Inventing our way out of the pandemic

Inventing our way out of the pandemic

Here’s another in our continuing series of ‘reasons for business owners to be cheerful’, based around a seminar session delivered to The CFO Centre by respected UK behavioural economist Roger Martin-Fagg.

Necessity. It’s the Mother of Invention, as we know. When the going gets tough, we all know how that phrase ends. But it is an undeniable fact that while innovation in general can happen at more or less any time, it’s when our backs are against the wall that we see these innovations actually put to valuable use.

So we emerge from challenging times armed with new skills and new tools with which to feed business success. For example, most of us are by now all too familiar with the concept and practice of video conference calling. We’re aware of the value of a dressed background, a well-lit subject, an adequate microphone and above all a reliable broadband connection – even if we can’t always attain them. It’s a skill many of us didn’t recognise or require 18 months ago.

The pandemic inevitably means that office working and commuting won’t dominate the working landscape as it once did. In a survey conducted after the first lockdown, 78% of employers said productivity had either stayed unchanged or increased, after home working was encouraged[1].

On a macro scale, the smart investment money is pouring into quantum computing technology, which will deliver transformational processing power and efficiency to functions such as back-office administration and operational support. It’ll mean white collar redundancies, but it’ll also mean leaner, more efficient businesses. Businesses that, since the Brexit deal was signed, will (bar the inevitable teething issues) continue to trade with Europe.

So, despite plenty of apparent evidence to the contrary, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2021 and beyond. More to the point, there’s a great deal to prepare for. Good luck and keep those glasses half full. And who knows, we might soon be raising them in a pub…


How to Scale Your Business for Growth

How to Scale Your Business for Growth

Scaling your business depends on two factors: your company’s capability and its capacity to deal with growth.

To scale up your business, your company must be capable of dealing with a growing amount of work or sales and of doing it cost-effectively.

You need to know that your company can achieve exponential growth without costs rising as a result. It’s vital too, that performance doesn’t suffer as your company scales up.

You also need to be sure that your business systems, employees, and infrastructure can accommodate growth. For instance, if you get a sudden surge in orders, will your company be able to cope? Will you be still able to manufacture and deliver products or services on time? Do you have enough employees to deal with a surge in work or sales?

Scaling a business requires careful planning and some funding. To be successful, you’ll need to have the right systems, processes, technology, staff, finance, and even partners in place.

Identify process gaps

Audit your business processes (core processes, support processes, and management processes) to find their strengths and weaknesses. Find the process gaps and address them before you start to scale up.

Keep the processes simple and straightforward. Complex processes slow things down and hinder progress.

Boost sales

Decide what your company needs to do to increase sales. How many new customers will you need to meet your scaled-up goals?

Create a sales growth forecast that details the number of new clients you need, the orders, and the revenue you want to generate.

Examine your existing sales structure and decide if it can generate more sales. Can you increase your flow of leads? Do you need to offer different products or services? Is there an untapped market? Do you have a marketing system to track and manage leads? Is your sales team capable of following up and closing more leads?

Make sure you have enough staff to cope with an increase in sales. If you don’t have enough staff, consider hiring new employees, outsourcing tasks, or finding partners that may be able to handle functions more efficiently than your company.

Forecast costs

Once you’ve done the sales growth forecast, create an expense forecast that includes the new technology, employees, infrastructure and systems you’ll need to be able to handle the new sales orders. The more detailed your cost estimates, the more realistic your plan will be.

Get funding

If you need to hire more staff, install new technology, add facilities or equipment, and create new reporting systems, you’ll need funds. Consider how you will fund the company’s growth.

Make delighting customers a priority

To reach your sales forecasts, your company will need loyal customers. You’ll win their loyalty by delivering outstanding products or services and customer service every time you interact with them.

Invest in technology

Invest in technology that will automate tasks. Automation will bring costs down and make production more efficient.

Ensure that your systems are integrated and work smoothly together.

Ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from experts who have experience in scaling up companies. In an interview, Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs, said, “I’ve never found anybody who didn’t want to help me when I’ve asked them for help.

“I’ve never found anyone who’s said no or hung up the phone when I called – I just asked.

