Last week, I received a call from one of our web hosting resellers. Seems his credit card was being declined for his monthly web hosting reseller account. He apologized and asked if we could defer the payment a couple weeks. “Cash flow problems,” he said. Money was running tight while he waited for a client payment to arrive.
Of course, I told him it would be no problem. He has been a friend and reliable client for years.
As a fellow entrepreneur, I can certainly understand “cash flow problems,” especially when clients are slow to pay their bills. Vendors, employees and contractors all still (oddly) expect to be paid even if the money for that project hasn’t come in on the front end. At the same time, I guess I was a little surprised since this marketer has been in business for many years.
It may be a little naïve of me to think some of the following business strategies can insulate small business owners from “cash flow problems.” After all, it only takes one unforeseen act of God to wipe out a budget. Still, these techniques have helped us weather the tougher times caused by recession, bad-apple clients, inflation and client attrition. I offer them to you so they might inspire you to do the same if you’re not already.
1. Establish the Rainy Day Fund
Just like you want to have three to six months of savings in your personal bank account, you also want to keep at least three to six months savings in your business savings account. (You have a business savings or backup checking account, right?)
Put aside a percentage into this savings account and don’t touch it! This is not your tax withholdings account, your marketing account or your slush fund. This is emergency-only savings designed to bring you what financial guru, Dave Ramsey, calls “financial peace.”
2. Diversify Your Clients
Relying upon one type of customer can spell trouble if something blows up, legislation changes, or the marketplace shifts. This danger is further magnified if you rely primarily upon one big customer.
Try to groom a client base that offers some diversity in its members. For instance, you may say you focus entirely upon the nonprofit community. That’s all well and good, but you may also find great clients in the government and corporate settings. I certainly wouldn’t turn them away if they are a fit for your services.
Yes, there is a benefit to catering to a niche. Absolutely. However, you can ask any automobile part manufacturer in Michigan if it’s a good idea to keep all your eggs in one basket and I’ll bet you hear otherwise.
3. Diversify Your Offerings
Want to know how to diversify your client portfolio? Diversify your offerings (and tell people about it; more on that in a moment.)
It’s likely you do more than one thing well, offer more than one great product or can fulfill more than one specific need. For example, when I first started Dreamscape Multimedia, we provided only web design services. Of course, we still needed to host our clients’ websites somewhere, so we chose a local web host in Michigan.
Unfortunately, the web host wasn’t the most reliable. About the third time our clients’ sites went down, we began shopping for a new web hosting company. It was then that we came to the conclusion we needed to host our own websites. The rest is history.
Since then, we’ve also branched into search engine optimization (SEO) and Internet marketing. After all, what good is a beautiful website if no one sees it? We now have clients of all three types: web design, web hosting and SEO. Some folks only want one service, while others want all three.
Offering three different types of web services allows us to fulfill a more complete spectrum of online marketing needs. The clients only have one web company to deal with and our relationship with them is stronger for it.
4. Recurring Revenue Streams
Another strategy that can keep you afloat during the lean times is recurring revenue. When you have subscription, membership, affiliate or other payments coming in every month, month after month, this can go a long way toward your bottom line. For us, that’s the web hosting and search engine marketing sides of our business.
Web hosting carries a monthly or annual fee, just like any telephone, cable or power utility. When combined with other renewing products like SSL certificates and domain name registration, offering web hosting service helps us keep a better handle on the health and security of our clients’ websites while ensuring a steady, predictable stream of income.
Our web hosting affiliate program is yet another way we grow our hosting business while sharing the recurring web hosting revenue with folks who bring us those same web accounts; our affiliates in the Prosperity referral program.
Finally, on the Internet marketing front, we receive a similar steady cash flow (so long as our clients continue to see their sites rank at the top of the first page of Google.)
5. Search Engine Marketing
Lastly, if you’ve been in business for a while, hopefully you’ve been investing in promoting your website. Getting to the top of the Google search engine results (SERPs) is paramount to keeping your sales pipeline full, regardless of whether you have dedicated salespeople out there selling you to the marketplace.
I’ve known small business owners to fuss over redesigning their websites every couple years. If your site doesn’t see any web traffic, the right kind of web traffic, or any conversions, what’s the point? (Well—you’re satisfying your own ego, I guess. Hopefully that form of emotional ROI makes those time-consuming overhauls worth it.)
A regular schedule of search engine marketing (SEM) activities is just what the doctor ordered to get your 24/7/365 salesperson (known as your website) working for you instead of the other way around.
Well, there you have it. There are five strategies for insulating your small business against cash flow problems. Here’s a final one:
Remember you get more of what you put your attention on. Focus on the work you have and the direction you wish to go and you’ll get more of that. Focus on your lack of business and you’ll find more lack. Feel gratitude for the clients and blessings you’ve been given. Do your best to be a wise steward of the resources and clients in your care and you’ll be trusted with more.
Employ these principles in your business and I believe you will be rewarded. Sure, you’ll still occasionally be tested, but learning and applying these tips will help you pass those “tests” with a little more ease and grace.
In support of your efforts,