Technology

Why Does a Fast Growing Company Bleed Cash?

The irony of growing a company quickly is that it tends to bleed cash, and a lot of it. Why is this so and what can you do to prevent a cash crunch to keep the momentum going?

A fast Growing company is likely to spend more money to feed the growth of the business then a mature, slow-growing business in such areas as marketing, employees, technology, equipment, improvements, rent, and so on. The key to not going broke is to manage the process to keep the cash inflows consistent and much greater than the cash outflows. For example:

Accounts receivable: Sales growth without receiving money coming in will be awfully painful. Make sure you have billing and collection procedures in place to keep the cash coming in timely.

Marketing: There are different thoughts on how much should be spent on marketing as a percentage of sales. However, instead of thinking about percentages, think about effectiveness of your marketing so that your cash is not wasted.

Improvements & equipment: Building out a new location can be very costly, but there are several ways to minimize the risk of setting up an additional location. First, make sure that your first location is profitable and producing excess cash flow, second, build up a cash cushion, and third, obtain favorable financing or use a combination of cash and financing.

Employees: As sales increase there is a temptation to quickly hire more employees, which is necessary. However, if you hire too quickly, then the productivity of each employee will be too low for you to make a profit. A good strategy is to create metrics, that if met, will let you know that it is time to hire another employee or employees.

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You Get What You Pay For

I like a good deal when I see one, but be careful about going for the “cheap” price. Generally, you get what you pay for and many times it ends up costing you more and you either don’t realize this or realize it once it’s too late. Even commodity type services and products are not really commodities and here are a few examples:

Service providers: The pricing of service providers varies drastically, and includes virtually all services from home maintenance/contractors to professional service providers. Maybe you can find a good deal because the provider is newer in business and is under charging on purpose or is doing so out of poor business practices. However, a “cheap” service provider, especially one that you use repeatedly, will find it hard to provide quality service to you over time. This can be due to a high demand because of low prices, not being able to afford good, competent employees, and not having additional funds to invest in their business.

Products: If you are able to get the same product or software when it is on sale, then that is plain smart. However, when comparing two products, make sure that you understand why one is cheaper than the other. Reasons for a lower price can be because the product uses poor materials, is manufactured poorly, or does not contain a lot of features. The opposite can be true for a more expensive product, which is why you need to make sure that you purchase wisely.

Cost/benefit analysis: When making a purchase for your business, especially a large or important purchase, then weigh the cost/benefit. For example, a consultant may cost you $5,000, but you may expect that his advice will return $50,000 of profit. Alternatively, a software provider may cost you $10,000, but will save you $20,000 of expenses, including salaries. The examples are endless, and it is important to think of each expense as an investment in your business.

Don’t be fixated on price, but make sure that you understand what you are getting for the price you pay. A funny expression is, “If you pay peanuts, then you get monkeys!”

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What is a Growing Business Doing Differently than a Struggling One?

There are major differences between the actions of a business owner with a growing business versus that of a struggling business. There seems to be a recurring theme for growing and struggling that closely mimics those who are fit and healthy versus those who struggle with their weight.  The accumulation of certain actions will greatly impact the outcome as follows:

Successful Businesses:

Hire smart and delegate: Business owners who are willing to take on additional employees will find that they are better able to increase sales due to additional capacity. They also do not over do it by hiring too many employees at once compared to needs, which ends up causing cash flow issues.

Invest in infrastructure: This not only includes the physical infrastructure, such as buildings, but also technology and equipment. Have you noticed that franchised restaurants update their locations quite often and do not hesitate to invest in technology and equipment?

Are reluctant to use debt: Debt can easily overwhelm your business even if you are growing rapidly. Although debt can be useful if used for the right reasons, it must be used sparingly and wisely to avoid pitfalls. As a business matures, then the goal should be to rely less on debt to support business operations. Why do you think the interest rates and payment terms are much different with traditional financing versus non-traditional loans, such as merchant loans or hard-money loans?

Seek advice: There are different ways of learning and some are more efficient and effective than others. One way to shortcut your success is to seek the advice of those who know more than you and then implement their suggestions. It sounds easy, but our pride tends to get in the way.

Struggling Businesses:

Are obsessed with cutting expenses: This may come as a surprise, but many struggling business owners are obsessed with cutting expenses. My only guess is that they do not see the link between smart spending to support profitable business operations. They are also penny wise and pound foolish and spend enormous amounts of time trying to save a few bucks, which ends up costing more.

