The unexpected economic disruptions and downturn that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic have hit Canadian businesses hard, particularly small businesses which are the heart of the Canadian economy—not to mention the heart of the neighbourhoods we will all return to once the pandemic has passed.
Though the times are uncertain, one thing is for sure. Cash flow management is critical, now more than ever, to the survival of businesses. In our line of work as business bookkeepers, we spend a lot of time helping our clients to develop cash flow strategies, projections, and forecasts. As a business owner, you’ve no doubt got a lot on your plate, so we’ve boiled it down to six key components and listed out specific steps and resources for each that we hope will be of use.
CASH FLOW MANAGEMENT TIP #1: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SUBSIDIES, INSURANCE, AND TAX CREDITS
Many businesses are experiencing partial or total shutdowns to their operations. With limited cash coming in, it’s important for you, as a business owner, to take advantage of any and all subsidies or payments for which you are eligible. These will help you to save money, which will increase your available cash flow.
Here are five opportunities that should be on your radar:
1: Temporary Wage Subsidy
On March 27, 2020, the Government of Canada announced that small and medium businesses will qualify for a 75% wage subsidy for up to three months that can be backdated to Sunday, March 15. It’s not yet confirmed whether eligibility and implementation will be similar to the 10% wage subsidy previously announced on March 18, 2020, which allowed employers to immediately deduct the amount of the subsidy from remittances. Updates are expected before the end of March.
The payroll is one of the largest monthly expenses of any business. If your business qualifies, the subsidy will significantly ease strains on your cash flow, enabling you to maintain your work force—whom you’ll need to get your business up and running at full steam again when we emerge on the other side of this. Your bookkeeper will be able to help you to calculate and backdate (if desired) the subsidy.
Bear in mind that the subsidy only applies to employees, not contractors. If you are not able to renegotiate delivery or payment terms with contractors and must cancel these arrangements, be sure to abide by the stipulations of the contract and to provide your contractors with whatever paperwork they may need or request in order to support their Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) claims.
At the moment, sole proprietors do not appear to be eligible for the Temporary Wage Subsidy and therefore must seek support through the CERB as well.
2: Work-Sharing Program Extension
As a business owner, you know the value of your employees. They know you, they know your business, and you no doubt feel concern for their welfare. To help you avoid lay-offs due to the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19, you can take advantage of the Work-Sharing Program which provides Employment Income (EI) benefits to workers who make an agreement with you, their employer, to reduce their regular working hours.
In response to COVID-19, the duration of Work-Sharing agreements has been extended from 38 to 76 weeks. If you are eligible, this will enable you to reduce your payroll and free up some additional cash flow while continuing to support and maintain your workforce. Your bookkeeper can help you to ensure that you have the correct documentation needed to apply, as well as update our payroll.
3: Deferral of Taxes and Duties
On March 18, 2020, the Government of Canada confirmed that businesses and self-employed individuals can defer filing income tax until August 31, 2020 and that payments of amounts owing will not be due until September 2020.
On March 27, 2020, the government further announced that amounts owing for GST/HST and duties on imports will be deferred from the end of April until June 30, 2020. Depending on what you owe, this again constitutes a potentially substantial injection of cash.
Keep in mind, however, that the amount will come due eventually. It would be wise to speak with your bookkeeper and accountant to get a sense of how much is being deferred and work that amount into your longer-term cash flow and payment projections so that you don’t end up incurring penalties down the road for missed payments.
4: Speak to Your Insurance Provider
Here’s one that some business owners may overlook. You will have likely set up a mix of insurance products to cover you and your business. Too often individuals and business owners adopt a “set it and forget it” mindset when it comes to insurance. If you’re paying for it, now is the time to see if that investment pays off.
Review the agreement and benefits available to you, and speak to your commercial insurer directly. You may be entitled to interruption payments, which would provide another source of cash. You should also speak to your bookkeeper, as applying for insurance benefits will almost certainly require you to produce documentation in support of your claim.
5: Track Your Losses
There are two types of losses you really should be tracking. The first is lost income. The second is unpaid invoices (also known as bad debt). In terms of lost income, this is worth tracking because, even if your losses are not severe enough to enable you to claim support from the government, there may be tax credits and deductions that become available to you in future.
What should you be tracking? Ways that you can demonstrate real (not supposed) income losses in 2020. For example, have some of your regular contracts been paused or cancelled? Have some of your suppliers stopped distributing, forcing you to pause or cancel a regular product or service? To best prepare, consult your accountant. They know your sector and can offer some input on potential losses and deductibles which your business bookkeeper can then help you track.
The second type of loss that you need to track is outstanding payments for services or goods that you’ve already provided. Speak to your accountant about how best to manage this. The CRA does not look lightly upon bad debt; however, given circumstances, we bad debt to be quite common in next year’s tax filings.
