especially considering the identify theft issues that are so prevalent today. It let’s the buyer control who has their information.
Thank you, Martin. Now I understand that 80/20 rule – the Pareto principle named after economist Vilfredo Pareto. 🙂