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It looks like we may be close to the turning point when interest rates will rise and capital availability tightens due to our recovering economy and, of course, the effects of the upcoming midterm elections.

For private, middle-market companies, the main traditional sources of growth capital have been internal capital generation from profits, family and friends, and bank lines of credit. But there are other ways to finance the growth of your business, interest free and without borrowing money.

The most successful businesses in the U.S. utilize OPM (Other People’s Money), primarily from suppliers and customers, to maximize cash flow and avoid incurring debt to finance business operations. Two terms that these companies are very familiar with and that you need to know are “Cash Conversion Cycle” and “Corporate Trade Credits.

The Cash Conversion Cycle

The Cash Conversion Cycle (CCC) measures how long a company will be without cash because it has spent cash (for example, on inventory) in order to expand customer sales. It is essentially a measure of the liquidity risk created by growth and the expense of cash as a result of the growth of the business. Many companies often wonder why their business is growing but they are always short of cash — the CCC is the reason.

When companies take an extended period of time to collect outstanding bills, or when they overproduce inventory, the CCC measured in days lengthens. More inventories purchased means less cash available. For small businesses without large credit lines, a long CCC can mean the difference between success or failure as the business has to pay debts to vendors for inventory or services faster than it is receiving cash from its customers.

The CCC calculates the time it takes to convert inventory into cash. It is composed of three categories: days sales outstanding, days payable outstanding, and days inventory outstanding. Days sales outstanding is the amount of time a company takes, on average, to collect bills. Days payable outstanding is a firm’s average period of time to pay bills. Days inventory outstanding is the amount of time, on average, a firm takes to convert inventory to sales.

To calculate the CCC of your company, add days inventory outstanding (DIO) to days sales outstanding (DSO), then subtract days payable outstanding. The lower the number, the more efficient the business.

Credit payment terms for each customer should be based on CCC reports by customer as well as the CCC measured at the entity level. Trade discounts can be given to slower paying customers while “better” customers may receive no discount for early payment. Seems like a contradiction to offer slow paying customers a “deal” but it is an effective way to accelerate cash collections.

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About Michael Evans

Michael Evans is Managing Director for the Newport Board Group, a partnership of board directors and senior executive leaders with deep knowledge of business strategy, operations, and capital markets. Previous to Newport, Michael L. Evans had been with Ernst & Young since 1977 and served as a partner since 1984. During his 34 years with the firm, he served as a tax, audit and consulting services partner, specializing in real estate companies and publicly traded entities. Michael served as the firm’s Global Director of the Real Estate and Construction Industry from 1988 to 1998, serving many of the largest international real estate organizations in the U.S. and the world. Michael is a frequent writer on business topics and has authored two books. He can be reached at (415) 990-1844 or via email at mievans@msn.com.