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To properly manage your business's cash flow, you must first analyze the components that affect the timing of your cash inflows and cash outflows. A good analysis of these components will point out problem areas that lead to cash flow gaps for your business. Narrowing, or even closing, cash flow gaps is the key to cash flow management.
Some of the more important components to examine are:
- Accounts receivable. Accounts receivable represent sales that have not yet been collected in the form of cash. An account receivable is created when you sell something to a customer in return for his or her promise to pay at a later date. To properly manage your cash flow, you must know the negative cash flow affects caused by the time it takes your customers to pay on their accounts.
- Credit terms. Credit terms are the time limits you set for your customers' promise to pay for the merchandise or services purchased from your business. Credit terms affect the timing of your cash inflows. Offering trade discounts is one way you might be able to improve your cash flow.
- Credit policy. A credit policy is the blueprint you use when deciding to extend credit to a customer. The correct credit policy is necessary to ensure that your cash flow doesn't fall victim to a credit policy that is too strict or to one that is too generous.
- Inventory. Inventory describes the extra merchandise or supplies your business keeps on hand to meet the demands of customers. An excessive amount of inventory hurts your cash flow by using up money that could be used for other cash outflows.
- Accounts payable and cash flow. Accounts payable are amounts you owe to your suppliers that are payable sometime within the near future, "near" meaning 30 to 90 days. Without payables and trade credit you'd have to pay for all goods and services at the time you purchase them. For optimum cash flow management, you'll need to examine your payables schedule.