“Most people never pick up the phone and call; most people never ask. And that’s what separates, sometimes, the people that do things from the people that just dream about them. You gotta act. And you’ve gotta be willing to fail; you gotta be ready to crash and burn, with people on the phone, with starting a company, with whatever. If you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.”

Need Help with Your Cash Flow?

Need Help with Your Cash Flow?

Cash flow problems put your company at risk.

Unless your company manages cash flow effectively and uses regular cash flow forecasts, your company is in jeopardy. Cash flow shortfalls mean:

  • You can’t pay suppliers on time
  • You can’t make debt repayments on time or at all
  • You can’t buy new inventory to meet customer demand
  • You can’t pay staff wages
  • You can’t compete for new contracts
  • You can’t advertise to attract new clients
  • You can’t hire new staff.

This will have a knock-on effect on your company’s profits, market share, and brand reputation. It could even result in your company going into liquidation.

One US bank study found that 82% of business failures are due to poor cash management.

How to Fix Your Cash Flow Shortfalls

Fortunately, most cash flow problems can be resolved with help from the right people. They will help you to identify the causes of cash flow problems in your business and advise the best way to fix them.

To find out how to fix your cash flow problems and prevent them from recurring, grab your free copy of the “Cash Flow” report NOW!

Causes of Cash Flow Problems

Conditions that can impact your cash flow include:

  • A fall in sales or a decline in gross profit margins. This could be a result of changing economic conditions (such as the most recent global financial crisis), increased competition, or a drop in demand for your product or service.
  • An unprofitable business model
  • Using a negative cash flow business model. You offer customers or clients credit terms of anywhere from 30 days to 90 days (or longer).
  • Having excessive debt
  • Having inadequate stock or credit and debtor management.

Your cash flow problems can be due to any of the following:

Late paying customers When a customer doesn’t pay on time, your business can experience cash shortfalls.

Poor debt collection processes Not issuing or chasing up invoices in a timely fashion can result in reduced cash flow.

Low prices If your prices are too low, but your expenses are rising, your company is almost certain to experience cash flow problems.

Low sales Too often business owners try to resolve poor sales by looking for new clients. But this incurs more costs in areas like advertising and marketing to attract those new clients.

Too generous payment terms Allowing customers to pay in arrears for goods or services received is a bit like giving those companies short-term, interest-free unsecured loans.

Overtrading Rapid growth means your company will have to invest in more stock, equipment, or hiring staff to meet demand. If you don’t have sufficient working capital, the company will experience cash flow problems.

Too much stock Every dollar or pound you have in inventory is a dollar or pound you don’t have in cash.

Too much debt If you’re overleveraged (when you’ve borrowed too much and can’t pay interest payments or principal repayments or meet operating expenses), you’re likely to experience cash flow problems.

Cash Management

Cash is vital to your business. Without it, your business won’t be able to pay suppliers and creditors and to meet its payroll obligations.

Finding and fixing the cause of your cash flow problems in your business and putting systems in place to manage cash effectively is vital for your company’s survival.

Checklist: How to Sell Your Business Fast

Checklist: How to Sell Your Business Fast

Plan Your Perfect Exit Strategy

Selling your business to the right buyer for the right price at the right time depends on the health of your business, having the right advisors, and your timing.

Get these factors right, and you can sell your business quickly.

Before putting your business up for sale, you’ll need to clarify:

  • Why you want to sell the company and what you hope to achieve.
  • Your ideal buyers and what their plans for the business would be.
  • Your goals for the sale. Do you want an earn-out clause or a cash sale?
  • How you’ll improve the current value of your business to get the best price.
  • How to market your business to sellers. You need to decide whether to use business brokers to do this or do it yourself.
  • The timing of the sale. You need to sell before patents, licenses, leases, etc. expire.
  • Due diligence. You’ll need accountants, legal advisors, along with specialists in tax, sales, and IT to perform vendor due diligence and make that information available in a virtual or real data room for potential buyers.
  • Who will negotiate the deal?

The following checklist will help you to achieve the best deal for your company.

Your Exit Plan Checklist

  • Clarify why you want to sell your business

You need to decide why you want to sell the business. It’s something prospective buyers will ask you, and it will have an impact on the business sale.