CASH FLOW MANAGEMENT TIP #2: REDUCE EXPENSES
One of the simplest ways to increase your cash flow is to reduce your expenses. Less money out means more money in. As the COVID-19 pandemic has upended business as usual, you, as a business owner, need to take a step back and evaluate your spending.
Here are 6 easy steps you can take to reduce your business expenses:
1: Gather Your Expense Documents
Take a look at your business credit card bill and highlight all of the monthly expenses that are normally charged to your account—software, subscriptions, regular billings, etc. Also ask your business bookkeeper to generate a quick expense report for you so that you can be sure not to miss anything.
2: Evaluate Software and Subscriptions
The current model of subscription based, well, everything, makes it very easy to sign up for services and then entirely forget about them. Consider, are there free instead of paid versions of software that you could be using? Or perhaps free alternative software you could switch over to? Are there subscriptions to software or services that you’re either not using or barely using? Anything you are paying for that you are not using is a drain on your cash flow.
3: Evaluate Automatic Bill Payments
Like your subscriptions, you’ve likely set up automatic payments for utilities, internet, business phones, and myriad other expenses. Are there payments you’re making that could be paused? For example, if everyone in your office is working from home, can you temporarily suspend internet service to the office? Are there payments that are being direct billed to your chequing account that could be transferred to your credit card for the time being?
4: Evaluate Your Business Model
Now more than ever is a good time to evaluate whether or not your business could be operating more efficiently. Are there systems, processes, or operations that cost time and overhead which could be moved to a virtual model to save you money? Are there products or services that don’t generate much profit for you and could be cut? Are there goods or services that are proving in high-demand during this time that you could focus your energy on?
5: Renegotiate Terms on Payables
If you’re struggling to make payments for goods, services, supplies and other items (payables) that are vital to the running of your business, speak to the supplier and renegotiate your current payment arrangement. Can you pay later? Or pay in smaller increments?
Conversely, be sure you’re not paying for something that you aren’t actually receiving. If part of your inventory, for example, is currently unattainable due to supply chain disruptions, then this is a product you cannot sell. Paying for something you haven’t received and cannot sell impacts your cash flow on both ends. Can these payments be cancelled or paused?
6: Think Outside the Box
Every company has unique expenses and operating methods—can you innovate to reduce your expenses further? Perhaps your business normally relies a lot on transportation, whether to meetings, between work sites, etc. Maybe you even have a company car (or a fleet of them). So how might you reduce costs?
Obviously, you’ll utilize virtual tools as much as possible. But if you still need to move about on occasion, is your city providing free public transport at this time? Taking proper precautions, could you take advantage of this? Could you ride a bike? Pay for the occasional taxi so that you can take the company car off the road, saving gas and insurance fees?
CASH FLOW MANAGEMENT TIP #3: MANAGE DEBT AND CREDIT
A key element of managing your cash flow is reducing your debt and the amount of interest you’re paying. While paying off existing debts may be impractical at this time, it is important to manage your debt as best as possible—especially if you plan to seek additional loans and financing at this time.
Here are some things to consider:
1: Mortgage Deferrals
If you currently pay a mortgage on a business or personal property, speak to your financial institution about deferring your mortgage payments. Some banks are offering deferrals of up to six months. You will still owe the money, but freeing up the cash now will improve your business cash flow and/or the amount of personal funds you have to invest in your business if needed.
2: Rent Support and Deferrals
If you’re currently paying rent on an office or work space, speak to the landlord or property manager about your options. They may allow you to defer payment, or to make smaller payments until the economic situation improves. Some provinces are also offering rent support, so be sure to check if there are provincial or even municipal support systems that you can access.
3: Outstanding Debt
You may have amounts owing on lines of credit, credit cards, or other credit products. Speak to your financial institution to find out what relief they can offer. Can you negotiate for more flexible repayment terms? Can you get an extension? A deferral? A lower minimum payment? A lower interest rate?
4: Reduce Interest
This should be a top priority. Move debts from higher interest products (e.g. credit cards) to lower interest products (e.g. a line of credit) wherever possible. Credit cards are the main culprit here. Lucky for you, interest rates are at an all-time low, so you’re free to shop around for better credit products. If you’re carrying a large amount on your credit card that can’t be shifted to a line of credit, ask your financial institution about a low-interest loan that could help you pay off your credit card.
CASH FLOW MANAGEMENT TIP #4: KEEP UP WITH YOUR BILLING AND PAYMENTS
As best as you can, you want to keep providing goods and services and receiving money in exchange. Continue billing as you normally do. Issue invoices in a timely manner, and follow up on payments. Also take a good look at your payment model and the payment options you’re providing. The easier you make it for your customers to pay you, the more likely you are to get paid.
