This week we have a guest blog from Andrew Miller the author of “Hope Won’t Pay the Wages” www.hopewontpaythewages.co.uk”
Andrew is a local coach who helps business owners through change within their personal and business life. I met Andrew at a networking event and was so inspired that I asked him to share some festive advise for you.
I hope you enjoy his 12 business tips for Christmas…
Tip 1) Keep your eye on the ball
As we approach Christmas, our attention starts to drift towards planning the big day itself, getting presents bought and cards written. So on and so forth. However, the Christmas period can be an extremely tough time for businesses, and not just those in retail who rely on it for their annual turnover.
25th December is a Quarter Day, so many businesses have to stump up their quarterly rent cheque just before the holidays. Combine that with the potential for Christmas bonuses, or other goodwill payments to staff, and outgoings can start to ramp up pretty quickly.
Then, with the Christmas parties and the time off many people want to take between Christmas and New Year, productivity can fall off quite sharply too. With income falling and outgoings rising, this is a period when vigilance is most needed.
So, the first tip, is just be aware of the potential for danger and make sure you have taken these factors into consideration.
Tip 2) Predict your position as much as possible
If you have never forecast in the past, now is the time to do it. It might be difficult to accurately predict the top line, but outgoings should be something you can control with a degree of accuracy. Rents, salaries, utility bills, supplier payments – there shouldn’t be any surprises in here, but make sure you include everything that is likely to be paid out.
For the top line, start with any debtor collections that you are expecting to get in over the next few weeks. Take into account their normal paying patterns and be realistic about what will come in and when.
If you have any potential interest that you are confident will be converted into a sale and paid within the period, put that in a sales line. Or planned deliveries which will need to be invoiced. But it has to be based on cash receipt, not just paperwork.
Then, you can either use knowledge from last year to predict what sales might do, or use the resultant gaps to work out what sales you need to bring in to break even.
Tip 3) Look beyond 31st December
Keep your forecast going all the way, deep into January. Preferably to the end of it. The knock on effect of Christmas can be felt for some time. Naturally, you should be doing this forecasting on a regular basis anyway. This is a good time to start new, good habits.
Tip 4) Identify potential holes
Once you’ve put your best predictions in, you can now use the forecast as a tool to fill in any gaps.
Make sure you have a running total of your resulting bank balance and look out for points where it goes negative or breaks your overdraft limit. These are the problem points that need to be addressed or planned for now.
Tip 5) Look of ways to increase top line
Either increase the amount you get from expected sales or sell more things. Or both. Don’t be afraid to put prices up, especially for customers who desperately need things prior to Christmas. Include higher carriage costs or premium prices to reflect the seasonal rush.
And get payment in advance, in order to secure it.
If you are minded to run a sale to drive up interest, focus on slow moving and less popular stock. There is no point in giving away something that they would have paid for anyway. Even if you are not in a retail business, all the tricks that shops adopt to increase figures can be used by any industry.
Finally, have a look around your office and workplace. Is there anything that you don’t use or need anymore that you could flog off to get some quick cash in. Machinery, vehicles, office equipment. It may not fetch much in an auction or on Ebay, but if it goes towards filling a gap, give it good consideration.
Tip 6) Look at ways of speeding up top line
Consider offering discounts to ensure early payment. Whether that be part of a new promotion, as alluded to in Tip 5) or ringing up existing debtors and just doing a deal. In general terms, you should work on the assumption that, if you haven’t got a cheque out of a company by 14 December, then you won’t get one until the New Year.
Good practice (adjusted to suit your business and customers) is as follows. Make sure you make a brief note of any calls you make, the time of the call, who it is with and what was discussed. So, send out the invoice as normal. Three days later, call their credit controller and check receipt.
“Hi Im ringing up to check you’ve got the invoice we sent out the other day. The post is always tricky at the moment, so thought I’d make sure. You have it? Great, that’s a relief. Yes, you’ll see that payment is due by 14 December, could you tell me as to which payment run this invoice will be included on?”
Don’t finish the phone call until you have some form of commitment. Even if it is just permission to ring them up again later. Then, call again three days before the payment run is due using paperwork as an excuse.
“Hi there. Last time we spoke you said that you’ll be paying invoice no. 12345 on such and such a date. I just wanted to check that there weren’t any issues with paperwork and that you’d processed everything ok. Great. So payment will be made on the 14th. Will that be a morning or evening transaction?”
Feel free to ring again on the morning that payment is due in order to treble check. This process does not guarantee payment, but it keeps you in the mind of the credit controller and makes it very difficult for them if they don’t pay you.
If that does happen, be on the phone first thing on the day after after it was due. You can use their promises as emotional leverage, which might increase your chances of a direct transfer or to send someone round to collect a cheque.
Note that you are entitled to charge statutory interest on any debt that is overdue and your conversations mean that they can’t argue they didn’t know the due date. Plus, if you were to consider legal action, the notes you took will be invaluable.
How hard you drive it is up to you and the relationship with your debtor, but the above process keeps things friendly but assertive and will improve your debtor payments.
Tip 7) Look at ways of slowing down outgoings
Bear in mind that some of your suppliers will be trying to do similar things to you. If you still have a hole in the cash flow approaching, have a close look at which suppliers you are paying. There may be some that are being made out of habit or tradition. Check whether payment is really needed. A lot of subscriptions and renewals come up in early January and they may be for things that aren’t really important in the big picture.
