Christine Cersosimo says that one of the biggest eye-openers of her first year in business has been how hard it’s been to be successful on the limited financial resources she has for her company.
It’s quite a common problem for entrepreneurs – especially those in the ad specialty industry who have to pay for goods prior to their clients actually paying for them. Getting a big deal – or any deal for a new business – should be a day of celebration but it often leads to concerns for distributors about how they’re going to front the money before they get paid. Which could be 30, 60 or even 90 days away depending on how reliable the client is.
“New businesses have to know that they can cover their expected costs from month to month,” says Henry Gregg, the founder and president of Freeport Consultants, a management consulting firm based in Freeport, ME. “You know what your fixed costs are, but you also need to plan for the costs associated with completing deals. If you have to front cash before clients pay up, then you need to have a cash reserve that you can tap into.”
For those who don’t have ready-access to capital, Gregg suggests applying for a loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA). There are many avenues to apply under, and while loans can be difficult to attain right now, the SBA and its bank partners have special reserves for new businesses with bright business plans. “You have to jump through extra hoops right now to prove your creditworthiness, but there are funds available through SBA loans,” Gregg says.
His biggest piece of financial advice, though, when applying for a loan is to create a solid business plan that details revenue and profit goals, and includes breakdowns of how many deals per month, quarter and year your small business needs to sign to achieve those goals. “Lenders want to see that you have a clear plan for how you’re going to grow,” Gregg says. “Get your business plan in order before beginning the loan application process. Too many people go about it backwards.”
Outside of getting a loan, Gregg says there are some daily strategies new businesses can employ to ensure that their cash flow is solid. The first is to make clients pay more of their bills upfront. He suggests shooting for getting 50% of your invoices once an order is placed. “This not only gives you extra cash to cover the cost of the goods, but it also shows a larger commitment on the part of the customer,” Gregg says. “You want them to be invested in the deal, like you are, so that they aren’t as likely to walk away from it at any point.”
Also, Gregg advises his small business clients to closely watch their expenses and make sure they’re not taking on anything unnecessary. In the first year of business, he says, many entrepreneurs rent an office or fly to see potential clients or simply spend too much money on letterhead. “You need to have cash in reserve, and unless you have a loan or savings to fall back on, you should be monitoring your payables very tightly,” he says. “My advice to new businesses is to always watch every penny that goes out until you have a consistent revenue stream.