Money Matters

How to manage your cash flow during a recession

During a recession, managing your cash flow well is more important than ever. Discover some top tips to help you do just that.

Managing cash flow poorly can result in small businesses struggling, especially during times of recession.

Maintaining a healthy cash flow is always essential for your business but it might require extra attention in this difficult economic landscape.

In this article, we talk about how a recession can affect your company cash flow, setting payment terms, increasing the chances of faster payment, who you can turn to for support, and offer plenty more tips.

Here’s what we cover:

Recession concerns

More than three-quarters (77%) of finance brokers say their small business clients are concerned about the possibility of a recession, according to a recent survey by Iwoca, a fintech company that provides credit facilities to small businesses trading in the UK.

Not only that but there was a rise in the number of brokers reporting ‘managing day-to-day cash flow’ as the most common reason for applying for a loan (37%).

Steven Scoufarides, Head of Broker Channel at Iwoca, says: “The current economic outlook for small businesses is precarious – we are seeing signs of an increasing number of SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] searching for finance solutions to manage their cash flow and brace for the potential of a recession.

“But, as they’ve proven time and time again, small businesses are resilient and will shield themselves against this economic threat in every way they can.”

How a recession can affect your business

Difficult financial periods can affect a company in a number of ways, with small businesses – many of which have fewer resources and shallower pockets than their larger counterparts – particularly at risk.

You might find your company’s sales fall as both existing and potential customers tighten their belts.

Some might put in smaller orders or switch to cheaper options in your product lines. Others may ask for discounts or could be slower settling accounts.

You might find yourself spending more time chasing outstanding invoices.

And if a customer goes closes their business because of the economic situation, that will obviously damage your cash flow and cash reserves.

All of these events could have a detrimental effect on the way that cash flows through your business.

And, as we know, cash flow is the lifeblood of any company.

But there’s no need to panic.

6 ways to manage your cash flow

There are a number of actions you can take to shore up cash flow and keep your business at least ticking over during times of uncertainty.

Here are six things you can do now.

1. Be prompt with your invoicing

Staying on top of receivables – the money you get from sales – is essential for healthy cash flow.

This means invoicing promptly and asking for payment to be equally prompt. It also means constantly checking your list of invoices to see what hasn’t been paid yet.

Good cloud accounting software will flag up when an invoice is overdue and let you see quickly and easily who really should have paid.

It can be used to send automatic reminders for outstanding invoices, too.

Sending statements to regular customers is a good way of gently nudging them to pay and avoiding the risk that they’ll suddenly query a long overdue invoice.

It’s worth noting any slow payers, so you can be prepared when you next issue them with an invoice and you can prioritise customers who pay on time.

If you’re paying out money yourself – for raw materials, venue hire or freelance staff, for example – make sure that whenever possible you receive payment from your customer before the money for your suppliers leaves your account.

Finally, keeping those receivables trickling in on a regular basis is as much your responsibility as it is that of your customers.

Make sure you invoice promptly, that the details of the product or service and who commissioned it are easy to see, and that if your client uses purchase orders and other references, these are correct and immediately obvious.

2. Review your payment terms

Payment terms usually refer to the amount of time a payer has to make a payment to you for a product or service you’ve provided them with.

This might typically be 14 days, 30 days or cash on delivery (COD) if you’re providing a product that has been dropped off at your customer’s premises.

Including payment terms in your invoices and statements is a good idea. They should also mention how you expect payment to be made, which these days is normally electronically.

Timing is important here.

You can offer a discount for early payment, for example. This might be, for instance, a reduction of 5% if your customer pays within 14 days rather than your standard terms of 30 days.

On the other hand, you can also charge interest for late payments.

Unless you’ve stated your own interest rate, you should apply what is known as statutory interest, which is 8% on top of the Bank of England base rate.

To do this, you’ll have to issue another invoice with this interest charge on it.

It’s worth bearing in mind that this is something of a last resort and you’ll need to make a judgement about whether it’s worth annoying or upsetting a regular, valuable client with such an action.

3. Create a cash flow forecast

Another important step is to create a cash flow forecast, if you don’t have one already.

This will show the expected flow of cash in and out of the business over the next six, 12 or 18 months.

It will usually include income from sales and other sources such as bank interest alongside expenses including wages, raw materials costs, rent and rates plus utilities.

As well as being accurate and comprehensive, it’s important that your numbers are realistic, perhaps even a bit pessimistic. A forecast that overestimates income and plays down outgoings is misleading and can be worse than useless.

However, once you’ve got an accurate prediction of your finances, you’ll have a clear sense of where you are and where you’ll be a few months hence.

You can decide whether to try and cut costs, and if so by how much.

Similarly, you’ll know whether or not to cancel investment and other expenditure. And if you have a team (or teams), you should also be able to create sales and revenue targets for them.

A cash flow forecast can inform you whether you might have to seek a loan, as well as when and for how much. You should review and update your cash forecast on a weekly basis.

4. Check your profit margins

During financially challenging times, it’s worth checking your profit margins.

You might have a great product that sells very well but how much money are you making out of it? Can you reduce costs or nudge the price up a bit?

Do you know which products or services are the most profitable and are therefore the ones you should be promoting at the moment?

5. Use an accountant

You might be loath to take on a new financial responsibility and increase your outgoings but employing an accountant, even in the short term or on a project basis can be a good return on investment.

An accountant can help with cash flow by providing or advising on services such as bookkeeping, and creating business and finance plans.

They can make sure you’re paying the right amount of tax and that you’re financially compliant.

They’re sometimes able to help you identify business grants and new funding to get you through difficult times.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales will help you to find an accountant, based on your business sector and location.

The Institute of Financial Accountants also has a useful search tool.

6. Reduce your business outgoings

As well as money coming in, can you reduce your outgoings? It’s worth shopping around for a better deal on your insurance, for instance.

Look through your expenditure or outgoings to check whether there is anything you can cut or exchange for a more cost-effective alternative.

Final thoughts

Recessions can be worrying times for many people. However, it’s possible to regard the current economic landscape as an opportunity to review your business finances and operations.

You can then make some positive changes that will not only get you through the difficult times but set you up to make the most of the economic upturn whenever it arrives.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in September 2022 and has been updated for relevance.

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