Today, business owners find themselves pressed to keep up with uncertain economic conditions. But even in an economic downturn there are opportunities to be had—if you are prepared to take advantage of them. The following tips can help you to assess where you stand and to prepare for the surprises and opportunities the market sends your way.
Plan to not fail
The difference between who weathers the storm well and who doesn’t often boils down to one factor: planning. Although no one sets out to fail, business owners sometimes don’t have explicit enough plans to help them avoid failure. The trick is not only to recognize your challenges, but to create a plan by putting challenges—and potential solutions—in writing.
Write down ten specific challenges that your business faces, along with some possible solutions. The more specific you can be, the better. Some of your challenges may be obvious, but others may require devising some “what if” scenarios to pinpoint potential weaknesses. For example, what if your most important vendor raises prices dramatically—or worse yet, goes out of business?
Reassess budgets and major expenses
Take a look at how you predict expenses and assess whether you’re allowing enough leeway to cover the unexpected. While running a little over budget in one area may not be a crisis, doing so consistently in several areas can quickly drain cash. Allow for a little extra time and money by budgeting pessimistically. A little padding may go a long way.
Consider cutting back on recurring expenses wherever possible. Look at business relationships and obligations and question whether they may hold opportunity for savings. For example, is there room to renegotiate contracts and agreements, such as leases? Chances are you’re not the only one willing to make some sacrifices.
You also may be able to renegotiate payment terms with key vendors. Many vendors will extend trade terms that can allow you to hold on to cash a little longer or that reward early payment with a small discount. You can also gain trade-like terms from vendors without negotiating with the Plum Card® from American Express OPEN®.
Make smart decisions about staff
Salaries and wages are often a huge drain, but cutting staff prematurely can lead to being shorthanded when large projects come in later. And, it’s important to remember that it can be very challenging—and expensive—to find and hire qualified employees when the economy rebounds.
If cutting salaries and wages is unavoidable, look for creative ways to do so without outright layoffs. For most employees, losing a few hours each week will probably be far preferable than losing a job entirely. While even the most loyal employees probably won’t be willing to settle for reduced hours permanently, this temporary tactic could help you through a rough patch.
Build in options for yourself
If your business has the cash to pay routine bills and payroll and buy supplies, it may be in pretty good shape. The real test, however, comes when a business has to come up with cash to cover the unexpected. Having six months’ cash in reserve could be the key to survival.
Each time you’re able to reduce spending in one area or another, consider whether at least a portion of your savings could be diverted into your cash reverses. If you feel building a reserve is an unattainable goal, consult with your accountant or another trusted financial resource to help you devise a workable plan.
While not a replacement for cash reserves, financing can also be an important tool. Just like building reserves, advance planning is the best course for establishing financing, partly because it simply takes time to line up several sources of financing. And it may be better not to wait, as banks and other institutions may be more likely to extend credit to your business before cash gets tight or business slows.
When you do rely on credit, make sure you use it wisely. Short-term financing options such as lines of credit short-term, loans, or credit cards are meant for short-term cash needs. Likewise, long-term or secured loans are intended for the purchase of long-term investments.
In a down economy, being prepared for change is a business’s best asset. Fortunately, small businesses are known for their agility and adaptability. So build a plan and do everything you can to keep enough cash at your disposal, because these moves can also put you in a great position when the economy improves.
Richard Flynn is Senior Vice President and General Manager for American Express OPEN.