Overtrading is a serious threat to growing businesses, and can quickly cause once profitable companies to become insolvent if this increase in trade is not sufficiently managed. The situation typically occurs when businesses grow at a rapid rate – at a rate that’s too rapid given the additional resources they suddenly require, before any payments have been received from the new customer.
Securing a large new contract would normally be seen as a cause for celebration and the key to securing a business’ long-term future, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case. There may be a shortage of resources such as machinery, equipment or staff, and crucially, the cash flow with which to pay for them.
Other causes of overtrading include seasonal business trends which consume a company’s resources at certain times of the year, or a sudden increase in demand which may have to be dealt with unexpectedly.
But there’s another factor that plays a negative role in this overall scenario, and that’s the late payment of invoices by the company’s debtors. When the money owed to a company isn’t collected quickly or efficiently enough, the company’s ability to meet its obligations is compromised.
Even a delay of just a few days can significantly reduce the availability of working capital at a vital time. So given this unstable background to some business operations, what are the specific hazards of overtrading?
Without a healthy cash flow, it’s always going to be difficult to balance all the needs of the business. One planned outcome has to make way for another, and the company’s entire strategy can be compromised.
Borrowing money simply to pay the bills each month is a desperate situation for any business, and one that isn’t sustainable. Banks may begin to ask for a personal guarantee from one of the directors to mitigate their risk if you ask for further borrowing.
The company may decide to cut prices, and consequently profit margins, to encourage sales and improve turnover. This makes it ever more difficult to operate a sustainable business, particularly if the market is very competitive.
Suppliers may be happy to provide the extra resources needed by the business, but will be reticent to offer credit for increasing levels of supplies if they start to fall behind with payments. It’s likely the supplier will restrict orders until their debt has been paid, further complicating the company’s position if there are no viable alternative suppliers. Effectively, the company is now unable to fulfil the contract for two reasons – little working capital and lack of supplies.
A number of solutions can correct the problem of overtrading – for example:
Begbies Traynor specialises in business rescue and recovery, and can provide the professional guidance you need if you’re at risk of overtrading. With more than 100 offices nationwide, we offer a same-day consultation free-of-charge.
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