Managing Cash Flows by Frank Zerjav

A successful business rests on sound recordkeeping practices and solid cash flow. Without good records it is impossible to determine the financial condition or profitability of a business. Similarly, in order to survive, a small owner must achieve a positive cash flow in the long term. Basic information is presented to help small business owners, need to establish good recordkeeping practices and to minimize cash flow problems.

There are a couple of old sayings in business. One is, “Cash is King.” Another is, “Happiness is a positive cash flow.” Surveys are conducted constantly of failed businesses. Most failed businesses, up to 60%, say that all or most of their failure was due to cash flow problems. Businesses have to have as their guide another old saying. “Nothing matters more than cash.” Making a profit is nice, cash flow is necessary. Cash flow management is the key to success.

Start-up businesses often find themselves short of cash right off the mark. Existing businesses can find ways to survive if they can find ways to generate cash. Cash is the single most important element of survival for a small business. Small businesses often say that an inability to “control” cash flow is their single biggest problem.

Cash flow is the movement of cash in and out of the business; it is the difference between just being able to open a business and being able to stay in business. Cash flows typically arise from three sources: operations, investing, and financing.

Large and medium-size companies have internal accounting personnel and sophisticated records and systems to guide management. On the other hand, the owner of a small business usually relies primarily on a bookkeeper and an outside accounting firm to maintain the company’s records and provide guidance. The small business owner should be familiar with, and recognize the importance of, proper recordkeeping requirements and cash flow planning.

Many small business owners are very knowledgeable about their accounting procedures and quite adept in analyzing their financial records and statements. For less-sophisticated business people, the following information presents an introductory discussion of recordkeeping and cash flow planning to enhance awareness and understanding.

Recordkeeping – Why it’s Necessary: Accurate financial record keeping is crucial to your business success and managing cash flows for a number of reasons:

– Good records provide the financial data that help you operate more efficiently, thus increasing your profitability. Accurate and complete records enable you, and your accountant, to identify all your business assets, liabilities, income, and expenses. That information, when compared to appropriate industry averages, helps you pinpoint both the strong and weak phases of your business operations.

– Good records are essential for the preparation of current financial statements, such as the income statement (profit and loss) and cash-flow projection. These statements, in turn, are critical for maintaining good relations with your banker. They also present a complete picture of your total business operation, which will benefit you as well.

– Good records are critical at tax time. Poor records could cause you to underpay or overpay your taxes. In addition, good records are essential during an IRS audit, if you hope to answer questions accurately and to the satisfaction of the IRS.

What exactly will the records tell you? The specific records a Company needs depends on a number of factors, such as the type of business, the Company’s goals, management’s needs and interests, and cost factors. Based on the relevant factors, your accountant can help you determine what records to keep and what information they should provide. In fact, you might want to update your recordkeeping procedures to reflect your current business needs.

Here are just some of the questions that might be considered in assessing your recordkeeping needs:

– How much income are you generating how and how much income can you expect to generate in the future?
– How much cash is tied up in accounts receivable (and thus not available to you) and for how long?
– How much do you owe for merchandise? Rent? Utilities? Equipment?
– What are your expenses, including payroll, payroll taxes, merchandise, advertising, equipment, and facilities maintenance, and benefit plans for yourself and employees (such as health insurance, retirement, etc.)?
– How much cash do you have on hand? How much cash is tied up in inventory? What is your actual working-capital budget?
– How frequently do you turn over your inventory?
– Which of your product lines, department, or services are making a profit, which are breaking even, and which are financial drains?
– What is your gross profit? What is your net profit?
– How do all of the financial data listed above compare with last year – or last quarter? How do they compare with the projections in your business plan?
– How do all the financial data compare with those of your competitors? With those of the industry?

It is essential that you try to determine the precise financial condition of your business. It is as critical as maintaining good customer relations.

Cash Flow and Profit: Cash flow and profit are not the same thing. Financial accounting is not focused on cash flow. It is focused on net income or profit. Over the
long term, profit and cash flow are approximately the same but the crucial difference is timing. More businesses fail for lack of cash than for want of profit!

Timing can be so important for a small business. For example, when you make a sale to a credit customer, you recognize that sale immediately on your income statement. That’s called accrual accounting. However, you don’t get the money immediately. On your cash budget and your statement of cash flows, you don’t show that credit transaction until you actually receive payment.

You can see how the gap between profit and cash flow could be very large. If you have rapid growth in credit sales, for example, profit could far exceed actual cash received. This sort of situation makes smaller companies very vulnerable to running out of cash
Good recordkeeping is time-consuming and can take away from the time you need to run your business. However, as shown above, it is essential.

The Basic Recordkeeping system: To be competitive, business owners must prepare for all future events and market changes. One of the most important aspects of such preparation is cash flow planning. Failure to properly plan and manage cash flows is one of the leading causes for small business failures.

Experience has shown that many business owners lack an understanding of basic accounting principles. Knowing the basics will help you better manage your cash flows. There are also self-instruction guides from which you can obtain a more thorough knowledge of accounting.

