11 Feb 2015
If you’ve ever watched reality TV (and don’t say you haven’t because we all know it’s too easy to get sucked in by the drama and controversy), you may have noticed a specific formula…
First you find a cause – dating, small business, cooking or home improvement. Next, you add a few unassuming characters – some very relatable but also few who are downright crazy, nasty or delusional. And last but not least, you add just enough controversy, intrigue, shock and cutting remarks to keep the masses coming back for more each night.
In the end, are any of these contestants (or their small businesses in the case of Shark Tank) really any better off? Probably not, but what you have done is create some compelling TV and sold a bucket load of ads to big brands like iSelect, Swisee, Safeway, NAB and Mitre 10.
The other night, I watched Channel Ten’s latest reality TV import, Shark Tank. The premise is pretty straightforward.
A few naive and nervous and numerically challenged small business owners lined up to pitch to a panel of cool, critical and cashed-up potential investors.
Some ideas got funded for relatively small amounts. Most ideas (and their creators) got ripped to shreds by the panel.
So, the show is essentially Survivor, The Apprentice and The Bachelor all rolled into one with Australian small business contestants, and a catchy brand that has the ominous word “shark” in it.
How could that possibly fail?
As I watched, I wondered, ‘Are any of these small businesses likely to breakeven or become profitable and cash flow positive?’
And, perhaps not suprisingly, the answer is “not likely”.
Why is that? Because some of the ideas were pretty interesting. The cricket cooler, the motorized skate board and the hamdog may actually have global potential, but to be viable in the long term, the owners really need to do their homework first and know their numbers.
Case in point – not one of the small business owners who pitched had done market research with their product (or prototype) and could quantify the size of their market. Without that vital information, how can they possibly estimate topline revenue, market penetration or the value of their business with any precision or clarity?
And without those last three things, it’s impossible to give a meaningful pitch or ask for the “right amount” of capital. I’m sure you will agree, other than the guy who thought his hairbrained rental resume idea was worth $2.5million, most of the entrepreneurs vastly underestimated the amount of working capital that they needed.
Several contestants floundered when they got asked the big questions about breakeven, margins and cash flow. Yes, the dreaded cash flow question pretty much stumped everyone.
Most were asking for arbitrary sums of money to commercialise their inventions without regard for how much it might really take to get their brand out there and win their first major customers. One pair even thought it was clever to ask the investors to chip in $150,000 so they [the founders] could leave their secure day jobs and start working in the business full time. Crazy right? If you the owner don’t have skin in the game or work in the business full time, chances are you should still be writing your business plan, not pitching it on national TV in front of 5 sharks and a million viewers.
The cricket cooler duo were the most polished in terms of delivery and presentation. They recognized that patents and intellectual property were vital to their valuation and attractiveness to the sharks, but drastically underestimated the value of locking things down in India – the number one cricket market in the world. And the sophisticated sharks knew that Australia is just a mere drop in the bucket, compared to the potential in a market like India.
Unlike the really trashy stuff – Bachelor, Idol, or Real Housewives of Melbourne – the show didn’t make me feel icky or shocked while watching the sharks tear the flesh off the bones and gnaw away at the contestant’s dreams. I sort of expected that would be the main draw card and the whole premise of the show. Why call the show shark tank if you don’t intend to set up a blood bath and feeding frenzy?
But as an entrepreneur, I did feel genuinely remorseful for each of the contestants. The small businesses who got funded gave up decent chunks of equity for relatively small injections of capital – which may or may not be enough to get them to market and earn their first customers. And the ones who didn’t walked away without any constructive advice or tangible instructions on how to go away and get their idea investor-ready.
It has often been said that “profit is pointless and cash flow is King”. But do you know why?
It is possible for a business to show a profit for a period of time, yet have negative cash flow. In fact, businesses that have profit (on paper) go under every single day. Negative cash flow, if sustained for an extended period of time, will eventually cause the company to run out of money and cease operations. Therefore, knowing the cash flow position is critical to staying afloat and knowing how to unlock more cash flow is imperative to effectively coach a business owner or senior executive.
