Small Business Glossary

Days Sales Outstanding - definition & overview


Days Sales Outstanding is a financial metric measuring the average number of days a company takes to collect payment from sales on credit.

Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) is a financial term that is widely used in the world of business, particularly in the realm of small businesses. It is a measure of the average number of days that a company takes to collect revenue after a sale has been made. This is a crucial metric for businesses as it directly impacts cash flow, which is the lifeblood of any business, especially small ones.

In the context of Australian small businesses, DSO is a particularly important metric. Australia's vibrant and diverse small business sector, which contributes significantly to the nation's economy, often operates on tight margins and cash flow can be a critical factor in their success or failure. Therefore, understanding and managing DSO can be a key to survival and growth.

Understanding Days Sales Outstanding

DSO is calculated by dividing the total accounts receivable by the total net credit sales, and then multiplying by the number of days in the period being analysed. This gives an average figure for the number of days it takes for a business to receive payment after a sale has been made. The lower the DSO, the quicker a company collects its account receivables, indicating better cash flow management.

However, it's important to note that DSO is just an average. It doesn't account for variations in payment terms or the timing of sales. Therefore, while it's a useful indicator, it should be used in conjunction with other financial metrics to get a complete picture of a business's financial health.

Calculating DSO

To calculate DSO, you need two pieces of information: total accounts receivable and total net credit sales. Accounts receivable is the money owed to a company by its customers, while net credit sales are sales made on credit, minus any returns or allowances. Both these figures can be found on a company's balance sheet.

Once you have these figures, you divide the total accounts receivable by the total net credit sales, and then multiply by the number of days in the period you're analysing. This will give you the DSO. For example, if a company has $10,000 in accounts receivable, $50,000 in net credit sales, and the period being analysed is 30 days, the DSO would be 6 days ($10,000 / $50,000 x 30).

Interpreting DSO

DSO is a measure of the efficiency of a company's credit and collection functions. A lower DSO means that a company is collecting its receivables more quickly, which is generally a positive sign. However, a very low DSO could also indicate that a company is not offering enough credit to its customers, which could hamper sales.

On the other hand, a high DSO could mean that a company is struggling to collect its receivables, which could indicate problems with its credit policies or collection processes. However, it could also be a sign that a company is offering generous credit terms to its customers in order to boost sales. Therefore, it's important to interpret DSO in the context of a company's overall business strategy and industry norms.

DSO and Cash Flow

DSO has a direct impact on a company's cash flow. The longer it takes for a company to collect its receivables, the longer its cash is tied up in accounts receivable. This can strain a company's cash flow, especially if it has high operating expenses or if it's investing heavily in growth.

For small businesses, managing cash flow is particularly important. Many small businesses operate on tight margins and don't have the financial reserves to weather prolonged periods of negative cash flow. Therefore, keeping DSO low can be a key strategy for maintaining positive cash flow and ensuring the financial health of a small business.

Improving DSO

There are several strategies that businesses can use to improve their DSO. One of the most effective is to tighten credit policies. This could involve reducing the credit period, requiring upfront deposits, or implementing stricter credit checks. However, businesses need to balance the need to improve DSO with the potential impact on sales.

Another strategy is to improve collection processes. This could involve sending out invoices more quickly, following up on overdue accounts more aggressively, or offering discounts for early payment. Again, businesses need to balance the need to improve DSO with the potential impact on customer relationships.

Monitoring DSO

Monitoring DSO on a regular basis can help businesses identify trends and take action before problems become serious. This could involve tracking DSO on a monthly or quarterly basis, and comparing it to industry benchmarks. If DSO is trending upwards, it could be a sign that credit policies or collection processes need to be reviewed.

Businesses can also use DSO to benchmark their performance against other businesses in their industry. If a business's DSO is significantly higher than the industry average, it could be a sign that the business is not managing its receivables as effectively as its peers. This could be a red flag for potential investors or lenders.

DSO and the Australian Small Business Sector

In the Australian small business sector, DSO can be a particularly important metric. Many small businesses operate on tight margins and rely heavily on cash flow to fund their operations. Therefore, managing DSO effectively can be a key factor in their success or failure.

However, the Australian small business sector is also characterised by a high degree of diversity, both in terms of the types of businesses and the industries they operate in. Therefore, what constitutes a 'good' DSO can vary significantly from one business to another. It's important for each business to understand its own unique circumstances and to set realistic and achievable DSO targets.

Challenges for Australian Small Businesses

There are several challenges that Australian small businesses face when it comes to managing DSO. One of the biggest is the issue of late payments. Many small businesses struggle with customers who pay their invoices late, which can significantly increase DSO and strain cash flow.

Another challenge is the lack of resources. Many small businesses don't have dedicated credit or collections departments, which means that managing receivables often falls to the business owner or other staff members who may not have the necessary expertise or time. This can make it difficult to implement effective credit policies and collection processes, and to monitor DSO on a regular basis.

Opportunities for Australian Small Businesses

Despite these challenges, there are also many opportunities for Australian small businesses to improve their DSO. One of the biggest is the rise of fintech solutions. There are now many software tools and platforms available that can help small businesses manage their receivables more effectively, from invoicing and payment processing to credit checking and collections.

Another opportunity is the growing awareness of the importance of cash flow management. Many small businesses are now recognising the importance of managing DSO and are taking steps to improve their credit policies and collection processes. This is being supported by a range of resources and support services, from business advisors and consultants to government programs and industry associations.


Days Sales Outstanding is a crucial metric for any business, but particularly for small businesses where cash flow is often a critical factor in success or failure. By understanding what DSO is, how it's calculated, and what it means, businesses can take steps to manage it effectively and improve their financial health.

In the Australian small business sector, managing DSO can be a particular challenge, but also a significant opportunity. By leveraging new technologies, resources and support services, small businesses can turn DSO from a potential threat into a competitive advantage.

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