2020 …WHAT….A ….YEAR!! It’s unlikely that anyone will walk away from this year without feeling bruised in some way. With positive news on the vaccine and the real hope of normality in 2021, it’s time to think about the positives we can take away from what was a year like no other.
What did our clients learn?
No denying those initial weeks back in March were hard but our clients shook themselves down and battled on. During those dark months, they learnt the following…
Some clients found they were too reliant on a small number of clients. They had always known this was a risk, but they believed good service in normal times would keep that work secure. The pandemic took this out of their control and one lost client had a significant impact on their business.
Lesson Learnt –
Build a wider client base and monitor reliance on larger clients.
With staff furloughed they found new and more efficient ways of working. For some clients that has meant making redundancies but, in the knowledge, they can build a stronger more efficient business as they grow again.
Lesson Learnt –
Regularly review how we deliver our service and if we could do it better.
It’s easy for overheads to build as you grow your business without checking if you still need them, what level is needed and if you are getting value for money. Of course, property costs are the most obvious with people moving from large offices to hybrid homeworking and smaller spaces. Our clients reviewed everything from marketing spend to IT support to ensure they were as lean as possible.
Lesson Learnt –
Set a regular timescale to review overheads and ensure we are getting value for money.
No-one foresaw the significant loss of business in such a short space of time that we did. Whilst some clients had reserves others did not. The various government initiatives helped several clients through this period, but it has focussed their mind on what they feel is a minimum cash balance.
Lesson Learnt –
Know your monthly income required to remain cash neutral. Build a plan to retain three (or your choice) months’ worth of overheads in cash.
Several our clients recognized new traits in themselves. Personally, I realized I was calm in a crisis and through all our updates had an ability to make the complex simple.
We can all take this new awareness and build on it to help us personally and professionally.
What are your positives?
Reflecting on this, think about the following questions. What can you do with the answers to make your business perform better in 2021?
- What do you know about your business that you didn’t before?
- Do you know what doesn’t work for your business?
- Have you seen any efficiency improvements?
- Do you need to expand your service offering?
- Do you need to build a broader client base?
- What positives can you take away from how you personally reacted to this year?
More about Helen Fleet
Helen Fleet of HF Financial Strategy works as a finance director and guides companies to delivering their financial and business objectives which can include cashflow planning, pricing reviews and ways to improve profitability.
If you’d like to know more about Helen, visit her website here or follow her on LinkedIn.
Setting targets for a business right now feels like an impossible task.
It’s been said before this year that forecasts are pointless because they are so soon out of date. As a result, people assume they don’t achieve anything. Even more so this year, people feel that setting targets when the world changes so much from week to week is a fruitless exercise.
It will not come as a surprise that I disagree.
Why set targets now?
From experience, it seems that forecasts are prepared and targets are set for two main reasons:
- To prepare for differing scenarios of business performance
- To drive a change in behaviour
In 2020 especially, preparing for differing scenarios is key to survival. It enables you to react quickly to changing conditions.
Preparation for changes in business performance
Even before the pandemic, clients looked to a forecast to help them prepare for the what-ifs. It helped them to understand the impact – both good and bad – ahead of time.
The most common priorities have been:
- Planning growth and the related costs – Think recruitment, management investment time, marketing strategy or increased overheads
- Funding – Understanding what funding might be required to grow the business or alternatively needed to fund any reduction in income
- Capacity – Do you have the right level of staffing, how can you manage ebbs and flows
- Scenarios – What would 10% more or less income mean for your profits and cashflow
Once the targets are set, vulnerabilities can be identified and plans to deal with them accordingly.
The next step is to set the detailed objectives required to deliver the targets set.
Driving Behavioural change
Our clients are self-motivated and know what they want from their business. They don’t look to a forecast to drive a change in their own behaviour. However, in cascading those targets to employees, they see it as driving behavioural change throughout the business. This goes far wider than the simplest example where sales targets are linked to remuneration.
Sharing the objectives of the business with staff results in:
- Greater staff retention – Staff are bought into the aims of the business for the year ahead and motivated to help achieve them.
- Reduced pressure – Sharing the objectives of what you want to achieve and the actions to achieve it with staff doesn’t leave all the tasks at your door.
- Quicker results – Shared objectives are achieved more quickly and not bottle-necked with you as the business owner
- Innovative ideas – Openness encourages ideas and staff will contribute new ways of thinking all working to achieve your targets
- Staff objectives – The sometimes-onerous task of writing staff objectives happens organically with the forecast aims cascaded down into the detailed requirements which can be more easily allocated across the workforce
So, with all this uncertainty around – the reason to forecast is to help businesses cope. It enables businesses to plan for the worst and the best and understand the impacts now. Setting detailed targets for you and your staff follows on from the high-level forecast and will help you to achieve your aims.
