Discipline and attention to details is more important than ever if you want to succeed in challenging economic times. Take a look around… competitors are closing their doors – which means more potential customers for the businesses that DO survive. And in times like these, it’s going to take more than “thinking outside the box” and goodwill with existing customers to secure the survival of your business.
You may have been lucky over the past few years – you may have found it possible to operate without a detailed, written plan and systems/processes. But the global economic crisis has changed all of that. If you want to thrive, there is only one thing that is for sure – uncertain times call for deliberate decisions and proven practices. So here are my top tactics to recession-proof your business.
1. Begin with the end in mind
If you don’t know exactly where you are going, how will you know when you get there? Now is the second best time to decide on your strategy, set your goals and document tactics and timelines. Keep it simple – write a 2-3 page summary of what you intend to accomplish in 3 months, 6 months and 12 months.
2. Focus on cash flow not profit
You cannot buy a house or a new car with “profit” from your business. Make it your mission this year to develop and maintain a weekly/monthly cash flow forecast for your business. This is not hard to do but it does require discipline and a simple excel spreadsheet. If you need help, I recommend that you consider signing up for Imagineering Profit. With just a few numbers from your Balance Sheet and Profit and Loss statement, Imagineering Profit can calculate your cashflow for you and give you the insight that you need to get your company operating in the black!
3. Collect your debt NOW!
How many days does it take to collect your debts on average? Whatever it is, make it your goals to reduce this by at least 10 days. You may be surprised to know that if your annual revenue is around $500,000, you could save yourself up to $2,500 in interest carrying charges simply by collecting your debts 10 days quicker on average. Pay attention to customers who are taking longer than usual to pay. Now is not the time to be extending too much credit if you are concerned about their ability to pay.
4. Rank your customers
Do you know who your best and worse customers are? Have you ever tried to calculate how much profit you are making from each customer or group of customers? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, today is the best time to start tracking and measuring this.
5. Fire your worst customers
Everyone knows that is cheaper and easier to garner incremental business from existing customers. Some even argue that it is 6 times cheaper and 75% easier to convert a sale from someone who already knows and trusts you. If you have unprofitable customers, get rid of them and focus your attention on your best customers.
6. Trim your product range
Contrary to popular belief, it is better to have money in your back pocket than tied up in stock sitting on your shelves for months on end. The longer it sits and does not turn over, the more it actually costs you in lost opportunities. Spend 2 hours today calculating which of your SKUs or stock lines are your worst performers; make it a priority to sell those quickly to release some much needed cash. Consider reducing your overall investment in stock. Compile a spreadsheet of all the SKUs you carry and then run two separate columns – one for how many units you sell on average of each per month and the other being the total units on hand. If your stock gets delivered quickly, you should never be carrying more than one month’s worth of sales at any given time.
7. Monitor your breakeven and key numbers
The most important day of the month is the day that you break even and start making a profit. If you don’t know which day of the month that is, you need to find out today. Knowing this number allows you to monitor your performance and take measures to correct issues right now. Waiting until the end of the year for your accountant to produce financial statements is not a good idea – if you are behind, you need to know now so that you can correct the situation.
In 1949, thirteen (out of a highly skilled team of sixteen men) died battling a relatively small blaze that turned deadly in Mann Gulch, Montana. Upon investigating the circumstances of why thirteen of the “smoke jumpers” died while only three lived, Norman Maclean wrote a book entitled “Young Men and Fire”, which is the true story account of that fateful expedition of the “smoke jumpers” – fire fighters who parachute into the back country to fight fires.
Maclean found some startling and interesting facts. Mann Gulch is surrounded by steep canyon walls with the northern slope at a 75% incline. When the wind turned suddenly on the smoke jumpers, they were in a race with the fire up those steep walls. Unexpectedly, the fire started to spread much faster than anticipated.
One of the amazing and notable things that Maclean discovered was that the thirteen who died had carried their tools – heavy poleaxes, saws, shovels and heavy back packs – while attempting to out run the fire up those steep walls. In other words, the thirteen had run as far as they could with all their equipment, even though that equipment was worse than useless in a race with the fire. Their inability to drop their heavy tools and packs ultimately prevented them from being able to outrun the fire. To these seasoned fire fighters, their tools were more than simple objects – they represented who they were, why they were there and what they were trained to do. Dropping their tools would have meant abandoning their knowledge, beliefs, training and experience.
