Profit and turnover are, of course, important measures of business performance but when times are as difficult as they are at the start of 2011 and many businesses are finding themselves in difficulties the main focus must shift to cash.
Cash flow is the most immediate indicator of the way a business is performing and can also provide a warning signal that action needs to be taken to prevent a slide into insolvency.
Close attention to cash flow should give a clearer picture of the immediate state of the business but while it may be possible to adjust to strengthen incomings against outgoings this is only going to be a holding operation.
The business must also look at its business plan and business model, preferably with the help of a turnaround adviser. An objective outsider working as part of the business team to secure its medium and longer term future may identify fundamental weaknesses that undermine the ability to control cash flow.
The first step in managing cash is to construct a 13-week cash flow forecast to help identify risks and actions that can be taken to reduce them. It should include income from sales and other receipts and outgoings, both to ongoing obligations such as rent wages and finance and to creditors.
The business also needs to control cash on a daily basis, with payments made on a priority basis with purchases approved by an authorised person who is aware of their impact on cash flow. This will avoid the risk of returned cheques. It is also advisable to talk to the bank and keep it aware of what is being done to keep things under control.
Tight control of cash coupled with a thorough look at the business model and a realistic business plan will go a long way to help a business survive in difficult trading conditions.