1 Tuesday June thetimes.co.uk/smehub SUCCESSFUL MODERN ENTREPRENEURSHIP HOWTO MANAGE CASHFLOW This is the seventh in aseries of supplements The Times is publishing in partnership with Santander to supportsmall businesses. Each month, in print and online, we will be exploring the issues affecting small and medium-sized enterprises. Words bycarol Lewis and Carly Chynoweth Portraits by Maria Spann, Paul Rogers, Gabriel Szabo and Chris Winter for The Times 7 The saying that turnover is vanity, profit is sanity but cash is reality has never been truer for Britain s small and medium-sized businesses. Survey results published within the lastweek by Sage Group found that SME leaders say that the top challenge they face is controlling costs. This is not necessarily acase of badly-run business because, as the entrepreneurs in this issue of SME prove, even the most successful of companies has to grapple with gaps between doing work and beingpaid for work. The tenbusiness leaders profiled are evidence that athorough understanding of cash flow is aprecursor to growth. The entrepreneurs we interviewed keep aclose eyeonthe flow of cash in and out of their businesses atall times with most knowing exactly how much needs to come in every day to cover costs. They forecast and plan to minimise surprises. They all subscribe to the mantra that cash is king. Turnover, although still the Turnover is vanity, cash is reality Understanding and managing cash flow is essential to the growth of a small business currency often cited, can be deceptive. Take for instance Rob Halliday-Stein whose company turnover isexpected to exceed 100 million this year. Hardly an SME youmight think, but Halliday-Stein deals in gold bullion. His is still ayoung, small business, operating on tight margins and he has to watchthe pennies like any other SME: Understand your costs. They are the key tocash flow, he advises. Turnover isvanity. Another illustration of the truth of the cliche is Igloo Books. Its chief executive, John Styring, explains that stock management is the key tohis cash flow. There is no point in having lots of valuable books sitting instorage if youcan t pay your bills. It might be better tosell at adiscount and release cash than face abuild-up of debts. Cash is reality. There are avariety ofexperiences relayed within these pages, with more than one entrepreneur describing atime when they genuinely feared for the survival oftheir business. As aresult, the business owners have taken apick-and-mix approach
3 Successful modern 7 entrepreneurship 13% of SMEs have abusiness loan 7in10 SME loan and overdraftapplications result in finance to their finance arrangements, from invoice discounting and bank overdrafts to peer-to-peer lending and credit cards. However, there are some common tips that can be distilled about how best to overcome the fiscal uncertaintiesofrunninga small business. Firstly,SMEs need tobecash aware: predictand plan to give yourself enough time to act ifthere is danger ahead. Secondly, SMEs need tobuild relationships with suppliers, customers and investors so that each has an understanding and hopefully empathy for any financial difficultiessuffered by the other. David Hutchinson, the artistic director ofsell ADoor Theatre Company, has the right approach. When we do ashow we invite them [suppliers] to the press night. In asense, they are partofthe business, so we lookafter them. That goes along way. Itmeans, for example, if atheatre pays us late or goes bust, we canwork it out with them [the suppliers]. Thirdly, don t be afraid to chase moniesowed. Develop areputation, make itdifficult forpeople not to pay you, Styringsays. Learn from the example of Shaun Gorman, owner of Briery kindergarten, who ran intodebt recovery problems duringthe recession. People paid their mortgage, their gas and electricitybill everythingbut us, hesays. Employingthe servicesofadebt recovery company turnedhis fortunesaround. Finally, assoon as youcan afford to do so, employ acredit controller or accountant so that youcan concentrate ongrowingthe business. Although be careful not to take your eye off the till, as VivParry, owner of Exquisite Handmade Cakes, found to her cost not every accountant can becounted upon. Even with the best will in the world, disastercan still strike but by takingadvantage of the lessons learnt by those profiled, hopefully the worst effectscan be mitigated. forecasting means breweryisn t on the hop Name Paul Halsey and JamesMinkin Title Manging director and commercial director Company PurityBrewing Founded 2005 Number of employees 24 Growth trajectory We have achieved good substantial growth Halsey and Minkin, the founders of Purity Brewing, raised 500,000 to invest in new equipment in September, giving them the ability to treble their business yet the duo remain cautious with cash. Minkin, pictured, says managing cash flow is down to good forecasting, which in turn isaided by the ability to hedge against fluctuations in the price of their two key ingredients: hops and malt. Minkin does this by drawing upforward contracts with suppliers of between one and three years. We could buy things cheaper on the spot market, but this way we are insured against price changes and suppliers are more likely to support us when the unexpected happens. The