Monthly Archives: October 2016

Know More About Accounts Receivable

Accounts receivable are the lifeblood of a business’s cash flow. Sometimes referred to as A/R, “accounts receivable” is the accounting term used to refer to the money that the business should receive from its customers for the goods or services it provided.

Your business’s accounts receivable are an important part of calculating your profitability, and provide the clearest indicator of the business’s income. They are considered an asset, as they represent money coming into the company. To determine profitability, add up all of your assets, including accounts receivable, and subtract your total accounts payable, or liabilities, which are what you owe to suppliers and vendors. If the number is positive, the company is profitable. If it’s negative, then decisions must be made regarding how to increase the assets or reduce the liabilities.

Why track accounts receivable?
If you do not keep track of accounts receivable, you may forget to bill certain customers or will not know if you’ve been paid. You may end up providing your product for free and negatively impact your ability to be profitable. The longer it takes to send the invoice, the less likely it will be that your payment will be sent. Keeping track of accounts receivable is also a great way to have documentation supporting proof of income at tax time.

Accounts receivable are best managed on a consistent and routine basis. In retail, each transaction is paid for immediately. With other industries, customers apply for a credit line, and orders are placed against the credit line. The customer is provided an invoice and payment terms with the shipped product, payable at a later date. Regardless of your system, ensuring payment is crucial. Here are five tips to make sure your business stays on top of its accounts receivables:

Communicate. In a 2013 Transworld Business article, Jason Stine, business development manager for collection services company CRF Solutions, advised regular and prompt communication with clients. Stay on top of transactions; more nonpayment errors develop in the first 60 days after delivery because of insufficient or incomplete customer contact, Stine said.

Create a solid internal process. Determine the process for performing accounts receivable, and stick to it. Pick a day of the week to create, print and mail invoices. Choose another day to print an aged accounts receivable report and contact customers who are beyond their payment term window. As your small business grows, you may need to split these tasks among different people to stay on top of all the accounts.

Confirm receipt of invoices. Many companies have had success in contacting the client a week after the invoice was sent, in order to confirm receipt. Things do get lost in the mail or accidentally deleted in an email inbox. A quick inquiry about receipt of the bill also provides the chance to ask for feedback on the product provided, demonstrating your excellent customer service skills as well.

Extend credit with moderate terms. With today’s technological advances, companies can receive payment before shipping an order or starting a service. With service-based companies and high-cost goods, however, that may not always be possible. In those cases, have the client apply for a credit line. You will be able to evaluate their payment ability and set a credit limit you’re comfortable with. It also provides an opportunity to be sure both parties are clear on the terms of payment and what happens if the account goes delinquent.

Document everything. Documentation of accounts receivable helps your bookkeeper with weekly or monthly inputs for financial statements and your accountant at tax time. From first contact, keep notes on the order, conversations and agreed-upon terms. In a worst-case scenario, that documentation will also be important should you have to pursue payment through a collection agency or court.

The funds collected through your accounts-receivable process is the food that fuels the actions of your company. Inconsistent and spotty attention to the task can starve a company’s growth, while a steady and smooth process results in a well-fed machine capable of achieving all of its goals.

Right SBA Loan for Your Small Business

Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy: According to data from the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 27.9 million small businesses registered in the United States, employing 120 million people — almost half of the nation’s workforce.

Part of what the Small Business Administration (SBA) does is help America’s small businesses secure the funding they need to operate and grow. As a federal government agency, the SBA does not lend small businesses money directly. Instead, it sets guidelines for loans that are made by its partners, which include banks, credit unions, community development organizations and microlending institutions. The SBA guarantees a portion of these loans granted by these institutions will be repaid, eliminating some of the risk for lenders.

Kale Gaston, head of the SBA Lending Group for TD Bank in Greenville, S.C., said SBA loans “do a great job of helping lenders say ‘yes’ to borrowers.” He also noted that SBA programs provide better access to capital and credit enhancement for small business owners. For example, since the SBA guaranty lowers the risk in case of a loan default, lenders are able to provide funding when the down payment available is too low or the business’s cash flow is not high enough for traditional options.

SBA lenders can provide longer terms as well. Instead of five or 10 years for a real estate purchase with a balloon payment at the end, the lender can give terms for 25 years, eliminating the balloon (i.e., final payment) or need to refinance every few years, Gaston said. For shorter-term assets, like equipment, terms could go to 10 years instead of the usual three to five years.

