Financing Cash Flow Peaks And Valleys

For many businesses, financing cash flow for their business can be like riding a continuous roller coaster.

Sales are up, then they do down. Margins are good, then they flatten out. Cash flow can swing back and forth like an EKG graph of a heart attack.

So how do you go about financing cash flow for these types of businesses?

First, you need to accurately know and manage your monthly fixed costs. Regardless of what happens during the year, you need to be on top of what amount of funds will be required to cover off the recurring and scheduled operating costs that will occur whether you make a sale or not. Doing this monthly for a full twelve month cycle provides a basis for cash flow decision making.

Second, from where you are at right now, determine the amount of funds available in cash, owners outside capital that could be invested in the business, and other outside sources currently in place.

Third, project out your cash flow so that fixed costs, existing accounts payable and accounts receivable are realistically entered into the future weeks and months. If cash is always tight, make sure you do your cash flow on a weekly basis. There is too much variability over the course of a single month to project out only on a monthly basis.

Now you have a basis to assess financing your cash flow.

Financing cash flow is always going to be somewhat unique to each business due to industry, sector, business model, stage of business, business size, owner resources, and so on.

Each business must self assess its sources of financing cash flow, including but not limited to owner investment, trade or payable financing, government remittances, receivable discounts for early payment, deposits on sale, third party financing (line of credit, term loan, factoring, purchase order financing, inventory financing, asset based lending, or whatever else is relevant to you).

Ok, so now you have a cash flow bearing and a thorough understanding of your options available for financing cash flow in your specific business model.

Now what?

Now you are in a position to entertain future sales opportunities that fit into your cash flow.

Three points to clarify before we go further.

First, financing is not strictly about getting a loan from someone when your cash flow needs more money. Its a process of keeping your cash flow continuously positive at the lowest possible cost.

Second, you should only market and sell what you can cash flow. Marketers will measure the ROI of a marketing initiative. But if you can’t cash flow the business to complete the sale and collect the proceeds, there is no ROI to measure. If you have a business with fluctuating sales and margins, you can only enter into transactions that you can finance.

Third, marketing needs to focus on customers that you can sell to over and over again in order to maximize your marketing efforts and reduce the unpredictability of the annual sales cycle through regular repeat orders and sales.

Marketing works under the premise that if you are providing what the customer wants that the money side of the equation will take care of itself. In many businesses this indeed proves to be true. But in a business with fluctuating sales and margins, financing cash flow has to be another criteria built into sales and marketing activities.

Overtime, virtually any business has the potential to smooth out the peaks and valleys through a more robust marketing plan that better lines up with customer needs and the business’s financing limitations or parameters.

In addition to linking financing cash flow more closely to marketing and sales, the next most impactful action you can take is expanding your sources of financing.

Here are some potential strategies for expanding your sources for financing cash flow.

Strategy # 1: Develop strategic relationships with key suppliers that have the ability to extend greater financing in certain situations to take advantage of sales opportunities. This is accomplished with larger suppliers that 1) have the financial means to extend financing, 2) view you as a key customer and value your business, 3) have confidence in the business’s ability to forecast and manage cash flow.

Strategy # 2: Make sure where possible that your annual financial statements show a profit capable of servicing debt financing. Accountants may be good at saving you income tax dollars, but if they drive business profitability down to or close to zero through tax planning, they may also effectively destroying your ability to borrow money.

Strategy # 3: If possible, only transact with credit worthy customers. Credit worthy customers allow both the business and potential lenders to finance receivables which can increase the amount of external financing available to you.

Strategy # 4: Develop a liquidation pathway for your tangible assets. Equipment and inventory are easier to finance if lenders clearly understand how to liquidate the assets in the event of default. In some cases, businesses can get resale option agreements on certain equipment or inventory from prospective buyers assignable to a lender to be used as recourse against a lending facility for financing cash flow.

Strategy # 5: Joint venture a sales opportunity with another business to share the risk of a large sales opportunity that may be too risky for you to take on yourself.

Summary

The primary long term objective of a business with fluctuating cash flow and margins is to smooth out the peaks and valleys and create a scalable business with more of a predictable sales cycle.

This is best achieved with an approach that including the following steps.

Step #1. Micro Manage your fixed costs and cash flow and accurately project out the cash flow requirements of the business on a weekly basis.

Step #2. Take a detailed inventory of all the sources you have for financing cash flow.

Step #3. Incorporate your financing constraints into your marketing approach.

Step #4. If possible, only transact with credit worthy customers to reduce risk and increase financing options.

Step #5. Work towards expanding both your financing sources and available source limits for financing cash flow.

Business cycle stability and cash flow predictability is an evolutionary step for every business. The industries with longer sales cycles will tend to be the more difficult to tame due to a larger number of variables to manage.

The Facts of Financing

Your mother always warned, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” and those words of wisdom can be applied when financing a business. There are a number of methods that can aid buyers in financing a business. Buyers must recognize their available resources such as the seller, lenders, and investors.

As a child, we’re encouraged to “dream big” and told that nothing can stop us, but ourselves. As entrepreneurial adults, this idea of dreaming big is often a part of your everyday routine, but it is inevitable that at some point you’ll come crashing down from those heights into reality. The realization that financing your particular endeavor can instantly dampen even the most impassioned enterprising individual can get you down. To put it bluntly, “Don’t let it”.

