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Managing your cash flow

It’s often said that cash flow is the lifeblood of any business. But what does that mean in practice, and how do you manage your cash flow to keep your business running smoothly?

In this article we’ll show you what cash flow is, why you need to manage it, how to tell if you are at risk and some straightforward tips to keep more cash flowing into your business.

What is cash flow

Cash flow refers to the ebb and flow of money coming into your business from sales, and going out to pay wages, bills and other expenses. At the basic level, cash flow is important because to stay in business you need to have more money coming in than going out. Having a healthy cash flow also means you can build up working capital so you can invest in and grow your business.

Do you have cash flow problems? Test yourself

  • Do you ever go into overdraft by mistake?
  • Do you sometimes struggle to meet business overheads and wages during slow periods or seasonal downturns?
  • Have you ever traded too strongly (done too much business) and had to arrange special funding arrangements to meet your commitments?
  • Have you ever had to arrange an overdraft to meet an unexpected tax bill?

These and similar issues can all indicate that cash flow problems may be putting your business at risk. Some of the main reasons businesses have cash flow issues include:

  • Forgetting about taxes (and not putting money aside to pay your taxes when they’re due).
  • Taking too much out of the business in personal drawings, particularly in leaner periods.
  • Making purchases at the wrong time – for example, buying major capital items during lean cash flow months (a better option might be leasing rather than purchasing outright).
  • Over-trading – believe it or not, it is possible for your business to fail from doing too much business and getting overstretched. For example, if you sell $20,000 of stock for $40,000, you may not get paid for 60 days. But you still have to re-order the $20,000 of stock as well as pay rent, wages and other expenses during that period. And if you can’t, someone you owe money to could force you into receivership.

Getting your cash flow under control

Cash flow management is all about managing the gap between when the money comes in and when your bills are due. The key is anticipating when you may have challenges and taking timely steps to manage the situation – rather than simply reacting when it does happen. Below are some tips to help.

Start by writing a cash flow forecast

A cash flow forecast is the most important tool in cash flow management and the first place to start. It allows you to project how much cash will be coming into your business and how much will be going out at different times, so you can identify where you may have cash shortages.

It’s not complicated. A cash flow forecast can be as simple as a table or spreadsheet where you plug in your incomings and outgoings. For more information, read our article How to forecast cash flow accurately – and to make it even easier you can use our Cash Flow Forecast Calculator.

Shorten your cash cycles

To avoid lengthy periods when your business goes without cash, you need to find ways of shortening your cash cycles – in other words, getting paid faster. For example:

  • Get paid on the spot – to spend less time chasing invoices, use technology solutions like ANZ FastPaydisclaimer. It’s a mobile payment solution that lets you accept payments on the go anywhere, anytime – and you get access to your takings the next business day.

If you still need to invoice:

  • Do it early – don’t wait for the end of the month.
  • Change your payment terms – many businesses ask for ‘payment by 20th of next month’, but there’s absolutely no reason you can’t ask for payment earlier – or even on receipt of the invoice.
  • Encourage early payment – for example, you could offer a small discount if customers pay within 5 or 10 days.

Read our article Five steps to ensure that you get paid

Review your pricing

Increasing your prices is one way to get more cash coming in. It can be scary, but only if you assume that your target market is price sensitive or your goal is to win on price (which can be a precarious strategy, especially for small businesses). Do market research to test the tolerance of your market to price and the alternatives to your product or service. Price is often not the main consideration – competing on quality can be a better, more sustainable strategy.

Read our article How to defend and justify your pricing.

Manage your creditors

If you’re having trouble paying your bills, don’t avoid your creditors – whether it’s your suppliers, your bank, the IRD or others. Be proactive; be upfront with them and work with them to figure out a solution that both parties can live with. In most cases they’ll do what they can to help you, just as you would with one of your customers.

Lower costs by finding efficiencies

Technology can be a great way to reduce your overheads. For example, can you reduce your travel costs by holding meetings via Skype or FaceTime? Can you move some or all of your business online rather than paying rent for premises? Can you reduce IT costs through storing data in the cloud rather than on physical servers?

Put aside reserves

This is particularly important if seasonality is an issue for your business. In good periods, put aside reserves so you can pay wages, business overheads and running expenses in leaner periods.

Manage your debtors

Offering credit can be convenient and help retain your best customers – but it does come with risks. Here are some ways to minimise the potential hassles and risks:

  • Run credit checks on new customers. Don’t be tempted to skip this – you risk exposing your business to bad debtors. You can do it without making customers feel as if they’re under the microscope:
    - Ask them for details of other businesses they’ve received credit from, and call those businesses for references.
    - Check they’re legitimate at the Companies Office.
    - If in doubt, get help from agencies that specialise in credit checking.
  • Use credit limits – set limits for each customer according to their merits. Once they prove trustworthy, you can consider raising their limit.
  • Always have a contract which clearly sets out your terms and conditions (including credit terms).
  • Put good systems in place – for example, set up a debt management calendar, and keep on top of debtors with reminders and repeat meetings.
  • Be consistent – stick to your systems and processes, and follow through when necessary. After all, it’s your business at stake. If you’re considering showing leniency, make very sure the customer is worth the risk.

Other useful resources from ANZ

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ANZ FastPay is only available to approved merchants who meet ANZ's credit approval criteria. ANZ FastPay transactions must be settled into an ANZ Business Account. Eligibility criteria and fees apply. FastPay terms and conditions apply. Use of ANZ FastPay requires a compatible device and a cellular or wireless internet connection.