8 Ways to Avoid Cash Flow Surprises That Could Kill Your Business

Be aware of common cash flow problems and have a plan in place to address them when needed.

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By John Rampton


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you don't think that cash flow is important, then ask the nine out of 10 small business owners whose businesses failed due to poor cash flow just how important it is.

Good cash flow management begins with having a clear understanding on where cash enters and exits your business. It also involves keeping an eye on the long-term so that you're not surprised by any cash flow problems, such as the following surprises. Besides being aware of any surprises, you also need to have a plan to avoid and handle them in the first place.

1. Lack of profitability.

Did you know that only 40 percent of businesses are profitable? Even worse? 30 percent break even while another 30 percent continually lose money.

While a lack of profit is one of the main reasons why a business fails, some business owners believe that just because they're currently turning a profit means that they don't have any cash flow problems. The truth is that profitable businesses of all sizes and stages can run into cash flow problems, which will ultimately force them to close their doors for good -- especially when you have high business expenses and constantly reinvesting profits back into your business.

Remember, you're only profitable after there's revenue in your bank account and you're paid all of your expenses.

How to avoid lack of profitably: Be on the lookout for profit-making opportunities like product markups, becoming a consultant, adding new products or services, offering freebies or discounts and constantly learning new skills.

2. Late payments.

In a perfect world a client would pay his or her invoice on-time. Unfortunately, that's not a reality. That becomes a cash flow problem when you're banking on that income before you even received the payment. In fact, small businesses are now waiting an average of 72 days for payment of invoices. And, that can put your business in jeopardy since that means you can't pay your bills on-time.

Related: 5 Ways To Boost Your Business' Cash Flow

How to avoid late payments: Brush-up on the best practices for billing. This includes using cloud-based invoicing software, requiring a down payment, accepting multiple forms of payments, following-up with clients who haven't paid on-time and having a plan for clients who refuse to pay the invoice.

3. The unexpected.

Let's not sugarcoat this. There will be unexpected and unanticipated costs that you'll have to tackle. It could be anything from a key piece of equipment breaking down, a natural disaster damaging your office, responding to a negative customer complaints, having to change your business model, or losing one of your top employees. All of these can definitely impact your cash flow almost instantly.

How to avoid the unexpected: It's impossible to predict each and every possible outcome. The best thing that you can do is take as many preventive measures as possible. For example, creating a cash flow forecast for the the next six to 12 months gives you the chance to build an emergency fund so that you can handle most of these unexpected scenarios. Other steps you could take would be to have insurance, provide amazing customer service and retain your top-performers.

4. Seasonality.

For some businesses this is obvious. For example, if you're a landscaper in the Northeast, then you can bet that once winter hits you're not going to have a whole lot of customers contacting you. Sometimes there are seasonal fluctuations that you may not anticipate. For instance, if you're a year-long nursery and your biggest sellers are Christmas trees, then you may run into cash problems throughout the rest of the year.

How to avoid seasonality fluctuations: The above-mentioned cash flow forecast not only could clue you in on seasonal fluctuations, it can also help you set aside enough money to pay your bills when business has dried-up. You can also diversity your business your business so that there's consistent cash flow. A landscaper could provide a snow removal service during the winter.

5. Taxes.

It doesn't matter if you're a monthly, quarterly or annual filer, it's your responsibility to file the appropriate amount of taxes you owe on-time. Remember, if you don't filed your taxes or make an error, you could be subject to to penalties, interest payments and even an audit from the IRS.

Related: Understand Profit, Cash Flow and ROI to Ensure Your Business' Financial Health

How to avoid tax problems: Mark on a calendar your tax deadlines and speak with a tax specialist. They can make sure that your taxes are in-order and can also help you find deductions. Also make sure that you have enough money set aside to pay your taxes. Although it may not be the exact dollar amount, you can look at last year's taxes to at least get a ballpark figure.

6. Withheld funds.

Investors and banks can withhold funds if your business hasn't been able to meet expectations or your incomings are less than what was expected. This becomes a cash flow surprise when you go to secure a loan for a broken piece of equipment only to be turned down because you're a risk.

How to avoid withheld funds: When you initially request a loan, ask for a little more, like around 25 percent, as well as a line of credit. This should help you cover any emergencies without having to ask for more money.

7. Unanticipated growth.

While growth is a definitely a goal, unanticipated growth can catch you off-guard. Remember, the more you business grows the more cash you need to pay for staff, a larger property, and more products and services. Those are all expenses that can't wait until you have more cash flow.

How to avoid unanticipated growth issues: Implementing a business system in advance gives you the chance to test out the systems that work best for your business. For example, finding invoicing software that has features like recurring billing and sending automatic payment reminders removes those time-consuming administrative tasks. Now that you're free from those tasks, you can focus on tasks like generating more revenue to handle this rapid growth.

8. Hidden costs.

No matter how prepared you are there are bound to be some hidden costs that slip through the cracks. It could be employee turnover, taxes, legal and accounting fees, repairs and replacements, permits and licenses, insurance, shrinkage, credit card/loan interest and utilities. Some of these may seem insignificant at first, but they can quickly add-up until they make a dent into your cash flow.

Related: 10 Expert Tips on Managing Cash Flow as a New Business

How to avoid hidden costs: You can't completely avoid these hidden costs. However, I would find a mentor or fellow business owner and discuss the hidden costs that they've experienced. I would also sit down and create budget so that you're aware of all of your expenses you have each month and then plan accordingly.

John Rampton

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Entrepreneur and Connector

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of the calendar productivity tool Calendar.

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