Poor cash flow – How to recognize it and how you can make sure it won’t be a problem
We know that the majority of small businesses fail within the first five years, but a recent study by U.S. Bank drilled down into the reasons why this occurs. In their study, they found that 82% of the time, poor cash flow management or poor understanding of cash flow contributes to the failure of a small business.
Why Small Businesses Fail
According to research done by U.S. Bank and cited on the SCORE/Counselors to America’s Small Business, the reason small businesses fail overwhelmingly includes cash flow issues. This includes poor cash flow management and poor understanding of cash flow, starting out with too little money, and lack of a developed business plan.
- 82% – Poor cash flow management skills/poor understanding of cash flow
- 79% – Starting out with too little money
- 78% – Lack of well-developed business plan, including insufficient research on the business before starting it
- 77% – Not pricing properly or failure to include all necessary items when setting prices
- 73% – Being overly optimistic about achievable sales, money required, and about what needs to be done to be successful
- 70% – Not recognizing or ignoring what they don’t do well and not seeking help from those who do
How do you know if you have a cash flow problem?
While there are multiple factors to consider with cash flow depending on industry and the lifecycle stage of your company, one key is relevant to all small businesses regardless of size or industry: If your expenses exceed your cash, then you have a cash flow problem.
It’s important to note that your expenses, especially during the early stages of growth, are most likely going to be greater than your revenue—you’re still trying to validate R&D, go to market, figure out sales and marketing, admin costs, and contractor relationships, etc. It’s also important to remember that your company will only be successful if you can eventually bring in more than you spend.
However, regardless of your lifecycle stage, industry, or plans for growth, your expenses should never exceed your existing cash.
If our small business has a cash flow problem does that mean we need to focus on selling more?
In an article authored by entrepreneur Tim Berry on Entrepreneur.com, he shares: “One of the toughest years my company had was when we doubled sales and almost went broke. We were building things two months in advance and getting the money from sales six months late. Add growth to that and it can be like a Trojan horse, hiding a problem inside a solution. Yes, of course you want to grow; we all want to grow our businesses. But be careful because growth costs cash. It’s a matter of working capital. The faster you grow, the more financing you need.”
Instead of “Sell, sell, sell,” how should we address cash flow problems?
There are several factors to consider before leaping to the “sell, sell, sell!” mindset to reverse a cash flow problem.
1. Categorize your spending. Your first step should be to know exactly what you’re spending and where you’re spending it. Categorize your expenses into G&A, R&D, Sales & Marketing, Operations, and COGS, and see if anything stands out. Note the percentage spends for each category, and analyze whether the cash distribution makes sense.
2. Benchmark. You should have a clear picture of how other businesses are spending and use those benchmarks to spend similarly. Consider businesses within your industry as well as businesses within your company’s lifecycle stage. Remember, you don’t want to spend more cash than you have, so regardless of benchmarks derived from other companies, adjust accordingly depending on your available cash.
3. Micromanage Your Spending. You’ve probably heard the saying “It takes money to make money,” but this common belief can cause new entrepreneurs to fall prey to gross overspending, especially during their first few months of business. While it does take money to make money, not all expenses are created equal. Remember that every dollar you spend is detracting from your profit margin, so especially during the early stages, it is important to consider the cost-benefit of every single expense.
Most importantly of all: Forecast
We’ve talked about the importance of forecasting before, and when it comes to cash flow, forecasts are no less important. Small businesses want to grow, and want to grow as quickly as possible, and a detailed forecast can make sure you can accomplish that growth in a sustainable and efficient way.
From implementing your benchmarking from point number 2 above, to knowing when to bring in extra cash from debt or equity financing, a forecast helps to take out the guesswork and put your business on a path of strategic advancement.
The Importance of Short- and Long-Term Forecasting
Cash flow is about planning, analyzing, and awareness
Creating a detailed forecast and using that information to drive a budget for your company is one of the most impactful steps your company can take toward intelligent cash flow management. Combining a thoughtful forecast with heightened awareness of your spending as well as the cost-benefit analysis of each expense means you will have the information and planning in place that can help you achieve more sustainable growth.
How can we help?
Are you unsure whether you have a cash flow problem, or do you want to discuss strategies for creating more sustainable growth? Schedule a free financial consultation with one of our experienced CFOs today or ask a question by clicking the button below.
About the Author
Michael Flint – CFO & Systems Advisor
Michael Flint is an experienced CFO with over 20 years in financial management. His expertise includes budgeting and forecasting, business process and systems improvement/automation, and technical accounting compliance. Michael is a VentureCapital.org Mentor and holds a Master’s in Accounting from BYU.
You may also be interested in…
Many companies experience times when they find their accounting departments short on staff or short on expertise. Sometimes emergencies and financial needs arise that are beyond the capability of their financial personnel to address. This is particularly true in times...
A Profit and Loss (P&L) Report, also called a Profit and Loss Statement, is a key financial document that details a company’s income and expenses over a specific period of time. This time period is typically a month, a quarter or a year. Depending on company needs...
When a business sale, acquisition, or major investment is contemplated, one important step in the due diligence process is the generation of a Quality of Earnings report, sometimes abbreviated as QOE. Even though a company may have strong financial statements, those...
What Is the Purpose of Accrual Accounting? There are two methods of accounting: cash and accrual. In cash accounting, transactions are recorded when payment occurs. In the accrual method, revenues and expenses are matched and recorded at the time the good is delivered...
Choosing the right supplier for your business can be complicated, especially if a large portion of your product comes from a single company. For many companies, supplies are secondary only to labor in their expenses. But choosing the right supplier has even more...
In every company, there are important decisions to be made on a daily basis. Some decisions are mundane and have only short-term consequences. Others are strategic and can affect the company’s performance and profits for years. Too often, these critical decisions are...
Whether your business is a startup or an established enterprise, you need a strong, agile financial team with a highly competent leader. Some companies think they can get by without a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) until they start preparing to go public. Other...
It’s not uncommon to have difficulty differentiating between the main financial professionals. Not only are the names similar, but they are also often unintentionally used interchangeably. However, despite how the titles may be used colloquially, there are distinct...
Nearly every business requires supplies and services. To keep your company moving forward smoothly and to ensure optimum profitability, you need to find vendors who are trustworthy, consistent, and correctly priced. An ideal vendor is more than just a supplier; they...
A virtual CFO, also called a VCFO or fractional CFO, is a consultant or company that provides CFO services to one or more businesses on a part-time or ad-hoc basis. In the past, a true CFO was usually a highly paid, full-time employee that only large corporations...
Gross profit is one of several key profitability metrics that help companies evaluate their financial health. It is necessary to determine gross profit before you can calculate other important figures such as net profit, EBITDA, and the company’s bottom line. Gross...
Selling a business, especially in the current economic climate, can be a complicated process. You want to get the best price from the right buyer and smoothly transition the business to the new owner. The process takes a significant amount of planning, negotiation,...