thing that has helped us most has been the ability toplan and model the business, being able to predict what s going tohappen rather than being reactive, hesays. One thing that is difficult to forecast too far into the future is government duty onbeer. For every pound that comes into the brewery, 35 pence goes to the government as duty. We pay that monthly and if we manage our sales projections we know what it is going tobe. But if a customer pays late and Ihave duty going out then Imight need help. Youcan plan as much as you like but something can still come and bite you. Even small delays, in the launch of aproduct for instance, can have a profound effect. To help with those problems Purity has organised aconfidential invoice discounting facility. We negotiated astrong facility tied toour debt book soassales grow wecan take more. The service has given the pair the confidence to launch products, expand their distribution range and look atnew joint ventures. NurserycaN t afford to gettoo friendly Name Shaun Gorman Title Administrative manager and owner Company Briery Kindergarten Founded 1992 Number of employees 8 Growth trajectory We look after around 40 children at the moment; we d like to double that this year When people tighten their belts childcare seems to be one of the bills that drops to the bottom ofthe must pay list, says Gorman, whose kindergarten ran into debt recovery problems during the recession. People paid their mortgage, their gas and electricity bill everything but us, hesays. People know that if they do not pay their phone bill it will be cut off, but tend to assume that their children would not be kicked out of nursery, he says. Some parents would Wewould get too personal with people, giving them another chance even send older children in to pick up their siblings so that they would avoid having to talk to Gorman about their arrears. Gorman himself is not that comfortable with the debt collection aspect ofhis job. We would get too personal with people. We would give them another chance, then another. It affected his cash-flow forecasting because he would let things go for amonth. By 2012 the nursery was in so much trouble with parents paying late ordefaulting that it closed its doors in the afternoons. We were struggling topay wages and suppliers, which meant sometimes mywife and Imissed out when you own abusiness you always pay your people first, hesays. We decided to open for half-days only because we realised itwould be better to have fewer children, as long astheir parents paid on time. He also contacted acredit management company, Commercial and Domestic Investigations, to manage its debt collection. Having a third party do this has depersonalised the situation for Gorman and, he thinks, convinced parents that childcare is a real bill that needs to be paid. Cash flow has improved by 80 per cent as aresult, he says. The company s fee is about 15 per cent of what it collects but the service has more than paid for itself: It s not just the extra cash coming in, it s also the amount of our time it has freed up. Briery has now returned to offering morning and afternoon sessions and has expansion plans. baker learns to keep her eye on the dough Name Viv Parry Title Owner and director Company Exquisite Handmade Cakes Founded 2004 Number of employees 32 Growth trajectory We are hoping to treble turnover in the next three to five years The numbers are your responsibility, as is how much cash you have inthe till. That responsibility does not go away as you get bigger, says Parry, who was working asabook-keeper at abakery when, ten years ago, its investors pulled out. Parry saw an opportunity: she bought the bakery s assets from liquidation, made adeal with alocal distributor and started making cakes for cafés and other retail outlets. Having trained asachartered accountant, Parry knew that she The numbers are your responsibility, as is howmuch you have in the till had to be careful not to grow the company too fast. In manufacturing it is hard to ramp up really quickly because you have costs but there s no revenue yet. So Ionly took on more costs when they were affordable. Her approach worked and the company grew. Eventually Parry outsourced the account management to an external consultant so that she could focus on business development. But while she was concentrating onsales, the company s finances started tofray at the edges. Cash-flow problems meant that suppliers were not being paid on time, which quickly spiralled into larger problems. Parry became aware of the difficulties after about ayear. She got rid of the accountant and is training upsomeone else. Parry is also keeping acloser eye onthe numbers again. Invoice discounting helped to solve some of the problems. We wanted to give ourselves some more breathing space on cash flow to make sure that we were paying suppliers on time, plus we were trying togrow again and that means more cash flow. Wethought of discounting our whole ledger but that felt like a bad idea. Instead she has come to an agreement with invoice discounting company Market Invoice, which gives her more control over how many invoices she puts up in any given month. It means you are not locked in to something that you can t get out of, which is what happens if you discount your whole ledger.
