It has been more than a couple of months since Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. No later than April 2019, Britain should officially exit the European Union. This transition period is expected to be quite turbulent as demonstrated by the dramatic fall in the value of the GBP since the Brexit vote last year. While the government has eased interest rates in order to boost the economy, business confidence in the country has continued to weaken.
Uncertainty in the economy is never good news for business owners. Consumers no longer buy as much as they usually do and this hurts a business in terms of revenue. Cashflow is affected too since your vendors may now start demanding upfront payment or may at least stop offering generous credit periods like they once did. This hits your working capital which may necessitate your business to seek short term loans that often come with high interest rates. All of this has a cascading effect on the economy in general and your business in particular.
The first thing that a business owner must do under such circumstances is to maintain a steady working capital and cashflow. This way, one could make sure that the business survives the turbulent times till the economy picks up once again.
Pay As You Go (PAYG)
The easiest way to improve your cashflow situation is to cut down on excesses. Do you have a chauffeur-driven office car? Use Uber instead. Do you pay a monthly retainer to your PR agency or lawyers? Try to exit this arrangement and pay them by the hour when necessary. This is, of course, assuming that you do not need your agency or lawyers round the clock in which case it makes sense to have them on a retainer. The idea here is to bring down the outgoing cost wherever possible by paying just for usage.
Fixed Cost Alternatives
The PAYG model can backfire in some instances. Take your company’s website hosting for instance. A sudden increase in traffic could shoot up your bills beyond your monthly budget and this can hurt your cashflow. As Henrik Printzlau, CTO of Templafy writes, such fixed cost subscriptions “make it easy for you to win certainty over software expenses and allow you to budget your business purposes without any hidden money pits.”
Choosing between a PAYG model and a fixed cost alternative essentially boils down to your specific needs. If you have a hundred percent utilization of the product or service in question, then it is advisable to pick a fixed cost solution. On the other hand, if you will only need the product or service for a few hours a day, then it is good to choose a PAYG alternative. If the utilization percentage of the product itself is uncertain (such as web hosting), then it is better to err on the side of caution and pick a fixed cost solution.
Incentivize up-front payment
The biggest threat to your cashflow comes from the non-payment of dues from customers. This is exacerbated in an uncertain economy since businesses you transact with may shut down, or may have not been paid by customers they work with. This messes up the cashflow for everyone who is higher up in the chain. The ideal fix to this problem is to do away with credit periods. But this may not be practical all the time. A better solution is to create incentives for customers who pay up-front. For instance, you could offer a 5% discount on the invoice if the customer pays up-front. This is a win-win for both parties since the customer can now enjoy lower cash outflow while you can benefit from a predictable inflow of cash.
Managing contracts and retainers
The way to achieve healthy cashflow during uncertainties is by maximizing your predictable cash inflow and minimizing your outflow. The PAYG and fixed cost solutions mentioned earlier in this article primarily deal with cash outflow - the money you pay your vendors, attorneys, staff and for resources. This may require you to end contracts or retainers that you have signed up for with various partners. But while this is true on the supply side, businesses must move towards more contracts and retainers on the demand side of the chain. By pushing your customers to sign an annual contract or hire you on a retainer basis, you establish a cash inflow process that is a lot more stable and predictable.
The mantra to surviving a business uncertainty is simple - minimize outflow and maximize inflow. A sustainable working capital helps you tide over any uncertainties and ensures that your business survives to profit from a booming economy that is not a long time away.