As a youth basketball coach, one of the most important lessons that I attempt to teach my players is that when you feel overwhelmed and anxious, “shrink the change.” What exactly does that mean? This term (from the book “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” by Chip and Dan Heath) means don’t focus on overcoming a 25-point deficit all at once. Focus on having one strong defensive possession at a time, on becoming the first player to sprint up and down the court. Take a breath. Stack one small victory on another. So, as business owners, what steps can we choose to focus on during an unprecedented, challenging time?
- Cash flow is the lifeblood of business. Thus, take the time to put together a simple cash flow projection, or ask someone who can help you do so. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or extensive, just an honest forecast of anticipated inflows and outflows over various future periods – be it one week, one month, three months, six months or more. This projection should be at a detailed level, as it is important to create the projection and then step back and analyze. Are there expenses that are “nice to haves”, but not “need to haves”? What expenses are providing value? What expenses can be cut or reduced? What has to happen in order to secure various inflows?
- Consider timing of inflows. Should you be asking for faster payment? Should you consider a deposit for services? Should you consider milestone payments? Should you consider offering a discount in order to collect money sooner? Would some or all of your clients prepay for work?
- Consider timing of outflows. Do you pay bills sooner than you need to just to get them “off your desk”? Should you request more favorable terms from certain vendors? Extending terms from 15 days to 30 days can make a big difference in some instances, particularly if you do a lot of business with the vendor. If the vendor isn’t interested in helping you, their customer, there are others that may be interested in doing so.
- Nurture relationships. Many business owners and managers, including myself, have the tendency to put our noses to the grindstone and work, work, work. Let’s not work in silos but make a concerted effort to nurture and grow relationships. Our businesses will become stronger as a result. These include relationships with your customers, your employees, your banker, your outsourced providers. They can all help you, but you need to communicate, listen and learn.
- Understand the programs that exist to help you, especially during a time of crisis. There are no shortage of free webinars and documents that help to dissect the federal government CARES Act currently. A good place to start is www.sba.gov. However, for some people this is like trying to read a new foreign language. Lean on a trusted support – your accountant, your banker, your chamber of commerce, or other industry group – to help dissect this information and leverage the resources that exist. At a time like these, they are vast and significant. When the government is working to help “prop up” small businesses, consider taking advantage of that assistance.
- Sit (or have a call or video conference) with your banker. They can help you consider short-term resources that may be available to you. They can also help you establish a line of credit for future rainy days.
- Don’t cut back on marketing if you can avoid doing so. Help customers find your products and services during a time of need. Think of the restaurants that are stepping up their marketing during the pandemic.
- How can you support your customers during a time of need? We’ve seen wonderful examples of businesses that have pivoted to provide a different service or product during the pandemic. Consider what you can do to help existing and future customers. Ask your customers about their needs.
Matt Cronin is founder and president of Boardwalk Business Group, a company supporting businesses throughout the region with financial and business operations management and consulting. Boardwalk Business Group is working with businesses to help create and analyze cash flow analyses, offering free, one-hour consultations to help provide advice on managing a business and any challenges you are facing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 877-475-1357. www.boardwalkbusinessgroup.com