4 7 41% Successful modern entrepreneurship FORECASTS HELP ECOLOGY CONSULTANCY BLOSSOM thetimes.co.uk/ smehub Name Nancy Thomson Title Chief executive Company Thomson Ecology Founded 2004 Number of employees about 120 Growth trajectory We are looking at growing 10 per cent per year How do you keep the cash flowing? Join our live debate at 1pm today Plus: exclusive video Kathryn Blunden (below, left) and Marion Bergin (below, right), the founders of the up and coming fashion label Bitching and Junkfood, discuss the need for small businesses to be creative with cash VOYAGER-SYSTEMS MOVES INTO THE FAST LANE Name Robert Grant Title Commercial director Company Voyager-Systems Founded 1999 Number of employees 14 Growth trajectory Getting our finances sorted has boosted our turnover by 20 per cent Grant set up his company selling in-car entertainment systems with technical director Graham Lambert after the devices proved popular with friends and family. We weren t able to purchase enough stock to cope with the orders, Grant says. Despite the interest, Voyager-Systems growth was stymied by its trade cycle. There are very long lead times when ordering from China, of about 180 days, then some customers want credit for as much as 90 days. This gives us a 270-day gap 10bn of SMEs have a business credit card between spending money and getting it back. That was the problem. We could only buy as much stock as our working capital would allow... but our business had the potential to grow at a far greater rate. The company tried invoice factoring but found it was forced to pay a premium as a small company; meanwhile, banks would only loan against the company s conﬁrmed purchase orders. When the company investigated its options again, its turnover was nearing 5 million and suddenly banks and ﬁnancial insitutions were keen to work with it. I think the tipping point [for banks] is about 3 million. A package of ﬁnance measures with a bank allowed Grant and Lambert to borrow on both conﬁrmed and unconﬁrmed purchases: at a ratio of four to one. This has enabled it to take more orders from companies whose deliveries are more immediate. My advice would be not to ignore cash ﬂow but to plan and monitor it on almost a daily basis. Any director can look at our live cash forecast and know exactly where we are, says Thomson, an entrepreneur who spent almost ﬁve years sailing around the world before setting up Thomson Ecology a consultancy that provides ecological impact assessments, damage mitigation and habitat creation. It hasn t been plain sailing when it comes to cash ﬂow, though. The issue for us is that we get an enquiry from a client in, say, January, and it can be July before we receive any money, but in that time we are paying our people, she says. Where possible the company uses staggered invoicing, invoicing customers at various milestones rather than when a project is complete. But this is not always practical and it means that Thomson has to keep a very close eye on cash ﬂow to balance constant regular outgoings with the money coming in. We have a live running cashﬂow forecast, which is updated daily, that we use as a management tool. One potential danger is getting overexcited by the amount of new business coming in and losing sight of the fact that, initially, this can mean considerable extra outlays without any extra income to cover them. You have to manage that very carefully from a cash-ﬂow point of view. For example, when the company took on some large projects, Thomson arranged things so that she did not have to pay all her additional costs before the company was paid itself. new lending from banks to SMEs in 2013 GOLD DEALER BANKS ON HIS ABILITY TO ACT ON THE SPOT We impressed on suppliers that if we felt supported, we would keep coming back to them Name Rob Halliday-Stein Title Founder and managing director Company Bullion By Post Founded 2008 Number of employees 23 Growth trajectory Turnover 200 million by We turned over 87 million last year, and expect to do more than 100 million in , Halliday-Stein says. The managing director of Bullion By Post admits that his turnover ﬁgures are considerably larger than might be expected of an SME, but he is dealing in an expensive commodity. [The ﬁgures] ﬂatter us, he says. Sometimes we operate on margins of less than 1 per cent. If we do a 1 million deal it sounds amazing but we might only make 0.2 per cent on it, so it is worth having but it is not a case of Haven t I done well? as I ve only made 2,000 of margin. Halliday-Stein s company, which sells precious metals online, is trading in a notoriously volatile commodity, the price of which can change by the minute. If he bought a month s worth of stock in one go he would be left very exposed if the value dropped before he was able to sell it, so he only buys as much as he needs often in a series of separate purchases each day. I make sure that every day I buy about the same amount of gold as I sell. This means I know that I am generating