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4 Things New Business Owners Need to Know About Cash Flow

If you’re like most people starting a new business, you’re short on cash and long on advice. And most of the advice probably has to do with the cash. Particularly, be careful with it. Cash flow is such a hot topic among entrepreneurs there are entire categories devoted to it on sites such as Open Forum and Entrepreneur. But for all the jabbering, most small business owners I talk to are still pretty vague on what cash flow actually is and, more important, why it matters. Don’t worry; it’s not complicated. But it will probably make the difference between your business staying afloat or going under.

Here’s what you need to know.

  1. Cash Flow Is Not Profit

Your company can be hauling in profit by the bucketload and bleeding out cash at the same time. Keeping your company afloat comes down to more than just profits and losses; it’s also about timing. And that is where cash flow comes in. Cash flow is the amount of actual cash you have on hand during a given period of time. The official definition is: “The difference between available cash at the beginning of an accounting period and that at the end of the period.”

Let’s say you buy a piece of inventory for $10. Profit/loss-wise, you haven’t gained or lost anything. Cash flow-wise, you’re out $10.

Later, when you sell that piece of inventory for $15, your profit is +$5, but your cash flow is +$15.

But let’s take it a little further. Say your customer bought the item on credit or that you’re going to invoice them later. Now your profits are still $15, but your cash flow is -$10. At least until they pay up. And that’s how you can be profitable and broke at the exact same time.

Profits are about big picture net income. Cash flow is about what’s in your account right the heck now.

  1. Cash Flow Is Super Super Super Important

It’s not enough to have a profitable company. You need to be cash flow positive if your company is going to stick around long enough to impress your dad. A lot of profitable businesses die simply because they couldn’t manage their cash flow. It’s so common the Global Banking Institution put it on its official list of things for entrepreneurs to keep in mind: “Many businesses fail due to lack of cash, not lack of profits.” Don’t give banks the satisfaction of being right about something for once.

  1. You Can Be Cash Flow Negative for a Minute Without Having a Panic Attack

Hey, look. It happens. And it’s honestly pretty common early on when a lot of your money is going out and not enough time has passed for money to start coming back in. This is especially true for companies that rely on invoicing. There can be a long gap between items sold or services rendered, and a check received (especially if the person you’re invoicing is cash flow savvy … more on that below). So if you’re just getting started or you hit a bumpy month or two, don’t panic. The cash flows both ways. If your checks are clearing, you’re in the clear. Just make sure you have enough cushion in the bank to get you through (more on that below too.)

  1. Managing Cash Flow Isn’t That Hard

For all the fear-mongering, managing cash flow really isn’t that complicated. Here are some things you can do to stay on top of yours:

Stay organized: Keep consistent records of the cash (not the profits) that is coming in and the cash (not the losses) that’s going out. You can also use this calculator from the good folks over at Entrepreneur magazine. It’s not pretty, but it’ll get the job done.

Invoice fast, pay slowly: Here’s one of the oldest cash flow tricks in the book. Invoice quickly (and encourage your clients to pay quickly through early payment discounts and short payment terms), and then take your time paying the invoices people send to you. In other words: Do not do unto your neighbor as you would have them do unto you. Smart business owners know that keeping their cash for as long as possible is one of the most important things they can do to stay cash flow positive much more important than paying invoices in a timely manner.

Keep enough cash on hand: The rule of thumb for a good night’s sleep is to have at least enough cash on hand to cover operating expenses for three months. Six months if you’re a worrier.

Open a line of credit: Nothing can prepare you for every circumstance. Bad seasons come. Major clients don’t pay. But hey, that’s what lines of credit are for. It’s pretty easy to open one with your bank after you’ve been in business for 24 months. And most banks will give you a line of credit equal to 10% of your gross yearly revenue at a relatively low interest rate, which should be plenty to get you through even the worst months. As soon as this becomes an option, take it. It’s free peace of mind.

The one thing guaranteed to kill your cash flow is putting off sending invoices, which a lot of small businesses do because 1) they’re busy and 2) invoicing is tedious. We can’t solve all your cash flow problems, but fixing your invoicing is right up our alley. Our app makes invoicing fast and easy; keeps track of what’s coming in and going out; and with our Stripe integration, your customers can pay with a credit card (aka: instant cash). Try it out for free and see what you think.

