While businesses might be concerned about a eurozone Armageddon, whatever the outcome they will need to ensure survival for the period of austerity that is likely to characterise the next decade.
Although growth is desirable, and has been the purpose for many businesses, a more realistic objective in times of uncertainty is to stay in business for the next five years.
Arguably the best way to achieve perpetual business survival is to avoid running out of cash. This involves examining all cash commitments and where possible turning fixed costs into variable ones so as to reduce the breakeven level of sales necessary to cover overheads and fixed obligations.
Long-term fixed obligations include fixed-term rents, hire-purchase or lease agreements, repaying loans, servicing interest, supply contracts and staff employment. Common examples of where companies have taken on such commitments tend to relate to: offices, plant and machinery, IT equipment and software, vehicles, signage, furniture, printers and photocopiers, mobile phones and telephone systems.
Most companies also fail to cancel or at least review contracts that automatically renew, such as: IT equipment and plant leases, life insurance, medical policies, employee benefits, subscriptions and membership, servicing and maintenance, office and window cleaning, sanitary towel and waste removal, portable appliance testing (PAT), health, safety and fire extinguisher inspections and so much more.
The key message is to review every payment and check whether it is necessary and you are not being overcharged.
While it sounds counter-intuitive, businesses often make more money by reducing sales. It is worth looking at the quality of contracts and the quality of customers. The benefits from focusing on only those contracts and customers that provide an adequate profit, that pay well and pay on time can be considerable. Gross profit margins are increased, overheads are reduced by not having to chase payment and less cash is needed to fund pre-sale payments and post-sale credit. The flexible business model means that you no longer need to take on unprofitable work.
All too many companies are too focussed on chasing sales (and tails) to review costs and find ways to reduce them so reviews should also look at other ways to cut spending. Huge savings can be made on travel and communications costs by using internet-based phone and video conferencing facilities like Skype or VOIP services, for example.
The flexible business model is based on a principle of not having to pay out cash if there is no cash coming in. It needs leadership and teamwork but a focus on improving profitability, on reducing costs and on converting fixed overheads into variable ones means that a business can achieve perpetual survival.