Closing your eyes to the financial reality of where you are at and letting your business run itself — without clear key performance indicators from your financials (KPIs) and a business plan — is asking for trouble.
Your financials are the engine that drives your business forward. Your financial statements — and the KPIs you glean from them — serve as the dashboard that lets you know if you are heading in the right direction. Ignoring the gauges and warning lights in your financials is akin to sitting back and simply waiting for the inevitable crash to happen in your business.
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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 do a quick search on the internet, you will uncover hundreds of experts, coaches, accountants, journalists and government organizations that quote the statistic “8 out of 10 business fail in the first year”. However, the fact that the statistic is widely touted doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true or backed up by empirical evidence.
So what is the truth? I searched the internet and couldn’t find confirmation of any study that was done to back-up this statistic (that 8 out of 10 businesses fail) by a reputable or well-known bureau. What I did in fact find was some evidence to the contrary. According to credit reference checking agency Veda Advantage, only a small percentage of new businesses close in their first 12-months of business.
What is the exact amount, you ask? Would you believe, less than two percent?
However, they assert another 32 percent close their doors between their second and fifth year of operations, while 21 percent wind up between the sixth and ninth.
So, that is the good news. However, as you can probably guess, it’s not ALL good news.
Just because a start-up doesn’t go under in the first 12 months, doesn’t mean that the owner is running a successful enterprise. I wonder if anyone has bothered to measure how many of the businesses who survived:
- Paid the owner a wage that was at least equivalent to what he/she could have earned elsewhere as an employee?
- Generated a profit and positive cash flow? and
- Had enough working capital to service their debt, pay taxes and suppliers etc. as they came due?
The first few years of business are incredibly risky. In working with hundreds of business owners, we have found that the large majority opt to forgo their salary or inject more equity to prevent them from going under prematurely. What this means is that, while they may not have “technically” gone under, these fledgling enterprises are far from commercially viable and successful.
Statistics can be both helpful and misleading at the same time. It is easy to assert figures but more difficult to substantiate their veracity or explain the implications thereof.
The author of an article or press release will often use statistics to capture your attention and motivate action. That’s why people use statistics – numbers are persuasive and have an aura of authority. A statistic like – 8 out of 10 businesses fail – gets attention, doesn’t it? Whether this data is accurate or not, is only half the story. As a business owner or manager, we must look deeper to find the insights that we can take away and use to improve our results.
Personally, I don’t care what percentage goes under. No matter how long you’ve been operating, if you’re not getting paid a salary, producing profit and generating positive cash flow, you’re not running a successful company. Closing your doors is only half the story. The doors may very well be wide open, but technically, no one is there.
04 Dec 2010
Did you know that inventory is one of the great hidden costs of business?
Business owners should understand its importance of keeping it under control. Visit http://www.financialforeplaybook.com for more on this story…
Is Inventory Killing Your Business?
Did you know that inventory is one of the great hidden costs of business?Very few business owners understand its importance and the significance of keeping it under control. Inventory ties up your cash while providing little benefit to revenue – until the items are sold. Excessive inventory can weigh a business down and ultimately lead to revenue losses.
Excess inventory is so often the primary cause of cash flow problems that it is worth your time and effort to consider how your current stock holdings are affecting the health of your business. And it’s why you should have a clear understanding of how much inventory you have, how much you should realistically have, what it’s worth today, and how old it is.
Every time you buy stock for your business, you should see the purchase as an investment. Like any other investment, you should expect it to provide you with a financial return in a short period of time. If there is a significant gap between when you buy the goods and when you turn them into cash by selling them and collecting the money, you need to re-assess the value of your investment.
When you spend before you earn you are effectively taking out a loan for the intervening period. Very often this will require a ‘real’ loan from some sort of finance company, a delay in paying suppliers or a delay in paying yourself. If you want to improve the cash flow and health of your business quickly and without spending a dime on advertising, take some time out today to review your stock levels and get rid of excess inventory.
18 Aug 2010
If you’re a small-mid size business owner and struggling to make your operation both profitable and cash flow positive, don’t beat yourself up too much! Even some of the largest corporations in this country are getting it wrong and stuffing up every day. Take the CBA for example – one of the largest banks in Australia recently announced a $6 billion profit for 2009-10. To put this in context, this equates to around a 17 per cent return on investors’ funds, which is impressive indeed in these tough economic times.
Too bad the CBA is technically bankrupt – meaning they don’t have enough liquid assets to cover the debt as it is coming due.
But how can this be, you might ask? The answer is simpler than you might think and it applies to ALL companies (big and small) – Profit is pointless and cash flow is KING! More businesses in Australia go under every year due to lack of cash flow than any other single reason. No business, even financial institutions which are afforded many governmental protections and safeguards, are exempt from this basic law of the economic jungle.