Two Finance Formulas Every Small Business Owner Should Know

Thursday, 20th July 2023

Two finance formulas to use when managing small business cashflow – one to calculate working capital and another your cash conversion cycle.

At a glance: Here’s a snapshot of the article’s insights:

  • Aussie small businesses are in a growth mindset, with 85 per cent anticipating growth in 2023.
  • Working capital is a useful metric to judge the financial position of a business gearing up for growth.
  • Another metric is the cash conversion cycle, which calculates the time it takes for money that leaves a business to return again – the shorter the cycle, the better a business’s cashflow.

Australian small businesses are making plans to grow. In fact, 85 per cent of business owners anticipated growth in 2023.* The top three anticipated sources of growth are new clients or customers from referrals, more business from existing clients and customers, and new products or services. This focus on their business’s growth – and the specific paths they can follow to achieve it – puts owners in prime position to thrive.

But growth doesn't occur without keeping an eye on business finances – and that's where knowing a business' working capital and cash conversion cycle come into play.

How working capital can inspire growth

In general terms, working capital is an assessment of a business's ability to cover upcoming costs. In a perfect world, a business would be paid for its products sold or services delivered without any delay. With no time lag between money going out and money coming in, there would be no need to hold extra funds to tide the business over to the next sale or to cover expenses such as wages, rent and tax.

In reality, however, every business needs a pool of cash on hand to bridge that cashflow gap. This pool is the money available to fund day-to-day operations, and is known as working capital. Working capital can play an essential role in helping business owners achieve their growth goals.

How to calculate working capital

Use the following formula to calculate working capital:

current assets – current liabilities = working capital

Current assets include anything a business owns or has a claim on, that can be rapidly turned into cash – think inventory and accounts receivable. Current liabilities are obligations that will soon fall due – think short-term debt and accounts payable. (Note: ‘current’ usually means due within one year).

As an example, imagine a small business owner with $20,000 in cash and $50,000 in stock, and with debtors owing a total of $50,000 due within the next month. The value of the business’s current assets amounts to $120,000.

Let’s say that the sum of short-term expenses and money owed to creditors – including accounts payable, payroll, taxes, monthly subscriptions and rent – comes to $100,000. Using the working capital formula, $120,000 worth of assets and $100,000 worth of liabilities leaves the business owner with working capital of $20,000.

That’s $20,000 on hand to cover gaps in cashflow and any unexpected expenses.

How to calculate the cash conversion cycle

Another way of gaining insight into a business’s cashflow position is to calculate how long it takes, on average, for the money that goes out to come back in. This is known as the operating cycle or cash conversion cycle. Calculating a business’s cash conversion cycle requires three different values:

  • Inventory days: How long stock sits on the shelf, or how long a business has to pay for labour and materials to create a saleable product.
  • Debtor days: How long it takes to collect payment from clients or customers.
  • Creditor days: How long a business can hold on to cash before it must pay suppliers.

Then, it’s a matter of popping those values into the following formula:

(inventory days + debtor days) – creditor days = cash conversion cycle

If the owner of children’s toy store has their stock sitting on shelves for an average of 55 days, takes 45 days on average to collect payments from customers, and must pay their suppliers every 30 days, the cash conversion cycle amounts to:

(55 inventory days + 45 debtor days) – 30 creditor days = 70 days

The toy retailer would therefore wait 70 days for their outlays to turn back into cash.

The ultimate aim is to reduce the cash conversion cycle, which can be done by encouraging clients to pay back invoices sooner. Doing so can help put small business owners – such as the toy store owner – in a place that’s primed for growth, and better equip them for the unexpected, or new moves, in the future.

*Prospa x YouGov SME Sentiment survey, November 2022.

The information on this website is provided for general information only and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice from financial, legal and taxation advisers. Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of the information, we disclaim all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded), for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information or any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.

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