Surviving the recession - many businesses will!
In March last year the Federation of Small Businesses reported that there was little sign of the economic downturn hitting order books; that the number of start ups was up; that manufacturing was seeing a bit of a renaissance; and there was no trickle down effect of the Credit Crunch. What a difference a year has made.
In September 2008 the head of Small and Medium sized enterprise analysis at Barclays predicted that there would be 150,000 fewer SME’s in England and Wales by early 2010 because as more close down and fewer start up. And now - given the spate of business closures and the resultant redundancies those figures look wildly optimistic.
But people are beginning to talk about glimmers of light at the end of tunnels; about a slowdown in the rate of economic decline; and speculating about the end of the beginning of the recession. So how do you give your business the best chance of survival and get it in shape to benefit from the eventual recovery?
Alistair Tait of Tait Enterprises Development Ltd says enterprise is more important than ever in an economic downturn. Your country needs you! He says now’s not the time to sit tight and hope to survive the raging storm; it’s time to improve performance and put yourself in a position to get ahead once the tide changes. He also points out that some firms do very well in recession and some very successful businesses are set up in recession.
Don’t panic: go through your finances checking what you have to pay out; what your order book looks like; and what you’re owed. Get the facts! Despite various Government schemes to encourage banks to lend more to small businesses, many owners and managers are saying it's still next to impossible to find the cash they need and that viable firms are simply having to shut up shop. If you are finding it difficult to get financial help talk to your nearest Business Link www.businesslink.gov.uk will give you details.
If you can service your debts you are in a fairly strong position. Firms that don't have a lot of debt are more likely to be able to hang on.
Where you can make savings? Rationalise your stock and try to renegotiate contracts with your suppliers. Are you spending on things that don’t make a real difference - travelling to meetings instead of phoning or using video conferencing; using expensive business premises when you could work from home? Can you save money with energy efficiency measures and reusing and recycling. Replace your fleet of cars with bicycles if possible.
The last thing to cut back on is staff. You need all your good people to help you rebuild the business when times improve. But many firms are saying that for them the reality is that they've made all the other savings they can and now the only thing left to cut back on is staff. No one likes to make people redundant but some firms tend to over hire in the good times. Could you hire people as you need them on short term contracts? ; hire better people at lower costs.
Maximise your productivity. You need to sell product. You need customers. Spend more time with your customers finding out what they need and what will keep them coming back to you. Work on ways to sell more to existing customers. How will you get the biggest return for time spent?
Get to know your customers and keep their data - with their agreement, securely and only for your own use. Who are they? where to they come from? How did they find out about you? What did they think of your service? What would they like you to offer that you don’t what would make them come back to you? It’s cheaper to keep existing customers than to find new ones.
Know who your competitors are and what they’re up to. In the downturn more people become unemployed and some will set up businesses. You can find more people doing what you’re doing and chasing less demand. Having a competitive advantage is even more important in recession than in a boom. Compete on service and quality.
Cutting prices isn’t the only way to increase demand. Can you make your product more attractive without a lot of extra cost? Could you deliver? Delivering to local customers on your way home would cost you no extra but would add value. Or if you already deliver could you be more flexible - deliver when your competitors won’t. Could you attract customers with special offers?
Don’t forget that not everyone will spend less and those who do may cut back on other products and buy your instead. We may eat out less but buy more treats to eat at home.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to invest get ahead of the game for the upturn. Can you buy new stores or premises; revamp the ones you have; recruit talented people others have let go; invest in better services maybe even with more staff? Reduce the odds of sales going down and lead the recovery.
You do have to make sure you get paid on time or your cash flow will suffer - but the reason that’s not at the top of the list is that sometimes people put so much effort into this that they don’t do any of the rest. Is there as much money in the bank as there should be? Make sure you have a good financial control system and controller who chases up invoices, makes sure they’re paid on time and closes orders to non-payers.
Stop using expensive advisers and use the free services available such as the Health and Safety Executive, the Federation of Small Business if you are a member; the government’s small business service of Business Links at www.businesslink.gov.uk If you are in financial difficulties - don’t wait - call Business Debtline on 0800 197 6026. It's a free advice and support service with a good record of helping people to stay afloat.