How to Determine Your Business's Working Capital Needs
Although it’s easy to understand what working capital is, it’s trickier to determine how much working capital your business requires. This is because your working capital needs will vary depending on several factors. These factors include your business’s industry, operating cycle, efficiency, cash flow, and goals
In addition to these components, your business has probably been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Due to this, it’s likely that your working capital needs have changed, as you work to adapt to the ever-changing conditions.
By the end of this post, you’ll understand how each one of these factors affects your working capital needs.
How Much Business Working Capital Do You Require?
1. COVID-19’s Affect On Your Business
Nearly every business, regardless of industry, has been affected in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to this, having additional working capital is crucial during this time. As you adapt to COVID-19 conditions, you might need working capital for the following operational expenses:
- Payroll: If you’re struggling to pay your employees during this time, consider applying for positive working capital from a lender.
- Safety investments: Most likely, your business will need to invest in safety items to keep your customers and employees safe. These might include shields, masks, new technologies, cleaning costs, or industry specific investments. If you need more financing to afford these costs, seeking additional capital will be helpful.
- Expansion opportunities: If your business wants to take advantage of new business opportunities during this time, calculate the working capital you’ll need to get started.
Every business is different, and the affect COVID-19 has had on your operations is no exception. During this time, reflect on how you can ensure your business’s future with additional capital.
2. Type of Business: Seasonality and Operating Cycle
Accounting Tools defines the operating cycle of a company as:
“The average period required for a business to make an initial outlay of cash to produce goods, sell the goods, and receive cash from customers in exchange for the goods.”
The type of business you run and your operating cycle go hand-in-hand. The key difference is that the time required for a business to receive cash from customers may vary quite a bit even, between businesses in the same industry.
3. Seasonality of Sales
Your business’s industry is also important because working capital needs may vary depending on seasonality.
For example, a retail store might not need a lot of money to pay for new inventory during the summer. Then, when the holiday season arrives, they’ll need to make large inventory purchases to capitalize on holiday sales. Recognizing seasonality will allow you to determine the fluctuating amount of working capital your business entails.
It’s important to note that if your business has seasonal needs, you might benefit from contacting a financial institution to see if you can get approved for a working capital loan. This will enable you to afford your seasonal expenses, without having to risk acquiring significant debt, or not being able to pay for costs entirely.
4. Operating Cycle
Your business’s day-to-day operations will majorly affect how much working capital you’ll need.
For instance, consider the differences in terms of working capital needs between a wholesaler and their client, a fast food restaurant. The fast food restaurant will order meat, potatoes, soft drinks, and any other ingredients they need to prepare menu items. But, conceivably, the fast food restaurant owner could order a shipment, receive it a week later, and sell it the next day.
On the other hand, a wholesaler spends money on producing goods that may not be paid for until months later. Sometimes, they may only receive payment upon a customer’s receipt of the product. If that product must be shipped across the country, and then payment isn’t due until a month later, that business owner won’t have that cash for a fairly long time.
In this example, you can see why the wholesaler would need a larger amount of working capital during that time than the fast food business owner. The wholesaler simply can’t generate cash quickly enough to afford all his business expenses, so he’ll need a larger safety net.
5. Your Business Goals
Your short term and long-term goals, particularly as they relate to investing in your business, play a large part in determining your business’s working capital needs.
For example, one business owner may be completely fine with having $100,000 in unused cash, while another might consider that amount to be too much. That’s because it depends on how much you want to invest in growing your business. In this case, it’s not a matter of “right” or “wrong,” it’s just a personal preference.
As previously mentioned, if you decide that your business requires additional working capital, you should consider applying for a small business loan, business line of credit, or a credit card. This is especially helpful if you decide that you have aggressive goals that will require you to make significant investments in areas of your business.
6. Operational Efficiency, Other Costs, and Payment Cycles
Small nuances in the way you do business make your needs unique. For example, you may have special taxes to pay or regulations to follow. In addition, the timelines of when you receive payment for goods and services can affect your working capital needs. For these smaller reasons, you’ll have to be aware of all the small details of your business to be accurate when estimating working capital needs.
Conclusion: Consider Your Access to Working Capital
Evaluating working capital needs will give you great insight into if your business is operating efficiently. Plus, you’ll gain clarity on where you need to cut back and where you can afford to spend surplus capital to grow your business.
Editor’s Note: This post was updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness in September 2020.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.