Think that debt is THE answer: Debt may be a part of the solution, but it is not the answer to all of your business problems. Examples of problems that debt will not solve are: a lack of sales, overly burdensome expense structure, too many employees for the size of the business, and bad customer service.

Have an excuse and don’t listen to reason or reality: The economy is by far the most common excuse, along with “nobody buys this anymore” or “no one has time to do that anymore.” They may be right to an extent, but what about when the economy has turned around? If your customers have changed their buying trends, then why don’t you adjust your strategy as well? If you don’t change then you will prove yourself to be correct, but at a major cost to your business.

The probability of becoming a growing business will increase if you take the actions of growing business, while the odds of struggling will increase if you take the actions of a struggling business.

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5 Traps to Avoid When Growing Your Business Rapidly

Growing your business, especially growing rapidly, can be a really great accomplishment, but there are dangers when growing too quickly. Here are several traps to avoid to ensure successful growth:

Cash flow: Quite often, a small business will have cash flow issues when growing too rapidly. This is due to a delay of getting paid, while expenses need to be paid for upfront or before getting paid. There are 3 solutions that can help depending upon your situation. The first is to see if you can obtain terms with your suppliers to delay expenditures, second is to obtain a line of credit to support your receivables, and third, which tends to be the hardest, is to build up a cash cushion first.

Finances: As you grow your business, the financial aspect becomes even more crucial to your success. This entails a focus on investing in more robust accounting software, accounting staff and/or accounting services, streamlined processes and procedures, and internal controls, to name a few.

Employees and management structure: Unless you enjoy working 24/7, you need capable managers to manage your employees (you have been hiring more employees, right?). It is easier to have a few people reporting directly to you then several dozen. Also, make sure to acknowledge and reward the loyal employees that helped you to obtain your success.

Personal time and wellness: It is very easy to put in excessive hours to handle the massive growth of your business. There will be times when you need to work extra, but if this becomes the norm then it is easy for your personal relationships to suffer, along with a decline of healthy habits.

Infrastructure and organization: This applies not only to the physical nature of your business, but especially your operations. Have you outgrown the physical space that you occupy? Are you using equipment, technology, or IT that is not keeping up? Are your vendors and advisors able to handle the growth of your business? What about marketing and marketing staff? These are all areas to consider; otherwise, they will act as barriers to your growth.

Growth needs to be profitable, stable, and smart; otherwise, your results can easily go in the opposite direction that you intended. Think long-term, strategically, and surround yourself with the appropriate advisors to help you along your journey.

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5 Ways Your Calendar Will Help You to Work Less Hours

Are you using your calendar as a tool to be as productive as possible? Most people do not use their calendar in a way to maximize its effectiveness, but if used properly, it can help you to reduce the amount of hours you work. Here are 5 ways your calendar can help you to work less:

Scheduled tasks get done: When a task is scheduled there is a high probability that it will get worked on. Have you ever had the feeling that you did not get anything accomplished on a particular day? The main cause is most likely due to not having tasks scheduled.

Allocation of time: How much time should you allocate for a specific task or meeting? By allocating specific time slots and durations, this will help to alleviate the open-endedness of meetings and tasks. Parkinson’s Law states “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

Batching of activities: Similar activities may benefit by scheduling them close together or within the same day(s). For example, new clients or patients may need a much longer time slot for an appointment, which can all be scheduled on a specific day.

Schedule key tasks early on: Important, but usually not urgent tasks, should be scheduled first thing in the morning or early in the week. There is a constant pull for your time and if you do not focus on important items first, then you may never get to them.

Long-term planning: A calendar can include tasks that are several weeks or months in the future. This can include both tasks and meetings. If you can plan your vacation months in advance, which is very important, then you can and should plan business tasks well in advance also.

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When Should Your Parents Stop Being Involved in Your Financial Affairs?

Our parents raised us and shaped who we are today, and there is probably nothing that we can do in comparison to what our parents did for us, except for perhaps raise our own children well. But, when should our parents stop taking charge of our finances, career and/or business?

It is a good for us to always seek counsel from our parents, especially on matters that they may have more experience with or needed expertise. Even when we are in our fifties it is wise to communicate financial issues with a knowledgeable parent. However, make sure to separate having trust in someone versus their ability to competently advise you.

