Maintaining a positive cash flow is the number one challenge your small business faces.
While this is nothing new, post-recession reality has made the task considerably harder. Many businesses and contractors are caught between clients who are slow to pay and creditors who are quick to demand repayment.
If you are struggling to stay on top of your balance sheets, the following roundup of five free cash flow management tools might be just what you need.
SCORE, a small business resource and mentoring organization, has quite a few free Excel templates available for tracking everything from 12-month cash flow to profit and loss projections.
Tip: Protect your bottom line by keeping expenses at a minimum. One way to accomplish this is by purchasing equipment used or on sale. Only pay full price when there is no other option.
If you prefer Google’s spreadsheet app over Excel, then you will be glad to see this collection of business spreadsheet templates submitted by other Google Docs users. All the templates are free, so if the first spreadsheet you downloaded does not mesh with your needs, try another one.
Tip: Be brutally realistic (and maybe even slightly pessimistic) when you enter data into your cash flow forecast. Overestimating income and underestimating expenses will set you up for financial failure.
Data entry can be a towering obstacle in the quest to stay on top of your cash flow. Eliminating most of that entry work is where web-based Mint.com really shines. This app automatically pulls data from your linked bank accounts — all you have to do is login and track your income versus your expenses.
The downside of Mint is that the program is geared towards personal finance and does not include small business tools like invoicing or client budget tracking. But for the price — free — Mint is an excellent way to stay on top of your monetary situation.
Tip: Update your financial management records weekly. This will help you stay current with both cash inflow and outflow, and alert you to potential money troubles before they become a reality!
Want a daily summary of your financial worth? PocketSmith, a Google Chrome app, provides a calendar-based cash flow report. The program can show you not only how you have done in the past, but can also forecast cash flow months and years into the future (all based upon the data you enter, of course). One of the handy aspects of PocketSmith’s calendar layout is that you can easily see upcoming expenses and hopefully avoid accidentally overdrafting your checking account.
Tip: Time management is just as important to maintaining your cash flow as promptly-paying clients! The reason? Wasted time is lost money — it is as simple as that. For some great advice on time management, check out this past oDesk blog post.
Invoicing is one of those necessary evils for contractors. While it must be done, why make it complicated? Enter Simple Invoices. This free and open source app allows you to quickly and painlessly bill your clients — and it has been translated into 19 different languages with more on the way.
Tip: Do not let slow paying clients get away from you. To keep your cash flow stable, you have to remind customers when their bills are due. And remind them again. And again. Keep the tone friendly as long as possible, but do not back down from insisting on payment. Otherwise, your cash flow forecast will not be a pretty sight.
How do you stay on top of your business’ cash flow? In the comments section below, share advice and any other free tools that might have been missed.