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.SummaryThe 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.A continuous focus on the process for improvement outlined will help create the desired results over time.

Alternative Financing Vs. Venture Capital: Which Option Is Best for Boosting Working Capital?

There are several potential financing options available to cash-strapped businesses that need a healthy dose of working capital. A bank loan or line of credit is often the first option that owners think of – and for businesses that qualify, this may be the best option.

In today’s uncertain business, economic and regulatory environment, qualifying for a bank loan can be difficult – especially for start-up companies and those that have experienced any type of financial difficulty. Sometimes, owners of businesses that don’t qualify for a bank loan decide that seeking venture capital or bringing on equity investors are other viable options.

But are they really? While there are some potential benefits to bringing venture capital and so-called “angel” investors into your business, there are drawbacks as well. Unfortunately, owners sometimes don’t think about these drawbacks until the ink has dried on a contract with a venture capitalist or angel investor – and it’s too late to back out of the deal.

Different Types of Financing

One problem with bringing in equity investors to help provide a working capital boost is that working capital and equity are really two different types of financing.

Working capital – or the money that is used to pay business expenses incurred during the time lag until cash from sales (or accounts receivable) is collected – is short-term in nature, so it should be financed via a short-term financing tool. Equity, however, should generally be used to finance rapid growth, business expansion, acquisitions or the purchase of long-term assets, which are defined as assets that are repaid over more than one 12-month business cycle.

But the biggest drawback to bringing equity investors into your business is a potential loss of control. When you sell equity (or shares) in your business to venture capitalists or angels, you are giving up a percentage of ownership in your business, and you may be doing so at an inopportune time. With this dilution of ownership most often comes a loss of control over some or all of the most important business decisions that must be made.

Sometimes, owners are enticed to sell equity by the fact that there is little (if any) out-of-pocket expense. Unlike debt financing, you don’t usually pay interest with equity financing. The equity investor gains its return via the ownership stake gained in your business. But the long-term “cost” of selling equity is always much higher than the short-term cost of debt, in terms of both actual cash cost as well as soft costs like the loss of control and stewardship of your company and the potential future value of the ownership shares that are sold.

Alternative Financing Solutions

But what if your business needs working capital and you don’t qualify for a bank loan or line of credit? Alternative financing solutions are often appropriate for injecting working capital into businesses in this situation. Three of the most common types of alternative financing used by such businesses are:

1. Full-Service Factoring – Businesses sell outstanding accounts receivable on an ongoing basis to a commercial finance (or factoring) company at a discount. The factoring company then manages the receivable until it is paid. Factoring is a well-established and accepted method of temporary alternative finance that is especially well-suited for rapidly growing companies and those with customer concentrations.

2. Accounts Receivable (A/R) Financing – A/R financing is an ideal solution for companies that are not yet bankable but have a stable financial condition and a more diverse customer base. Here, the business provides details on all accounts receivable and pledges those assets as collateral. The proceeds of those receivables are sent to a lockbox while the finance company calculates a borrowing base to determine the amount the company can borrow. When the borrower needs money, it makes an advance request and the finance company advances money using a percentage of the accounts receivable.

3. Asset-Based Lending (ABL) – This is a credit facility secured by all of a company’s assets, which may include A/R, equipment and inventory. Unlike with factoring, the business continues to manage and collect its own receivables and submits collateral reports on an ongoing basis to the finance company, which will review and periodically audit the reports.

In addition to providing working capital and enabling owners to maintain business control, alternative financing may provide other benefits as well:

It’s easy to determine the exact cost of financing and obtain an increase.
Professional collateral management can be included depending on the facility type and the lender.
Real-time, online interactive reporting is often available.
It may provide the business with access to more capital.
It’s flexible – financing ebbs and flows with the business’ needs.
It’s important to note that there are some circumstances in which equity is a viable and attractive financing solution. This is especially true in cases of business expansion and acquisition and new product launches – these are capital needs that are not generally well suited to debt financing. However, equity is not usually the appropriate financing solution to solve a working capital problem or help plug a cash-flow gap.

A Precious Commodity

Remember that business equity is a precious commodity that should only be considered under the right circumstances and at the right time. When equity financing is sought, ideally this should be done at a time when the company has good growth prospects and a significant cash need for this growth. Ideally, majority ownership (and thus, absolute control) should remain with the company founder(s).

Alternative financing solutions like factoring, A/R financing and ABL can provide the working capital boost many cash-strapped businesses that don’t qualify for bank financing need – without diluting ownership and possibly giving up business control at an inopportune time for the owner. If and when these companies become bankable later, it’s often an easy transition to a traditional bank line of credit. Your banker may be able to refer you to a commercial finance company that can offer the right type of alternative financing solution for your particular situation.

Taking the time to understand all the different financing options available to your business, and the pros and cons of each, is the best way to make sure you choose the best option for your business. The use of alternative financing can help your company grow without diluting your ownership. After all, it’s your business – shouldn’t you keep as much of it as possible?

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