Avoiding a Financial Crisis – How to Keep Your Small Business Alive

Having a superb product, soaring sales and stupendous customer service are undoubtedly some of the things which go into making a successful business. But all of this is irrelevant if you suffer a financial crisis. Without a sound stable financial position the slightest shock can be enough to send your business crashing to the ground.

So what can you do to ensure that all your hard work is not in vain? What can you do to make sure that a financial crisis doesn’t rock the boat or even sink it? Let’s take a look at what can cause these jolts and, more importantly, what you can do about it.

Poor Record Keeping and Administration

Business owners are usually not good record or bookkeepers! People who start businesses are the ones who have great ideas, see a gap in the market or have the personality to sell anything. They are not people who jump out of bed in the morning and say “Great, it’s a VAT and paperwork day today!”
If you are to keep your business on the straight and narrow then you have to accept that there are going to days like this; you can’t avoid it. You must keep records of your sales, your purchases, how much you have, how much raw material or finished goods you hold.

Without these records you will very quickly lose track of where you are. You won’t know:

What you have spent your money on

You won’t know where your cash is going

You won’t know where all your stock is – has someone stolen it? Who knows?

You are effectively working in the dark and this is not conducive to financial stability. So what sort of records are we talking about? Nothing sophisticated. It can be as simple as a book with one page for your income and another for your expenditure. At least once a month total it all up to see how money you have made (I hope!). There’s a saying. ‘The people who keep records are the people who break records’ – so true.

Not Watching Your Bank Balance

Do you know exactly what your bank balance is today? Why is it important? Because if you are going to write a cheque you must know whether you have the money on your account. If you don’t that nasty Bank Manager may just bounce it.

Obviously this can have a negative effect on your reputation; your credit will be damaged and you may struggle to get support from your Bank and suppliers in the future. All because you didn’t check what your balance was.

To avoid this make sure you keep a running total in a cash book of what you have on your account. Why not sign up for Internet Banking? These days all the High Street Banks make this facility available, so there is no excuse for losing track of where you stand.

Poor Cash and Credit Management

Closely linked to keeping an eye on your Bank balance is how you handle your cash flow. There are 3 aspects to this.

1. Don’t be tempted to keep too much at your home or on your business premises. You could lose it to thieves, fire or flood.

2. If you are doing ‘business-to-business’ sales then you may be faced with having to sell on credit. If so then be disciplined in chasing up any outstanding payments. You can’t afford to be embarrassed about asking for a cheque. If you have agreed 1 month credit, why wait for 3 months? Chase as hard as you can because remember you have your own debts to pay!

3. You may be lucky to have a period of credit granted by the people you buy from. If they give you one month’s credit, then stick to it. If you decide to hold onto your bills before paying you may be faced with a Solicitor’s letter. Don’t ignore the problem and hope the phone calls will go away – they won’t!

No Cost Controls

To keep yourself in a strong financial position shop around for purchases you have to make. Compare prices and specifications. Have an upper limit beyond which you will not pay. Always be on the lookout for a good deal.

Spending On the Wrong Things

Running your own business can be a very powerful feeling! You may be tempted to spend on anything but the business – a new car, flash clothes, a new kitchen. Well, you have to look the part don’t you?

During the early years and even when you are established make sure you spend your hard earned cash on the right things. The trappings of success may not be right at this stage of your business life. Your business, in order for it to grow, needs cash. Remove the cash and you remove the life blood which keeps your business alive.

You have to be disciplined in your expenditure and ask yourself the question, ‘Will this cost add anything to my business?’. Don’t act on impulse; go away and think about every large expenditure. If the answer to the question is no, then you should think twice about spending.

Failing To Make Cuts in Time

Failing to make the necessary cuts to ensure the survival of your business is something you cannot afford to do. If you spot you have a problem do something about it! Don’t sit back and hope things will get better; the chances are it won’t.
If you have product or service which is not performing and it’s costing you money don’t try and dress it up – be ruthless and cut it out. Make your decision quickly; don’t hang about. Not acting fast will only compound the problem.

Depending On a Small Number of Customers

Having a small number of customers is not a problem when everything is going well, but if one or two leave you or fail to pay up on time, then this can cause problems.
If you depend on 3 customers and one of them leaves then you are faced with a 33% reduction in sales. Unless you can replace him immediately you may not be able to cut your overheads quick enough to avert any crisis.

You cannot afford for your business to be held to ransom. Try and diversify as much as you can. Get out there and get new customers.

The same applies to businesses which rely on only one or two products. A shift in public tastes can leave you high and dry with unsold stock and no business!