SBA loan programs
The SBA’s loan programs are designed specifically for small business owners who don’t have access to other reasonably termed financing. There are four main types of loan programs:

7(a) loan program: This is the SBA’s primary program to help startups and existing small businesses obtain financing. 7(a) loans are the most basic and most commonly used type of loan, as well as the most flexible. The money can be used for a variety of general business purposes, including working capital, machinery and equipment, furniture and fixtures, purchasing or renovating land and buildings, leasehold improvements and debt refinancing. Loan maturity is up to 10 years for working capital and generally up to 25 years for fixed assets. Borrowers can apply through a participating lender institution.

CDC/504 loan program: This program provides businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing for major assets, such as land and buildings. The loans are typically structured with the SBA providing 40 percent of the total project costs, a participating lender covering up to 50 percent and the borrower putting up the remaining 10 percent. Funds from a 504 loan can be used to purchase existing buildings, land or machinery, and to construct or renovate facilities. These loans cannot be used for working capital or inventory. Under the 504 program, a business qualifies if it has a tangible net worth of less than $15 million and an average net income of $5 million or less after federal income taxes for the two years before application. The maximum amount of a 504 loan is $5 million.

Microloan program: This program offers very small loans to startups, or newly established or growing small businesses. The loans can be used for working capital or the purchase of inventory, supplies, furniture, fixtures, machinery or equipment. The SBA makes funds available to specially designated intermediary lenders, which are nonprofit organizations with experience in lending and technical assistance. Those intermediaries then make loans of up to $50,000, with the average loan being about $13,000. The loan cannot be used to pay existing debts or to purchase real estate.

Disaster loans: The SBA offers this option to businesses that have been affected by a declared disaster. These low-interest loans can be used to repair or replace damaged real estate, personal property, machinery, equipment, inventory and business assets.

Further details on each type of loan program can be found on the SBA’s website.

What you’ll need to apply
When applying for an SBA loan, you’ll need to fill out forms and documents for the specific loan you’re trying to get. The SBA also encourages borrowers to gather some basic information that all lenders will ask for, regardless of the loan type. The following items are usually required:

Personal background and financial statements
Business financial statements
Profit-and-loss statement (three years)
Current within the last six months
List of debts
Projected financial statements
Business certificate/license
Income tax returns
Résumés for key team members
Business overview and history
Business lease
The SBA also advises small businesses applying for a loan to be prepared to answer several questions:

Why are you applying for this loan?
How will the loan proceeds be used?
What assets need to be purchased, and who are your suppliers?
What other business debt do you have, and who are your creditors?
Who are the members of your management team?
Why your business plan matters
Whether you’re a new startup or an established company, the key to a successful application is a well-written business plan.

“The business plan not only is the road map that will guide the business from planning to startup to (hopefully) success, but also will show any potential lender that the potential business owner does have a clear view and understanding of the business, how to run it and, most importantly, how the loan will be repaid,” David Hall, a public affairs specialist with the SBA in Washington, D.C., said in an email interview with Business News Daily.

Gaston agreed, noting that lenders want to know how knowledgeable you are about your business and the competitive market.

“The concept may be great, but what the lender is looking for is that the individual is driven, capable and determined,” Gaston said. “You really need to understand what you are doing every step of the way and be able to convey that to the lender during the application process.”

Hall also recommended that business owners take full advantage of the business planning resources offered by the SBA and its partners, such as SCORE, SBDCs (Small Business Development Centers) and WBCs (Women Business Centers).

Finding a lender
While Gaston acknowledged that applying for an SBA loan is a process, she said working with a lender that has experience can make that process a lot easier. To find experienced SBA lenders in your area, he suggested talking to folks locally in the market and looking for a lender that is part of the SBA’s Preferred Lender program. This program gives thousands of lenders per year delegated authority to approve loans based on certain criteria, shortening the time period between application and approval.

You can find SBA lenders by going online at sba.gov, contacting local accountants and attorneys, and looking for lenders with a large local presence. SBDCs also provide document support and lender referrals.

“The SBA program drives a tremendous amount of value in the economy, lending approximately $30 billion to small businesses annually,” Gaston said. “It takes businesses to the next level, is appropriately structured and enables them to be successful.”

Let’s Learn About Smart Budgeting Tips

If you run a small business, it’s likely that you’re operating on a relatively limited budget. Whether you bootstrapped your business or are trying to pay back loans you took out to cover your startup costs, it’s in your best interest to conserve money wherever you can.