the cash I need to cover my costs. In other words, it means he relies on successful trading, not an increase (or decrease) in his stock s value, to generate cash. Doing it the other way would be gambling. He also knows exactly how much cash he needs to generate each day. Today I have to make 8,000 in gross margin per day just to pay the bills. I have always known what we needed to do each day. It s an important number that most people who run a successful business know. Understand your costs. They are the key to cash ﬂow, he says. This focus on day-to-day costs has shaped how he makes bigger spending decisions, too. It means that I am always very wary of monthly commitments water coolers, photocopiers, coffee makers and so on, they all start small but over time they build up to a big number. It s good if you have a good month to buy a piece of equipment outright rather than leasing; if you lease you have to pay even if you have a bad month. THEATRE GROUP SHOWS SUPPLIERS IT S A CLASS ACT Name David Hutchinson Title Artistic director Company Sell A Door Theatre Company Founded 2008 Number of employee 4 full-time, plus freelancers Growth trajectory We are predicting turnover of 2.5 million this year... in three to five years I want to reach turnover of 20 million to 30 million Getting suppliers on your side can make life easier for theatre start-ups, says Hutchinson, who achieved that when setting up Sell A Door Theatre Company while still a student at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. In the early years, cash ﬂow was really difﬁcult, he says. All of a show s preproduction costs are up front, as are the running costs, and you don t get your settlement from the theatre until 30 days after a show is ﬁnished. At the start we had very little in the way of resources, so we used to agree with suppliers that we would pay them when we got paid. We impressed on them that if we were supported we would keep coming back to them and give them more business, which we have done. He also makes sure that his suppliers feel like part of the team. In a sense, they are part of the business, so we look after them. That goes a long way. It means, for example, if a theatre pays us late or goes bust, which does happen, we can work it out with them. For the ﬁrst couple of years Sell A Door focused on building a reputation for creating interesting theatre, rather than cash ﬂow or proﬁt resulting in Hutchinson using money from his job in a coffee shop to keep the company aﬂoat. It was so tight that if an actor tore his costume I would think ooh how do we make this work? We all had to muck in. Now, he is much more business-minded. We did not think about cash ﬂow too carefully but now we think about it above anything else. To create quality theatre you have to raise money so that you can commission writers, etc. Without it we can t plan ahead or get actors or sets or create things.
5 Sponsored by Santander How SMEs canmaximise theircashflow Marcelino Castrillo, managing director of SME banking at Santander UK, says businesses can identify cash flow needs by ensuring the back-office stays front-of-mind Successful modern 7 entrepreneurship 1in5 SMEs plan to apply forfinance in the nextthree months 44% of SMEs have an authorised bank overdraft Inthis increasingly optimistic trading environment,manysmes will want to seize the opportunitytoboostgrowth. It s important to have enough cash not only to meet growth targets but also to actasa bufferincase of the unexpected. Cash-flow management is as critical now as it was duringthe downturn. Santander offers arange of customisable finance options that canbeused to providecashasand when acompanyneeds it,orimprove relationships with suppliers and customers by offeringattractivetradingterms. Flawless management The first step toidentifying your cash-flow issues isflawless financial management. That means stringent payment procedures and rigorous recordkeeping. Make sure payment processing and chasing invoices isapriority, with adequate resources available to back-office staff. Next, take time to understand your cash cycle. How quickly are payments collected? How isworking capital funded? Once you ve identified cash-flow pinch points, you can assess your finance options. Businesses should research their options in terms oftaking cash orcard payments, as this can potentially provide an extra day ortwo of access to funds. Automated systems can alert you to late payments instantly, while payment terms can be reduced. Payment via BACS isfaster and more direct than a cheque in the post. Your financial tool kit Santander can put in place finance options to free up cash flow and release funds when you most need them. This applies tobusinesses operating within the UK and those trading internationally, where export and/or import finance can help as part ofastructured trade finance solution. The solution may beasingle, tailored service or abespoke package that tackles several issues atonce. Santander