How to Conserve Business Cash Flow During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Business Cash Flow Conservation in Coronavirus Times

In these unprecedented times, many small businesses are operating with remote staff and many others are completely shut down. No one knows how long businesses will see little or no revenue coming in. The challenge for businesses to remain viable is to continue cash flow. There are many ways to conserve your business cash flow … during these difficult times and even when the pandemic passes and the economy recovers.

Business Cash Flow Conservation Strategies

Find extra cash

If you’re struggling to pay your bills, you may be able to get no-interest or low-cost loans through government resources.

  • Stimulus package loans. The $2.2 trillion stimulus package — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) greatly expands the 7(a) SBA loan program for loans through SBA-certified lenders. Under the Paycheck Protection program, there are no fees, no personal guarantees, and no collateral required. Loans through this special program can be forgiven up to what you spend during an 8-week period after the loan closing on payroll (up to $100,000), interest on mortgages, and payments of rent and utilities that were in place before February 15, 2020. However, the amount of forgiveness is reduced by a reduction in retained employees (but employees laid off between February 15 and April 1, 2020, but rehired won’t count as a reduction).
  • SBA direct economic injury loans. These loans are available up to $2 million pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.
  • State loans. For example, in Florida, small businesses can get loans up to $50,000, which are interest free for one year.

Get your Tax Refund on Time

Get your tax refunds. While the IRS has delayed the filing deadline for 2019 income tax returns for individuals and C corporations from the usual April 15 to July 15, 2020, if you’re owed a refund for 2019, file your return now. This will give you needed cash. If you owe money on your 2019 return, it’s not due until July 15.

Also, the first installment of estimated taxes for 2020, usually due April 15, has been delayed until July 15, 2020. Keep this cash now, but pay by July 15 to avoid late payment penalties. But check for state filing and payment rules, which may not have been changed; don’t incur needless penalties and interest by missing state deadlines.

If you had a net operating loss (NOL) for 2018 or 2019, you can carry it back to offset taxable income in the previous 5 years. This can generate a relatively quick tax refund that you use for your business. NOLs arising in 2020 will also have a 5-year carryback, and refunds can be obtained even before 2020 income tax returns are filed.

If you acquired and placed in service any qualified improvement property after September 27, 2017, you may be eligible for tax refund. Due to a technical correction in the CARES Act, this property is now eligible for 100% bonus depreciation. But you need to file an amended return to claim the refund.

Identify Expenditures Not to Cut

Recognize that there are some costs you can’t cut and there are some you shouldn’t. You can’t stop paying the rent and insurance premiums. These costs are fixed and need to be paid (barring any rent holiday or other such relief).

You also want to keep employees on the payroll. Your staff is your most valuable asset, and seeking a quick fix to business cash flow by laying off workers can be costly to you in the long run. You lose the loyalty of those remaining (or create significant anxiety in them) and you will incur added expenses for recruitment and training when expanded staffing is needed as the economy recovers. What’s more, you need to keep employees on the payroll to get certain breaks, such as a new employee retention tax credit and loan forgiveness under the new Paycheck Protection program for expanded 7(a) SBA loans.

Cut Expenditures

There are numerous ways to trim your budget and keep your cash. Here are some ideas:

In Your Payroll

While you want to keep paying wages as explained earlier—and under new law are required to make sick and leave payments to certain employees with an offsetting payroll tax credit—(employers with fewer than 50 employees may be eligible for an exemption if providing leave payments would threaten the viability of the business), you can cut back on some extras:

  • Reduce or eliminate employer contributions to 401(k) plans. Be sure to comply with notice requirements of any contribution change. Under a safe harbor rule, you can cut back or suspend certain employee contributions as long as you give a supplemental notice form to employees explaining your action and that they have the opportunity to change their elective deferrals for the rest of the year.
  • Cut perks. With nearly full employment prior to the pandemic, you may have been giving employees various freebies, such as tickets to events, cab rides home, and lunches in the office. Instead, consider no-cost perks, such as a personal thank you for a job well done and for understanding the need to make workplace changes.
  • Delay certain payroll tax deposits. You can delay the 6.2% payroll tax (the employer’s Social Security tax portion of FICA) for 2020 and then pay 50% by December 31, 2021, and the other 50% by December 31, 2022. But other payroll taxes must be deposited per your usual deposit schedule. A similar break applies to self-employment tax paid by self-employed individuals.

At Your Facilities

Your rent is a fixed monthly expense. Some landlords are waiving or deferring rent payments, so check on this. But if you must pay now, you still have leeway to save money.

  • Sublet space. Check the terms of your lease. If you’re allowing more of your staff to work from their homes after the virus threat has lifted, you may be able to sublet some of your space to another business.
  • Conserve energy costs. Find ways to reduce your money utility bills. For example, save on electricity by turning off unused office equipment after hours and on weekends and holidays. Adjust the thermostat in the summer and winter months. A small adjustment can save a lot of dollars.

Other Ways to Save

Get creative and make your dollars go farther.

  • Barter for the things you need. You’ll get the goods and services without using your cash.
  • Repair instead of replace. Keep your equipment in good working order to avoid repairs. But if equipment breaks, instead of simply replacing it, consider making repairs.
  • Cancel unused subscriptions and memberships. Review your monthly or annual renewals and cut what you don’t need. Don’t automatically renew.
  • Cut travel costs. Remote work during COVID-19 has shown that people can connect without doing so in person. Continue to meet with customers, vendors, and others through Skype, Zoom, and other online options and eliminate travel expenses.

Update Billing and Collections Policies

Getting paid as quickly as possible obviously improves your cash flow. Instead of invoicing for your goods and services, get paid immediately. Offer your customers and clients remote payment options, such as credit/debit card and PayPal. If you do need to invoice, send it by email (not snail mail) and provide a quick and easy payment option (e.g., enabling customers to use their bank account or credit card).

When you must send invoices, be sure your collection policies are set to ensure you collect as soon as possible. For example, instead of offering a 30-day payment period, require payment upon receipt of the invoice.

Be sure to follow up quickly for any delinquent invoices. Don’t let them sit, with the hope that they’ll be paid; become proactive. Follow up within a period you set (e.g., one week past due) with an email reminder or a personal telephone call.

When you have unpaid invoices that you aren’t able to collect on your own despite your follow-up efforts, turn to the pros. Depending upon the amount outstanding, you may want to use an attorney to send a collection letter or let a collection agency handle it. Recognize that once you use a professional, you’re never getting 100% of what’s owed to you because of the fees you pay for this collection service.


Many small business owners remember the Great Recession from a decade ago. We got through that; with creative tactics like these business cash flow conservation strategies, we’ll get through this pandemic-triggered economic crisis and its aftermath too.


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Barbara Weltman Barbara Weltman is the Tax Columnist for Small Business Trends. She is an attorney and author of J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Home-Based Business. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® and is a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs.