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As small businesses sit down to think about the year ahead, their finances will no doubt be a top priority, and there’s one area in particular that can be needlessly time-consuming and stressful: how to make and take payments. Ian Reid from Barclaycard takes up the story.

To get off to a fast start in 2018, decision-makers can take the pain out of payments through simple steps in four key areas: cash flow; travel and entertainment expense management; supplier payments; and accepting payments. By doing so, they’ll free themselves up to focus on their business goals and growth.

  1. Controlling cash flow
Cash flow is one of the most common problems small businesses face. In fact, recent research from Barclaycard found that cash flow worries keep more than six in ten (63 per cent) SME decision-makers awake at night, with concerns about late payments specifically cited by one in three (32 per cent). Money management is not only stressful, it’s time-consuming: SMEs spend an average of half a working day every week (3.9 hours) on cash flow activities.

Taking control of cash flow doesn’t need to be difficult, however: whether a company is looking for a solution to help them seize a new sales opportunity or invest in new business technology, there is a broader range of SME-friendly solutions out there than leaders may realise, from a corporate credit card to a business loan to an interest-free cash transfer straight into a bank account. Exploring these options, and choosing the one that best suits the organisation’s specific needs, can make a difference to a company’s cash flow in a matter of days.

  1. Optimising travel and entertainment expenses
If a business works with customers, suppliers or partners in different locations, employees may need to travel – and this creates new payment challenges. Not only does te company need to arrange and book transport and accommodation, but there are likely to be ad-hoc subsistence or entertainment expenses.

This is where having a corporate card available, particularly one that is tailored to the needs of small businesses, can make life much easier. A card programme can help organisations track and record spending, and means they can get an auditable statement billed directly to the company, instead of employees spending their own money and having to claim it back later.

Leaders may worry that putting a company credit card in the hands of staff could result in a nasty surprise when they receive the bill, but this is easily prevented. It’s worth checking the business card’s functionality, as it may be possible to choose how employees use their card – for example, by only allowing it to be used in the UK, limiting purchases to certain merchants or turning off ATM transactions. This means travellers have access to funds when they need it on the road, while the company still maintains control of the overall finances.

  1. Improving supplier payments
Meeting wider business expenses and making payments to suppliers is also fundamental to the smooth running of operations, especially if a company needs to make an initial outlay for stock or equipment in order to generate sales. Supplier payments – and thus relationships – can, however, be easily disrupted by a range of factors, such as negotiating rates or payment terms with preferred suppliers, or getting to grips with each supplier’s payment processes, which can vary from company to company.

One common hurdle is when an SME wants to pay in a certain way – but their supplier doesn’t accept that form of payment. Having access to the widest possible range of payment options, from bank transfers to debit to credit cards, could give SMEs greater flexibility. Ensuring they can make supplier payments on time and in line with the partner’s preferences could put the SME in a good position to negotiate better terms, such as an early payment discount.

  1. Accepting customer payments
Small businesses not only need to make payments – to generate revenue, they must also accept payments! Customers find it very frustrating if they can’t pay the way they want to, so for small businesses that interact directly with consumers, such as retail shops and restaurants, it’s a good idea to accept a wide range of payments. This includes not only card payments but also newer forms such as contactless and mobile payments – especially as consumer demand for these technologies grows.

B2B SMEs should also gauge how their business customers prefer to pay, and look for solutions that can solve pain points for them. This includes having a payment system that automatically generates digital receipts and invoices, for example, which can be automatically mailed to clients.

The diverse nature of a business’s payment needs can make the administration burden unwieldy, especially in smaller companies where one or two people might have responsibility for finance – and where this is just one of the many hats they wear. By exploring how they can improve processes in these four areas, SMEs can streamline the way they manage both making and taking payments, making life easier and allowing them to focus their energies and efforts elsewhere.