Three ways to manage cash flow at peak times during the year

Sloane's Hot Chocolate

Mon Sept 17 2018

Artisan food and drink business, Sloane’s Hot Chocolate, faces three significant challenges when it comes to cash flow. The first is a year-round challenge; the second two are as a direct result of the business having peak trading months and more than one source of revenue.

1.       Operating costs – ongoing rent and bills for business premises, and suppliers for ingredients

2.       Stand fees for events and exhibitions – advance payments for stand fees

3.       Buying ingredients in bulk - bulk costs during peak months of the year

So, how does this posh hot chocolate company and Barclaycard Business customer manage to not only stay afloat, but to thrive? We talked to owner Brian Watt to get his top tips for managing cash flow.

 Use a credit card to pay for things in advance

“Before we can get excited about revenue, we have to juggle a lot of operating costs.

“Like a lot of small businesses, those costs range from rent for premises to the cost of ingredients. While the first of these is predictable and therefore easier to manage, the ingredients we need and when we need them depends on the events we attend and the time of year.

“We rely heavily on events to market our products; they’re our main source of publicity. From food fairs to large-scale exhibitions, every event has stand fees and other associated costs that need to be paid for well in advance. This can be a cash flow nightmare, because we’re paying out a lump sum long before we generate any revenue from the events themselves.”

“Having a credit card is invaluable, as it gives me some breathing space at the busiest time of the year. It’s made it easier for me to run my business and focus on innovating to create new products and expanding the company.”

Brian Watt, owner and director, Sloane’s Hot Chocolate

Expanding Sloane's Hot Chocolate

“Things can get particularly tricky in the run-up to our peak period – Christmas. This is when most of the events happen and therefore when final instalments of exhibition fees are due.

“September to December is also the time when we need to fork out for enough raw materials to produce enough hot chocolate to meet the Christmas demand. And the months when we need to pay cash to new suppliers when we’re sourcing ingredients to launch innovative new products, like our turmeric hot chocolate. 

“Paying exhibition fees using our Barclaycard business card allowed us to free up cash to cover costs for artisan ingredient suppliers and other local business partners.

“Without this flexibility, we may well not have been able to meet these costs or invest in events marketing, which we rely on to expand our business.”

Take advantage of the right promotional offers for you

“Using a business credit card to pay for things is itself a really helpful tool when it comes to managing cash flow. But that’s only one element of it. During a particularly busy period last year, we applied for a promotional deal on our Barclaycard corporate card. It meant we had 0% interest on new purchases for three months.

“Aside from the obvious cash flow benefits of this deal, it also meant we were able to order more raw ingredients, finish making all of our Christmas stock earlier than usual, and be better prepared to meet customer demand.

“Being this flexible means we could make decisions based on the quality of the ingredients alone, not on whether our suppliers would accept cash or card payments.

“If you can find the right deals or promotions for your business, you might find yourself able to free up cash to grow your business.”

A brief history of Sloane’s Hot Chocolate 

Brian Watt spotted a gap in the market for a high-quality alternative to powdered products

He took inspiration from the fast-growing ‘single origin’ coffee industry

The company’s first chocolate product launched in 2014

It now supplies coffee shops, delis and large UK supermarket chains

And sells directly to consumers to country fairs and food events

It’s now testing international markets, exporting to Dubai, Hong Kong and the US


Forecast for the year and use tools to stay in control 

“When it comes to cash flow, the most important thing for us is to try and plan activity that we have to pay for across the year, and to forecast when revenue will come in. By doing this, we can work out when we need to make sure we have cash reserves in the bank.

“One way we stay in control is by using the online servicing tool that comes with our Barclaycard corporate card. It just means we can see exactly where our finances are, what we’re spending money on and when, and we can pull reports as often as we need to, for our accountants but also just for us to keep a track of things.

“As a small business owner, you’re always trying to keep multiple balls in the air. Having a gap in your cash flow is like someone throwing another ball at you; it can take your focus away from doing what you do best.

“For me, using a Barclaycard credit card has provided the flexibility I need to meet customer demand and focus on expanding my business, both in the UK and overseas.” 

Brian Watt, owner and director, Sloane’s Hot Chocolate

Expanding Sloane's Hot Chocolate

“We were able to pay the balance of the things we bought during the three-month 0% interest-free period, so we didn’t incur any fees. Ultimately, that helped us to be better prepared for the Christmas rush. In fact, we had our best-ever Christmas, with a 24% increase in revenue year on year.

“This success means I’ve been able to focus on expanding Sloane’s Hot Chocolate in the UK but also with distributors abroad.”

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