This is the last of a three-part series covering what I call The Five Financial Mysteries. The first three Mysteries were about the relationship between cash, accounting and profit.
In this article I’ll complete my attempt to help you avoid becoming part of the business failure statistics. If you haven’t seen the first three Mysteries, be sure to look for the previous two articles nearby. Now, buckle up as I reveal Financial Mysteries Four and Five.
Financial Mystery Number Four: You can get squeezed between vendors and customers.
Vendors and customers are the prime entities you deal with financially every day your business is open. Understanding your relationship between these two – literally between, because your business is in the middle – is the key to cash flow management. The way to avoid getting squeezed is by managing your Accounts Receivable (A/R) Days and Accounts Payable (A/P) Days. Warning: This will get a little mathy, but not difficult IF you have current records.
A/R Days is the time it takes to collect from customers for sales you made on credit. Divide the A/R total on your balance sheet (you do have a current balance sheet, right?) by total sales revenue from your P&L (you do have a current P&L, right?) then multiply that quotient by 365.
Example: Accounts Receivable $80,000 ÷ $750,000 Revenue = .1067 X 365 = 38.9 Days Receivable. You took an average of 38.9 days to collect your receivables.
Next, A/P Days – the time you take to pay vendors for purchases. Divide the A/P number on your balance sheet into your cost of goods sold (COGS) for the period from the P&L. Then divide that quotient into 365.
Example: COGS are $450,000 ÷ $35,000 Accounts Payable = 12.86. Then 365 days ÷ 12.86 = 28.4 Days Payable. On average, you paid vendors within 28.4 days.
The relationship between your A/R Days of 38.9 and A/P Days of 28.4 shows that, on average you paid vendors 10.5 days faster than customers paid you. That means, without cash from other sources, you will experience negative cash for over 10 days.
That number – 10.5 days, is the magic number every business owner should know about their business. Your company could very well be profitable and growing. But in this case, for a third of a month, you will be out of cash, unless you rely on credit or have working capital from retained earnings (profit).
Now that this mystery is revealed, here’s how to make this cash shortfall essentially go away: use a combination of taking longer to pay (4 days), collecting sooner (4 days) and cover the other two days with organic capital in the form of retained earnings (profit).
Financial Mystery Number Five: Profit is the Queen of Business, but Cash is the Emperor.
Does this sound like having cash is more important than making a profit? Well, it is – sort of.
It's always important to make a profit. It’s the protein your business must have to become strong and muscular, so you can work through periodic unprofitability that befalls almost every venture. But even a profitable business will be out of business if it goes too many days without cash.
The most intense, anxious, and anguishing moments of your career as a small business owner won't be when you don’t make a profit, it’ll be when you’re out of cash. Manage your business for profitability but operate it for cash flow.
Now that the Five Financial Mysteries have been revealed, you should have a better handle on the relationship between cash, profit, accounting and the impact of time on all financial aspects of business. And you should be able to remain part of that other business statistic: the millions of successful, profitable, sustainable small businesses.
Write this on a rock ...
Let’s rope all Five Financial Mysteries into one short, handy sentence: Buy low, sell high, keep track.
Jim Blasingame is the author of two award-winning books, “The 3rd Ingredient,” and “The Age of the Customer.” email@example.com.