For instance, do you want to retire because you’re fed up with the stress of running a business or suffering from ill-health? Or is it because you want to start a new business, or allow someone with more expertise to take it to the next level?

Your reasons for selling the business could have an impact on the timing and outcome of the sale. For instance, if you decide you must find a buyer as soon as possible, you might have to accept a lower price or less attractive deal.

  • Decide what you’re selling

You need to decide if you’ll going to sell some or all of your company’s assets or the legal entity of your business as a share sale.

  • Focus on areas of improvement

Identify the issues and areas of improvement in your business and develop a plan for dealing with them.

For example, how can your company become less reliant on one or two major customers or suppliers? Are there areas that will benefit from cost-cutting? Is there a potential for rapid growth in the business? Can you improve productivity?

  • Prepare your accounts

You need to show how well the company has performed in the past few years.

Prospective buyers will expect to see at least three years of trading accounts. Buyers will be put off if they discover reports are missing or inaccurate. It will make them doubt your claims about the company’s health.

  • Get your paperwork in order

Your paperwork needs to be up to date and available to prospective buyers.

They’ll want to see supplier/buyer arrangements, licenses, maintenance agreements, lease or hire purchase agreements, business rates, insurance policies, list of employees, and their contracts, along with your company incorporation documents.

  • Resolve disputes

If you have problems with suppliers, customers, other companies, or employees, you need to document them and, if possible, resolve them before you put the business on the market.

  • Decide who will sell your business

Business brokers (or business transfer agents) can market your business for you, or you could do it on your own.

Brokers will demand a percentage of the sale if they sell on your behalf.

You also need to clarify what brokers will do to sell your business and whether you will be involved in picking and interviewing candidates.

Check for details such as extra fees or costs, termination rights, and cooling-off periods.

Look for business brokers that have experience in selling companies in your industry, in your markets, and similar size businesses.

  • Get a business valuation

Prospective buyers will want to know the true worth of your company. Hire a business valuation expert to do this for you.

  • Get expert advice

Put together a team of trusted legal and financial advisors who have expertise in selling companies. Get their help to identify areas of the business that need attention and on how best to proceed with a sale.

  • Create a confidentiality agreement

You won’t want sensitive details about your company or its sale leaked to employees, competitors, suppliers, creditors, and customers, so make sure prospective buyers sign a confidentiality agreement.

  • Perform Due Diligence

You need a team of specialists to produce a documented business strategy, healthy financials, along with information about your employees, and plant and IT systems.

That information must be made available in a real or virtual data room for prospective buyers to view and check.

External Funding Options for Your Growing Business

External Funding Options for Your Growing Business

Your Guide to Business Financing

Getting external financing to fund your company’s growth will depend on your plans, how willing you are to give away a stake, and, therefore, control in the business, your eligibility, and the short-term or long-term funding you need.

How to finance your business growth

Bank finance

Banks can offer you:

  • Unsecured business loans. These will have fixed repayments (including interest) over a set time frame. The amount and the interest rates will depend on the bank and your circumstances.
  • Secured business loans. To obtain a business equity loan, you’ll need to offer your company collateral or assets as security (for example, property, inventory, or equipment). The amount you can borrow will depend on the value of the assets.
  • Buy-to-let loans and commercial mortgages. These are suitable if you’re looking to buy or remortgage business premises.
  • These are more suitable for short-term financial support when your company has a cash shortfall.
  • Business credit cards. Again, these are probably best for short-term support.
  • Invoice finance. It will mean you can access cash that is otherwise tied up in outstanding invoices. It’s ideal if your company offers long payment terms to customers or if you need to grab growth opportunities.
  • Asset finance. This allows you to make small regular payments for an asset rather than a large, one-off payment. It is ideal If you want to preserve your working capital and generate income from an asset as you pay for it.

Angel investors and venture capitalists

If you’re willing to offer a share of your company or equity, you could approach third party investors such as angel investors or venture capitalists (VCs).

You might not have to repay their investment, but the share they will want in return is likely to be high.

Alternative investment markets

You could also consider alternative finance options. These include crowdfunding and peer-to-peer funding.