What would really happen if you delayed payment by a month? Or cancelled the membership?
It is common practice to try and push out trade creditors as much as possible, but it should be a tactic of last resort really. If you have to do so, focus on non-essential creditors in the first instance.
Tip 8 ) Look at ways of reducing outgoings
Where payment to creditors are going to have to be made, try adapting an earlier tactic by contact ing creditors and seeking a discount for early payment. With knowledge of what gaps you have in the cash flow, you’ll get a feel for how much a discount you need to get from across the creditors in question.
Also, have a review on what you are spending your money on. Does everything have to be supplied in the quantities and prices that they are?
If there aren’t any minimum order quantities, look into bringing half the amount you normally get so that the timing of the bills gets spread out. The price for an extra delivery may be acceptable if it delays a larger payment.
Check for other suppliers and see if anyone is doing a Christmas discount special, allowing you to get what you need for less. Review your other costs. There may not be too much that you can quickly reduce, but you never know what could crop up. And definitely have a re-read of your employee contracts. If you can legitimately reduce their hours to a three day week or similar, then that would be a good way of saving money without risking jobs.
Tip 9) Build in contingency plans
You’ve moved things around and plugged up the gaps, hopefully. If the gaps are still there and you have no way of filling them, then don’t ignore it and hope all will be ok. You need to take action now. Pick the phone up to your accountant right now and make an appointment to go through your numbers. They should be able to help you from there. If the holes are plugged, have a look at the assumptions that you have made to achieve this, especially in the top line.
If it is based on the assumption that you make, say 100 sales within a certain period, what would happen if you only made 80 sales? Or 60?
Vary the figures a bit and see what results you get. Plan now what you would do if those eventualities were to arise. Would you lay people off? Would you just shut down over Christmas to take out a chunk of cost? Or are there other measures you could take to quickly resolve the situation.
But you are better off planning worst case scenarios now, rather than at the time, should it happen, when everything is panicky and stressful.
Tip 10) Be honest
Be honest with yourself. If there is a serious issue, the wrong thing to do is to give up too early. But look objectively at your business. Is this something that can genuinely work or are you just flogging it for the want of anything else to do? Do you have the fight to continue? Do you have the energy to do what has to be done or is your race spent?
Don’t worry if not. If you won’t be able to do it, stop now. Better that, than to push yourself to an early grave for something you don’t have the heart for.
Don’t worry about bad press/PR. If you need to shut down over Christmas, not great, but if the alternative is to lose jobs, then do it. You may need to make tough decisions, but that is why you’re in charge. If in doubt, think about why you’re doing what you’re doing. What is the bigger picture?
Also, be honest with your staff. If there is going to be a difficult message, don’t hide it from them or pretend something that isn’t.
No-one likes bad news, but evasion of the truth is worse.
Tip 11) Relax over Christmas
Unless you are in an industry where Christmas Day is a working day, it is very important that you take time off and relax as much as possible. At the very least, have your Christmas Day off.
I would suggest the following exercise.
On Christmas Eve, before you go home, reserve about an hour. Write down on a piece of paper, on the left hand side, every single thing that you’ve got a concern, issue or worry about. Throw every single thing you can think of on the page. Then step back and review the list. If it is something that is outside of your control, put a line through it. You can only expend energy on things that you have an influence over, so don’t waste it on anything else.
With the remaining items, it will either be an action or something that needs thinking about. If it’s the latter, alter the item to “Plan how to deal with…”. Which is your action point in respect of it.
Now, on the right hand side, alongside each item, put a date and a time when you will do it. Use your calendar or diary to plan it out and make sure you reserve the time you need to sort it or consider it.
That way, when you go home on Christmas Eve, you will have a specific time when you will consider the issues. That gives given your brain permission not to think about it now. You can then spend the holidays not thinking about work at all. Just enjoying it and relaxing.
Tip 12) Go for a walk on Boxing Day
Assuming you aren’t working on Boxing day and, if thoughts and pressures are starting to creep in, then make sure you go for a walk outside. Preferably by yourself, with the possible exception of the dog if you have one. Take a notepad or your smart phone so you can record down any action points or thoughts.
Use the time to let the mind free up and mull over issues that are going round. Don’t concentrate too hard, just enjoy the scenery and let thoughts and ideas come to you naturally. Jot anything down that makes sense and know that you can build them into your action plan when you get back to work and able to get on with things again.
Bonus Tip 13) Hit the ground running the first day back
Whenever you do get back to work, make sure you get on it straight away. Too often people spend the first few days chatting and recovering from the holiday spirit.
If you have holes to plug and orders to find, you can’t let that time go to waste. All the work you didn’t get in the back half of December needs to be found in the first two weeks of January (on top of the normal January stuff).
You might have to work three times as hard just to get back on track, but if you don’t do it and slip behind, your whole year will start off on the wrong foot and it could take some time to recover.
There are no guarantees in life and no magic wands. However, if you keep focussed on what you’re trying to achieve, consider what pitfalls may arise and put your best efforts into making things work, then you will give you and your business everything anyone could ever ask for.
Have a great Christmas.
Special thanks to Andrew Miller for this weeks blog… author of “Hope Won’t Pay the Wages” available on Amazon. For more info at www.hopewontpaythewages.co.uk”