The Essence of Good Working Capital Management

In yesterday’s post we noted that playing games with working capital only costs the organization in the end; specifically, for every 10% of working capital an organization messes with, it loses 1% of total working capital (or 10% of the working capital messed with). Not a good deal, any way one wants to look at it.

Working Capital doesn’t have to be hard to manage. While an expert can get quite sophisticated about it, all one really has to do is:

  1. Get a good grip on receivables
    What is the organization expecting from sales and when; what reimbursements is the organization entitled to and when; what tax rebates is the organization expecting and when.
  2. Get a clear picture on fixed payables
    What is the average monthly payroll, the average monthly overhead (rent, utilities, etc), and regular non-monthly expenses that are projected over the next year.
  3. Get a good estimate of average disruption costs
    When a receivables disruption has occurred — regardless of if it was due to a late payment, lost customer, lost sales from a competitive product, or market delay due to a supply chain disruption — how much has it cost on average and how long has it persisted. This is the contingency fund that is required (and can be amortized monthly over the next twelve months).

Once this is known, the organization knows how much cash it has to work with every month. Only then can it truly begin working capital management and determine when it should pay early to take advantage of an early payment discount, borrow to pay on time to prevent costs from rising (as the supplier’s cost of capital is much higher than the organization’s), pay late and pay the penalty (as the organization’s cost of capital is higher and/or the supplier is able to bear the burden of payment late more than the organization is able to bear the burden of paying on time), or get innovative and work with the supplier to reduce costs across the supply chain. Without a solid understanding of cash flow, working capital management can’t even begin. And good working capital management definitely doesn’t involve booking revenue early, paying suppliers late, or other quarter and year end games to present a rosier picture than reality, because these games always get discovered and the organization always loses, in hard dollars, in the end.

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