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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency

Are you prepared for the next crisis?

crisis preparationFinance may be a primary consideration but it is not the only cost to a business in preparation for a crisis.
Being ill-prepared can damage the relationship with customers and employees, and ultimately, if the crisis is badly handled, it can damage the business’ reputation.
Complex, fast-moving threats to organizations can happen at any time, so being prepared for a crisis is about having the right people having been trained with communication tools and strategy in place ahead of an inevitable yet unforeseen event.
Business management consultants Mossadams produced a useful cost management guide to dealing with a crisis in April 2020, which sets out six elements to pay attention to. These are strategy (covering a customer analysis, product mix, recovery plan and financial forecast), assessing operating models, the trade-off between risks and opportunities, a situation analysis and a financial analysis.
According to the Harvard Business Review “When companies seem ill-prepared in the face of a crisis, the first question people ask typically is, “Where was top management?”
Ideally, it advises, boards should dedicate a block of time each year to better understand and prepare for major threats to the business.
It advises that boards should have both a strategy and a core team at board level trained and ready to deal with the crisis itself, as exemplified by the UK Government’s Cobra (Cabinet Office Briefing Room) group.
Of course, for a business facing a crisis the key is to take control of the messages and immediately review finance. While directors might worry about a hit to profits, in fact they should first and foremost have a plan in place for controlling expenses and for protecting and managing cash flow. Of course, ahead of the event it is wise to build up some financial reserves and to avoid taking on debt wherever possible. The less outside funding a business has to sustain when dealing with a crisis, the better.
Part of preparation for a crisis, however, and arguably as important, is the way it handles its messaging and nurtures the relationships crucial to its continued existence.
Stakeholders, customers and employees are likely to be panicked and worried about their future so communication is essential, not only to keep people informed and reassured in the present but also to protect the business’ future once the crisis is over. Indeed, critical to any crisis is to plan for emerging from the crisis so that the business does not remain in crisis mode.
In a crisis, everyone becomes acutely aware of the behaviour of others. This is therefore a key factor for reassuring stakeholders.
In this context, it really is a case of leading by example, so, perhaps it would be unwise for a business to pay out dividends to its CEO, when others are having their working hours cut or suppliers are receiving fewer orders because a business is scaling back activity..
The lesson is that preparation for a crisis is infinitely preferable to being faced with reaction without it.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Is it time to introduce more resilient business systems for post-lockdown?

business systems need to become more resilientJust in time (JIT) business systems of supply for everything from supermarket stocks to manufacturing components and raw materials have been the dominant model for some years.
While it offers huge benefits, including less storage space needed and less capital tied up in stocks, the disruption caused by measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic has revealed some major flaws in the model.
When such an integrated global supply chain breaks down as has happened recently the impact on business is considerable where shortages of stock have arisen due to road, sea and air freight grinding to a near-halt.
Indeed, JIT relies on many different components arriving on time often from myriad sources such that any one item can bring all production to a halt. The current situation has magnified the vulnerability since all the different supply chains will need to be fixed before production can resume..
Systems resilience describes a system’s ability to operate during a major disruption or crisis, with minimal impact on critical business and operational processes and the pandemic has revealed that in many cases it has been sadly lacking.
While many businesses have ceased to operate as a result of the pandemic, thus reducing demand for some categories of stock, there will come a time when those that survive will need to resume, and where different business systems may need to be developed to make the production more resilient and perhaps protect it from future similar shocks.
So now is the perfect opportunity for businesses to consider how to make their business systems and models less vulnerable in the future.
Firstly, this will take a change of mindset away from profit at all costs towards sustainable profits that factor in risks and resilience rather than simply focusing on cost reduction. The profit at all costs mindset has many short comings, not just vulnerability but safety also and was a causal factor behind the Piper Alpha Disaster that led to 167 oil rig workers dying.
It is also interesting that the US investor Warren Buffet, of Berkshire Hathaway, has sold his firm’s entire holdings in the four major US airlines in the belief that the post-pandemic world is likely to be very different, saying “We will not fund a company … where we think that it is going to chew up money in the future.”
Buffet is widely respected for his investment skill over the decades, so it is worth paying heed to his decisions.
As part of the longer-term thinking about business systems, companies will also need to improve their balance sheets to help withstand future shocks like the banks have been forced to do since the Global Financial Crisis of over ten years ago.
However, business should also, in my view, consider the benefits to be gained from nurturing relationships with reserve suppliers as well as perhaps maintaining larger reserve stocks of those materials or parts they need to sustain productivity during interruptions to supplies.
It may be that this will mean larger onshore storage facilities than they have been used to, but while this might mean lower profits and lower dividends for investors in the shorter term, it will provide greater security for the business and its owners in the medium and longer term.
The so-called “new normal” is likely to be very different for businesses and economies as the restrictions on movement are gradually lifted and it is likely to be a considerable time before we get there, but arguably this is an ideal time for businesses to rethink their business systems and prepare for a more sustainable future on many levels.
 

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Turnaround Uncategorized

SMEs, cash flow forecasting and resilience

cash flow forecasting in stormy weatherThe CEO of a business finance provider, Richard Pepler, of Optimum Finance Ltd was recently reported by the publication Business Matters Magazine to have suggested that entrepreneurs should take a business competency test similar to the driving test before being allowed to set up and run a company.
In fairness this was in the context of his stressing that cash flow forecasting and up to date management accounts were essential documents for a business to produce and monitor regularly.
This makes sense given that a recent survey of SMEs by American Express revealed that 46% of “senior decision makers” had reported that cash flow issues were distracting them from focusing on elements of business growth such as product development and marketing.
As my regular readers will know, I, too, emphasise that regular preparation and scrutiny of management accounts and cash management schedules are fundamental to business survival, resilience and business growth.

Why cash flow forecasting and control are more crucial than ever now

The latest Markit/CIPS service purchasing managers’ index for the services sector showed a reading of 53.5 in July, down from 55.1 in June – the slowest rate in three months.  It has reportedly also slowed down in the Eurozone services sector.
This should sound a warning note given that despite the UK decision in June 2016 to leave the EU, the services sector has remained resilient so far when compared to manufacturing, which has been much more volatile.
This year, at a time traditionally called the “silly season” by the media when politicians are on holiday, there appears to have been no let-up in the flood of Brexit-related noise from both sides of the divide.
In just the last few days we have had Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England warning that the chances of a “no deal” Brexit are uncomfortably high and Overseas Trade Minister Liam Fox putting the odds of this happening at 60:40.
The pro Brexit side seeks to play down the fears of lorry parks outside Dover, food and medicine shortages etc as absurd, with Sir Bernard Jenkins this week comparing such warnings to the fears over the Millennium Bug that turned out to have been fruitless and Jacob Rees Mogg asserting that the UK would thrive by trading under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules while the EU would lose out.
With a global trade war in the background as well, is it any wonder that organisations like the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) and the IoD (Institute of Directors) are complaining about an “information void” that is making contingency planning near-impossible. An IoD survey of 800 business leaders showed fewer than a third had made any Brexit contingency planning because of the uncertainty.
In my view it is precisely at times of extreme uncertainty that SMEs most need to be building their cash reserves and closely monitoring their Management Accounts.  I recommend that holding a surplus of cash offers a safeguard against any unexpected and unwelcome surprises as well as having the resources for what may be some stunning opportunities.
Now, more than ever, businesses need to build resilience into their finances and protect themselves from potential economic storms if they hope to thrive and eventually grow sustainably.