The Power of the Follow-Up Thank-You

When I started working at Blinksale as a social media manager, I honestly didn’t know what an invoice was. I’d never sent one and never received one. I knew it had something to do with getting paid, but what exactly? Now, six years later, I am president of Blinksale (cue the theme song to The Jeffersons), and I think about invoicing every day. I think about ways to make it easier for freelancers and small businesses to send invoices and for customers to pay them. A great invoice excites me in ways I never thought a financial document could. But for all the innovations I’ve seen, learned, and developed along the way, there’s one that stands out above the rest — and you don’t need fancy software or financial know-how to do it.

Just say thank you.

Considering how simple it is, I’m amazed how many people forget to do it — or don’t think of doing it at all. People have relegated invoicing to the realm of “nitty-gritty” business practice. Like lines of code being passed back and forth between computers, rather than a document being sent and received by real people. While an invoice is a down-to-business document, invoicing is something much more: It’s customer service. Make this switch in your mind, and saying thank you will feel a lot more natural. Which is good, because saying thank you pays off.

You’ve probably heard that just writing the words “thank you” on the bottom of your invoice can increase your chances of getting paid by as much as 5 percent. But that’s old news, and most invoicing templates automatically include such language. What I’m talking about is taking your thank-youing to the next level: Sending a thank-you note after the invoice has been paid — and including some token of appreciation. A gift. A gift card. A trinket. Something that lets your client know you actually are thankful.

Sending a thank-you card after you receive payment greatly increases your chances of getting repeat business, which makes it the most cost-effective work a freelancer or small business can do. And I’ve seen it work from both sides: as someone who sends invoices and someone who gets them. When I follow up with a thank-you note and an Amazon gift card, I get repeat business. When a vendor I’ve hired follows up with a thank-you note, I’m pretty darn likely to give them my business again. I practically have to.

Why It Works

In Robert B. Cialdini’s super important (and kind of unnerving) book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he tells a story about a professor who tried a simple experiment with Christmas cards:

A few years ago, a university professor tried a little experiment. He sent Christmas cards to a sample of perfect strangers. Although he expected some reaction, the response he received was amazing — holiday cards addressed to him came pouring back from the people who had never met nor heard of him.

What’s going on here? The professor’s little experiment revealed something very deep about the way our minds work — and how so many of our emotions and behaviors are mechanistic. We are hardly aware of them, and yet they influence almost every decision we make — whether it be about to whom we should send Christmas cards or to whom we should send business. “By virtue of the reciprocity rule, then, we are obligated to the future repayment of favors, gifts, invitations, and the like,” Cialdini writes. “So typical is it for indebtedness to accompany the receipt of such things that a term like ‘much obliged’ has become a synonym for ‘thank you’….”

By thanking your customers with a note and a gift, you are obliging them to future business. Like I said, it’s a little unnerving, but that’s only because of how true it is and how often it works.


Your follow-up thank-you notes can be the simplest things in the world. It doesn’t take much to surprise and delight your client when they aren’t expecting anything in the first place. Still, if thinking of cool gifts for your clients shuts down your brain (it shuts down mine sometimes too), here are some things that have worked well for me in the past.


In San Diego there’s this company called Cookies Tonight that delivers warm cookies and cold milk. When they walk into our office, everyone’s eyes get huge. Because people love cookies. But more importantly, they love people who send them cookies. The great thing about sending cookies is that for a few seconds, everyone in the office — not just your contact — will be talking about you.


Guaranteed not to disappoint and it doesn’t require postage. Plus, you’re helping Amazon grow even larger, which will be looked upon favorably when they inevitably rule the free world. I’ve seen a lot of people recommend sending your client a “thoughtful book,” but I’d suggest sticking to a gift card unless you’re 100 percent sure it’s a book she wants to read. Sending a book feels more like homework than a gift. It’s more like taking 10 hours from someone instead of giving $10. Let your client pick her own book.


Toys. Deep down, every client secretly wants a mini drone. Just make sure they’re the type of client who is willing to admit it.


Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with a simple note of thanks sans gift. Handwritten, if possible. And it’s fine to be as direct as possible: “Thank you for your business! Hope to work with you again soon!” Boom. That’s done at least 90 percent of the work that a mini drone would do. Because, when it comes to follow-up thank-yous, it really is all about the gesture.

The power of reciprocity is strong. And so is the power of a follow-up thank-you. Try incorporating this one invoicing trick and see if your clients don’t come back again and again.

