Most people who have never had businesses of their own think that owning a business automatically means you have dough.
“Sure, you can get the check because you can just write if off.” Seriously?
Do these people understand that having a business is the most delicate balancing act of cash management that anyone can probably undertake? The cash we all have is as precious as air itself and writing things off does not mean free money.
When I was in school getting my MBA professors would say, “cash is king” (as religiously as I tell my children to wash their hands) consistently and with purpose.
I was paying attention at school but never really understood the seriousness of this message until cash in my first business became more than king. It became air. Without it we were going to die.
I remember going to my accountant and saying, “This year end looks awesome! We made some good money, eh? But, where is all the cash?”
She replied, “Well, those financial statements show what we did but there is no cash, and actually we need $600,000 by Friday.”
I knew how to read financial statements and my MBA brain had become too caught up in what they said to be paying attention to the cash. And truthfully I knew the cash was running out and I was kind of avoiding asking any questions because I did not want to address this. Ignorance is bliss or so they say. That’s until ignorance takes the shape of a six-figure number and then the ignorance made me sick to my stomach and run for the closest wastepaper basket.
So, here is what I know about cash flow from having learned things the hard way:
1. Always, always, always know how much cash you have in your account.
2. Take that cash-in-your-account number and subtract all the payments that you have placed in the mail. That represents the cash or checks inside envelopes traveling to their rightful owners by way of a lovely postman or -mistress.
3. Figure out your burn rate. This is how much money it costs to keep your business running each month. Keep this number as close to very low as you can. Map out your monthly expenses on a calendar.
4. Never assume you are going to get paid when you think you will. Add at least a two-week buffer to the expected receipt of earned revenue.
5. Invest interest-free when you can in building your business. Try to grow organically when possible.
6. If you must borrow funds, work with a lender with whom you can speak face-to-face with the decision-maker on your file. You might need to rely on a good relationship one day.
7. Ask for terms on everything. Stretch out your money to build your business. Hold on to it for as long as you can.
8. Ask for prepayment and retainers from clients whenever you can. Use client money to build your business.
9. Balance sheets (or BS) stand for bull s*** when you’re in a cash crunch. Income statements can be called imaginary statistics when the cash runs out. Stop listening to your financial statements alone to measure your business’ health. Look at your cash as well — and often.
10. Cash is like a tide: It goes out and in, and out and in. Do not panic when it is out, but understand well how and when it will come back in. And always be conservative. It might be a full-moon kind of month when forces outside your control keep the flow out for longer than usual.
Because it is so personal, cash is something we seldom talk about. But it’s a topic close to the heart of almost every entrepreneur — someone who probably has experienced that overwhelming feeling of being short of cash. I would never wish this feeling on anyone.
The truth is that when someone is worried about the cash position of a business, he or she is not working on the business. The entrepreneur becomes distracted and acts from a place of lacking and fear — and this is never, ever good.
When I am in the flow of my work, my business and what I do to add value to people’s lives, then the cash flows, too. When I am engulfed in fear, nothing works nearly as well and the flow stops altogether.
So if you are ignoring your finances, this is permission to be fearful and to want to do nothing. But pull up your socks and get to the truth of it. Trust me, you and your business will be better for it — no matter what you find.