Monday, March 15, 2010

Using Deferred Revenue to Control Cash

Deferred Revenue is revenue that is considered a liability until it becomes relevant to the business at hand. There are many forms of deferred revenue: gift certificates, software license, prepaid professional services and possibly some retainers when the service delivery schedule is not pre-determined.

Cash is an asset. Period. It is never a liability; never an expense; never anything but an asset. Cash is a current asset, and serves to increase the net worth of whoever is in possession of the cash. Deferred revenue provides cash, but it also establishes a liability because it represents a future event. All deferred revenue will become revenue at some point. You will have to pay sales tax, income tax and possibly royalties eventually.

If your deferred revenue has an expiration date, it becomes revenue on that date. If your deferred revenue does not have an expiration date you will need to develop a procedure for expiring unused services. Anything sold but not redeemed must become revenue at some point. The IRS will not allow you to carry deferred revenue on the book indefinitely. If you don’t have a procedure to recognize this unused revenue they will give you one. Their procedure will accelerate revenue recognition faster than you may want.

How can a business owner use deferred revenue to help their business? It comes down to cash management. During slow periods cash becomes a problem. Selling products or services in a slow period that will be redeemed at a later date is a way of evening out your cash flow. You might have to provide an additional incentive to buy now and collect later, but the discount might be worth the value to you of accelerating cash flow.

In these hard economic times, when banks are not as forthcoming as they have been, it might be wise to find a way to “float a loan” from your customers. Careful accounting is important. You don’t want to sell what you can’t deliver. Understanding the future consideration of your deferred revenue is critical to long term success. Using gift certificates or pre-paid services might be a way of getting over that financial hump in the middle of your down cycle.

This Month's Quote

“Every successful person I have heard of has done the best he could with the conditions as he found them, and not waited until next year for better”" Edgar Watson Howe

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