Get your finances on track with Helen Fleet:
Helen Fleet of HF Financial Strategy works as a finance director and guides companies to delivering their financial and business objectives which can include cash flow planning, pricing reviews and ways to improve profitability.
If you’d like to know more about Helen, visit her website here or follow her on LinkedIn.
Clarity Beats Uncertainty
Remember that round: ‘What Happens Next’ from a Question of Sport?
At the moment, we are all asking that question constantly…
- What changes will there be to lockdown restrictions?
- Will any uptick in revenue stall?
- Will people be able to pay me for work done?
So, to combat all this uncertainty we can at least ensure that we have clarity of where we need to be and the impact of missing or achieving those targets. This way, we can act fast to address any issues – being proactive with cost-cutting, additional funding or growth planning, as required.
When meeting regularly with my clients we look at certain key targets to help them know where they need to be. Let’s take a little look at what these are.
Understanding breakeven will highlight a good from a bad month.
If you are making profits it will trigger a need to ring fence monies for future corporation tax. If you are making losses, then you need to understand the impact on retained earnings (i.e. the profits you have built up over the years).
This is particularly relevant if you take part of your income as dividends. Dividends can only be taken where there are sufficient retained earnings and repeated losses will erode this and so you will need to monitor your position.
Knowing your breakeven will ensure you don’t get to year end without either sufficient provision for corporation tax or having taken illegal dividends.
2. Cashflow Neutral
The income you require to be cash neutral each month may well be higher than your breakeven. This might be due to loan repayments or if you take some of your income through dividends.
Knowing this straight away will help you understand if your bank balance will start reducing and immediately by how much. Clients may not pay straight away but already you have the insight as to how much your cashflow will be impacted even after all invoices are paid.
We also look at the capacity that the current workforce can deliver in terms of income.
This helps in two ways.
Too much resource:
Firstly, we can understand if we have too much resource for current levels of income and assess how long we can support this.
Not enough resource:
Secondly, and on a more positive note, we can see as the business grows when we will need more resource. We can assess whether to employ or outsource and we can do this in advance of hitting capacity thus ensuring service levels are maintained.
4. Bank Balance
Many clients start off thinking just monitoring their bank balance is sufficient.
I can see why they think this way, but this just tells you the here and now and doesn’t help anticipate the impact of loss-making months now. With many businesses having recently taken out Bounce Back Loans their bank balances are currently quite healthy and can, in fact, be masking issues for later down the road.
So, in summary, to grasp back some of that certainty, ask yourself if you know these three figures. With our environment being so uncertain, you at least know where you need to be and the impact of falling short or exceeding it – because clarity beats uncertainty.
About Helen Fleet:
Helen Fleet of HF Financial Strategy works as a Finance Director and guides companies to deliver their financial and business objectives. This can include cashflow planning, pricing reviews and ways to improve profitability.
For more information about HF Financial Strategy, visit her website here or discover more of her guest blogs here.
In March, the general workforce was urged to work from home where possible – to help control the spread of coronavirus. However, despite the guidelines easing in recent weeks, many businesses are yet to make their big return to the office.
Office to Let
It appears that months of enforced working from home has led a number of businesses to consider whether to return to the office at all.
From a financial point of view, it seems like a pretty easy case to weigh up – property costs vs no property costs. However, it’s important to consider the financial impacts of other factors which arise from relinquishing office space.
So, let’s dive in.
Let’s start with the savings: –
Saving the obvious pennies
There is no denying the obvious and giving up your office will save you direct property costs such as rent, rates and insurance as well as direct travel costs (Petrol, train fare etc).
Saving the not so obvious pennies
Aside from those, it will also save you a few pennies elsewhere such as in personal spend with no posh sandwiches and those little trips into town. Saving on travel time should also mean you are less tired from commuting and as a result will likely be more productive during working hours.
What does this mean?
All the above can amount to some serious cash and a large percentage of monthly overheads, they are easy to measure and you will see the cash impact from day one of being office free.
So, can the costs really balance out those savings?
This is not an exhaustive list but factors to consider should include:
As a simple example I use excel a lot (and I mean a lot) and whilst I’ve attended courses, I have learnt the most from my colleagues, their tricks and tips have saved me hours. Sitting next to someone and seeing how they work, how they approach projects and achieve good results can’t all be taught in training courses. Trying to monetise the benefit of being around others is tricky but consider how your team has improved over time due to informal guidance from their colleagues.
