Posted on 2 December, 2016  |  3 mins

Cash flow is the top concern for the majority of businesses—and sadly the most common reason small businesses fail. 9 Spokes' own CFO, Neil Hopkins, shares his top tips for SMEs wanting to know their flow a bit better.

As an accountant with over 25 years' experience, and now as the Chief Financial Officer at 9 Spokes, my role has always been to keep a close eye on businesses' cash. It's a crucial job in good times and bad, especially in the lead up to the holiday season. As the saying goes, cash is king, and poor cash flow is the main reason nine out of 10 small business fail.

Friends who run small businesses have asked me for advice on how to improve their cash flow. Obviously, selling more products or services is vital, but knowing which metrics to watch out for and optimising the way you manage certain areas of your business can really help with cash flow, too.

We all know that running a small business can leave you feeling flat out, but I recommend dedicating whatever time you can spare to fine tuning a few key areas—it really pays off in the long run. Here are four things to keep on your radar:

1. Watch what's owing and what's owed

Keep close tabs on how much money customers owe you and always be aware of how much money your business owes.

Additionally, ensure that your customers pay you on time and that you carefully plan when you pay the money you owe; it's easier to manage healthy cash flow this way. Having a handle on this puts you in a better position to comfortably pay bills and wages, as well as anything urgent that could crop up.

2. Closely monitor your stock levels

It might feel reassuring having a fully stocked warehouse, but it could be harming your cash flow. By managing your stock more carefully, you can ensure that money isn't tied up in unsold goods.

A figure that can help you with stock management is your inventory turnover ratio. This is the cost of sales divided by your average inventory, and it shows you the number of times inventory is sold or used over a particular time period. Stock items with a high turnover ratio are going to help you generate cash from your stock.

3. Be aware of profitability

It's great to see strong turnover, but it's more important that what you sell is profitable. Measuring profit is a better way to really see how your business is performing—hopefully you'll see that your turnover is greater than your costs.

Gross profit is the total revenue from goods or services minus purchase costs. Your net profit is gross profit minus all other costs including salaries and wages, rent, administration and insurance. This figure will show you how much profit your business is generating.

4. Look at product margins

If you sell a range of products and services, it's important to know which ones are most profitable. This helps with deciding which areas of your business are worth concentrating on, as well assisting with important decisions such as where to reduce costs.

A product's gross profit margin shows how much of its selling price is going to your business. By comparing gross profit and gross profit margin on various products, you can see which ones are best for your cash flow.

Know your cash flow

There's a lot to think about, but one of the ways to easily track these key metrics is through the right business software. You can access this data through cloud business apps and see simple, easy-to-understand metrics through the 9 Spokes smart dashboard. With it, you can see crucial financial metrics, as well as inventory, sales and profitability information that affect your cash flow.

If you want to learn more, grab our free eBook and discover how cash flow is one of the best ways to assess the health of your business.

4 tips for improving cash flow with simple business data

By Neil Hopkins, CFO at 9 Spokes.