This might not seem like a hard choice to make to you, but because these specialized fire fighters hadn’t been trained for such an unpredictable moment, they had no alternative models or maps for behaviour. In moments of uncertainty and imminent danger, clinging to the old “right” way might seem like a good idea… but more often than not, it is actually deadly.
The three survivors of the blaze were forced to think outside the box and develop alternative methods of escaping the fire. Once they figured out they were no longer “fighting the fire” but were instead “trying to escape from it”, they realized they had to drop all of their useless equipment. One survivor used an innovative technique called the ‘escape fire’ where he took a match and lit a ring around him so that the fire would “jump” over him. When he tried to suggest it to the other men, they continued running up the steep slope because the ‘escape fire’ technique had not been part of their extensive training. Their inability to drop the tools and equipment that weren’t working and seek new methods to escape is what ultimately led to them being engulfed by flames and smoke.
My question to you is this: What are the poleaxes, shovels and backpacks you’re currently running with?
What are the tired, worn out strategies and tools which you are lugging around? What existing beliefs and models of behaviour do you need to drop in order for you to survive and prosper (even thrive in a recession)? What training, attitudes, decisions or experience needs to be abandoned in favour of a new, innovative approach?
It has often been said that “the thinking that got you to here, won’t get you to there”. Never has the simplicity and wisdom of this statement been more poignant, than it is today. Those of you who adopt and learn the critical skills, tools and mind-set necessary to survive and even thrive in a recession (or despite any challenge you face) will be the winners in all this. But, this has always been true. Survivors and successful people triumph because they are flexible and willing to do whatever it takes to get the results they desire. New or changing circumstances always necessitate a new perspective or approach: The alternative, “doing the same thing over and over again” is the definition of insanity and can only lead to suffering, disappointment, frustration and pain.
The events of the past few years have clearly shown that there is fire raging out of control in our global economy – the markets are extremely volatile, banks and corporations are in trouble, credit is tightening, our personal debt is far too high and property values are threatened. Change is upon us and we all must examine what we have chosen to carry on our backs to thrive in a recession. Burying your head in the sand and “doing more of what you have always done” are no longer viable options.
No matter where you are at right now…I have a belief that it is impossible for you not to become even more successful NOW. Take some time today to assess your approach to date – what is working and what is not. Write an action plan and take 3 steps today towards achieving the life that you imagine in your mind. After all, success is not by chance or circumstance, it is by choice! Choose wisely.
When clients ask how to close more sales and free up cash in their business, I like to tell the story of Byron the guns and collectibles dealer. He lives for his business because it gives him the chance to make a living out of doing what he enjoys most: collecting.
He was struggling 12 months ago because he was out of cash and unable to buy new stock. This was a real problem because the strength of his business lay in constantly having new items to show off. New stock encouraged his customers to come back often; no new stock meant they would tend to check out his competitors first.
When I first walked into Byron’s shop, one of the most obvious items was a beautiful old gun, proudly (and securely) displayed in a glass cabinet. I couldn’t help but ask how much it was worth. He explained that it he had bought it for $5,000 dollars, but was looking to sell it for $7,000. Following a hunch that I had hit on his problem straight away, I asked Byron when he had bought the gun. He didn’t remember exactly, he said, but thought it was about five years ago.
I asked Byron how many other, similarly high value items he had in his store. We went for a walk and in the course of showing me around, he pointed out at least a dozen items which he had bought for over $5,000 over the last few years. In each case, he was quick to tell me how much he was intending to sell the item for, and the margin was always 30 to 40%. But the fact was he hadn’t sold these items so they were costing him money and, most importantly, causing him to miss the opportunity of buying new stock.
Byron had spent nearly $100,000 on expensive items over the years. The items were attractive and valuable, but they weren’t particularly rare, so they weren’t appreciating in value significantly. In effect, Byron had put $100,000 on the shelf of his office and left it there for all that time. In other words, while he wasn’t borrowing money from the bank, in effect he was borrowing it from himself. He had missed the opportunity to invest the money somewhere where it would give him a solid return, such as in a term deposit or in blue-chip shares. And he missed the opportunity of using that money to buy smaller, less expensive items that he knew would sell quickly. He needed to do something (and fast) if he wanted to close more sales.
Compounding all of this was the fact that the global financial crisis had caused demand to drop markedly which meant his customers just weren’t coming in or spending as much as they used to.
By making a few simple adjustments, responding to trends in the industry and addressing a need that his customers, Byron was able to turn his business around, close more sales and double his bottom line.
