With Opening Day of Major League Baseball over, I breathe a deep sigh of relief as a ticket broker. It means my company, EasySeat, has started shipping all of the baseball tickets that it has been purchasing for the last 7 months.
That means cash flow will soon turn positive again.
In EasySeat’s business model, cash is king, and ensuring that we have enough cash to fund inventory and operations is critical to our success. Successfully managing, and understanding, cash flow is not a skill reserved for MBAs. Every business owner should understand their cash flow.
Here are five easy rules for creating a simple cash flow plan:
1. Project monthly sales (and curb your optimism). When projecting sales for cash flow purposes, don't be the optimist. Use worst-case-scenario estimated sales figures or historical monthly averages. Any sales figure used for cash flow planning should be something that is readily achievable. Remember, this process is used to make sure that the business has sufficient capital to operate, not an exercise in projecting success.
2. Remember receivables. Not every sale is created equal when it comes to cash. Cash and credit card sales are available for ongoing operations immediately, but sales with terms can take 30, 60, or even 180 days or more to turn into usable funds. Factor this timing into any projections, and most importantly, remember the potential impact on cash flow before extending terms to new customers.
3. Consolidate predictables. Every business has a core monthly cash burn that includes things like rent, payroll, and telephone service that are consistent and predictable. Consolidate these numbers into one operating expense figure that reflects how much cash must come in the door every month to stay in business.
4. Adjust for growth. It’s critically important to account for the capital required to grow. Many successful businesses fail by not having sufficient cash to fund their growth. New sales often require new expenditures for equipment, employees, and marketing. In most cases, the expenses come before the sale which requires that the cash is available in advance.
5. Plan for the unforeseen. To quote Donald Rumsfeld, these are “known unknowns.” For example, if the Yankees make the World Series, it’s a huge opportunity for increased sales at EasySeat. At the same time, it will mean extra inventory to purchase, and therefore, extra cash to buy those tickets. Scenarios such as this need to be factored into any cash flow forecast to ensure that, when opportunity arises, the business is in a position to capitalize. If there is a place to be optimistic in planning cash flow, it’s here. If the situation never materializes, it simply leaves the company in a much stronger capital position.
These five simple rules can be used to create a basic cash flow plan, but it’s important to understand the ramifications of the numbers. The monthly "predictables" (#3) is the amount of cash required to run a business status quo. To grow, enough cash must be available to fund the new expenses that will drive growth.
Whether the plan is status quo or growth, any cash flow forecast must include a contingency plan or “slush fund” to account for potential new opportunities or challenges. Keep a running total of monthly cash flow, sales minus expenses, and the lowest net total is the amount of extra cash required to run the business or achieve a sales growth goal. If this amount is negative, it must be available to the company in the form or credit or existing capital. Once planning cash flow has been mastered, cash will still be king, but it’ll be more of a figurehead.