The cash flow for your business has two components: money coming in and money going out. Since we all need positive cash flow to operate profitably, it's common for entrepreneurs to spend a lot of time and effort managing receivables in order to get paid as quickly as possible.
But that's only fighting half the battle.
You may be surprised at the difference effectively managing your accounts payable can make.
1. Move your payables to the cloud.
Nobody likes paying bills, so it's common for business owners to put it off. (I used to sit down one day a month and handle everything. I'd slog through paper bills, run out of stamps and generally be a grouch because it was so unpleasant.)
Scheduling payments and negotiating terms are all great strategies for managing the payables you inevitably accrue. But don't overlook another obvious strategy—reducing expenses.
The first step in addressing this could very well be moving all your payables to the cloud. When you free yourself from the tedium of paying paper bills, you open up a range of options that let you control your payables and generate positive cash flow.
2. Know your terms.
One of the key principles for getting the most out of actively managing your payables is using your payment or credit terms to your advantage. The longer you hold onto your money, the better—and you can't do that unless you understand exactly when your payments are due and what the consequences are for paying on a different schedule.
For example, there may not be a penalty for paying your electric bill a few days late. Of course, you can't work in the dark, but if you can push that payment a bit, why not?
Positive cash flow depends on collecting money before you have to pay it out. Knowing your options is a good start.
3. Negotiate your terms.
There aren't many vendors who are going to approach you to offer better payment terms. If you want positive cash flow, you've gotta ask for them.
Think 60-day terms might help? They could be yours for the asking.
Whether you're looking for better credit terms, a lower interest rate for a loan or simply a way to stretch out your repayment schedule, many vendors and lenders have more flexibility than you might imagine.
4. Prioritize critical vendors.
Particularly if you're in a cash crunch, sometimes we just can't pay everything on time. If you're faced with making choices about which bills to pay first, make sure you take care of the vendors who mean the most to your business.
It's just like with the electric bill: You may be able to pay a little late, but you've got to pay it.
Positive cash flow depends on your ability to bring in revenue, so you've got to pay the vendors you rely on to make that happen.
5. Stay on top of scheduling.
One of the biggest benefits of moving payables to the cloud (besides never having to look for a stamp again) is your ability to keep tabs on when everything is due.
Now that I pay bills electronically, I do it far more frequently, but it takes much less time. I can hop on my phone or computer, pay a bill and be finished in seconds.
I also get to take full advantage of the terms I've negotiated. I know exactly when my bills are due, and I don't pay them before I have to. Paying bills before they're due can hinder your ability to maintain positive cash flow.
6. Space out large payments.
When I'm scheduling my payments, I keep track of when I have big bills due.
If you know you have big estimated tax payments once per quarter, it makes sense to schedule other big payments during other months. Many subscriptions automatically renew in January, and if that's a slow month for you, it can start you off in the hole.
Take charge of your payment scheduling and spread out your big obligations so they don't all hit at once. Positive cash flow may require that you finetune your payables to account for seasonal fluctuations in sales or annual and quarterly obligations.
Scheduling payments and negotiating terms are all great strategies for managing the payables you inevitably accrue. But don't overlook another obvious strategy—reducing expenses. When you can trim outgoing expenses, you may start to see more positive cash flow.
Read more articles on accounts receivable/payable.