For many business owners, just hearing the term “expense management” brings about visions of traveling employees with piles of receipts and vouchers to be organized, accounted and reimbursed for. The images are often fleeting, however – gone out of mind with no lingering thought because these business owners don’t have personnel who travel frequently, and they don’t have to deal with volumes of expense reports from employees. Expense management solutions aren’t anything these business owners are looking for.
Yet, what does happen every day is that equipment, materials, supplies and services are 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 addresses only half of the issue – the purchase. Perhaps there are systems for planning for materials requirements and predicting when parts or supplies will be needed, but that is still just one side of the problem. The other side is paying for it. Factoring those purchasing plans into the cash requirements of the business and having a meaningful and effective way to monitor current cash and expected receipts as well as purchase requirements is essential. Resource and materials planning takes purchase planning, and purchase planning takes visibility into receivables, cash flow and cash availability.
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 the critical data which describes inflows and outflows, the business owner can have 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 adjust purchase schedules based on availability of funds is essential.
Where expense management may not be a big part of the business, 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.
This aspect of business – expense management and purchasing processes – is an area where accounting professionals can be of great service to their business clients. Providing high-value solutions that increase cash efficiency and facilitate cash and purchase planning helps the business function even as conditions change.