  • Crowdfunding. In return for early access to your products/services, discounts, or an equity stake in your company, you can raise the money you need from a crowd of small investors.
  • Peer-to-peer lending. You can borrow from individual small investors. If your application is successful, you’ll probably be able to borrow more than you would through a bank and access the funds quicker.

The criteria for the loan might not be as stringent as a bank, but the costs might be similar.

Is your company eligible for funding?

Banks and investors often use what’s known as the CAMPARI method to decide if your company is eligible for funding. That is:

  • C This incorporates everything from your professionalism and brand reputation to your company’s record in repaying loans.
  • A This is about you and your team’s knowledge and expertise and how successful you’re likely to be to generate growth from the financing that investors are being asked to provide.
  • M This is about how well your business is equipped to meet your growth plans. Investors will want to see your Return on Equity (ROE), growth projections, your competitive advantage, detailed financial reports, performance record, and a comprehensive expenditure report.
  • P Investors will want to know how you will use the funds and how they will help to boost the company’s financial situation or generate a profit.

For example,  if you have no liquidity in the business but need it to fulfil an order or if you need a type of machinery to be able to increase your product or service range.

  • A This is about showing investors how you came to decide on the level of funding you’re applying for.
  • R Investors need to be convinced you can afford any repayments. They’ll look in particular at your cash flow and profit margins.
  • I This is all about showing investors you have a fallback position if things go wrong. They’ll need to be convinced you have another source of repayment should you need it.

Use Management Dashboards to Make Fast Data-Driven Decisions

Use Management Dashboards to Make Fast Data-Driven Decisions

The use of management dashboards to monitor management KPIs, metrics and other essential data points will allow you and your management team to make rapid, data-based decisions based on up-to-date information about your business.

A management dashboard provides you with a comprehensive snapshot of the company’s performance. This is critical since it condenses massive amounts of information into a one-page summary that can provide invaluable insight into the health of your company and help with executive decision-making.

It allows you and your managers to access the most relevant information instantly.

The data is represented graphically using tables, line charts, bar charts, sparklines, maps, or gauges so you and other users can see the information at a glance.

They also allow you and other users to drill down to investigate further if necessary.

Types of business dashboards

There are three types of business dashboards:

  • Operational dashboards which emphasise monitoring. These reflect the business processes and help monitor KPIs.
  • Strategic dashboards which emphasise management. They reflect the end status of a KPI or metric for a set period.
  • Tactical dashboards that highlight analysis. They will help you to identify trends and to track how metrics have changed.

Finance dashboard

Your finance dashboard should offer a summary and interpretation of key aspects such as profit and loss, and cash management.

Sales and Marketing dashboard

Your marketing dashboard should provide insight into how successful the company’s marketing efforts are at generating sales and attracting and retaining customers. You should be able to see where people are getting ‘stuck’ in your sales funnel or pipeline.

Risk management dashboard

Your operation and safety dashboard should help you and your team to manage and prevent risk. It could include training and awareness, incident management, claims, compliance, risks for assets and projects, and hazard identification.

HR dashboard

Your HR dashboard should provide reports on internal metrics such as employee satisfaction as well as external metrics such as your company’s success rates for recruitment. Depending on the size of the organisation, it could also be used to track turnover and retention rates.

The benefits of using management dashboards

  • Instant access to core business metrics

Users across your organisation will be able to access core business metrics.

  • Consolidate data from across multiple analytic services

The management dashboard consolidates data from many data points in an organisation to provide one reporting interface. It will save time and effort typically spent on compiling reports, signing into different analytic services and then sharing the data to everyone in the company.

  • Provide real-time updates

Since changes in data or values is reflected in dashboards, you can identify fluctuations in crucial business metrics when they happen rather than having to wait for daily or weekly reports.

  • Align departments

Dashboards can provide metrics that are relevant to each department.

  • Allow root cause analysis

If you spot unusual trends in your summary reports, you can drill down to find their root cause.

  • Communicate and manage strategy

Dashboards can be used as agents to boost organisational change.

How to design the best dashboard

A well-designed dashboard will help improve your company’s productivity and save time, but a badly-designed dashboard will confuse users and challenging to share. It needs to be easy to use and to report the most meaningful data and insights.

That’s why it’s critical that you select the right metrics to display. Avoid the temptation to add as many metrics as you can. If you need to monitor lots of metrics, use dashboard tabs.

