Playtime’s over: Back to cashflow school

Posted on Sep 9th, 2015 | Get paid

Playtime's over: Back to cashflow school, image of person paying invoice to computer

The summer holidays are over, and millions of young’uns up and down the country are returning to classrooms in ill-fitting uniforms, ready to be baffled by new subjects, terrified by ruthless new teachers, and fascinated by all the buttons on their new scientific calculators.

While the younger generation are quite literally schooled in trigonometry, biology and philosophy, business owning parents can use some of their newfound spare time to school themselves in the business basics – shake off the malaise of the summer slow-down, and finish the year in a blaze of business success.

Your kid’s education isn’t possible without a protractor and Bic 4-colour pen, likewise your business isn’t possible without healthy cashflow. So it’s time to put late payers in detention, stand up to bullies with unfair invoice terms, and earn yourself an A* in bookkeeping .

Do your homework

Earlier this year the Department for Energy and Climate Change released research showing that people who never switch energy providers end up losing out on savings of about £200 available if they switch providers. Comparison service SimplifyDigital found similar results for broadband subscribers, with some switchers saving over £350. The message is simple – don’t rest on your laurels when it comes to utility providers.

Log into your online banking and look at your Direct Debits – how many of the providers there have you reviewed in the last year? Probably not many. Shop around, see if you can get the same service cheaper elsewhere, and keep your eyes peeled for tasty introductory offers (as long as they don’t mean higher prices later on).

Look at the total cost of ownership for each service to work out if they’ll be cheaper over the total contract length. A new iPhone with zero cost up front but a monthly bill of £45 will cost you £1,080 over two years, but buying the handset up front and paying £10 a month for 24 months will cost you £690 – a tidy saving!

Tuck that shirt in

A good credit control process is one that gets better over time, so smarten up and review your invoice terms and late payment penalties.

Remember, late payment penalties aren’t supposed to be money makers – they’re there to scare bookkeepers into paying you promptly.

Maybe you could take a page out of HMRC’s book and have rolling £10-a-day penalties when your invoice goes overdue? Nothing will put the wind up a bookkeeper quicker than daily reminders of how much they’re costing their boss.

It’s also worth renegotiating payment terms with longtime clients. Maybe you’ve still got that one client who insists they need 90 days to pay you – talk it out over a coffee and explain the adverse impact that wait has on your cashflow.

Go to the disco

Like it or not, marketing is part of good cashflow management. The feast and famine cycle is the classic freelancer problem – you land a big contract, get your head down for six months to finish it on time, then suddenly send your last invoice and you’re cut loose with no work and no immediate source of income.

So make sure you set aside some time every week – as much as you can spare – for business development. Get out to some industry meetups or even straight networking events. Shake hands and clink glasses, ask for introductions. At the very least keep an eye on popular job boards for tasty work.

Spend your lunch money wisely

For a startup which sells its service by the hour or day, time is literally money – so make sure yours is well spent. Big businesses outsource certain services to you because you’re better and faster at it – you can do the same.

We’re living in the gig economy and just about anything can be outsourced. Journalist needing to transcribe a 10 minute interview? You can get it done for a fiver on, err, Fiverr. If you’re pulling down a day rate of £300 every hour you work is worth about £38. If it takes you half an hour to transcribe that interview you’re losing about £14 by not giving it to someone who can do it faster. Plus you’ll be helping out a fellow freelancer!

A cost / benefit analysis of how you spend your time is a great way to optimise your cashflow. Making sure as much of your time as possible is spent on billable work means more money arriving in your bank account, and a healthier business.

Useful tools and resources

Business guides

From understanding expenses to starting a limited company, we've a range of jargon-free business guides for you to download and keep.

Invoicing software and templates

Create, send and store sole trader invoices in a snap with our free invoice software. You can also download a selection of invoice templates for all business types.

Take-home pay calculator

Use our Take-Home Pay Calculator to work out your true earnings and see if you could save money with a different company set up.