By Christal Bemont

While watching my mother run her own small business, I saw firsthand how important it is to effectively manage cash flow. In fact, a US Bank study found that 82 percent of small business failure can be attributed to poor cash flow management.

Surprisingly, a recent survey from Concur and Wakefield Research found 84 percent of small businesses have yet to make a simple switch that can significantly improve their handle on cash flow—automating the way they process vendor invoices.

The opportunity in automating spend management is huge—a recent report from IDC found businesses using cash flow automation achieved 505% ROI over five years and spent 68% less time processing invoices. But the true value in automation goes well beyond these numbers.

From Efficiency to Effectiveness

Automation gives small businesses a full picture of their spend, putting them into the drivers’ seat. Instead of being spread out over filing cabinets, handwritten notes, or spreadsheets, data is compiled into one place, and accessible at any time. Business metrics can be pulled into pre-defined reports and dashboards, unveiling insights so companies can make better business decisions. And this gives smaller businesses an edge to compete with larger firms.

With comprehensive, real-time insights at their fingertips, small businesses can use data to improve their business. Here are a few tips to make the most of your data:

  • Look for trends to negotiate better discounts. When businesses can show exactly what they’ve paid towards a given vendor in the past, they can negotiate better deals going forward. When reviewing data, ask yourself, “Have certain vendor costs changed over time? Should we consider renegotiating contracts or looking into other services?”
  • Be strategic about when to pay vendors. Make calculated choices about when your money should exit the door to avoid ever being strapped for cash. Based on your business’s needs, does it make more sense to take advantage of early pay discounts, or reinvest your money back in the business and pay at a later time?
  • Identify problem periods. Analyze data to pinpoint those times of the year when invoices are flying in and prepare for it. Getting ahead of high-spending periods allows you to avoid ever ending up in a cash crunch.

In the years I’ve spent working with small businesses, the most rewarding thing I’ve found is that what starts out as a choice to reduce paper turns into something much biggeronce businesses realize taking command of their data can improve business functions. As companies live and die by the balance between outgoing and incoming cash, it’s critical to make smarter decisions about where and when money is going. It can not only help you survive, but thrive.

Christal Bemont is the Senior Vice President & General Manager of the global Small, Mid-sized, and Nationals (SMN) business unit at Concur, the leading provider of integrated travel and expense management solutions.  Christal joined Concur in 2004 playing an integral role in the explosive growth of Concur’s business including their largest global clients, leading multiple sales teams to success, and developing outstanding talent within the Nationals segment.