Not Having a Budget

One good financial discipline is to have a budget. At the beginning of each year sit down and, based on your previous year’s income and expenditure, set new targets. Look to see where you can cut back in expenditure or even what to cut out all together.

Armed with your budget you will have a guide to work to. This will be a second check before you make any large unnecessary purchases.

Having a budget will provide discipline to your expenditure. At the end of every month up date it by including your actual income and expenditure then compare your budget with the actuals. Going through this exercise will give you more focus and what your business is doing. It can help you put things right by highlighting the problem areas.

No Contingency Plan In Place

Bigger businesses need to have a contingency plan for all parts of the business. A contingency plan is basically a plan which answers the question, “What would we do if this happened …?”
What is your “if”? What if you lose your premises? What if your computer goes down?

For a small business the biggest risk is you! What would happen to your business if you fall ill or even die? Most small businesses are totally dependent on the owner. You do everything!

If you are ill enough for one or two months that you can’t work who will see to the customers? Who will get new ones? Who will see to the paperwork? Who will collect the money owed to you?
These are important questions you must answer now. You have to identify someone who could fill in for you if you are to avoid a potential financial crisis. Your next step is to write a manual on how your business works, and outlining all the key processes. If something does happen then at least there is a path to follow!

Not Talking To Your Bank Manager

As soon as most people see a financial crisis looming the person they try and avoid most is their Bank Manager! If they see him walking on the same side of the road they will cross to avoid bumping into him.

The Bank Manager is usually the first person you should speak to. Bank Managers like to be kept up to date with what is happening in your business. They don’t like surprises. It’s when they are kept in the dark they make decisions that can have a major impact on your business.

You must resolve to talk to your Bank Manager the moment you suspect there is a problem. Who knows, he may surprise you by offering to do something to help!

Financial problems can usually be avoided by taking a step back from the business and thinking about what can go wrong. Once you know that, then you can take actions to put preventative measures in place before it’s too late.

Why Your Small Business Needs a Corporate Identity Package

If you’re like many small business owners, you might be wondering just what a corporate identity package is. And if you already know what it is, you might be wondering why your small business would need one. After all, you’re just a small business, not one of those big corporations. What’s in it for you?

Just as the name implies, a corporate identity package identifies your company to potential clients, suppliers and the general public. It includes your business name, small business logo, your logotype (just a fancy way of saying how things are placed, which font you use, spacing, and other things like that) your motto or company slogan, and associated printed material– your business card, and letterhead, envelope and forms.

When you started your small business, you might have dreamed of becoming more than just another small business. Maybe you even dreamed about becoming a big business some time in the future. And even if you’re a completely practical entrepreneur and didn’t have those dreams, you need to attract customers in order to keep your small business open. A corporate identity package can help you do that.

Write a couple of big corporations, ask a question and request a business card. They’ll send your answer on their letterhead, in their company envelopes, and include a company business card. If you take a moment or two to look at big corporations’ identity packages, you’ll soon notice a few important things in common.

Their corporate identity package looks professional. What makes a big corporation look professional? I think one key is simplicity. Generally, a large corporation has a simple symbol or even just graphically represents their name as their logo. Take the Coca-cola logo for example. Or Toyota. Or Cameco Corporation. They’re all very simple.

When you look at their corporate identity package, you see quality. They use only high quality printing services and paper. Sure, that’s going to cost a little more, but it’ll be worth it in the end because its an integral representation of your small business’ image. You could print your corporate identity package yourself using your home printer, lightweight paper and business card templates, but how is that going to look? Will that produce the professional image you’re after?

Their logotype is consistent. Big businesses use exactly the same color for their logo and their background every time. They use consistent fonts. Their slogan for example, would consistently be in Times New Roman, never a different font or even a similar font, but exactly the same font, and always in the same proportion to the logo. Spacing is consistent. Spacing between letters and between lines is also always exactly the same proportion. Their secret is designing in vector form so their logo can be enlarged or reduced without changing proportion.

Their corporate identity package matches exactly. Their letterhead, envelopes, business cards all match. And if you ordered something from them, the invoice and the statement you’d get at the end of the month would match too. Perfectly.

Here’s another reason to take a little time to look at big corporations’ identity packages: you can use what they do to create an identity for your own small business. What they do works, and they do big business, so if you want to do big business too, why reinvent the wheel? Copy what they’ve done. No, I don’t mean you should copy another company’s logo. Just copy the way they’ve done things. Take their ideas and use them.
You probably don’t have the luxury of spending the amount of dollars a big corporation does on their identity. In fact, they sometimes spend millions on their corporate identity. So how do you get a professional look at a small business price?

