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How Much Cash Should a Business Have on Hand?

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A common question we see is: "How much cash should a business have on hand?"

While no one can give a definitive catch-all answer for how much cash to keep on hand, there are guidelines that vary with industry, stage a business is in, financial resources, past expenditures and business goals.

In general:

  • Businesses should aim for a cash buffer worth three to six months of their operating expenses.

  • Keeping cash on hand helps businesses get through difficult short-term periods, and cover emergencies.

  • Keeping cash on hand allows businesses to quickly capitalize on opportunities by providing immediate access to funding.

On the Agenda:

What is cash on hand/reserve cash?

Reserve cash can be thought of as rainy-day fund for your business. It's separate cash set aside deliberately for unexpected scenarios, whether they be positive or negative. Cash on hand isn't just limited to cash in your bank account it can also include assets you can quickly liquidate if needed.

Why do businesses need to keep cash on hand?

There are a few key reasons a business should keep cash on hand. Perhaps most importantly, it helps businesses cope with unexpected situations like inflation, a slowing economy, or a sudden emergency.

Even if your business is stable and in an industry with consistent cash flows -stuff - happens. Whether its an equipment failure, the entrance of a new competitor, new regulations, or a global pandemic, reserve funds help businesses pay rent, employees, suppliers, and bills during difficult times.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Of course, just like how bad - stuff - can happen, so too can unexpected opportunities arise. Keeping cash on hand lets you take advantage of these potential short-term opportunities as they come up.

By keeping a cash reserve you'll have immediate access to funds to invest, thus increasing your chances of success without losing the time needed to wait for financing.

What is a healthy cash position for a small business?

As a general rule of thumb, the answer to: 'How much cash should my business have on hand?' is:

Businesses should aim to keep three to six months of average operating expenses in reserve.

This allows a business to maintain operations in the short-term even if there is an emergency, and gives the flexibility to take on new opportunities.

However, this number can vary significantly depending on factors like the industry and stage your business is in, other available financial resources, past expenditures and business goals.

The size of your desired cash reserves will change with:

  • The stage your business is in (ex: startup, venture capital backed, growing, established)

  • Your business goals (ex: expansion, investment)

  • Your industry (Is it well established? Is there high pressure form competitors? Is cash flow seasonal?)

  • The size of your business (single owner, small business, large organization)

  • How quickly do you generate cash? (and how quickly do you spend it?)

  • How easily you’re able to access short term funding (bank, line of credit, investors,)

How do I determine my cash reserve needs?

Of course the more volatile cash flow in your business or industry the more cash on hand you'd prefer. However, this needs to be balanced with the current usage of cash.

When setting the amount of cash the to be kept at the disposal of your organization, keep in mind it's important that you have something that is comfortable, but also gives you flexibility.

Cash flow forecasting

A cash flow forecast is a great way to see the amount of cash you have, and will need. Cash flow forecasting allows you track the inflow and outflow of cash through your business, as well as predict, plan and test future scenarios to ensure you have enough cash to meet your goals.

Cash flow forecasting also gives you greater insight into your accounts receivable and payable helping to optimize things like bill payments and plan for the future (learn how to create your first cash flow forecast here).

Also, if you're working with an accountant or financial advisor don't be afraid to ask them. How much cash to keep on hand and cash flow are great things to review and plan with them!

Bes sure to also check some of our other resources below:

How do you increase your cash reserves?

Now that we've seen how much cash should a business have on hand, and how you can create a forecast to suit your business, let's look at what to do if you need to increases your cash reserves.

As we discussed above three to six months worth of operating costs in cash reserve is a good benchmark to aim for. Unfortunately, most business don't meet it.

JPMorgan Chase & Co found that the median small business kept only 27 days cash buffer in reserve and the U.S. Bank found that 82 percent of businesses fail because of poor management of cash.

Yikes!

So, what are ways to increase your cash reserve?

  1. Understand you current situation

    If you don't already have a solid understanding of you financial situation take a look at you financial statements. We also recommend creating and maintaining a cash flow forecast.

    You goal here is to understand where your business is at and going.

  2. Set a goal

    This may sound overly simplistic, but many small businesses simply don't have a target cash reserve. An easy way to start is to plan to set aside a set amount every month. Mentally try to treat this goal like you would any other bill or cash outflow - you wouldn't stop paying your rent or website bill.

  3. Ways to improve your cash flow

    At the end of the day it comes down to cash, but that doesn't necessarily just mean: "sell more". Of course we'd all like to, but that isn't always realistic, and there are other methods we can use to improve our cash flow:

    If you can't increase sales an obvious second place to look is at reducing expenses. Perhaps, less intuitively are things like improving your collection time on receivables and optimizing your bill payment. For more check out our article on cash management here.

Note: Too large a cash reserve can be just as problematic as having too small of one. Tying up unnecessarily large amounts in reserve can prevent you from using it other more beneficial ways.

The bottom line

As we saw 82% of business fail due to cash flow management problems, while the median small business only maintains reserves of 27 days.

In general, businesses should aim for a cash buffer worth three to six months of their operating expenses. This helps them get through difficult short-term periods, cover emergencies, and quickly capitalize on opportunities.

For more on cash management check out these resources:

And if you'd like to see how Helm can help check us out here.

Till next time!