Keep the design simple to make it easier for people to read and to digest the information. Avoid using too many colours or fonts or different graphics. Group data in a way that’s relevant and which provides context.

To encourage as broad a range of users as possible, make the dashboard interactive with options to filter and drill down.

Decide the reporting frequency based on the type of dashboard you’re using. For example, structure operational dashboards so they provide daily reports and set up strategic dashboards to give a monthly or quarterly report.

What’s so exciting about Modern Monetary Theory?

What’s so exciting about Modern Monetary Theory?

As the UK emerged from lockdown 3, it was revealed that the amount of cash that the Chancellor of the Exchequer pumped into the economy to keep it functioning had hit new peacetime records. So it’s natural to ask the question: ‘How are we going to pay it back?’ There are fears that taxes will have to rise significantly, with corresponding negative effects on growth. But economic theorists offer an interesting and perhaps more encouraging perspective.

Like many leading world economies, the UK government follows Modern Monetary Theory. Essentially, the government central bank (the Bank of England) provides as much cash as the economy needs to prevent it crashing and burning completely. The economy continues to generate output, albeit at a reduced rate. Interest rates are kept low to encourage spending.

The idea is that maintaining the money supply allows spending on increasing productivity – on infrastructure and education, rather than welfare and pensions. The Bank of England can allow its client (the UK government) to take its time paying it back because, unlike commercial banks, it doesn’t have to turn an annual profit. So taxes shouldn’t have to rise until the business is well into its recovery phase – in other words when it can afford it.

The key is to avoid the policies of austerity. Tightening the belt a notch instinctively feels appropriate when business is poor, but according to Modern Monetary Theory, austerity can damage the prospects of future growth by starving the system of the resources for investment.

Secondly, while unemployment is very likely to go up – it already is, of course – it shouldn’t affect key economic foundations like the housing market too adversely. In fact, we’re currently seeing the opposite. Remember – the bank of Mum and Dad is the 10th largest supplier of housing finance in the UK, and it’s not answerable to corporate shareholders.

The inevitable blockage in the flow of cash through the economy caused by lockdowns results in a build-up of cash at the source, because there’s nothing to spend money on. After a lockdown ends, there’s an immediate surge of money into the economy. As we emerge from the pandemic this is likely to be a significant feature of economic activity.

Reasons to be cheerful in a pandemic

Reasons to be cheerful in a pandemic

Businesses are built on positivity – a scarce commodity over the past year. If you’ve been struggling to spot the silver linings around the dark clouds of coronavirus, maybe this is a good time to remind ourselves of a few.

Right now we have not one, not two but three vaccines currently approved for use in the UK. At the time of writing, nearly a quarter of the adult population has received both shots, and infection rates are dipping back to levels not seen since summer 2020.

Of course, the watchword is caution. It’s all too clear from global data that some nations still have huge challenges ahead. The UK won’t be indulging in the wholesale removal of restrictions for some time yet, but with care, we stand a good chance of stopping the pandemic in its tracks.

Added to this we can take some joy from the fact that, yes, summer’s coming! At this stage, we still don’t know if we can book those much-missed holidays in the sun, but even if not, the evidence clearly suggests that outdoor socialising has a suppressing effect on the transmission of Covid.

And here’s another positive thought: yes, the government is spending huge amounts of money to keep as much of the economy afloat as possible; borrowing has reached record peacetime levels. But this doesn’t necessarily have to be seen as a bad thing.

The behavioural economist Roger Martin-Fagg recently addressed an FD Centre seminar on ‘Economic Recovery and Structural Change’. Roger’s thesis is that economic recovery will take less time and be less traumatic than we perhaps imagine. For a start, all that money we’re not spending hasn’t just disappeared. It’ll start to be released, probably around the time we can start to book those holidays.

His other insight was Modern Monetary Theory – the system on which the UK, in common with many leading world economies, bases its latest economic policy. The key to MMT is to keep the economy functioning, no matter how much cash it takes, and then to take time to pay back the debt until the country can afford it.  There will be more on Modern Monetary Theory in a future post, but for now, we’ll raise a glass (outdoors) to the power of positive thinking!