Invoice Finance, for example, can advance up to 85 per cent of the cash tied up in invoices yet to be paid. Once the invoice has been paid, the remaining value, less asmall fee, is then received. Invoice and stock finance solutions are now mainstream, not subprime, and can provide much-needed headroom. They should be neither expensive nor pose an administrative burden, especially as new systems automatically calculate availability from the customer s accounting systems. In addition, businesses may choose to use asset finance to provide capital for growth ortospread the cost of expensive equipment via hire purchase or leasing schemes. Santander can also negotiate supplier payments on acompany s behalf, offering early payments in return for adiscount and, potentially, acost reduction over time. Funding for lending We ve learned from customers that awareness of asset finance is low, with many presuming it is used for funding capital goods purchases. But we are also seeing demand growing innew business areas, such as technology. Through the government s Funding for Lending scheme, Santander canoffer innovative and cost-effective asset finance solutions to SMEs with aturnover of more than 250,000. With good internal systems and asupportive bank, any cash-flow challenge can beovercome, ensuring businesses make the most ofthe current economic climate. To discuss how Santander can help you with your cash-flow needs visit santandercb.co.uk/contactus IGLOO BOOKS TURNS THE PAGE ON PROFITS Name John Styring Title Chief executive Company Igloo Books Founded 2003 Number of employees 106 Growth trajectory We have seen regular growth every year Everyone tells you that turnover is vanity, profit is sanity but cash is reality and they are right. If you want to run abusiness then you must generate cash, Styring says. However, he adds, there are times when you just have toaccept WHITE GOODS RECYCLER IS ON AFASTCASH-FLOWCYCLE Name Sean Feeney Title Chief executive Company Environcom Founded 2003 Number of employees 250 Growth trajectory We re looking to treble turnover in the next three years You can live without profit for a while but you cannot live without cash, says Feeney, who spent 25 years working inbig corporations. This gave him useful business experience but managing cash flow was not part ofit. Things are different in an SME, he says. You have to spend every penny wisely because you donot have the flexibility of[spare] cash. This means that his growth plans for Environcom, awhite goods recycling and reuse business, need toinclude consideration the cash isn t going toflow. We were surprised when Woolworths went bust innovember Unusually, wehad stock on the shelves on consignment, Ithink we were trialling some new products. I wouldn t normally advocate placing stock on consignment [when the shop only pays on sale of the goods] but in this case it helped usmanage the risk and cover the bad debt. You have to accept that people will go bust and those supplying are exposed tothat risk. It is difficult to get past abig loss itisnot just the money but the loss of future business but you have todress yourself down and start again, hesays. NOSH DETOXOWNER COMES CLEAN ON CASH FLOW Name Geeta Sidhu-Robb Position Chief executive and founder Company Nosh Detox Number of employees 3 Founded 2008 Growth trajectory I hope to be turning over 5 million in ayear or two Really honestly, cash flow is king. Youcan have the best idea and best team in the world but if you don t have money in the bank to pay your suppliers you don t have abusiness, Sidhu-Robb says. The former corporate lawyer, who started her business with Don t be afraid to chase. Make it difficult for people not to pay you a 2,000 bank overdraft more than five years ago asaway of making nutritious food for her allergy-prone son, says: I have run the business on credit cards, agreed overdrafts and prayers. We haven ttaken out any short-term loans. We have never really borrowed money. Itisall very lean and mean. Ihave never had the privilege, or problem, of people throwing money at me. The financial year was very painful and Iwondered whether we would survive but looks very good. The main difference is that Iput myself through an executive MBA course last year and now Ifeel so much more in control. It taught me about cash flow and margins, and to look athow much money we were actually making rather than how much was coming in it s not just about turnover. Bankruptcy aside, Styring says the key tocash flow in businesses such as publishing isgood stock management. His cash forecasts look 120 to 180 days ahead, which gives him time to react and sell stock at a lower margin if he needs to, inorder to release cash. Styring s advice for other SMEs is to employ agood credit controller as soon as you can afford to. Then they can bring inthe cash while you concentrate ongrowing the business. Whether you doityourself or have a credit controller asking for invoices to be met is vital: Don t be afraid