P.S. In addition to Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, check out Gary Vaynerchuk’s The Thank You Economy. Both books are well worth your time.

4 Intangible Benefits of Going Freelance

Last year, Contently surveyed hundreds of freelancers for their annual State of Freelancing report and found that while the average full-time freelancer makes less than they would in-house, the majority of them plan on staying freelance for the next 10 years or more. Not only that: 65% believed their lives had improved over the past year despite their meager paychecks.

There are some powerful intangible-benefits to working for yourself. Right now, 34% of the workforce is made up of freelancers, but that number is expected to grow to 40% by 2020. If you are one of the 6% thinking of making the leap, consider these 4 intangible benefits of going freelance.


One of the benefits of choosing your own projects is the ability to become a specialist. Not only is specialization often better for your career (Stanford thinks so anyway) it can also be better for your happiness. As your skill at a particular task increases, you are more likely to enter into a state of “flow,” where time flies and you become completely absorbed in your work. As best as science can tell, people who enter “flow” most often are the happiest people on the planet. Don’t you want to be one of the happiest people on the planet?


If you work in a creative agency, you know how toxic it can become. The creative team hates accounts, accounts hates sales, the VPs do nothing but take clients out for drinks, etc. When you go freelance and you’re forced to do all of the above, you are given an invaluable gift: perspective. It suddenly becomes clear how valuable everyone’s role is. If you ever go back to in-house work (and, according to the survey, you probably won’t) you will be one of the few who can see and understand the whole picture.

Active vs. Passive

Active is better than passive. That’s not just a formula for a good sentence, it’s a formula for a good life. Freelancing forces you to lean forward, take control. You want work? You go get work. And you’ll enjoy doing the work more because you are the one who got it. A common ailment of in-house employment is passivity. Clients come to you, projects come to you, paychecks come to you. You don’t have to go get anything for yourself, and so it’s easy to take it all for granted.

Job Security

It’s tempting to think that working in-house comes with job security. Unfortunately, job security is always an illusion. We are all constantly in danger of getting fired, laid-off, demoted ¾ take your pick. The only real form of job security is knowing what you are good at, how valuable it is, and how to sell it. Freelancing might not be the most stable career, but once you get the hang of it, it is always secure.

We know you’ve already been thinking about going freelance. Here’s some honest encouragement: you might make less money, but you’ll definitely be happier.

And now, for the visual learner, our anthropological comparison of an in-houser vs. a freelancer. You decide who you want to be:

Freelance-VS-InHouse Infographic


4 Secrets of Better Freelance Pitching

The best way for a freelancer to do work they love is to pitch their way into it. But pitching is hard and scary and sometimes confusing. So I asked my friend Austin Mann, an experienced freelance photographer who has successfully pitched projects to companies like Apple and Nike to share what he’s learned about making a great pitch. Here’s what I learned from Austin:

First thing’s first: Why do we pitch?

Pitching is nerve wracking. Vulnerable. And even in a best case scenario the pitch is accepted we are left with the anxiety of having to deliver. A lot of freelancers get their start because work comes to them. Friends find out they can design or take pictures or whatever and odd jobs just start coming their way. But freelancers who only ever let work come to them rarely, if ever, find themselves doing the work they’d love to be doing for the clients they’d love to be doing it for. If a freelancer wants to take control of their career and do what they love, they have to learn how to pitch their ideas to clients.

Here are 4 important steps to making a good pitch:

1. Establish What You Want

What work do you want to do? What work are you good at? Pitch the overlap.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 1.16.29 PM

2. Find Someone Who Needs It

Who should you pitch your work to? Easy. Someone who needs it (and values it.) Keep in mind, if you’re a photographer and you pitch an organization that has no photography at all, they may not value it.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 1.16.36 PM

3. Establish Trust

You are always pitching two things: What you can do and who you are. It’s much easier to buy into a person’s work if you buy into the person themselves. Establish yourself as an authority. Be active on social media. Contribute to blogs and publications. Make your expertise and opinions visible and obvious. Nobody trusts an empty restaurant. When a potential client looks into you, they shouldn’t think they’re the only one interested.

4. Make the Pitch

Alright. Time to pitch. Here’s how to do it.

First: Name the Enemy

What problem are you going to solve? Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t downplay the problem because you’re worried about hurting somebody’s feelings. Turn the problem into the enemy. Then show them how you’re going to vanquish it.

Second: Why Now?

