Managing The Purchasing Process: More than just expenses
When a business owner hears the term “expense management”, they immediately get a vision of traveling employees with piles of receipts and vouchers to be organized, accounted, and possibly reimbursed for. The image is fleeting, gone out of mind with no lingering thought, because this business owner does not have personnel who travel frequently, and does not have to deal with volumes of expense reports from employees. Expense management solutions aren’t anything this business owner is looking for.
Yet, what does happen every day is that equipment, materials, supplies, and services must be purchased to keep the business operation going. Calls are made to vendors, price quotes are developed, and purchase requests are typed up in Excel spreadsheets and piled on the owner’s desk for approval. The business owner rifles through the various requests, and brings in the bookkeeper to help work through the decision of which items to authorize based on current cash availability. Because the availability of working capital changes frequently with billings being sent out and receipts being deposited daily, the owner and the bookkeeper spend much of their time together figuring out which purchases to make and when. It is a continual and ongoing process, taking a lot of time and attention away from other important business matters.
Too often, thoughts of managing these efforts with more structure places the problem “in a box” and addresses only half of the issue – the purchase. While managing materials requirements and predicting when parts or supplies will be needed is one side of the problem, factoring those purchasing plans in to the cash requirements of the business, and having a meaningful and effective way to monitor current cash, expected receipts and purchase requirements together is essential. This ability requires that the payments management solution also address receivables in order to have the cash flow and availability information necessary.
Expense and purchase management processes generally involve three main steps: planning, tracking, and reporting. As the process involves planning, it suggests a proactive rather than a reactive approach to cash management and purchasing activities. By bringing together all of the critical data which describes “inflows and outflows”, the business owner has the information necessary to not only forecast (plan) cash requirements but to also understand the availability of working capital. Knowing ahead of time that traditionally slow paying contracts aren’t factored into immediately available cash is important, and being able to make adjustments to purchase schedules based on availability of funds is essential.
Expense reporting may not be a big part of the business, but managing cash flow and purchasing goods and services is, even in the smallest of enterprises. Make sure the business has the tools in place to help bring an additional level of intelligence to purchasing activities, and that those tools deliver the benefits of a structured (but not time-consuming) purchasing approvals and proactive cash flow management process.
For accounting and finance professionals, this is a highly valuable area of service you could be providing to your clients – helping to implement the tools and solutions which not only allow you to work in more depth with client businesses, but which deliver immediate visible and actionable benefit to the client. This is just one of the ways accounting professionals can work closer with their clients, and the benefit is delivered each and every day (not just at tax time).
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