Making ends meet is often a struggle for small businesses. But there are ways to stretch your hard-earned revenue and make it work more efficiently, while helping to grow your business. Below are 15 tips from experts and small business owners on how to better manage your company's money.
Plan for a cash-flow issue: It doesn't matter how much money you're making, have a plan for when you're short on cash. "That way, if you have cash-flow issues, you know exactly what you're going to do, including which costs you'll reduce first," says John DeHart, cofounder of two companies, Nurse Next Door and Live Well. "Entrepreneurs are often very emotional. We're always glass-is-half-full people. … When you have a plan in advance, it takes the emotion out of it."
Set aside money when times are good: It's important to have a rainy day fund. "Maybe you close an important contract, or there's a seasonal element to your business, putting aside a little bit extra when times are good, and getting surplus interest on that, will help you when times are tight," says Geordan Robertson, director of small business at Meridian Credit Union. In tough times, it can also give you a competitive edge against competitors who didn't squirrel away extra cash.
Be a cash hunter: "Be very perseverant about looking at opportunities to save money," says David Soberman, professor of marketing at the Rotman School of Management. That can include everything from cutting employee perks such as free food and drinks, finding savings in employee benefit plans and reducing money spent on outside consultants. At Live Well, Mr. DeHart says he often finds savings on phone bills, the cost of which can creep up over time.
Get a line of credit before you need it: "It's a comfort thing," says Mr. DeHart. "That way, when I know I'm starting to get low on cash, it's already arranged."
Get paid faster: Get as much cash up front as possible. For some companies, that means accepting credit and debit cards instead of cash from customers and suppliers. That's why gyms, newspaper and magazine companies are always pushing monthly memberships or subscriptions. At Live Well, they use preauthorized debit and take the money out of customer accounts at the start of every month. "Now that I have this cash up front, I can plan for the rest of the month," says DeHart. "It's one of the best ways to generate cash."
Pay others more slowly. When you're starting out, paying monthly bills can be a challenge. Experts recommend asking suppliers for a few more weeks to pay a bill. For example, see if a bill due in 30 days can be paid in 45 or 60 days instead. "You can generate an extra month of cash just by doing that," Mr. DeHart says. Although, he doesn't recommend using the strategy for too long. "Don't make it common practice. It will make your suppliers angry and you won't be a good business partner."
Get the money you're owed. Just because you need more time to pay your bills, doesn't mean other companies do. "People don't like hounding other people to pay them, but sometimes it's necessary," says Mr. Soberman. "If you don't hound them, you'll end up in trouble." Once your business is more established, you might also take it a step further: If a customer's payment is overdue, don't fill their order until they pay. Mr. Soberman then recommends asking for part of the payment up front. "Sometimes you have to do these things that aren't so pleasant."
Focus on higher-margin customers. Of course all customers are important, but the reality for businesses is that you sometimes have to prioritize them. For example, if you need to travel three times to visit a customer in Edmonton, but only need to call another customer in Toronto, pay more attention to the one that costs less to manage (unless the other one pays three times as much). "When we are running a business and we look at the volume they will buy and the price, we often don't prioritize by how much expense it will incur to have them as a customer," Mr. Soberman says.
Focus less on customer acquisition and more on customer retention: Too often, businesses spend more of their energy on getting new people to buy their products and services than making their existing customers happy. "Readjust your focus not on growth, but on retention," says Mr. Soberman. "Good customers often increase the amount they're buying when they're happy."
Boost customer service: It might not sound like a cash-flow tip, but boosting customer service will help to increase customer loyalty. In turn, that should help generate more revenue at your company, says Mr. Robertson. "Over-serviced clients can become loyal," Mr. Robertson says. "When times are tight, having those loyal customers can help you from a cash flow standpoint."
Offer customer perks: Give customers an incentive to come back and spend more at your business, even it if means losing a few dollars. For example, Tokyo Smoke, a Toronto-based coffee, clothing and cannabis company, offers a $20-a-week all-you-can drink coffee program. While their margins might be lower on that product, it keeps customers coming back and spending more on other items, says cofounder Alan Gertner. "Our margins are worse, but we have more recurring cash flow."
Get connected. Businesses have more tools than ever before to track and analyze customer activity. Use data to drive your business decisions. Tokyo Smoke uses a WiFi marketing platform, Turnstyle, that detects signals emitted by mobile device and helps the business track foot traffic, new visitors and repeat customers. "Turnstyle is a game changer for understanding customers and marketing to them efficiently," Mr. Gertner says.
Raise prices. It may sound counterintuitive to increase prices to get more customers, but it can help improve your business. Customers may complain at first, but if they like your product or service they'll be back. "If you can articulate how valuable your service is to the client, they're going to pay it," Mr. DeHart says.
Shop for better interest rates and fees at the bank: Play hardball with the banks, Mr. Soberman says. He recommends shopping around and seeing which ones offer the best rates and service. "We often tend to do our banking by inertia. There are big benefits that can be had by shopping around." When Dionne Laslo-Baker, CEO of Victoria-based DeeBee's SpecialTea Foods Ltd., threatened to take her banking business elsewhere they immediately offered to "make it better," she says. "I am still with the original bank, but I know they're not the only option." Mr. Soberman also recommends learning more about the banking fees you're paying, and seeing where you can get costs reduced or removed altogether.
Find free money. There's a long list of provincial and government funding options available for small businesses, including grants and matching funds. Businesses should also consider bartering their products and services with other companies to not only reduce costs, but also build brand awareness. For example, DeeBee's SpecialTea Foods will sponsor an event, but instead of paying the full price for sponsorship, it donate a certain amount in product. "We get some brand awareness and they have a really fun and exciting product for the event," Ms. Laslo-Baker says.