Insufficient cash flow jeopardizes any business any time. In today's tight economy, however, it is more important than ever that small businesses maintain enough liquidity to weather tough times, according to experts.
Financing is harder to obtain, and this requires the institution of tighter cash flow management and inventory controls. Independent businesses need a good handle on money coming in and out, in order to increase their chance of survival.
"Cash is the life blood of any business," according to Barbara Weltman, an attorney and business tax specialist based in Millwood, NY. "You can have fantastic sales, but if you can't manage your cash flow properly, you could be out of business before you know it," she warned.
To get a better handle on cash flow, first and foremost you must be aware of your profitability, according to Neil Geschwind, a partner at Holtz Rubenstein LLP, an accounting firm in Melville, NY. "Always make sure your books and records are up to date and accurate," he advised, and he suggested using some sort of accounting system, such as QuickBooks, and reviewing it regularly. Also, keep on top of collections. "Receivables aren't like fine wine," said Weltman. "They don't get better with age." In this economy, 30 days cannot mean 60 days.
"Bill immediately and follow up as soon as an invoice is overdue," said Caroline Jordan of CashFlowRollerCoaster.com and The Jordan Result, which is a cash flow consulting firm based in Waterford, ME. "You've got to keep a tight rein on receivables."
Jason Bishara of SLM Holdings in Woodbury, NY has done just that. He has tightened up his collection policies over the past eight months. That means not allowing customers to extend 30 day billing to 60 days, and he has hired a collections expert. "If you let a customer's receivables get too big, they're not going to pay you," Bishara warned. He stops his company's services to a customer who has not paid by day 31 of a 30 day invoice. "You can't run a business and always have everybody like you," he has concluded.
Protecting the bottom line in tough times often calls for tough measures. To make it easier to collect, Denise O'Berry of CashFlowTruth.com in Tampa, FL suggested accepting credit cards or other electronic payment measures, such as PayPal. She is the author of, "Small Business Cash Flow: Strategies for Making Your Business a Financial Success." The processing fee can be a small price to pay, compared with not getting paid at all, she pointed out.
While making sure you collect on time, these experts also advise holding onto your own cash as long as possible. "You want to stretch out as much as you can on payables," said Neil Seiden of Asset Enhancement Solutions, LLC, a consultant based in Port Washington, NY.
Jordon, who authored, "Stop the Cash Flow Roller Coaster, I Want to Get Off," noted that it's always prudent to pay bills on time. However, if you're really cash strapped, prioritize on payables, she advised. "Take care of the things you need to keep the business running," she suggested. If you can't pay your bill on time, contact the people you owe and explain your situation. You may be able to negotiate better terms and or improved pricing. "Don't just bury your head in the sand," agreed O'Berry.
Last, but far from least, it is also very important to keep control of inventory, making sure you are neither overstocked nor under stocked. You have to adjust your inventories to current realities and patterns of demand, according to Seiden.
This article was edited from a story in Newsday.com by Jamie Herzlich.
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