The first thing he did was to free up some cash by actively selling some of his more expensive and slow moving items. He used online auction sites and his own network to find buyers, while keeping his marketing costs low. In some cases he had to sell the items for a little less than he had intended, but the benefit (when he was able to close more sales) was cash in his pocket.
The next thing he did was set up some systems to keep better track of inventory. He started by recording everything and noting the age of all the items (i.e. the length of time he had held it in stock). We agreed that in future, any item that had not sold after 8 months would be reviewed. Byron would investigate the item’s market value and decide whether or not it was increasing in value sufficiently to be worth keeping. If not, he would act to move the item on.
After a few months, Byron was making much smarter purchasing decisions. He was still enjoying ‘collecting’ for his store, but his focus was different. His focus was less on attractive, expensive but not-so-rare items, and more on smaller items he knew he could sell quite quickly. To his pleasant surprise, he increased cash flow by $100,000 in 3 months and found that by using this strategy, he was able to do more shopping rather than less, because he had more cash available to spend.
Lastly, but perhaps most significantly, Byron introduced 2 new complementary strategies which literally transformed his business. To counteract the soft demand for firearms and the relatively fixed, low margins, Byron convinced his customers to purchase 18 months worth of ammunition upfront and he provided storage (if required) onsite. This allowed him to renegotiate terms and pricing with his suppliers, plus generate more cash flow in the short term. Since the margins on bullets was much higher than on the guns themselves, his overall profitability improved. In addition, Byron incorporated training and certification into his standard offering and opened up his target range to paying customers 3 nights a week. This allowed him to create new, highly lucrative income streams and increase the frequency with which his customers came into his business.
While Byron’s story on how to close more sales might seem unique and industry specific, there are many ways to take the overarching philosophy of what he did and utilize it to improve your operating cash position.
How can you identify and start selling silver bullets in your business? Begin by first examining the big picture…
Identify the items in your inventory that are essentially dead stock – i.e. haven’t sold in over 8 months. Determine what the total value of the stock is and devise a plan to convert it quickly into cash using a minimal amount of advertising.
Focus on the gross profit margin of all of your products and services. Are some of these more profitable than others? To improve your overall performance, concentrate on the former, and improve or eliminate the latter. What items or services could you add which would allow you to service a need, improve your relationship with your customers and grow your bottom line?
Negotiate better terms and/or prices with your supplier in order to increase the amount of gross profit you make on each sale. Consider which items you could sell in bulk upfront to your customers and use this new volume to improve your buying leverage or cut out the middle man.
Marketing should not be treated as a fixed and sacred cow in your business. Do not spend another dime on marketing until you ensure that you are maximizing the amount you retain on each sale to cover fixed costs. Also, only spend money chasing customers and sales if you can measure the financial return that you will get. Unless you are a multinational brand, money spent solely on branding is wasted.
Make it easy for your customers to find you and see what you have to offer on the internet. The database of potential shoppers that you have earned the right to speak to, is in fact your greatest asset. What can you do today to add value, enhance their experience and close more sales?
Finally, examine the fixed expenses in your business. Identify whether or not there is a cheaper, faster or superior alternative that doesn’t compromise quality or customer service. Is there a way to shift how and what you do so that fixed expenses can vary (i.e on a pay per use basis) with the level of production and/or sales? And remember, no one has ever grown their business by [exclusively] focusing on cost cutting – so use this tactic as your final step in a comprehensive plan to get your business firing and hitting targets. Your primary goal is to close more sales and increase the amount of gross profit (or contribution margin) that you make from each sale.
If you’ve got an extra $1000 burning a whole in your back pocket and you are looking for a great place to invest it, you might want to consider having a closer look at these 5 successful Australian businesses who are doing exceptionally well despite the economic downturn.
Knowing exactly where you stand financially – i.e. your cash position – means that you don’t have to wonder “do I have enough money to cover my rent and wages this month?” The health and vitality of your business are dependent upon your ability to cover all tax obligations, payments to suppliers and operational expenses as they come due in your business.
Unfortunately, knowing where you stand is not as simple as looking at your bank balance or your net profit. 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.
Cash and cash flow are not the same thing. Cash flow is about the movement of cash in and out of your business as it operates over a period of time.
This distinction is crucial to your success – 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.
But what does this mean for you and your business?
Essentially it means that, “cash flow is King”. You cannot afford to run your business by simply printing and looking at your Income or Profit and Loss statement each month. 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 more about this topic “Finding the Point in business” – improving both your profitability and cash flow, I recommend that you check out Chapter 1 of Financial Foreplay®.