to chase. Develop areputation, make it difficult for people not to pay you. of their effect on cash flow. Something, he says, he learnt the hard way. We made some changes early on to the management team. It was the right thing todobut the redundancy costs suddenly hit and I had not planned for them. One way for SMEs to loosen their cash flow is to look atwhen and how they invoice, he says. You can increase the payment terms for what you buy or decrease the payment terms for customers. There are several ways for Environcom to sell the steel and other commodities itrecycles. We can sell it to someone in Turkey, put it on aboat and get paid after itgets to them, or we can sell it to someone in the UK who will pay slightly less but do it sooner. We decided that getting cash quicker was worth more than the margin deterioration. Another thing wedid was move to daily invoicing. Raising the invoice on amonday instead of afriday means you get paid five days quicker. Last year the company raised about 350,000 to help fund the launch of the Nosh Detox retail range. If someone will buy what you have, you have abusiness. If they keep buying, you have cash flow. If they stop buying then you have a cash flow issue. If you have toborrow for anything other than aspecific project you have aproblem. Sidhu-Robb says that she has learnt to build relationships with her suppliers and to be more open about cash flow. Iinitially thought my cash flow wasn t of interest to anyone else but now Italk to my suppliers all the time. She now urges small businesses tothink about more than generating cash through sales. I m looking tocut costs all the time. We recently cut our electricity bill by 26 per cent and gas bills by 15 per cent. It s about spending less.
6 10 ways to manage your cash flow PhilipKing, chief executiveofthe InstituteofCredit Management, outlinesbest practice Successful modern 7 entrepreneurship ILLUSTRATION BY CHING LICHEW FOR THE TIMES Get the name right When you are about to invoice aclient, check that you have the exact name and trading style of the business correct. (Is it a limited company or sole trader?) If you don t know, ask. Getting it right now will save grief in the future, especially if adebt goes bad and you need to sue. If you get the name wrong your case will be thrown out of court and you will be the loser. Knowyour customer Just because he s anice guy or it s abig company doesn t make him, or it, agood risk. Do your research: carry out basic online checks, speak to other suppliers and use acredit reference agency. Be as sure as you can that they can afford to repay you. Supply when you re sure Calculate that you re going to make a profit after allowing for all costs, including the costs of providing credit and the risk that you might have to fund your business while waiting for payment to arrive. Not all business is good business, however large the order may appear to be. 4Agreepayment terms in advance 4You will usually agree every other 4aspect of the supply contract so why 4not payment terms, too? Confirm the 4terms in writing to avoid legitimate misunderstanding or nasty surprises. 5 Invoice promptly It is avery British thing not to ask for your money, but if you don t ask you won t get, and the clock on the payment terms won t start ticking until the invoice has been sent and received. Knowhow 6to get paid In the same way that it is vital to get the correct company name, find out also what information the customer needs to process your invoices easily. What is their process? Do you need an order number? Where does the invoice need to be sent? Does it need to be electronic? If you don t comply, you are creating delays in your own cashflow. Ask for what s yours Don t ever be afraid or embarrassed to ask for payment. You ve done your job so you are entitled to be paid. If you don t ask, the consequences can be much more serious than minor embarrassment. For large amounts, make contact with your client before the due date to ensure everything is OK and that your invoice is not in dispute. Use the Late Payment Directive You have the right to charge interest at 8per cent over base rate and to invoice late payment charges, so use that right. At worst, it will draw attention to your debt; at best you get some recompense for waiting for payment. Escalate Make it clear what you will do if payment doesn t arrive and don t make empty promises (threats). Have acollections process and start that process the moment the payment is overdue. Do not be afraid to use athird-party collection agency or lawyer if you re getting nowhere waiting around hoping payment will arrive is rarely the best answer. Don t roll over If acustomer wants to impose longer terms or make you wait for payment then negotiate for something in return. Treat the request as if you are being asked to reduce the price. Don t underestimate your own power; you were chosen to supply for areason. icm.org.uk
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