Update January 2019: This article on trends in managing small business finances was written almost exactly 10 years ago. After doing a bit of updating the 10 points below are as relevant today as they were then.
No matter what happens in the economy, small business owners are used to adapting to diverse issues. Year in and year out, small businesses remain the economic engine of the U.S. and will continue to be so for a long, long time.
Small business owners are continually challenged to get more creative to help their companies survive and thrive. One thing’s for sure. No matter what happens in the bigger economy, small business focus will be where it should be – on the company. Sales, profits and cash flow rule in a small business.
Here’s what I think smart business owners will do to keep their cash flow going in the right direction.
Wise business owners find opportunity in chaos
While everyone else is focused on what they can’t do, small business owners will focus on what they can do.
That means we will look for new niches to focus on. Small business people will find new ways to market to reach those in their current target area. We assess the business landscape and create new businesses to solve business problems that no one has even thought of before.
Managing our small business finances for the smartest owners becomes second nature.
Accounting software is a superior way to manage finances
I hope you are not still using spreadsheets to manage your small business finances! And please don’t just rely on the balance in your checking account to tell you how your business is doing. Eventually you will get rudely surprised by what’s NOT in your bank account.
Accounting software today is easy for non-accountants to use. And it’s really a must for any business to stay competitive. It saves time. Good software actually helps educate and train you about financial moves (through tips and guided experiences).
And it offers business intelligence. Analytics and reports based on your numbers are essential if you want to build a solid foundation for growth.
Small business owners increasingly turn to online solutions, like QuickBooks or FreshBooks to manage their finances. Each of these services offers a chance to try the software for free. That way you can see if it’s the right solution for your small business. That’s one of the advantages of cloud solutions. You can do a free trial.
New financing opportunities appear
Over the last few years, peer-to-peer lending platforms have entered the marketplace offering financing options. With these financing platforms, individuals register as lenders and set the minimum interest rate they are willing to earn.
There are also a large number of online loan marketplaces. Small businesses can seek and get financing from banks, credit unions and other lenders. And you can apply for a loan from the comfort of your home or office.
Small businesses will opt for contractor vs employee
Hoping to remain lean and mean to keep their bottom line stable, small businesses will tap heavily into the freelance contractor arena for business assistance. And more businesses will look to virtual assistants (VA) for help.
VAs can be found in any specialty area to help small business owners achieve business success. The cost of having employees on staff takes a big chunk out of the bottom line for any business — as much as 60 percent. Not only that, it’s a major commitment. If times are uncertain, who wants to commit to putting someone else’s financial future in your hands? So small business owners will take a closer look at whether to hire full time or use the wealth of temporary talent in the marketplace.
This assessment will be based on short term business needs and long range goals of the company. The best bet for determining the right strategy is to perform a cost / benefit analysis and to ensure the hire passes the IRS Independent Contractor test.
Bartering remains a cash outflow buffer
Bartering is another way to manage small business finances. Most barter arrangements take place on a one-to-one basis between two companies. One company has a need. The other has a solution.
You see it often. For example, a web designer will do a design refresh for a marketing consultant, and the marketing consultant will write some marketing copy for the designer’s own website. The two parties benefit from what each other offers. This will continue, as it has throughout history.
According to Wikipedia, it is estimated that around 500,000 businesses in the U.S. are involved in barter exchange activities and that approximately 500 commercial and corporate barter companies serve all parts of the world. Check out the International Reciprocal Trade Association (IRTA) for more information around organized approaches to bartering.
SBA becomes an important small business partner … again
Depending on the Administration, the SBA administrator either has been a part of the president’s cabinet — or not. Currently, in 2019, the SBA Administrator is a member of the President’s cabinet. As a cabinet-level executive, the SBA can get higher visibility and support for initiatives.
The effectiveness of the SBA depends greatly on the leadership of the person in charge of the SBA. The person in charge must understand small business and know how to navigate the federal bureaucracy. Lending guarantees, disaster recovery and educational resources are all ways the SBA assists with small business finances.
Social media is the new way to get out of a cash flow crunch
If you haven’t heard of Twitter, Facebook or any of the other social media available, you must be living in a cave. Social media is about having a conversation with business partners, customers and prospects. It’s inexpensive or free.
For the most urgent cash flow issues, some small businesses will reach out to their network for help. A good example of this happened when Remarkablogger — Michael Martine — reached out to his social network for help after a major car accident. They came to his rescue. Without this assistance, his business may have struggled to survive.
That’s an unusual case. Most of us will use social media as a way to boost our marketing, engage in flash sales, and expand campaigns. If you are in a cash flow crunch, turn up the dial on that low cost marketing.
Credit cards continue to help manage small business finances
Year after year, survey after survey, we learn that large numbers of small business owners use credit cards to finance their business operations.
But the credit isn’t necessarily cheap, especially if interest rates rise sharply. Read “change in terms” notices that arrive with credit card statements.
Keep a sharp eye on your available credit. Take defensive action by shopping around to find the best card available.
Don’t hesitate to switch cards. Card programs come and go. The benefits and rewards change. In fact, you may have been converted over to a new program by the card issuer, without even realizing it. Why stick with something if it no longer meets your needs?
Remember to apply for a business credit card, not just a personal card. Business credit cards are one of the easiest ways to establish a credit history for a new business.
And use that card wisely to develop a good credit history. Repay promptly or better yet, through automatic payments. You will be glad you did, should you need to apply for a term loan or line of credit.
Increased attention on collecting receivables
Small businesses aren’t the best at collecting the money they are owed according to a “Getting Paid Survey” by Intuit. Not collecting on overdue debts has amounted to a $42 million dollar loss for 22 million small businesses in the US. That’s a lot of money to lose.
To manage small business finances, smart owners are finding it easier to get invoices out the door quickly once work has been completed by using the right tool. And a good invoicing tool makes it much easier to follow up on overdue invoices. This means as a group, we small business owners are getting the money we deserve sooner. And we’re getting it more regularly and more reliably.
Here’s another tip. Look at around at what others, especially small businesses, are doing. We small businesses tend to receive invoices from suppliers that may be using neat tools. Observe and follow suit. No one ever said you couldn’t learn from others.
A better focus on personal finances
It’s no secret that small business owners with bad personal credit have a tougher time securing funding for their businesses. Most lenders take the owner’s fiscal circumstances heavily into account when making decisions to extend business credit. A good credit score can help you get a better small business loan.
To increase the possibility of obtaining credit, savvy business owners will make sure their personal finances are in good shape. With the availability of personal credit monitoring services and the ability to check one’s credit score, we feel more empowered. We are able to take steps to improve our FICO score. And using solutions like Mint we can do a better job of managing our personal finances.
So there you have it. Ten trends we see in the world of small business finances. I’m optimistic because no matter what the external drivers have been, small business has always survived. This year will be no different.