Working capital – the amount left over after subtracting current liabilities from current assets – is the lifeblood of a small business. However, many people are still confused about its benefits and uses. Here are five things that many small business owners don’t know about this important resource that helps a company survive and thrive:
1. Working capital can help long-term strategy, not just short-term issues.
Most entrepreneurs focus on every single cost when they start their business. But like a world-class chess player, you need to think several moves ahead, and be aware of the capital you’ll need to expand into new locations, hire new employees or buy more equipment. A franchisee, for example, should be aware of upgrades that will be required. Working capital is not just a resource for short-term needs, but for the entire year ahead.
2. You should monitor your cash flow weekly or even daily.
Many small businesses only review cash flow twice a year – on April 15th and October 15th. It should be a weekly or even daily exercise. When a solid client who has always paid on time starts slipping, it could indicate problems that you want to be aware of as soon as possible. According to Investopedia, the most important way for a small business to analyze its working capital is by operating cycle – the average number of days it takes to collect an account.
3. You should benchmark against other industries.
Small businesses are often satisfied when their working capital practices are equal to or better than their direct competitors. Look at industries with similar characteristics instead, which can provide more ideas on how to strengthen your working capital practices.
4. Encourage customers to pay on time.
Many small businesses have found themselves in difficult circumstances, or have even gone out of business, when they were afraid to call out important clients who constantly drag out payments. “It’s a simple thing to get accounting software and monitor your working capital,” says Dr. Rebel A. Cole, a professor of finance at DePaul University in Chicago.”But that won’t matter if you don’t follow up when people fall behind.” To improve cash flow, consider offering a discount for cash on delivery or taking credit cards over the phone.
5. It isn’t only for your down periods.
Many seasonal or cyclical businesses only focus on cash flow during seasons when sales are down. Smart companies monitor tools and financing practices that keep good working capital practices year-round, which can lessen the impact of the down periods. “If you only worry about working capital when you’re cash-strapped, you will become cash-strapped,” Cole says.