The success of British cycling under Dave Brailsford is attributed to his relentless, relentless, relentless pursuit of even the smallest marginal improvements. As a result the team benefited from what he describes as “the aggregation of marginal gains”. By this he means that if you improve every aspect of an activity by even a small amount then cumulatively this will add up to a big improvement.
This approach could be applied to any area of your life – including weight loss, personal finance and certainly running your business.
So my big idea for you in this article is rather than hunting for that “quantum leap” that consultants usually advocate to boost your cash flow – look for the small improvements which made consistently over time will really help your cash flow.
The first step to finding these gains is to develop a financial routine. Here are my tips for some key areas to build in to your financial routine.
Invoicing – every day you delay getting out your invoice is a days delay in your cash flow. Delays in invoicing also increase the chance of getting the invoice wrong by missing out items. Sometimes invoicing takes time – even so get into the habit of at least preparing a draft invoice daily and then weekly have a finance meeting scheduled with yourself where the invoices are finalised and sent out.
Expenses – again delays dealing with expenses lead to receipts being lost – and the longer you leave it the bigger the pile becomes and the more daunting. Look at using software like Receipt Bank to capture expenses digitally.
Credit control – the most disappointing aspect of business is how reluctant customers are to pay – weekly you need to review your “aged debtors” (aka “aged receivables”) – this is a report from your accounting system that lists customers, the amount over due, and whether it is 30, 60 or 90+ days overdue. Send out reminders, call, and if needs be put on hold.
Invoicing – finish those invoices and get them out “the door”.
Agreements – more cash is lost in my opinion through lack of documenting business agreements than any other reason – with email there is no excuse – at least send a confirmation of key terms agreed.
Bank Accounts – check all bank accounts for the balance and transactions going through the accounts.
Trading – review sales and enquiries. Are these tracking your business plan assumptions – if not assess impact sooner rather than later.
“Board Meeting” – diarise a monthly board meeting – say the last Friday of the month and set aside 2-3 hours. As well as your regular weekly items, you should review your profit & loss report for the month and year-to-date and your cash flow forecast. If you are not tracking your budget assumptions, the cash flow will need updating.
Review Expenses –– are you tracking budget? Are there any expenses you can reduce? Any suppliers you can start renegotiating with.
Pricing – most businesses don’t charge enough for what they do and this is exacerbated by not having a routine for price review. Consider what you can do to make your offer more profitable – it doesn’t have to be an actual price rise – eg. what about a smaller portion? Or a different way of charging.
If you don’t follow these routines on a regular basis it probably won’t make much difference – in the short term. But as time goes on, you will see the gap growing between the amount of cash in your bank account and what there could be. So schedule time for your financial routines to start generating big “marginal” improvements to your cash flow.
Johnny Martin FCA is an experienced Finance Director who now passionately explains business numbers and jargon.
He is a partner at the British Library Business & IP Centre where he runs regular workshops and he is the author of “Understanding Your Business Finances”.