It was 8 p.m. on a Friday night and I out with some friends. We were sitting around a table and chatting. At some point, it became a bragging contest where we were essentially trying to outdo each other. My friends and I went back and forth for a little while. Finally, I said, if there was a sweet deal on the table tonight, then I could have more than a million dollars in cash in this house by midnight. Suffice to say that I won our playful argument. Cash to a business is like oxygen to a human. You lose cash and you die. It has nothing to do with your potential, valuation, the value of an intellectual property or physical inventory.
No cash equals death. Plain and simple. I came to this country with twenty dollars in my hand so everything I have here was made here. I have been dead broke three times, in bankruptcy once, and I have spent more years in America in fiscal distress than not. So trust me when I say cash is your friend. In fact, cash is more than that, it is your best friend. I first started my business in 2002. I borrowed around $50,000 from my brother to start my business. He gave me $7,500 when I ran out and another $5,000 when I ran out of that. Eventually, though, sales began to generate income and I was making enough money to feed my family.
Little-by-little, I started paying my brother back. I kept going until I reached the point when I only had $5,000 left to pay back and my brother told me to keep it. I was in a business incubator from 2009 to 2014. It is a county-funded program that a lawyer once jokingly referred to as “corporate welfare.” The incubator basically subsidizes some costs, provides extra resources, and gives legal advice. They kick you out if you are doing too well or not doing well enough.
In 2014, I started doing too well and they told me it was time to go. We needed a new office so as I was discussing it with the realtor, he said that I need to demonstrate that I am fiscally healthy enough to purchase the office space. There was a 20% down payment along with attorney and closing fees. Additionally, it needed a paint job and we had to take into consideration the actual cost of moving the furniture. We had all of that and he said, “bring cash.” He said he needed me to prove that this would not hurt me. I told him that I had $65,000 in the bank and I could give that to him. He said, “absolutely not, it would be extremely financially irresponsible to eliminate all of your working capital.” I said, “FINE. Watch.” I take out my phone and I start making some phone calls. On the first conversation I say, “Hey Kevin, would you prepay me for 6 months and I'll give you the 7th month for free.” He agrees. I hang up and call someone else. I say, “Hey, can I get $15,000 from you and I’ll grant you a wish later.” Click. I hang up. I look at the realtor and ask him if I should continue. He tells me to stop. The moral of the story is that cash is our friend.
You need to put yourself in the position where you have access to cash on an as-needed basis. The ability to say, “I need money tomorrow, what can I do to make it happen?” and have it happen makes you invincible. As a business, there are two internal forces (strengths and weaknesses) and two external factors (opportunities and threats) that can impact your company. You have some control over the internal factors and absolutely zero control over the external factors. You do not know when an opportunity or a threat will approach. To deal with opportunities and threats, you NEED cash. That is. Cash will allow you to deal with the unpredictable external factors of life. It can make or break your business.
There is an Indian proverb that says: “don't spread your legs outside the bed.” If you have a small bed, adjust yourself. You can't always have what you want, need, or deserve. That is essential to the foundation of being content. Unfortunately, a lot of business owners fail to exercise the law of contentment. A lot of venture-funded businesses are under excessive pressure from their investors to perform. That pressure violates the law of contentment. When I work with a client, that is one of the first things I test for. Money does not cause all happiness. They say that money cannot buy happiness, but fiscal health has a correlation to the stability of your status line. Stephen Curry once said that “you cannot pick up one end of the stick without picking up the other end of the stick.” He said that in another context, but it applies here as well. You cannot escape misery if you have fiscal distress.
You cannot escape the urge to do something stupid with your money if you have more than what you need. Here is the advice that Dan Kennedy gives to everyone: make large cash withdrawals from your business. There will be times when you have a cash shortage. There will be times when you have cash surges. When a surge arrives and you have money that you don't need, make a withdrawal. Take it out, bring it home, and put it in a savings account. Cash-out frequently.
Let the business pay for some personal things. The CPA’s will know how to take that expense and make it a line-item profit on your taxes. Trust your accounting team with that. Bottom line: If you have excess cash, take it out.
Businesses are like babies. When they are hungry, they cry and you have to feed them cash. When they are content, take money out. As time goes on, your baby grows. The larger your baby gets the more possibility of threats. I get screwed so often that I have a budget for it. You will get screwed over too. When that happens. Someone may emotionally drain you, waste your time, and lie to you. I have lost more money than I can afford. I had an international vendor bail on me after I had already taken deposits from the clients. I had even given him deposits. He just was not going to do the work. A lot of my peers and fellow agencies trusted him with a lot of money as well. One coach stopped coaching, one guy filed for personal bankruptcy, and one lady had to beg someone else to finish the work because she didn't have the money to pay someone else to do it from scratch.
These were my friends. I was hit to the tune of about $85,000. I spent the whole day on my phone with my clients telling them I lost their money. I told them that they could ask me for a refund but there are only ten businesses in the market who know their business, seven of which are stunned by this event, and the other three of which will die shortly. All of them asked why they should trust me. I said that I have a business savings account to fund relief for this disaster and the only people who will get hurt in this is my family.
I said that all I am asking for is a deadline extension. Seventeen clients were affected, and I only lost two. Cash is your friend. My best friend is cash. And I am lucky to have always been able to find myself in the company of enough cash reserves to play with in case things go south. Remember that if you are going to play the game, you have to be ready to deal with what happens if it backfires.