Are You Chasing The Wrong Target?
You can have the most brilliant product or service but if the business runs out of cash, it won’t matter. Most businesses make the fatal mistake of thinking that they simply need more customers. If only they had more customers, they would have more sales and more profit…and they would be more successful.
But is this true?
Can businesses simply advertise their way into more sales and better results? No. In fact, advertising and discounting often have a negative impact on the bottom line and cash flow.Simply put – the initial instinct most coaches and business owners have is to focus on increasing sales. Employing this strategy in a business coaching context – chasing customers and sales – is often the worst thing you can do for the business.
The common assumption is that if you are running a business (or involved in business coaching) where the price you charge for your products is greater than what they cost, everything will be okay: you will be profitable and successful. Profit is good – don’t get me wrong – but it is simply not enough on its own. To be sustainable, the business must also have a healthy cash flow.
If you are like most coaches and business owners, you never dreamed that the ability to understand how money flows in and out would be incredibly important. You thought: “That’s for the accountant or finance department to worry about. Sure, they may show me a few reports from time to time, but I don’t see the need to really understand what the numbers mean. If there was a problem, they would tell me, wouldn’t they?”
You probably didn’t realise that all those numbers – the financial DNA of the business – can tell you a lot more than you thought. They can tell you why the business is not growing or is struggling to meet targets. They can reveal why there is less money in the bank account [again] than there was last month.
The financial numbers ARE the story of the business. Numbers don’t lie. They are one of the few objective indicators of how a business is performing and where the problems are. Ironically, financials are the most overlooked area of business coaching with the majority of practitioners choosing to specialize in leadership, sales or marketing disciplines. Unfortunately, without a solid understanding of financials, it is impossible to coach effectively and produce predictable results.
Regardless of any justifications you (or your business coaching clients) use to explain why the business is not performing – the economy, the shortage of ‘good’ staff, competition, supply chain issues etc. – the numbers tell the truth and can lead you to the solution. You just need to learn HOW to use them to your advantage.
You need a bit of Financial Foreplay.
Are You Avoiding The Numbers?
When is the last time you took two hours out of your week to analyze the financial statements of a client or your own business? Can you honestly say that you know exactly where you (or they) are at and WHY? Do you sometimes wonder what the numbers are trying to tell you? Are you guilty of wasting money chasing new leads and sales instead of fixing the business and making it more profitable?
Most business coaches and business owners make the mistake of assuming they can improve the business by examining the Profit and Loss and Balance Sheet on a monthly basis. Unfortunately, these statements only tell part of the story. In fact, you cannot measure the cash flow position of a business by looking at the bank balance or examining the financial statements at a specific point in time.
This is because most businesses use what’s called ‘accrual’ accounting. Rather than recording ‘money spent’, they record spending as ‘money spent plus money committed to be spent’. So if stock has been purchased on account, accrual accounting includes the value of that purchase from the point it is made – not from the point when the account is paid. Accrual accounting takes into account the amount of money that has been spent plus committed to be spent in the future. The same thing happens in reverse with earnings – it includes money received plus money expected to be received. When a sale is invoiced with 30 days to pay, the value of that invoice is included in accrual earnings even though the money won’t be received for at least another 30 days.
Therefore, when accountants talk of ‘profit’, then, they usually mean ‘accrued profit’ as opposed to what we would call ‘real or cash profit’. Accrued profit is the expected real profit after ‘spending already committed to’, and ‘earnings expected to be received’, are
taken into account along with real (cash) spending and real (cash) earnings. As a result, the profit showing on an Income (or Profit and Loss) statement is a more complicated and less useful representation of the current financial situation of a business. Net profit cannot be relied upon in isolation to gauge the financial health of a company.
