The construction industry has its fair share of serious cash flow problems. The nature of the industry with long periods between billing and collection, the unpredictability of some business factors, and even the day-to-day decisions of stakeholders have a huge effect on cash reserves.
So how can you protect your business from these cash flow problems? Having a greater awareness of the most common cash flow problems is the key to maintaining your financial stability. Here are some of the top cash flow issues that construction companies need to watch out for.
1. Uncontrolled business growth
The growth of a business as a cash flow problem sounds unintuitive. It is supposed to be a positive thing. So how could it hurt your construction business? When it goes out of control.
During the growth phase, the company will need to expand its operations to meet the increasing demand. This means renting a larger office space, hiring more staff, and buying more inventory, all of which can burn through the company’s cash quickly. The more substantial the level of your growth is, the more your cash flow is affected.
Growth is a good thing, but it is important to be aware of the pitfalls that you could encounter that can lead to cash flow problems. If you are dealing with a volatile growth instead of a stable one, you have to think twice before expanding your operations. A quarter with a large number of construction project deals does not guarantee the same happening in a subsequent quarter.
2. Change of scope or scope creep
The scope, or the statement of work, is the foundation that guides a construction project from start to finish. It specifies all the deliverables needed by the project as agreed by all stakeholders. When the existing requirements are altered, new features are added, or project goals are changed uncontrollably, what happens is scope creep and it can hurt a company’s cash flow.
Construction projects can take a long time before they are finished. A lot of factors can result in changes in the scope. There may be changes in the market strategy, market demand, and other unpredictable variables that make changes in the project requirements a necessity. These changes build up and the project may shift away from what was intended, causing delays, loss of quality, and the rise of planned costs.
One way to prevent scope creep from affecting cash flow significantly is charging a fee for variations of the scope of work. However, having a solid and clear scope baseline is still the best way to combat scope creep. Reminding clients of what you signed up for by referring to the baseline is a good strategy to deal with pushy clients.
3. Payment delays and nonpayment
As previously mentioned, the construction industry tends to have a lengthy period between sending an invoice and collecting payments. And if you are too passive in your collection, clients are more likely to extend pay periods and delay paying you.
Unexpected delays in payment and other payment issues can have a devastating effect on companies that have little to no cash reserves. Without a cash cushion to fall back on, payment issues can threaten the existence of the business itself. If you are unable to manage your receivables, you will not have enough cash to pay the bills, pay employees, and fund your growth.
Payment delays and nonpayment can happen for several reasons. They can be simple like mistakes in the invoicing or the person needed to approve the invoice is unavailable. More serious reasons like a client unsatisfied with your service or, worse, trying to scam you are also possibilities. For these reasons, it is crucial to communicate with clients properly and see if you can agree with a payment structure or pursue legal action.
The construction industry operates slightly differently from other industries. Different projects produce different cash flow issues and require different strategies. By being aware of the top cash flow problems that can hurt your construction business, you will be better equipped in dealing with them in case they happen.
About the Author:
Patrick Hogan is the CEO of Handle, where they build software that helps contractors, subcontractors, and material suppliers secure their lien rights and get paid faster by automating the collection process for unpaid construction invoices.