One of the most important things you can do for your company is to establish and regularly contribute to an Operating Capital Reserve Account. This money can help you deal with the regular costs of doing business, as well as with many types of unfortunate events that can befall a company.

With a healthy OCRA, you don't have to sign a contract with a difficult customer just to keep money coming through the door. You don't have to take a job you know will be unprofitable just to keep your people working or to pay a tax bill. You can replace the engine or transmission in your truck, repair a power tool, and keep your business running smoothly.

You can establish your OCRA by taking 1% to 4% from each check that comes in the door and putting it away. If you think you can't afford to set aside this amount, consider that a warning that you are not charging enough. If you are charging correctly, the deducted amounts should have little if any impact on your ability to pay bills.

Some of our clients have used their OCRA to pay a tax bill that was overdue because of a bookkeeping error or to fund an exorbitant increase in insurance coverage. The OCRA money may be taxable, so check with your accountant.

After the amount in the account increases, part of it can be transferred to an investment with a higher yield. But the primary issue is having the account accessible for emergencies.

Michael Stone is a business management coach and consultant in Washougel, Wash.,