Thrive in tough times

Times are good, aren’t they? Will they stay good forever? Of course not.

Back in the last downturn, what do you wish you had done to prepare for future tough years? The time to prepare for hard times is during good times. That’s now.

You don’t want to hunker down and miss out on opportunities now for fear of what may lie ahead. So how can you take advantage of profit and growth opportunities now while taking prudent steps for later safety?

  • Control your costs. This is not sexy, but it’s the single most important step. And it’s the opposite of what many business owners do. When cash is rolling in, they go on a spending spree.
  • Run a lean operation. Don’t get lax with routine expenditures. Weed out people who aren’t doing the job you need done. Stay on top of scheduling, and don’t have more on hand than you need for each part of the day or week.
  • Hire top quality people; train them well. Build a growth team, and nurture their loyalty. A strong, loyal growth team will also be a “get through tough times” team.
  • Build habits of productivity and profitability during good times, so they will carry over into tough times. Make sure your incentives require and reward productive, profitable operation.
  • Raise your prices. Don’t lag behind your competition.
  • Keep your customers happy and loyal by performing impeccably, and handling mistakes completely and openly.
  • Make sure everything you sell is profitable. Make sure your systems can tell you what is most and least profitable. Weed out unprofitable products or services that drag down your margin.
  • Build up business savings, made possible by raising prices, controlling costs and boosting profits.
  • Stay on top of opportunities. Innovate in your products, services, marketing, and operations. Don’t get trapped behind the innovation curve by sticking with lower margin offerings.
  • Seek counter-cyclical business niches. What do you sell that will stay strong through a downturn?
  • Grow into profitable niches, so that you have a stronger basis for profitable operation during a downturn. Don’t be caught trying to sustain an unprofitable operation when a downturn hits.

Surprise!  Your preparation for a down cycle looks very similar to growing during good times.

Want a set of questions to help you discover how to make these things happen in your business? Just ask me and I’ll email it to you.

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I say it’s a myth.

cash management, cash flowBelieving this shifts attention away from the real problems. It’s like saying the leading cause of death is your heart stopping. Well, duh. But why did your heart stop? Most heart attacks hit people who haven’t been taking care of themselves for years.

Same with business. Running out of money is often the endpoint of years of bad decisions. For example:

Not watching the numbers closely. Not having financial statements you can understand, and not getting or reviewing statements in time. You should tell your bookkeeper/accountant exactly what numbers you need to track, when, and how you want them displayed. If they don’t give you what you want, replace them.

Not controlling costs. Keeping unnecessary payroll and other expenses. Some owners borrow money to avoid laying people off. During tough times, if you’re not ruthless with expenditures, you won’t have the reserves to take advantage of later opportunities.

Focusing on revenue instead of profitability, therefore not paying attention to the margin of jobs or sales. Taking any work. “I’ll make it up on volume.” “Maybe they’ll grow to be a big customer.” Don’t bet your business on these beliefs. Insist that every job must make a profit. Make sure you have systems that allow you to allocate costs to profit centers, so you can know the profitability of each thing you sell.

Under-pricing. Many small businesses try to meet the prices of large, well-capitalized competitors, rather than competing on unique services and features that set them apart and command higher prices. Set your prices to include your desired profit margin.

Not anticipating needed growth capital, so that a growth spurt causes a cash flow squeeze. It’s very difficult to grow relying on current cash flow. People criticize companies like Apple for amassing a huge cash hoard, without realizing that this is necessary to fund growth, innovation, and keeping options open.

Having the wrong kind of financing. Financing growth with a short-term line of credit that must be paid off each year, rather than with a 5- to 7-year term loan. And how many of us have financed growth on our credit card, thus saddling ourselves with interest payments that eat up the profit needed to repay the loan?

Not saving during good times, so that you have a fund for tough times. Too many owners would rather spend than save because they don’t want to pay taxes on the profits.

Not being “bankable.” For example, if you run your business to minimize taxable income, you’ll never get a bank loan. Try telling your banker that you really do have a profitable business, despite what your tax returns show. Take your banker to lunch, and ask what the bank will need from you in order to approve the loan you will need.

Not refining your business model to stay competitive and to meet the emerging needs of your customers. Just staying the same because it’s the easy thing to do. The old cliché, “Work on your business, not just in your business,” means that you as owner need to keep looking at opportunities, challenges, alliances, and strategies.

Ineffective marketing. If you don’t keep looking at what works, refining your offering and outreach, and dumping the rest, your business will slowly decline. Where can you get the most bang for your marketing buck? What ineffective things should you drop? How can you leverage your effort?

I’m sure you can think of others. If you address these problems in your business, you’ll never have to use “I ran out of money” as an excuse.

This is one of the lessons in How to Thrive in Tough Times—Lessons From Small Business Owners–my newest ebook, just posted on Amazon for Kindle, iPad, etc. for $2.99.

 

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