Without a thorough budget plan, however, it can be difficult to track and manage your finances. This is especially true for any unexpected business expenses that may come up, as they often do. A 2015 survey by small business credit provider Headway Capital found that although 57 percent of small business owners anticipated growth this year, nearly 19 percent were concerned about how unexpected expenses would impact their business.

If you want to keep your business operating in the black, you’ll need to account for both fixed and unplanned costs, and then create — and stick to — a solid budget. Experts offered their advice for small business owners looking to keep their finances in order.

Define and understand your risks
Every business venture has a certain degree of risk involved, and all of those risks have the potential for a financial impact on your company. Paul Cho, managing director of Headway Capital, said that small business owners need to consider their long- and short-term risks to accurately plan for their financial future.

“How will changes in minimum wage or health care requirements impact your workforce?” Cho said. “Do you operate in a geography at high risk of a natural disaster? Do you rely heavily on seasonal workers? Understanding the potential risks facing you on a short- and long-term basis is important for all small businesses. Once you’ve mapped out the threats to productivity, a clearer picture can be built around emergency planning, insurance needs, etc.”

Overestimate your expenses
If your business operates on a project-to-project basis, you know that every client is different and no two projects will turn out exactly the same. This means that often, you can’t predict when something is going to go over budget.

“Every project seems to have a one-time cost that was never anticipated,” said James Ontra, CEO of presentation management company Shufflrr. “It usually is that one unique extra item [that is] necessary to the job, but [was] not anticipated when bidding the job.”

For this reason, Ontra advised budgeting slightly above your anticipated line-item costs, no matter what, so that if you do go over, you won’t be fully unprepared.

“I go by the cost-moon-stars theory,” he said. “If you think it will cost the moon, expect to pay the stars.”

Pay attention to your sales cycle
Many businesses go through busy and slow periods over the course of the year. If your company has an “off-season,” you’ll need to account for your expenses during that time. Cho also suggested using your slower periods to think of ways to plan ahead for your next sales boom.

“There is much to be learned from your sales cycles,” he said. “Use your downtime to ramp up your marketing efforts while preventing profit generation from screeching to a halt. In order to keep your company thriving and the revenue coming in, you will have to identify how to market to your customers in new and creative ways.”

Plan for large purchases carefully and early
Some large business expenses occur when you least expect them — a piece of equipment breaks and needs to be replaced or your delivery van needs a costly repair, for instance. However, planned expenses like store renovations or a new software system should be carefully timed and budgeted to avoid a huge financial burden on your business.

“Substantial business changes need to be timed carefully, balancing the risk with the reward and done with a full understanding of the financial landscape you’re operating within,” Cho told Business News Daily. “An up-to-date budget and data-driven financial projections are important components that help guide when to make large investments in your business.”

Remember that time is money, too
One of the biggest mistakes small businesses make is forgetting to incorporate their time into a budget plan. Ontra reminded business owners that time is money, especially when working with people who are paid for their time.

“Timing underestimation directly increases costs,” Ontra said. “For us, the biggest underestimation is allotting time for client feedback. It is a Herculean effort sometimes to meet a deadline with lots of people focused on a single task. Then, the client needs to give feedback for us to proceed. If the client is distracted with other issues, feedback planned for a three-day turnaround, can become a week or longer. Not only do you start to lose time to the delivery schedule, your team also loses momentum as their collective thought shifts focus to another project.”

Ontra recommended treating your time like your money, and set external deadlines later than when you think the project will actually be done.

“If you believe the project will finish on Friday, promise delivery on Monday,” he said. “So, if you finish on Friday, deliver the work early and become a star. If for some reason time runs over, deliver on Monday and you are still a success.”

Constantly revisit your budget
Your budget will never be static or consistent — it will change and evolve along with your business, and you’ll need to keep adjusting it based on your growth and profit patterns. Cho suggested revising your monthly and annual budgets regularly to get a clearer, updated picture of your business finances.

“Regularly revisiting your budget will help you better control financial decisions because you will know exactly what you can afford to spend versus how much you are projecting to make,” Cho said. “Take into account market trends from the previous year to help you determine what this year may look like. Once you have a clear understanding of your business’s budgetary needs, you can accurately forecast what can be set aside for an emergency fund or unexpected costs.”