They say “cash is king.” And in this case, they are right on the money. *ba-dum, ching!*
A US Bank study found that up to 82% of small businesses fail because of cash flow problems. I’ve experienced this firsthand. When I was working on my second business, a web design and development agency, everything seemed to be going right. We had a solid team in place, were doing great work, and were getting referred new clients every week. But we always seemed to be low on cash. What was going on?
Over time, I realized that the reason was simply the way we managed our cash flow. When we took on a big new client or project, I needed to pay my employees for the work they’d done within two weeks, on our regularly scheduled payroll. But we often gave 30-day terms (or longer) to our clients. And the bigger the client, the longer we gave them to pay. That meant I was fronting cash for my clients to pay my employees long before we got paid! Giving net-30 or longer terms is very standard in many industries, and of course, there are other customers that are just slow to pay, regardless of the terms that you give them.
Here are some of the things we did to help ease our cash flow problems, and I think they’ll help you too.
When you are dealing with a new client, it is often wise to require a partial payment before you even get started on the work. Not only does this help you solve cash flow problems you might be experiencing, it can also give you confidence that the client will pay and is the type of client you’ll want to do business with long term.
Often, clients will be hesitant to pay with a check (due to their own cash flow), but more than willing to pay with a credit card that gives them extra time on their end. If you can present an easy way for your client to pay with a credit card, they’ll often take you up on that. Plug for ZipBooks here: we allow you to accept credit card payments through Stripe or WePay with no extra fees, and those processors generally will distribute funds into your bank account within a couple days. It’s a great way to speed up your cash cycle and have money available more quickly.
Often, you can incentivize customers to pay early by offering a slight discount. One tried-and-true discounting method is known as 2/10 Net 30, meaning “you get a 2% discount if you pay within 10 days, otherwise the payment is due in 30 days.” This has been standard in many industries for decades, and you could adopt a similar approach to get your customers or clients to pay you more quickly.
And one more plug for ZipBooks here: cash flow management is the main problem we set out to solve when we first started this company. When our users send an invoice, we offer what we call Invoice Instant Payments. That means we’ll pay you 100% of the value of your invoice right away. In most cases, cash shows up in your bank account the next day. Over the coming weeks, you pay us back a portion of the invoice value plus a small fee on a set weekly schedule. You can also pay back the full amount any time, and we’ll cancel any scheduled fees. It’s really a great and seamless way to manage cash that many of our users have loved. Of course, there are other options for invoice financing as well. Google “invoice factoring” or “invoice financing” to learn more and see what options are available!
Many small businesses fail, not because they’re bad businesses (they may even be profitable on paper!) but because business norms and slow paying customers can doom them regardless of great growth and great products or services. If you watch carefully how you manage your cash, you’ll increase the odds that your business will be around for years to come.
Tim is Founder and CEO of ZipBooks. He keeps his desk really nice and neat.