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In an ideal scenario, businesses would receive immediate payment for their products or services, eliminating the need for holding funds to cover expenses and future sales. However, in the real world, maintaining a pool of cash known as working capital becomes crucial for day-to-day operations. This article explores the calculation of working capital and provides insights into managing cash flow efficiently.

Understanding Working Capital

Working capital can be defined concisely as the difference between current assets and current liabilities. Current assets represent the items a business owns or has a claim on, such as inventory and accounts receivable. On the other hand, current liabilities encompass obligations that will soon come due, including short-term debts and accounts payable. By subtracting current liabilities from current assets, businesses can determine their working capital.

Assessing Working Capital

A positive result from the working capital formula indicates that a business has enough funds to sustain its operations, even during challenging times. While the ideal working capital level varies for each business, a higher positive sum generally signifies better financial stability. To gain a comprehensive understanding, it is advisable to analyse working capital on a quarterly or monthly basis, accounting for seasonal fluctuations.

Calculation Example

(Formula) Current Assets - Current Liabilities = Working Capital

Suppose a business has $20,000 in cash, $50,000 in stock, and $50,000 owed by debtors. In this case, these three components constitute the current assets, totaling $120,000. To calculate liabilities, consider accounts payable, payroll, taxes, monthly subscriptions, and rent, which amount to $100,000. The surplus cash in this scenario would be $20,000 ($120,000 - $100,000). However, it's important to note that the working capital formula alone does not provide a complete understanding of a business's financial health.

Exploring the Cash-Conversion Cycle

  1. Inventory days: The duration stock remains unsold, or the time required to convert raw materials into a saleable product.
  2. Debtor days: The time taken to collect payments from customers.
  3. Creditor days: The period a business can retain cash before paying suppliers.

Formula for the Cash-Conversion Cycle

Creditor Days - (Inventory Days + Debtor Days = Cash-Conversion Time Cycle

The cash-conversion cycle is determined by subtracting creditor days from the sum of inventory days and debtor days. For instance, if a business has 55 inventory days, 45 debtor days, and 30 creditor days, the cash-conversion cycle would be 70 days. However, it's essential to remember that this is a guide, and unexpected factors like sales slowdowns can extend the cycle.

Managing the Cash-Conversion Cycle

Once the cash-conversion cycle is calculated, business owners can focus on shortening the period they are out of pocket and plan their financial needs accordingly. Speeding up collections from debtors and efficiently managing inventory can contribute to reducing the cycle time. It is also helpful to analyse industry benchmarks and learn from successful businesses within the sector.

Emphasizing Working Capital

By understanding their business's working capital requirements, owners can work towards minimizing the cash-conversion cycle and preparing for challenging periods. If the calculations indicate a potential shortage of working capital, business owners can explore finance options available to address the shortfall effectively.


Calculating working capital is vital for businesses to ensure they have adequate funds to cover expenses and support ongoing operations. By accurately assessing working capital and monitoring the cash-conversion cycle, businesses can proactively manage their finances, enhance cash flow, and plan for future growth. In cases where working capital may be insufficient, various financing solutions are available to provide the necessary support.

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