Monthly Archives: September 2017

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.

Small Business Finance

Financing a small business can be most time consuming activity for a business owner. It can be the most important part of growing a business, but one must be careful not to allow it to consume the business. Finance is the relationship between cash, risk and value. Manage each well and you will have healthy finance mix for your business.

Develop a business plan and loan package that has a well developed strategic plan, which in turn relates to realistic and believable financials. Before you can finance a business, a project, an expansion or an acquisition, you must develop precisely what your finance needs are.

Finance your business from a position of strength. As a business owner you show your confidence in the business by investing up to ten percent of your finance needs from your own coffers. The remaining twenty to thirty percent of your cash needs can come from private investors or venture capital. Remember, sweat equity is expected, but it is not a replacement for cash.

Depending on the valuation of your business and the risk involved, the private equity component will want on average a thirty to forty percent equity stake in your company for three to five years. Giving up this equity position in your company, yet maintaining clear majority ownership, will give you leverage in the remaining sixty percent of your finance needs.

The remaining finance can come in the form of long term debt, short term working capital, equipment finance and inventory finance. By having a strong cash position in your company, a variety of lenders will be available to you. It is advisable to hire an experienced commercial loan broker to do the finance “shopping” for you and present you with a variety of options. It is important at this juncture that you obtain finance that fits your business needs and structures, instead of trying to force your structure into a financial instrument not ideally suited for your operations.

Having a strong cash position in your company, the additional debt financing will not put an undue strain on your cash flow. Sixty percent debt is a healthy. Debt finance can come in the form of unsecured finance, such as short-term debt, line of credit financing and long term debt. Unsecured debt is typically called cash flow finance and requires credit worthiness. Debt finance can also come in the form of secured or asset based finance, which can include accounts receivable, inventory, equipment, real estate, personal assets, letter of credit, and government guaranteed finance. A customized mix of unsecured and secured debt, designed specifically around your company’s financial needs, is the advantage of having a strong cash position.

The cash flow statement is an important financial in tracking the effects of certain types of finance. It is critical to have a firm handle on your monthly cash flow, along with the control and planning structure of a financial budget, to successfully plan and monitor your company’s finance.

Your finance plan is a result and part of your strategic planning process. You need to be careful in matching your cash needs with your cash goals. Using short term capital for long term growth and vice versa is a no-no. Violating the matching rule can bring about high risk levels in the interest rate, re-finance possibilities and operational independence. Some deviation from this age old rule is permissible. For instance, if you have a long term need for working capital, then a permanent capital need may be warranted. Another good finance strategy is having contingency capital on hand for freeing up your working capital needs and providing maximum flexibility. For example, you can use a line of credit to get into an opportunity that quickly arises and then arrange for cheaper, better suited, long term finance subsequently, planning all of this upfront with a lender.

Unfortunately finance is not typically addressed until a company is in crisis. Plan ahead with an effective business plan and loan package. Equity finance does not stress cash flow as debt can and gives lenders confidence to do business with your company. Good financial structuring reduces the costs of capital and the finance risks. Consider using a business consultant, finance professional or loan broker to help you with your finance plan.

Commercial Truck Financing

First there are the captive finance companies. Think of them as the financing arms of all the major manufactures. They exist solely to provide financing to the public in an effort to sell their trucks. In the past they have been somewhat liberal in their underwriting criteria and like the mortgage industry perhaps too liberal. This relaxed underwriting of the past has caused serious defaults today. This has resulted in a subsequent tightening of credit. The end result is the selling of less trucks and trailers; customers have a harder time getting financing. Nonetheless, the captive financing company will always be part of the commercial truck financing game.

Second are the independent financing companies. They are not tied to the manufactures in any way. They exist to make a profit from financing commercial trucks and other equipment. They can be a welcome alternatives for several reasons. First they can be someone to turn to if a good credit customer is “tapped out” with the captives. This means they have already financed trucks with the captive financing companies and they don’t want to do anymore for the customer (at least for now). These “A” credit sources are competitive on rate with the captives and, using different independent sources, a customer can finance an unlimited number of trucks. Independents are great for other reasons too. Say a customer wants a TRAC lease with different parameters than what the captives are offering. They can search for an independent that can tailor a TRAC lease for that customer. This is invaluable for the more sophisticated customer that has tax structure as their main objective. Here’s another one, we have customers calling us all the time that may only work nine months out of the year. They need financing that can offer skip payments. This way the customer can make nine payments a year instead of twelve; taking three months off of making their payments. One last one that hits home with us, the customer with bad credit. A captive financing company generally works only with people with good credit. For the customer with bad credit, their choices are limited. Thanks to independent financing companies (like ours) that specialize in customer with bad credit; these customers can get the financing they need to start or grow their business. Think of independent financing companies as offering financing products that can accommodate almost any need.

The third financing arm for commercial truck financing is the in-house financing program. Usually offered by the smaller vendor, in-house financing offers benefits for both dealer and customer. By offering financing in-house the dealer is able to move more inventory than if he didn’t. This is important because a smaller dealer doesn’t always have a captive finance program. And with credit tightening up the independent financing companies are becoming less important. The dealer can act like an independent financing company by offering all the same products while keeping the benefits of earning interest on the trucks they sell. The bad side, of course, is they also suffer in the case of defaults where the customer stops making payments. The benefits to the customer is they have a one stop shop where they can finance a truck at the same place they are purchasing it from. Downside is they are limited to their inventory.

Accounts Receivable Financing

There is a reason why accounts receivable financing is a four thousand year old financing technique: it works. Accounts receivable financing, factoring, and asset based financing all mean the same thing as related to asset based lending- invoices are sold or pledged to a third party, usually a commercial finance company (sometimes a bank) to accelerate cash flow.

In simple terms, the process follows these steps. A business sells and delivers a product or service to another business. The customer receives an invoice. The business requests funding from the financing entity and a percentage of the invoice (usually 80% to 90%) is transferred to the business by the financing entity. The customer pays the invoice directly to the financing entity. The agreed upon fees are deducted and the remainder is rebated to the business by the financing entity.

How does the customer know to pay the financing entity instead of the business they are receiving goods or services from? The legal term is called “notification”. The financing entity informs the customer in writing of the financing agreement and the customer must agree in writing to this arrangement. In general, if the customer refuses to agree in writing to pay the lender instead of the business providing the goods or services, the financing entity will decline to advance funds.

Why? The main security for the financing entity to be repaid is the creditworthiness of the customer paying the invoice. Before funds are advanced to the business there is a second step called “verification”. The finance entity verifies with the customer that the goods have been received or the services were performed satisfactorily. There being no dispute, it is reasonable for the financing entity to assume that the invoice will be paid; therefore funds are advanced. This is a general view of how the accounts receivable financing process works.

Non-notification accounts receivable financing is a type of confidential factoring where the customers are not notified of the business’ financing arrangement with the financing entity. One typical situation involves a business that sells inexpensive items to thousands of customers; the cost of notification and verification is excessive compared to the risk of nonpayment by an individual customer. It simply may not make economic sense for the financing entity to have several employees contacting hundreds of customers for one financing customer’s transactions on a daily basis.

Non-notification factoring may require additional collateral requirements such as real estate; superior credit of the borrowing business may also be required with personal guarantees from the owners. It is more difficult to obtain non-notification factoring than the normal accounts receivable financing with notification and verification provisions.