I read an article yesterday about the failure of many small businesses to receive guidance from their CPA on how to navigate the current economic crisis. It seems that many small business owners don’t understand the capability of their CPA beyond taxes and accounting. In reality we have the ability to provide advice to businesses that can be critical to their survival. CPAs have the needed skills to guide businesses through these tough times. I have developed some recession survival tips that you might find helpful.
Take a lesson from the pilot of US Airways flight 1549 who was forced to land his Airbus in the Hudson River with all the 155 people on board surviving. I think this is a critical lesson when trying to survive in a recession. This is the time to keep your wits about you and keep a level head.
Develop a Plan and a Budget
In uncertain economic times there is no way of knowing what’s going to happen or how bad things might get. In these situations I tell clients to develop a worst case scenario budget. This budget should be a rolling forecast so you are continually projecting your best estimate of what you think will happen and develop. Be conservative on your estimate of sales and revenue and hold the line on expenses. It is critical to monitor and measure your financial performance in all categories, especially cash flow.
Evaluate all opportunities to tighten your level of expenses. I developed a Recession Survival Toolkit that contains extensive information and tips on cost reduction to managing cash flow and obtaining credit. While most businesses are laser focused on controlling payroll, they do this through layoffs. There are multiple ways of containing payroll other than terminating employees. These steps include salary cuts, reduced hours, and vacations without pay to list a few ideas.
Strategic Planning and Thinking
A recession is the time to establishing a strategic plan. I urge clients to create a clear vision of the future realizing there is a lot of uncertainty. It is imperative to be agile and ready to move in different directions with your response to changing conditions. You need to have a number of options so you are not locked in to a narrow strategy. In fact I like clients to have a reasonable range of options because it allows greater flexibility.
Selling and Marketing
I think a number of people fail to think proactively about sales and marketing opportunities during a recession. Managing risk is as much about identifying opportunities as it about looking for things that might produce a negative impact on the company. Companies need to be aggressive with their sales effort because the psychology of recession is taking buyers out of the market. When there are fewer customers it is critical to aggressively pursue maintaining or increasing market share. However, this should not be achieved at the expense of giving up your profit margins. This is when I apply profit focused accounting to match costs with selling price to maximize profit margins. I see too many executives cutting price just to gain volume in contrast to employing all the necessary tools to maintain profitability.
Cash is King
In a recession, cash is king. It is critical to maintain lines of credit and have them available just in case. The key is to maximize your cash conversion efficiency. This concept is focused on turning accounts receivable into cash as quickly as possible and at the same time reducing your investment in inventory. The other component is stretching accounts payable as much as practical without losing discounts or damaging your credit worthiness.
Building Business Value is my approach to building value using proven management methods that preserves shareholder value. A recession is exactly the time to stay with proven management techniques and methodologies. One of my suggestions in this regard is to make sure you have the right people on the bus and in the right seats. Good execution of management fundamentals should be the objective. My final thought is to utilize change management concepts to make sure you don’t get lock into doing things just because of your pre-recession comfort zone.
Lynn Northrup, CPA, CPIM - Lynn's focus is on building business value for both family-owned businesses and other CPAs. I also specialize in lean accounting, process improvement, internal control, and assessment of audit risk. Other accomplishments include publishing two books, development of self study programs for Bisk Education, and an Adjunct Professorship at Villanova University. My wife Jessica and I live in southwestern Colorado and we look forward to contributing to the AccountingWEB community.