Having a reality check on the difficulty of securing financing for a business can be the first step towards making your dream an actuality. There are numerous types of financing available, some more unorthodox or obscure. If you take the time and effort to research all avenues for funding you will be rewarded.

There are two main types of financing: debt financing and equity financing. It is important to you and the success of your business that you familiarize yourself with the types of financing in order to choose, seek, and finally, obtain the right form for your needs.

Debt financing involves borrowing money that will be repaid over a certain allotted time with a set interest rate tacked on. The time of such financing can be short term or long-term. In most cases, short term financing would include repayment within one year, while long-term financing would entail repayment in a time period that exceeds one year.

An advantage of this type of financing is the fact that the lender will not gain ownership in your business. You remain in control and your only obligation to them is to make regular and timely payments. In the case of small startups, a personal guarantee is often needed to facilitate the closing of the financing deal.

Equity financing, unlike debt financing, will involve giving the financing entity a share in the business. Some business owners dislike the idea of losing any amount of control. On a positive note, this type of financing does not incur debt. This kind of freedom from debt can give a greater sense of security in starting a new business. In addition, some entrepreneurs find great value in their equity financing partners, and see their presence as an asset.

The type of financing you will choose is based largely on the needs of your business and the kind of collateral, or available assets you have to offer. A substantial amount of debt financing can lead to poor credit and a shortage of funds in the future due to an inability to apply for more financing. A business that becomes overextended, offers little collateral, and is steeped in debt is not an appealing option for many investors.

As previously mentioned, there are other more unorthodox methods of obtaining funds that can certainly prove to be beneficial to your business. Some options can be found in your own circle of friends and family. One benefit of this type of financing is obtaining the money and a silent partner who will most likely not interfere with your business. It can also eliminate some of the red tape involved with more traditional forms of financing. This does not mean you can simply use a verbal agreement or “shake on it” to signify and bind the transaction. This is still a strategic business move and you must treat it as such which means proper documentation, clear terms, and mutual understanding of those terms.

Relationships can be ruined over inept efforts with this type of financing, so value your business and the other person by treating it with professionalism, attention to detail, and respect. Don’t become the black sheep at the next family reunion over some misunderstanding or your falling behind on payments.

A few other options that are largely unknown to those who haven’t done research include unsecured loans and micro-loans. Resources such as TheSnapLoan.com or Prosper.com offer loans based on cash flow, credit score, and debt-to-income ratio. Government grants are also a largely untapped resource that is made available to entrepreneurs. Simply researching the website Grants.gov can be extremely helpful in your search for funds.

Venture capital is another route that many entrepreneurs look to due to the amount of funding that can be procured. A venture capitalist will likely offer larger sums of money that can be of great assistance to your business, but they will also gain a certain portion of control and ownership. This type of funding however is usually scarce due to the assumption that many startups will inevitably fail. You will need to find someone willing to take the risk and who sees potential in your vision.

This type of person could also be found in a more palatable option known as the Angel investor. The Angel investor typically has a high net worth and like the venture capitalist, must believe in the product and the person behind the product. Their loan often converts to stock, preferred stock, or convertible bonds.

Understanding The Basic Finance Options

When it comes to getting your finances in order, it is a good idea to understand a little about all the tools that you have at your disposal. Here are a few reminders of the several different ways you can gather support and information to help you manage your finances.

No matter what our goals happen to be, most of us find ourselves in need of good sound finance advice from time to time. We can find all sorts of qualified finance advisers around us. Our local bank is usually willing to help us understand the workings of saving and investing, and without charging anything for going over the basics. Many communities have non-profit organizations that help with preparing budgets and providing counseling when persons are in need of a few tips on breaking bad financial habits.

Counseling is also available to help you meet long term financial goals as well. As an example, if one of your goals is to finance college tuition for your children, a qualified counselor can help you set up a savings program that will allow you to set aside an equitable amount on a regular basis in some sort of interest bearing account. By using a finance calculator to layout your monthly budget, and make sure your budget is realistic, you can begin to make headway toward building that college fund.

Of course, it may be that you need some guidance in seeking a finance loans to purchase a home or start a business. You will want to speak with more than one finance lender, so that you can do some comparison shopping on finance rates, monthly repayment terms, and how much of your monthly payment will be applied to your principle. You also want to know if there are any penalties for paying off the loan early, or if there are any incentives that would make it worth your while to retire the debt earlier than planned.

Finance equity can also be a topic where you would want to seek some expert advice before making a move. Understanding just exactly how much equity you current have in your property can make all the difference in evaluating your overall financial health. This is especially true if you are considering the sale of a portion of your properties. Without a reasonable amount of equity accrued, you may find it advantageous to hold on to the properties for a little while longer.

If you want to learn to handle more of your finances on your own, there are probably several avenues in your community where you can take a finance course or two. Your local community college may have courses that can be taken in the evenings or on weekends. Credit associations often have short term courses that are geared toward particular areas of financial management. Check in the phone book and with your local chamber of commerce to find out what opportunities are coming up.

Record keeping is also important to your fiscal health. If you have a home computer, you can avail yourself of finance software. Some computers come with basic finance tracking packages already loaded into the hard drive. If you need something a little more robust, there are a number of different software programs on the market today. Often, you can download a trial version of any finance software you are interested in and see if the package will do everything you need it to do.