Stated another way, cash flow must be tracked over a period of time and can be measured by the following calculation:
Net profit (year to date)
+/- changes in inventory
+/- changes in accounts receivable
+/- changes in accounts payable and GST and
+/- changes in fixed assets
= Cash Flow
Changes in these 4 items on the Balance Sheet have a significant impact on the cash flow and viability of a business. That is why getting inventory levels right, optimizing receivables and payables and investing only in assets that generate a return, is critical when coaching a business of any size. In fact, a coach can often have more tangible impact and influence on a business by focusing on these 4 areas than on directing effort towards gaining new customers and increasing sales. And oftentimes, it costs the business very little to implement highly effective strategies in these 4 areas.
In practice, it is vital to have an eye on both real profit (cash flow position) as well as accrued profit. It is a common error to focus solely on accrued profit – an error which has the potential to send a business to the wall prematurely.
Are You Sure It’s Profitable?
Profitable growth should be the goal of any business. However, you cannot achieve profitable growth without first establishing that the business is in fact profitable. Attracting more leads or closing more sales may not be enough – the costs and efficiencies in a business change every day and this means that we must constantly monitor and measure results and take appropriate action. Focusing solely on customers and sales is a bit like spending 100% of your time practicing your tennis serve while neglecting to watch the scoreboard, analyze the strategy of competitors and practice your returns.
Break-even is one of the most simple and powerful calculations that you can use yourself and with your clients each month to measure and enhance profitability. A company is said to “break-even” for a period (usually a month) when its sales revenue catches up to its costs. Specifically, accountants talk about break-even as the point where ‘fixed costs’ (rent, salaries, etc.) are matched by ‘gross profit margin’ (sales revenue minus COGS).
Therefore, it follows that break-even with profit is the point in the month where the business covers all of the fixed and variable costs and starts making the desired profit target. Remember, if you and your clients are in business and not running a charity, the goal is profitable growth. In order to achieve profit, you MUST in fact plan to achieve it.
Calculating break-even (and break-even with profit) each month and knowing specifically which day of the month the business breaks-even, allows management to make informed, strategic decisions about how to achieve growth that is profitable for the bottom line and enhances the cash flow position.
Are You Ready To Get Results?
Knowing where the financial pain is when you are coaching a business allows you to focus your time and resources where they will make the greatest impact on the bottom line. And if you are truly serious about being a successful business coach, and it is not just a hobby or a way to pass the time, you will find a way to fit a bit of Financial Foreplay into your day so that you can help others to whip their businesses into shape and start taking home more cash! It’s the quickest and most effective way to get your clients working ON not just IN their businesses.
Do I (or am I going to) have enough cash to pay x?
Unfortunately, that is without a doubt the worst question you could ask yourself. Knowing exactly where you stand financially (i.e. your cash flow) is critical to your business. Your survival hinges upon your ability to cover all taxes, payments to suppliers and operating costs as they come due.
So if cash flow is so vital – why is this question so very bad for you and your business?
There are 3 common mistakes that I see business owners making every single day – and they relate to that question you’ve been asking yourself. I would like to share them with you right now so you can stop making them and start getting on top of your cash flow position.
- Stop looking for cash flow in all the wrong places – when you ask yourself the question about cash, the most likely thing that you will do next is look at your bank balance. Unfortunately, your bank account merely shows your cash on hand but it will never tell you what your cash flow is or (more importantly) HOW to improve it. Seeing that you do not have any cash is NOT enough. You need to know what your cash flow position is and where specifically cash is trapped in your business. Once you know where the cash is trapped, it will be a lot easier to take action to unlock it and make it available for use in your business.
- Stop relying on a cash position estimate – this second point is related to my first one. I see so many business owners just like you making this mistake every day. And it is not entirely your fault because many of your accounting reports may be incorrectly labelled. Most accounting software packages contain a report that shows your bank balance and lets you project what your cash position might be in the future – for example 30 days from now. They often incorrectly label this a cash flow projection. Actually what you are really doing by looking at this report is very subjective. It takes your bank balance (which we talked about before) and adds all the sales you might have in the future minus the bills you might pay. Unfortunately, this involves a lot of speculation about what might or might not happen in the future and it still doesn’t give you a clear picture of what you need to do to unlock cash in your business. More often than not, this exercise will lead to you focusing more and more of your time and resources on sales – and that activity may actually worsen your cash flow position. Especially if you sell on credit terms or if you sell stock that you need to order in and pay for today.
