For a small business owner, especially one just starting out, it sounds like a no-brainer. For slight and what appears at first to be a manageable discount, a third-party finance company will accelerate payment for goods and services delivered, eliminating 30, 60, or even 90-day waits that can stagnate production and growth.
Rather than risk stagnation or inertia while waiting 30 days (or more!) for payment - or risk losing repeat business by demanding payment from customers sooner than your competitors -- you farm that task out to a third party. As a result, you remain liquid -- at least in the short term -- able to pay for inventory or purchase equipment, meet payroll, and maybe even bid on additional products.
In short, grow your fledgling business.
Well, here's some advice: Take a breath. Tread carefully. Crunch the numbers.
Use your brain.
Because rather than growing your business, these quick loans can sometimes seep into long-term profitability and even choke it to death.
Here's an example:
Say you are owed $10,000 for goods and or services you have provided. The customer has agreed to pay you that in full within 30 days. But if you are early into your new business, or even if you are not, waiting even 30 days for payment could inhibit your ability to create a new product or run your business at full capacity.
The cash-flow middleman says the arrangement leaves all sides happy. Buyers still get their goods weeks, or even months, before having to pay for them. In contrast, sellers get paid more quickly and - especially for small businesses -- without the anxiety that often accompanies waiting to get paid. The intermediary closes the loop by collecting the full invoice amount from the buyer later and profits from the spread.
So you reach out to one of these cash-flow platforms. But at what rate? If your house is in order and you are dealing with a customer with an excellent track record of paying in full and on time, it could be as low as 5 percent. On the other hand, you may have to offer a higher percentage rate for someone with a less stellar record.
Say it's 12 percent. Rather than wait 30 days for the total amount, you can access $9,800 in 10 days. Offering a $200 discount seems advantageous as it frees up cash to reinvest in your company sooner. Multiplied over time, however, with a recurring customer - or multiplied by a consortium of customers -- that discount can eat away at growth, liquidity, and flexibility.
Would it be better to wait for payment in full? That depends on several factors unique to each enterprise. Maybe cash-flow optimization is right for you, at least to start. But there are other avenues, somewhat slower to access but potentially less damaging to your long-range health. Other options, such as SBA-guaranteed loans or asset-based loans, may fit you better.
A revolving line of credit or more traditional loan could cost you as little as one percent over those 30 days and ultimately provide you with a better return.
Can you afford to wait? Even if it initially impedes increasing inventory and attracting new business? As I said, every business model and every situation is its unique case. Taking a breath is essential; tread carefully, and crunch the numbers.
In short, use your brain.
You owe it to yourself - and your fledgling business - to consider all options.