Faced with a tricky task or issue, how long will someone spend trying to solve it before it moves from being a useful exercise for them to try to problem solve and become a waste of time. People are more likely to turn to the person in the same room quicker than they are to pick up the phone. The cost of this may be loss of productive time or it may be that the solution reached is not right for your client.
There is no denying some people love to work alone but many of us crave the company of others (and perhaps more so after the last six months). Consider the impact on staff retention if you were to tell everyone to work from home full time from now on. Not everyone has a home conducive to home working – they have made do whilst it has been enforced but it will not be the long-term choice of everyone. The costs of replacing staff are significant including recruitment time, recruitment fees, loss of productivity of the leaver and time to integrate the new starter.
We can zoom and MS Teams all day long but it’s much harder to gauge staff wellbeing through a computer screen. Being with your people and supporting them where necessary will ensure your staff are productive, less likely to need time off and again promote that staff retention figure.
What does this mean?
Unlike the savings element, each of these options are far harder to put a monetary value on – but each one of them will cost you money and time if the balance isn’t right.
Half and Half
The consensus is that a hybrid is needed to suit the needs of the employees but also to balance cashflow pressures in a time when we are recovering from lockdown.
The good news is that good landlords are moving with the times and see the need to move away from strict six- or twelve-month contracts. Some city centre landlords offering three or five days per week options and the flexibility is clearly there.
It really is too easy to look at property costs as the saving and not consider the other significant impacts which in time will too impact your cashflow.
Want to Learn More?
Helen Fleet of HF Financial Strategy works as a Finance Director. She guides companies to deliver their financial and business objectives, which can include cashflow planning, pricing reviews and ways to improve profitability.
If you’d like to discover more about remote working and the HR considerations you should be making, be sure to check out our latest blog: Remote Working – Connection That Transcends Distance.
Businesses are facing many challenges right now as they seek to recover from the shock of the pandemic, recover as best possible and plan for rocky tides that lie ahead. However, perhaps one of the most pressing challenges for businesses post-lockdown is about being lean but not mean.
What am I trying to say?
I am talking about balancing cashflow and the affordability to resource with customer and employee satisfaction.
Many business owners have had staff on furlough and are trying to get the timing right in bringing those staff back to work, whilst others are debating how much temporary resource they might need and when.
How does this impact Customer Satisfaction and Employee well-being?
Two examples I have seen this week…
I am currently going through a house purchase. Our buyer changed solicitor mid-way through the process as the firm had furloughed so many people, he couldn’t get the service he needed.
A client of ours was telling us about her husband who is being asked to carry the work of his department of three; to achieve this, he’s having to work twelve-hour days to keep up. The firm can then maximise their use of the furlough scheme.
In both of these examples, the firms are clearly trying their best to manage cash to preserve their future.
However, the outcome is not good for the business with the first example meaning the solicitor lost the work. In the second, the employee, who is already drained after everything we have all gone through in the last few months, due to worries about job security, is sadly expected to accept this increased workload.
What can you do to get it right?
Plan, plan, plan
Of course, no-one knows what the future holds right now and what the recovery will look like, but you still need to try. Doing so will help to estimate the optimum time at which you will need more resource. My advice; –
- Make your best estimate on what income will look like
- Assess the staffing capacity you need to service this well
- Understand the trigger points in advance on when you need to bring the additional resource into service customers and ensure employee well-being.
Consider Capacity requirements
If you have used the furlough scheme, take advantage of its flexible nature. Remember, you can bring people back on any working pattern now so assess what is right for you.
Consider: is it more efficient to bring people back for one day and get everything done for the week ahead or is a few hours per day more appropriate?
If you use any temporary or outsourced resources, talk to them. Make the situation collaborative and discuss what you need, try to be flexible to ensure they can perhaps top up with work from other sources.
Once you’ve looked at what income you might get, and the resource required then look at your cashflow.
- What does that mean for you as a business?
- Do you need additional funding to get you through the next few months?
The balancing act
It is very hard being a business owner right now.
We are all trying to manage cashflow as best we can in uncertain times. A little bit of planning will ensure you can look after your employees, your client and your bank balance.
Be lean but don’t be mean.
About Helen Fleet
Helen Fleet of HF Financial Strategy works as a Finance Director and guides companies in delivering their financial and business objectives. These can include cashflow planning, pricing reviews and ways to improve profitability.
Follow Helen on LinkedIn here.