By Magnus Nmonwu, Regional Director, Sage West Africa
Cash flow problems—more money going out of the business than is coming in— are among the most significant reasons that Nigerian companies go out of business. Cash flow isn’t simply about sales or profits—it’s also about your business expenditure and your ability to collect money owing to you.
It is possible to have a good profit margin or experience great revenue growth, yet run into cash flow problems. For example, you will not be able to pay your rent on time or afford to buy stock because you’re waiting for customers who owe you large amounts of money to pay. Or your pricing might be too low for your overheads.
Here are some ways to take control of your cash flow:
1. Monitor your cash flow
Managing your cash flow starts with understanding it better. Look closely at the transactions in your business to understand your monthly income and expenses. What are your major costs each month—rent, salaries, stock, electricity, taxes and so on—and when do you pay them? How quickly are your customers paying you?
Rather than using an Excel spreadsheet or your bank statements to track cash flow, consider investing in an accounting solution. A good software package will allow you to generate cash flow statements at a push of a button, where you can see cash flow into the business (customer payments, supplier refunds, tax refunds and so on) and out of the business (expenses and payments). You’ll know that you have an accurate and up-to-date view of your cash position.
2. Keep a cash flow forecast
Generate a cash flow forecast and set targets for the next six to 12 months. Again, an automated software solution will enable you to generate a cash flow forecast. It should allow you to manually tweak parameters and numbers to cater for anticipated changes such as seasonal variations in sales or annual supplier price increases. This will enable you to make predictions about the gap between your income and expenses and, if appropriate, take corrective action.
3. Keep on top of billing
Send out invoices promptly and be quick to chase overdue bills. It’s also worth setting out clear payment terms with suppliers from the start of doing business with them. Get to know your customer payment dates and don’t ignore irregularities or delays – a poor paying customer might be about to go out of business. Knowing when you’re due to be paid will help you keep on top of your cash flow.
4. Stay friendly with lenders
Many businesses need a cash boost from a bank or lender every now and again, particularly when they’re starting out, and might need credit or an overdraft to get up and running. Stay on good terms with them and keep them informed of any unforeseen outgoings or changes in forecasts. By developing a good relationship, based on trust, with banks and lenders, they’ll be more likely to treat you favourably should your business need future financial assistance.
5. Tighten up on your outgoing payments
Assess the frequency with which you pay suppliers, tax bills, utilities and so on – is it possible to pay in instalments or make terms more flexible? Use your powers of negotiation to strike deals that are favourable to your business. Also, check on all those little things you spend money on that can add up, with a view to identifying easy cost-saving opportunities.
By keeping on top of your cash flow you’ll be able to deal with problems quickly and efficiently. If worried, talk to an accountant, investor or business mentor. The right accounting software can give you a bird’s-eye view of your business and help you stay on top of everything accounts related. It will help you manage your cash flow easily and effectively, ensuring your business is kept in the best possible financial position, before it becomes a problem.