Getting to the Next Level – Purchase Order Financing

You have just received a large sales order for your designs, a great opportunity for you, and you cannot possibly fill it because your small business is low on cash or below water to purchase supplies in order to fill the order.   So what are you going to do?  Consider the hurdles:

  • Purchase the goods you will need from your suppliers, with upfront money you don’t have
  • Get the money you need from a bank, but without a long track record or history of impressive financial statements this may not work
  • Accept not receiving payment from your customer until 30 or 60 days after they received shipment, creating a cash flow gap you can’t manage.

If you turn down the order, you may lose your customer to a competitor and you will lose out on your opportunity to grow the business.  You will have to get creative.

There is a way to remedy this situation and that is through purchase order financing.   Purchase order financing (or funding) looks to the credit worthiness (and good fashion sense) of your customer.  Your creditworthiness or the fact that your business may be underwater is not an issue; your customer’s creditworthiness is.  A purchase order financing company works with your supplier or manufacturer to get your garments produced on time.  It also works with your customers to ensure payment of the invoice.

Here is how it works.  A purchase order loan is a fee-based, short term loan and there is no interest charged.  To see if the loan can be made, the purchase order lender investigates the credit history of your customer.  If the customer has a good, solid track record of paying its bills and has the cash flow to pay for the goods it has ordered, a loan can be made.  But there is some information required on your part.  You must know your costs for the product and the gross margin attributed to that product.  If you have a gross margin of 25% or more, then it is possible to execute a purchase order transaction.  This means that you will have enough room to make a meaningful profit.

If your customer has good credit, the purchase order lender delivers a letter of credit to the manufacturer that guarantees payment for the needed goods.  The factory then makes the products, and a third party verifies that the order is complete.  The factory gets paid and ships the goods off, usually to a third party warehouse.  It is rare that you would take delivery of the goods; they are usually shipped directly to the customer.po_financing_process_800

When the bill is paid, the funds go to the purchase order lender, which subtracts its fee and sends the remaining profits to you.  This fee may amount to 4%.

There may be a hitch to the receivables portion of the transaction.  If you have given the customer payment terms of 60 or 90 days, another type of specialty lender, a factor lender, comes into play to provide immediate payment to the purchase order lender. (See my post dated June 21, 2016). The factor lender buys the outstanding invoice at a discount and then waits and collects the full amount owed later, pocketing a profit in the process.  Meanwhile, the purchase order lender and you get paid immediately.  Thus, with this good news comes the bad, there is another layer of costs involved with factoring but this may be required by the purchaser order lender.

Here is what you do to start the Purchase Order Financing Process.  You provide a valid purchase order with a credit worthy customer and the expertise to  manage the process.  The purchase order lender provides payment to your supplier, allowing your goods to be produced and shipped.  Payment is typically completed through issuing letters of credit and ultimately the payment of the invoice.

Benefits to using a purchase order lender.  While you stand to get 94-97% of the profit (implies a 25% gross margin), you are getting money to help you grow your business. You can use a purchase order lender many times; there is no restriction.  The transaction does not show up on your balance sheet (off balance sheet financing) as a liability, thus working capital is not impaired by this transaction and your total debt to equity ratio is not increased.

Who, other than the fashion industry, use purchase order lending?  Importers, exporters, wholesalers, assemblers, distributors and manufacturers, who are experiencing rapid sales growth, capital constraints, sales volatility, seasonal sales spikes, high development costs, stretched credit, new product launches can take advantage of this type of financing.  Industries that can benefit are electronics, housewares, sporting goods, toys/games, furniture, food products, hardware and industrial goods.

To find a purchase order company you can look at industry information and the yellow pages.  Make sure you check references first.

 

 

 

Are Some of Your Customers Late Payers?

Having some of your customers pay late can cause you a lot of “hand-wringing”.  You can’t pay your own bills on time.  You ask yourself should you ask for a line of credit from a bank in order to pay your own bills.  It is a constant struggle for small businesses to get paid on time.  In fact, 64% of small businesses are paid late.

What are you going to do to alleviate this problem?  Charging a late fee could help late payers get up to date.  Are you reluctant to do that for fear of creating ill will with your customers?

But not charging a late fee would be a mistake, especially for chronic late payers.  Businesses have to realize that they need good paying customers if they want to make money.  Remember my earlier post, on January 13, 2016, about Sam Walton saying “if you want to make money collect on every invoice”.  Also, you could be financing your customer’s business to the tune of 36% a year.  Why do this, you’re not his partner!

If you decide to charge a late fee you should have a policy in place or even a contract with the client which would include your late-fee policy.Sample_bill  You can’t decide to charge a late-fee after the fact if it wasn’t in your initial agreement.  Your invoice should include a statement at the bottom of the page which indicates that late payments will incur a charge of 1.5% per month, for example.

Even if you don’t charge it, it can work well as an incentive to get people to pay.  Upon receiving an invoice which includes a late fee your customer may give you a call to settle the bill, or even negotiate the rate of late-fee charged downward in a new contract in lieu of other charges that may arise during the project.

Small businesses must be clear on their policies up front and implement a communication strategy to collect so they’re in contact with customers promptly if they are late on payment.  Even is they are late one day, you should be on the phone with them to tell them that you haven’t received payment as yet and when can you expect to receive it.  You can then gauge the customer’s response for sincerity when you do reach out.

Getting Your Collections on Time

Sam Walton, the founder and owner of Walmart, was once asked how he became so successful.  He responded that to be successful you must collect on every single invoice that you send.  Otherwise, you are losing money and financing your customer’s business.

There are several clues that you should pay attention to when your collections are not being paid on time or even late:

Sudden change in payments.  If a customer, whom you have had for years and who always pays on time, suddenly stops paying on schedule, it could mean an early indicator of financial problem. Sudden partial payments from a customer who used to pay the full amount may also point to a problem.  He may even avoid your phone calls or ignore your emails is another red flag.

New dispute over old invoices. A customer who suddenly complains about quality issues with goods or services received or performed a while ago could be another early warning sign.  They may complain about the quantity delivered or the order was not delivered on time.

Broken promises of payment. When  customers are contacted about the late payments or not being paid at all, they my offer many excuses, like “The check is in the mail,” “The accounts payable clerk is on vacation,”or “We forgot to mail it.”  These empty excuses are indicative of a cash crunch.

When a check bounces.  If you have a relationship with a customer whom you both need you may relax your acceptance of promises with him.  But when a check bounces, and you need that money to run your operation, it is no forgiven acceptance.  Will you continue to accept checks from that customer?  You will have to do business on a cash only basis.

Change in the size of the order.  If a customer orders an unusually large order not in line with its normal order size, it could mean that he is stocking up on you because he cannot get credit.  Or, it could be a smaller than usual order meaning that the customer does not have to funds to pay.

What should you do as a business owner in the event one of the warning signs comes to fruition?  Well, certainly you should be in close contact with your customers.  Keep that good relationship going.  If a customer who has a good business dealing with you suddenly has a situation which is temporary, you want to have that open dialogue to let them know you are aware of the situation.

If you start to see that your bills due within 30 days of receipt are slowing up, don’t wait to call the customer.  Do it on the 31st day.  Remember: The older an invoice gets, the harder it is to collect.

Good business practice is that you should collect the customers banking information and credit card information at the start of a business relationship.  Having a written contract with him reaffirms that there is a business relationship.  Develop a policy with your accounts receivable people to determine when past due collections should go to a collection agency.