- Waiting for your bookkeeper or accountant to tell you what your cash flow position is – this is probably the worst mistake of all because it means that you might be waiting for weeks or months with little or no money in your account to pay bills or wages. This is madness. You need to be able to print your profit and loss and balance sheets today and calculate your cash flow right now. It’s not that hard to do and the entire process will take you less than 15 minutes.
The important thing to remember is that cash and cash flow are not the same thing. If your company is profitable on paper yet it maintains a negative cash flow for an extended period of time, eventually it will go under. Being able to calculate and monitor your cash flow position regularly is critical to your company’s health and survival. You can have the most brilliant product or service but if you don’t have positive cash flow, your business will eventually go under.
If you want to learn how to calculate your cash flow quickly and easily, I recommend that you check out Chapter 1 of Financial Foreplay. It’s been endorsed by the most recognized accounting software brands in the world and it can help you get on top of your numbers and whip your business into shape today.
17 Oct 2012
It’s the club final and you are the favourite to win. There is a big crowd watching and as the game progresses, everything seems to be going to plan. You’re playing well and you’re winning points. Victory can’t be far away. There is only one problem: there is no scoreboard, and the umpire is keeping the score to herself. So no one except the umpire knows what’s really going on.
Nevertheless, you plough on and, despite being in the dark about the score, you feel positive that eventually the umpire will declare you the winner. You are so confident that you can’t help but relax just a little. You start enjoying the party like atmosphere.
Then a shock! Out of the blue, the umpire declares that it is match-point … to your opponent! You can’t believe it. You go back to the baseline, determined, and set yourself up for this big point. But to no avail. It’s too late to get your mind back into gear and you hit the return wide. The game is over, the final is lost. If only you’d been able to track the score during the game. At least you would have been able to fight back a little bit earlier.
Every day, hundreds of businesses, big and small, operate as though they are playing a game of scoreboard-less tennis. Every month the owner runs on feelings for most of the month – no more than a guess about how well the business is travelling. A day or two after the month ended, you will look to the ‘umpire’ – your accountant – who will give you the ‘score’ – your figures. And most times, his perceptions will have proven inaccurate and it is far too late to do anything about it. When things changed in the business – when your ‘opponent’ started to get on top – you simply would not have seen it coming.
Your financials are to your business what the main scoreboard is at a sporting contest. Can you honestly say that you know where you are and where you are going?
Do you often look at your reports and wonder what they mean?
Do you waste money and time chasing new customers instead of fixing your business and making it profitable?
If you are ready to get serious about your business… it’s time for a little Financial Foreplay.
It’s time you learned:
· Why cash, more than profit, is the key to success in business;
· How to find and unlock the hidden profit and cash that is trapped in your business;
· How to use the numbers in your financial statements to give you information that is useful for you – not just useful for your accountant. For instance, I’ll show you how to calculate a few simple but important ratios, to understand the results and to monitor them on an ongoing basis;
· How to stop making common business mistakes that are preventing you from being as successful as you deserve to be;
· Why too much inventory can strangle your business;
· How to manage debts owed to you and minimize the risk of default;
· How to charge the right price for your goods and services;
· How to decide whether an investment will be a good use of your company’s money or not;
· How to work out when, during each month, you ‘hit the front’ and start being profitable;
· How to set powerful and meaningful targets that will focus the attention of both yourself and your staff on making good decisions and taking positive actions ALL the time;
· A way to measure and track your financial success in a simple and meaningful way; and
· How to eliminate the unproductive habits that have been holding you back.
You will learn all this through the stories of my clients. Powerful stories about real business owners, just like you, with common financial problems. I’ll show you how these business owners found themselves in trouble, how they worked out what was wrong (with a little help from the financial numbers) and how they took action to turn things around.