Beyond the balance sheet

Why you need to know the working capital formula

Beth Whitmore 21/11/2016 3 minute read

Beth Whitmore explains the concept and importance of working capital to entrepreneurs.

There are numerous ways to measure the financial health and success of your start-up business. A growing customer base and profit can be a fair indication of success, but you also need to understand the importance of your cash flow.

Having a full understanding of your working capital will give you a useful insight into your business and what’s needed in terms of money to finance your day-to-day operations. If you’re just starting or have been trading for some time it’s essential to get a good grasp of this and understand what’s required to keep your organisation afloat.

So, it’s time to get to grips with the working capital formula because as this post will demonstrate, the future of your business is reliant upon it.

Free guide on the best systems to monitor cash flow

What is working capital and why do I need to understand it?

Working capital is a measure of your businesses efficiency and its short-term financial health. It enables you to check if you have enough money in the bank to meet financial obligations on a short-term basis. 

The principal works on the basis that you have cash coming in via payments from customers for example, and money going out on things like staff wages, IT support and telecoms etc. Your business will need to generate a regular amount of cash to make these routine payments and cover unexpected costs. Otherwise without a positive cash flow, you simply won’t be able to cover your costs (let alone make a profit) resulting in eventual business failure.

You’ll need a substantial amount of working capital to deal with any unexpected emergency.


Cashflow problems are one of the leading causes of business bankruptcy, so it’s crucial you both understand and monitor yours carefully. Ask yourself:

  • Do you know what your current cashflow looks like?
  • What do you expect your cashflow to look like in six months time?

If you can’t answer both of those questions, then perhaps you’re not as in control of your organisation as you should be!

How do I find out what my working capital is?

When putting together your management accounts you can gain an understanding of your cashflow situation through the following working capital formula:

Working capital = current assets – current liabilities

A positive working capital means that you’re able to pay off short-term liabilities. Whereas, a negative working capital means that you’re unable to meet your debts.



You can then work out the working capital ratio for your business as follows:

Working capital ratio = Business assets/current liabilities

This represents how many times your business can pay off its current liabilities using its current assets. A low ratio of less than one means you may be facing financial difficulties!

What are my funding requirements?

New businesses often find themselves struggling to identify how much working capital they need when starting out. Unfortunately you’ll find it fluctuates regularly as your needs are likely to change. Working capital requirements will vary from business to business because of differences such as the timing of purchasing assets and payment collection policies.

It’s important you understand that your funding requirements are dependent on the length of your cashflow cycle – this is the time it takes for your product/service to be created and provided, how long it takes to raise invoices and receive payment from customers. Remember, the longer your business cycle the more capital you’ll need.

Be sure to track your cashflow on a monthly or even weekly basis to give you a better idea of when and how much funding your business needs. Also you should account for quarterly VAT and annual corporation tax payments which will ideally be in separate savings accounts so that you don't view it as spending money. This will then help you to produce an accurate cashflow forecast. That in turn will allow you to see what’s happening to your working capital, ensuring you make better informed financial and investment decisions!

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The content of this post is up to date and relevant as at 30/09/2016.

Please be aware that information provided by this blog is subject to regular legal and regulatory change. We recommend that you do not take any information held within our website or guides (eBooks) as a definitive guide to the law on the relevant matter being discussed. We suggest your course of action should be to seek legal or professional advice where necessary rather than relying on the content supplied by the author(s) of this blog.


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