You can do it yourself or you can hire a design professional to do it for you, sometimes at minimal cost, or even free. Here’s one idea. You can sometimes find good student graphic designers who’ll design your logo for you in exchange for allowing them to put it in their portfolio. In any case, if they do charge you a fee, it will be a whole lot less than what a professional graphic designer would charge. Besides it’ll feel good to be helping a “poor student”.

So, why should you have a small business identity package? What’s in it for you? If you do it right; if you have a corporate identity package that looks professional, is of high quality, has a consistent logotype, and matches perfectly, you’re going to look just like the big guys even if you’re the smallest business in town.

And if you look like the big guys, you just might have a chance to play with the big guys. And what if, just what if, your corporate identity package helped you, even just a little, to realize the dream you had of someday owning a big business when you started your small business?

Common Mistakes Small Businesses Make and How To Avoid Them

Unfortunately very few start up businesses make it beyond their 3rd year. Failure is usually down to a number of clearly identifiable mistakes, which if small business owners are aware of, can increase their chances of survival.

Here are the top 10 common mistakes which small businesses tend to make.

Lack of Market Research

When a budding entrepreneur comes up with an idea for a new business he assumes that because he would buy such a product or service then everyone else will. This may be the case for day-to-day necessities but for other items this is usually not so.

It’s important that when you start up you carefully research the market to check that:

o There is demand at a level which would lead to a sustainable business

o People are prepared to pay the price required for you to make a decent profit

Undertaking market research may appear time consuming but the effort will pay off.

Poor Record Keeping

Some business people are not born administrators; they feel more comfortable getting out there and ‘doing the business’. Paperwork is too easy to ignore but can never be put off indefinitely.

Sales, purchases and other expenditure must be carefully documented, so you know whether you are making a profit or not. Invoices must be issued on time and chased up promptly if there is a delay in payment. It’s all very well having the sales but poor record keeping can hold you back.

Having your paperwork in order will also save you time when it comes to your accountant doing your year-end books!

Insufficient Capital

When starting off it’s easy to decide what capital is required for fixtures and fittings, machinery and stock. What many new business owners forget about is the cash needed to fund day-to-day requirements, i.e. cash to pay expenses before your customers pay you. This is known as your working capital requirement.

Small businesses can fail because they have insufficient cash to start off to meet these immediate expenses. If you wish to survive make sure you set aside enough cash to meet all your needs for the first few months.

Ineffective Marketing Or None At All

You cannot afford to treat the cost of marketing as an unnecessary expense. A business with no marketing is like waving in the dark – you know you are doing it but no one else does!

There are many ways to promote your business on a small budget; it’s just a case of being inventive and creative. What ever you do, don’t assume that people will quickly know you are in business – they won’t, unless you tell them.

Ingoring Changes In The Market Place

As a small business owner it’s very easy to get immersed in your business and not see what is happening around you in the market place. Always keep your eyes and ears open to what the competition is doing and what your customers want. Don’t get left behind.

Owner’s Attitude

Attitude is everything in business. Don’t forget that the real boss in your business is the customer. Running a business may make you feel important but don’t let this develop into an ‘I am better than you’ attitude. Do this and you will quickly chase your customers away.

Spending On The Wrong Things

Being in business can be exciting, especially as the cash starts to roll in! However, don’t be tempted to spend it on a new car, a house or just a good time. If you are to own a successful business then you have to keep some cash back to fund future growth. A business cannot grow without cash, so commit to spending business money on the business.

Dependent On A Small Number Of Customers

Don’t fall into the trap of setting up a business just because one person says they will buy from you every week or month. Setting up and running a business, which is dependent on one customer, is not a recipe for success. What happens if, one month after you have spent all your cash to set up your business, that customer says he has changed his mind and has decided to buy elsewhere? Unless you can find other customers very quickly you are faced with closure.

Before embarking on a new venture make sure you have a sufficient number of customers such that if a few go elsewhere you can still continue trading.

Growing Too Quickly

Surprisingly, growing too quickly can be a problem. You have to be disciplined enough to only take on work you can handle. If you are tempted to accept too much you could end up disappointing not only the new client but also your existing ones.

Also, don’t under-estimate the impact rapid growth can have your administrative burden. As I mentioned earlier, getting behind on the paperwork can have an equally damaging effect on your business.

Trying To Do Everything

Finally, the problem most small business owners have is the fact that everything falls on their plate. Inevitably this is how it’s likely to be in the beginning, when the limited budget means that staff are a luxury, but as the business grows be aware that you cannot continue to do all tasks. There will come a point when you become inefficient and not have enough time to complete everything in sufficient detail. Taking on an extra pair of hands will increase your costs but you will be surprised at how much time will be saved, allowing you to do what you do best – getting the business in.

Take a look at each of the mistakes and make sure that you don’t fall into these traps.