The operating cycle is the system through which cash flows, from the purchase of inventory through the collection of accounts receivable. It measures the flow of assets into cash. If your operating cycle from the purchase of supplies through the collection of receivables totals 180 days, this is the amount of time which you must finance.

Since capital providers, such as lenders, require a return on their investment, this financing will, of course, bear interest. The longer your operating cycle, the higher your financing cost will be. It is important to analyze your operating cycle and forecast your cash needs to minimize the amount which must be financed without running short of cash.

Understanding Cash Flows: Cash flow analysis should show whether your daily operations generate enough cash to meet your obligations and how major outflows of cash to pay your obligations relate to major inflows of cash from sales. As a result, you can tell if inflows and outflows from your operation combine to result in a positive cash flow or in a net drain. A significant changes over time will also appear. Understanding this will lead to better control of your cash flows and will allow adequate time to plan and prepare for the growth of your business.

It is best to have enough cash on hand each month to pay the cash obligations of the following month. A monthly cash-flow projection helps to identify and eliminate deficiencies or surpluses in cash and to compare actual figures to past month.

When cash-flow deficiencies are found, business financial plans must be altered to provide more cash. When excess cash is revealed, it might indicate excessive borrowing or idle money that could be invested. The objective is to develop a plan that will provide a well-balanced cash flow.

Keys to Cash Flow Management: The bottom line to managing cash flow is that, in a crisis, typical financial statements become irrelevant and all that is important is surviving from a cash point of view. In a cash crisis, such as a recession, a business owner’s focus becomes, by necessity, very short-term. Often, a cash crisis will instill good cash management practices into business managers that carry over from that day forward.
Managers have to understand how to prepare a monthly cash budget. First, they must have a good recordkeeping system updated at regular intervals no less than monthly, that tracks cash receipts or revenues with cash disbursements or payments. Second, financial statements need to be produced and evaluated. Lastly, they must understand sources and uses of cash like those shown in the Statement of Cash Flows, one of three required financial statements. The feedback you get from these financial statements is invaluable.
Advisory Group’s team of professionals will help your business find solutions to better manage cash flows by conducting either a simple or comprehensive system review at your business location. A report of findings will be a valuable resource

Keeping a Cash Reserve: To achieve a positive cash flow, you must have a sound plan.

Your business can increase cash reserves in a number of ways:
– Collecting receivables: Actively manage accounts receivable and quickly collect overdue accounts. Revenues are lost when a firm’s collection policies are too passive. The longer your customer’s balance remains unpaid, the less likely it is that you will receive full payment. Conversely, the faster you collect on your receivables, the shorter your operating cycle will be.

– Tightening Credit Requirements: As credit and terms become more stringent, more customers must pay cash for their purchases, thereby increasing the cash on hand and reducing un-collectable accounts. While tightening credit is helpful in the short run, it may not be advantageous in the end. Looser credit allows more customers the opportunity to purchase your products or services. Any consequent increase in sales should be measured against a possible increase in un-collectable accounts.

Adjusting the Price of Products: Many small businesses fail to make a profit because they erroneously price their products or services. Pricing is the critical element in achieving a profit and maintaining positive cash flow. Before setting your prices, you must understand your product’s market, distribution costs, and competition. Remember, the marketplace responds rapidly to technological advances and international competition. Monitor all factors that affect pricing on a regular basis and adjust as necessary.

Increasing Sales: Increased sales would appear to increase cash flow. However, if large portions of your sales are made on credit, when sales increase, your accounts receivable increase, not your cash. Meanwhile, inventory is depleted and must be replaced Because receivables usually will not be collected until, say, 30 days after sales, a substantial increase in sales can quickly deplete your firm’s cash reserves. A computer can facilitate tracking this critical data, as well as speed the time required to consider “what if” scenarios.
– Managing your expenses: Watch your expenses carefully. It makes sense to pay early if your suppliers offer a discount for early payment. If no discount exist and the supplier allows you 30 days to pay, take advantage of the 30 days and do not pay in 5. However, beware of penalties for late payment and the potential impact on your credit rating. You should monitor your expenses to make certain they are necessary and reasonable in amount. You should always keep enough cash on hand to cover expenses and as an added cushion for security. However, it is unwise to keep more money on hand than is necessary.

– Investing: Excess cash should be invested in an accessible, interest-bearing, low-risk account, such as a savings account, short-term Certificate of Deposit or Treasury bill. Keeping excess cash on hand limits both your growth and the return on your investment.
Projections: Projections, as well as good accounting records, are important tools for a small business. They will help answer important questions about the company’s financial future and provide direction. The failure to make proper projections, even if only informally, reduces the potential for long-term success.

For more information, contact Frank L. Zerjav, Manager
ADVISORY GROUP
(314) 205-9595 or 888-809-9595

IRS regulations require us to advise you that, unless otherwise specifically noted, any federal tax advice in this communication (including attachments, enclosures, or other accompanying materials) was not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used, by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties; furthermore, this communication was not intended or written to support the promotion or marketing of any of the transactions or matters it addresses.

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