Your potential client probably already knows about the problem you want to solve. But there are a lot of problems, and your client has apparently decided that fixing this one can wait. You need to convince them that it can’t. Clients don’t hire people to fix problems that can wait. Your problem can’t wait, and you need to tell them why.

Third: Show the Promised Land

A good pitch isn’t just about solving problems; it’s about casting vision. When the enemy is defeated, things don’t just go back to normal, things are better than ever! Show your client what life could be like on the other side. Make them want to be there. But be careful how much you oversell. Once someone gets a glimpse of the promised land, they never forget.

Fourth: Show Evidence That You Can Deliver

Have you done this before? Have you at least done something kind of like this before? Show what you can do. Show how you fixed someone else’s problems. Show how you changed someone else’s world. Don’t speak in generalities. Show results. Show work. Get specific. And don’t be modest. You’re here to sell.

Follow the steps above (in order!) and you should have a solid pitch on your hands. And with a little bit of luck, a new client. Now there’s only one thing left to do. Deliver.


Empathy might just be the most important part of a pitch. You MUST believe you and your ideas are absolutely the best way for your client to solve their problem. If you truly believe it, the client will too and you’ll be off to the races doing the work you love.

Happy pitching!

5 Books to Rekindle Your Freelancing Confidence Over the Holidays

Whether you’ve been freelancing for years or have only recently taken the plunge, it’s important to take a step back every once in a while and recharge your creative batteries. And what better time to do that than during the holidays? The following books are chock-full of the kind of inspiration freelancers thrive on. Not a bunch of self-help fluff, but real, hard-earned wisdom. They’ve been a great help to me. I think they will be for you as well.

Creative Confidence — Tom and David Kelley

You’re not going to find a more on-the-nose suggestion than this. Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley (the brothers behind IDEO) will help you find exactly that. Full of anecdotes and advice, this book debunks the myths surrounding fear, failure, and the fear of failure. The Kelleys write: “Creative geniuses, from artists like Mozart to scientists like Darwin, are quite prolific when it comes to failure — they just don’t let that stop them.… Their ultimate ‘strokes of genius’ don’t come about because they succeed more often than other people — they just do more, period.”

Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed — Paul Cronin

This long, strange book is culled from years of conversations between filmmaker Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Encounters at the End of the World) and editor Paul Cronin. While it centers on filmmaking, it reads like a manifesto for creativity of all kinds. Over his long career as a director, Herzog has learned the value of pushing himself into unknown and often frightening situations. It’s become a hallmark of his work. Spend some time inside his head, and you’ll come out the other side a more fearless creator. A sample:

“Always take the initiative. There is nothing wrong with spending a night in a jail cell if it means getting the shot you need…. Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief. Learn to live with your mistakes…. Carry bolt cutters everywhere. Thwart institutional cowardice. Ask for forgiveness, not permission. Take your fate into your own hands…. Walk straight ahead, never detour. Learn on the job…. Don’t be fearful of rejection. Develop your own voice. Day one is the point of no return…. Get used to the bear behind you.”

Steal Like an Artist — Austin Kleon

Steal Like an Artist is short and funny, and it hits like a hammer. It reads like an extended permission slip to be yourself and find inspiration all around you. Kleon writes, “Every artist gets asked the question, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ The honest artist answers, ‘I steal them.’” Rather than getting all worked up about being “original,” Kleon encourages artists to simply be productive. Make things. Write things. When you stop worrying so much about being yourself, you suddenly become who you are. You’ll be able to read this one in a few hours, but I guarantee you’ll go back to it again and again.

Essentialism — Greg McKeown

Building a sustainable freelancer’s life is all about structuring your time. What is worthwhile? What isn’t? Often what feels like burnout or a loss of confidence is simply an imbalance of priorities. Greg McKeown’s Essentialism is all about gutting the fluff and spending time on what is truly essential. It’s not just the way to a good freelance life; it’s the way to a good life. In McKeown’s words: “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

Daring Greatly — Brené Brown

Overcoming fear does not mean overcoming vulnerability. In her brilliant book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown argues that by making ourselves more vulnerable, we can unlock our true creative potential. Stepping out there might be frightening and painful, but it’s nowhere near as painful as shying away from what we’re truly meant to do with our lives. “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage,” Brown writes. “Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Do yourself a favor and dig into one of these books over the holiday break. I think you’ll find the inspiration you’re looking for.