By Viresh Harduth, vice president: New Customer Acquisition (Small & Medium Businesses) for Africa & Middle East
If you went shopping on 1 April, you likely encountered aisles and aisles of products with no price tags as retailers updated their shelf pricing to reflect the new VAT rate. As a consumer, this was probably a slight inconvenience because you didn’t know how much something cost until you had to pay.
Yet, as a small business owner, the VAT increase was more than a slight inconvenience. Not only did you have to update your systems and train your teams but you likely had to spend money printing new price tags and ensuring you were compliant – this was, after all, the biggest tax change in 25 years.
The VAT increase will also impact your cash flow because you will need to pay more money to SARS. But now that the dust has settled, Small & Medium Businesses have an opportunity to review their operations and uncover ways to improve their cash flow and offset the higher VAT payments.
Here are five ideas to free up cash that are easy to implement and don’t require major changes to your business:
1. Negotiate extended payment terms with suppliers. When you receive an invoice, you generally have 30 days to pay. Try to negotiate longer payment terms with your suppliers – like 60 days – so that you have cash in the bank for longer.
2. Enforce your own payment terms for customers. The time between issuing invoices and waiting to get paid is a danger zone for small businesses, especially when you need to pay VAT to SARS. Reduce your payment terms for customers from one month to 14 days, for example, and stick to it. Send regular reminders on overdue accounts and follow up on the phone.
3. Incentivise customers to pay earlier. Offer various payment methods that make it easier for customers to settle their accounts sooner. Issue invoices promptly and offer discounts for early – and full – payment. This will also increase loyalty.
4. Reduce stock on hand. If you have surplus stock, it means you haven’t aligned your stock with your sales, which ties up available cash. Stock management is as important as financial management. Knowing what’s in your stock room – and bank account – at all times, is crucial to maximise cash flow.
5. Work with an accountant. While cloud-based accounting solutions like Sage can help you keep track of your cash flow and stay compliant, an accountant can identify areas to save money and cut costs, freeing up working and investment capital.
When you improve your cash flow, you reduce the need to rely on bank overdrafts and loans. The key to the success of any business is to free up as much cash as possible. And, with the VAT increase, you need more cash than you did yesterday.
Remember, you have until 31 May to reflect the VAT increase in your product and service prices. Until then, you can apply the additional 1% at the till point, as long as you put up signs informing customers that you will be doing this.