For any outstanding invoices, give customers the option to pay via credit card (if you don’t already), perhaps even the option to pay by instalments. Sure, you’ll pay a small transaction fee, but in exchange you’ll get cash in hand and your client will appreciate your flexibility—particularly during these times. Remember that you can claim transaction fee as a business expense (many of your clients likely cannot).
Lastly, be sure to track any unpaid invoice amounts so that you have an accurate record of losses (bad debt, which we spoke of earlier).
CASH FLOW MANAGEMENT TIP #5: SECURE ADDITIONAL FINANCING
Now let’s address some of the financing options that can help increase your cash flow. Of course, here we’re talking about your access to credit—AKA, loans. Even when the economy is strong, it’s wise for businesses to have access to credit as a back-up. In the short term, loans will certainly boost your cash flow; however, whatever you borrow will need to be repaid eventually. Consider the repayment terms and interest carefully and try to think of loans as emergency cash funds to be used judiciously.
Here are some options:
1: Business Credit Availability Program
Established by the federal government, the Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) will provide over $65 billion in direct lending and financial support to Canadian businesses, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, to help with cash flow requirements. BCAP loans will be granted through the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Export Development Canada (EDC).
To qualify, you must first speak to your financial institution. If they cannot provide enough financing and assistance to meet your needs, they will work with the BDC and EDC to help you secure further funding.
2: Canada Emergency Business Account
This new loan program will be implemented through financial institutions in cooperation with the EDC. Through this program, small businesses and non-profits experiencing reduced revenues can receive a loan of up to $40,000 to help cover operating costs.
Loans will be interest free for the first year and, if paid back by December 31, 2022, 25% of the loan will be forgiven. To qualify, your business has to have paid out between $50,000 to $1 million in total payroll in 2019. Details on how business owners can access this program have yet to be announced.
3: Loan Guarantee and Co-Lending Programs for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME)
The Loan Guarantee Program from the EDC and the Co-Lending Program through the BDC target SMEs. The first offers operating credit or cash flow term loans of up to $6.25 million while the second offers co-lend term loans for operational cash flow requirements in incremental credit amounts (again up to $6.25 million).
Your financial institution is the keeper of these loans so be sure to speak to your bank about whether or not your business is a fit for these programs.
4: Lines of Credit
If you already have a line of credit, speak to your financial institution about increasing your limit, or try renegotiating your interest rate. If you don’t currently have a line of credit, speak to your financial institution about opening one.
5: Canada Small Business Financing Program
The Canada Small Business Financing Program has been around for a while. Available to for-profit small businesses and start-ups with gross annual revenues of $10 million or less, the program offers financing of up to $1 million. This program is delivered through financial institutions, so is yet another option to discuss with your bank.
6: Microloans and Microfinance
Generally offered at the local or regional level, microloans may be an option if you’re not able to secure enough support from your financial institution. Loans are offered through local banks, credit unions, development groups, and other funds.
Though often targeted towards entrepreneurs and start-ups, funds often have unique mandates and, during the COVID-19 crisis, may offer additional options for new and/or struggling small businesses. Reach out to your local economic and social development agencies as well as credit unions to see what microfinance options are available in your area.
CASH FLOW MANAGEMENT TIP #6: STAY ON TOP OF YOUR BOOKKEEPING
We know that bookkeeping is everyone’s least favourite task, but it’s critical that you keep on top of tracking your payroll, expenses (new and old), accounts payable and accounts receivable, as well as all of the subsidies, benefits, deductibles, and financing that you apply for.
Keeping accurate and up-to-date bookkeeping records and documentation will:
- Enable you to apply for government support quickly and efficiently
- Ensure that you are recording subsidies and benefits properly
- Issue paperwork and documentation to employees without delays
- Help you make a strong case for support to your financial institution
- Speed your securing of additional financing
- Illustrate income losses and help you track potential future tax deductibles
- Enable you to manage your cash flow and develop projections
- Guarantee that you know where your money is going
- Help you make informed business decisions
BLUEPRINT’S COMMITMENT TO HELP
Many of the small and medium businesses, entrepreneurs and consultants we serve are wondering how to maintain not only their personal health but the health of their businesses and, by extension, their employees during these difficult times.
Blueprint will do everything we can to ensure that businesses have the accurate and up-to-date bookkeeping and financial records they need in order to speed their applications for benefits, financing, and lines of credit.
For businesses struggling to implement the Temporary Wage Subsidy or produce documentation (such as Records of Employment—ROEs) for their workers, we are here to help you do so as fast as possible.
Blueprint is also offering current clients free short-term cash flow forecasting for business owners to make well-informed decisions in the days ahead. Contact us to schedule a cash flow forecasting session or to Ask us about this service and how you can benefit