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How Can Technology Help Small Businesses? Think: 'Cash Flow.' Technology is forging ahead, minting tools for check-out financing, accounting and 'as-a-service' services.

By Laura Goldberg

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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You don't have to be a meteorologist to know that at some point bad weather will hit your startup. As with most things in life, preparation is essential, and entrepreneurship is no different.

Related: 5 Ways to Keep Cash Flow Pumping

Kabbage recently polled 500 successful entrepreneurs across various industries, from restaurant owners to professional services, about one of the biggest obstacles that looms for all businesses -- cash flow.

At the heartbeat of any business, the availability of back-up funds can mean the difference between your being able to expand your inventory and your staff and invest in initiatives to grow your company -- or not.

Your resulting balancing act between incoming and outgoing funds can easily go off the rails due to such factors as delayed payments, improper growth forecasts and sudden large expenditures. These kinds of issues are commonplace in entrepreneurship, and they come with considerable strain.

Yet, entrepreneurs and their businesses persist. With more than 30 million small businesses in the United States today, according to the Small Business Administration -- a total which is up from roughly 22 million from 2001 -- cash-flow challenges apparently aren't thwarting individuals from turning their passion into their career.

Yet survival doesn't come without a price. Here are the common challenges cash-flow issues create:

Putting off your own paycheck

Some 51 percent of small business owners surveyed in our study said they forgo paying themselves for multiple months to control cash flow. Twenty-six percent responded that at some point they had gone two to six months without paying themselves, while another 25 percent said they'd gone more than six months without a paycheck.

Some entrepreneurs said they had sidestepped this undesirable solution by running everyday expenses through their business. This could include their phone bill, car payment or, in fringe cases, even their mortgage, if their business operated out of their home. Yet, all of the respondents in the survey had run successful companies for an average of 10.5 years.

Related: 17 Passive Income Ideas for Increasing Your Cash Flow

Investing extra time

Time is everyone's most precious resource, especially when you're running a company and are responsible for every facet of its operation. We have an internal motto at our company, which is, "Let the bakers bake." The proverbial baker didn't start her company to focus her time on bookkeeping, but rather to turn her passion into a successful company.

The reality is, however, that many entrepreneurs invest large quantities of time in bookkeeping. Case in point: Our data showed that 91 percent of small business owners polled spent as much as 20 hours per week on cash-flow management, from handling payroll to invoicing and purchasing. If all cash-flow tasks were eliminated, respondents said, they would repurpose their time investing in other important business developments. Specifically:

  • 51 percent would invest more time in sales and marketing to drive new business.
  • 35 percent would further develop their products and services; they said they had new ideas but no time to focus on them.

  • 32 percent would spend more time with family, friends and community.

  • 30 percent would focus more time on customer service.

  • 22 percent would hire and mentor their employees.

  • 22 percent would investigate new technologies and business systems to make their company more efficient.

These are telling numbers. If only business owners could lift their heads out of their money matters, and effectively minimize the stress associated with them, they could focus on what makes an impact -- on their community, family life and bottom line.

You need to first evaluate your business.

So, how can you reclaim your time? All businesses are different, and that fact will require your evaluating your individual company's operations. But a first step is to pay close attention to how much time you spend on various cash-flow tasks, from invoicing and payroll to accounting, taxes and more.

Determine which task is taking up the lion's share of your time, and the research solutions that could help you solve that particular time sink. Can you make it a goal to reclaim one hour every week?

If so, implement that strategy, but be mindful that you're repurposing the new time available in a way that supports you or the business better than before, be it spending more time with family or with customers.

You need to learn how technology can help.

The speed of business is changing, and today's technologies and services are giving small businesses the tools they need to level the playing field with their bigger competitors.

Academic research suggests this is the future. Former SBA administrator and senior fellow at Harvard, Karen Mills, wrote in her new book, Fintech, Small Business & the American Dream, about the concept of a "small business utopia."

This suggests, she said, that technology is paving the road to a future when siloed systems and disparate data will elegantly flow together to give small business owners insights traditionally reserved for big business. Here are four ways technology is evolving to help you reclaim your time:

Invoicing: New technologies are providing entrepreneurs easier and faster ways to manage customer invoicing so they can get paid faster without the constant chase to do just that. Bill.com claims that it lets small businesses get paid up to three times faster through automation. Research solutions are also making the payment experience seamless and simple for customers, thereby saving companies time, too.

Checkout financing: Machine learning and predictive analytics are the driving forces revolutionizing funding options to help resolve cash-flow issues for small businesses. This means that eventually all entrepreneurs will be able to access capital in minutes rather than weeks or months, thanks to automated underwriting. Alibaba.com (with whom Kabbage has a relationship) launched its Pay Later checkout-financing service, allowing small businesses to access capital without leaving the site.

Accounting software: The majority of every accounting process can be automated, and accounting software can provide greater detail in the event of an audit. Solutions like Xero and Quickbooks also make it simple to connect into other third-party services companies might use to simplify cash-flow management.

"As-a-service" offerings: Businesses continue to migrate entire operations to cloud technologies and monthly services. These solutions help save time and trim unnecessary overhead costs. Systems like Zenefits for payroll or Expensify for managing expenses take care of the tedious minutiae of a portion of cash-flow activities, especially the non-revenue generating ones.

Related: 5 Tips to Keep Cash Flow Strong

The good news for small businesses, then, is the fact that the cash-flow dilemma is continually being leveled, thanks to technology, and over time these advancements will only ease the challenges small businesses face.

Laura Goldberg

Chief Revenue Officer, Kabbage

Laura Goldberg is the chief revenue officer of Kabbage, a global financial services, cash-flow technology and data platform tht helps small businesses access billions of dollars in funding.  

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