Once you are in the workforce and are an adult, then you need to deal with your employer directly. Several examples have been shared with me regarding parents contacting their adult child’s previous employer over payroll issues. Even worse is that in those situations the adult child was a professional that advises others! Again, feel free to seek the advice of your parents, but do not have them act as your “proxy.” I can just picture this now, “This is Mr. Smith, and I am calling to let you know that Timmy will not be at work today because he is under the weather. Please cancel his meetings with the executive vice-presidents of Fortune 500 Co.”

Sometimes you may own and operate a business and employ one of your parents, which does happen occasionally. Your parent may be able to give you insight that you are not seeing regarding employees, customers, or finances. However, unless you hired your parent as a strategic advisor because they have developed successful companies in the past, or the CEO, which small business owners actually are, then your parent should not be actively deciding the direction of the company or connections with key people.

Anecdotally, it seems that adults who enforce boundaries with their parents make better financial decisions, are more successful, and have more confidence.  I’ll let the psychologists further elaborate on this topic.

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Will Outsourcing Create Higher Profits?

When we think of outsourcing, we immediately think of manufacturing goods overseas or customer service reps with thick accents reading from a script. Even with all of the negative images of outsourcing, should you still outsource parts of your business or even vital functions? Here are some pros and cons:

Pros of Outsourcing:

Potentially lower costs and better service: Most small businesses do not have the need or resources to have an in house bookkeeper, biller, receptionist, administrative assistant, IT professional, or even your business operations. When outsourcing these roles you can generally get a high level of expertise without the cost of having a full-time or even part time employee. There are probably many businesses that you interact with that outsource some or all of their operations that you are not even aware. Examples include: dry cleaners outsourcing all or some of their operations, restaurants outsourcing their desserts, professional services firms outsourcing to other firms or overseas, and online retailers outsourcing their distribution and fulfillment centers to Amazon. Even your local ice-cream shop probably doesn’t make its own ice-cream.

Continuity: If you choose a good outsourcing partner then you do not have to worry about staffing issues or purchasing and repairing equipment. This helps to ensure that your business operations do not experience major hiccups.

Cons of Outsourcing:

Ironically, some of the reasons for outsourcing can also be the same reasons for not outsourcing.

Potentially higher costs and worse service: An outsourcing partner may actually cost you more than having the task or operations in house, and a cost-benefit analysis should be prepared to see if it makes sense to outsource. Other outsourcing factors to consider are the quality of the task or operations being performed, lack of knowledge of your particular business, and a lack of customers knowing and interacting with your staff.

Continuity: What if a major outsourcing partner makes a change to their policies that adversely affects your business so that you cannot rely on them anymore? If you don’t have another alternative then you may not actually be in business anymore. Also, company culture plays a large role in the success of your business, which is generally lacking from your outsourcing partner.

Outsourcing may be beneficial to the growth of your business after carefully weighing the pros and cons. Sometimes outsourcing may just be a temporary solution until you have the capability to perform the outsourced function in house.

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Want a Better Business? Focus on Recurring Revenues!

There are more ways to make money in business that can be listed. However, one mostly overlooked business model by a majority of small businesses is the recurring revenue model. Larger businesses already know this and are taking advantage of the benefits. Here are some pros and cons and how to implement the recurring business model:

Pros: Recurring revenues, specifically monthly recurring revenues, provide a steady stream of predictable cash flow. Since you can easily predict your income you can plan ahead for the amount of expenses needed to support your revenues, such as employees, technology, supplies, inventory, etc. This will in turn significantly lower your expenses and help to increase your profit margin. Additionally, a business with recurring revenues has a much higher value than one-shot deals. Think homebuilder (one-shot) vs. a subscription service like Netflix (monthly revenues).

Cons: Many small business owners love the large payments that they receive when they land a one-time or short-term project, which do not exist with the recurring revenue model for the most part. It can take time to build a recurring revenue business, but an existing business should realistically be able to see a massive change with a one year period.

How to Implement: Take a look at the services and/or products that you provide, and determine which ones can be modified to fit the recurring revenue model. For example, a marketing company that helps clients with social media can develop a package to perform certain tasks each month in exchange for a recurring monthly fee.  Virtually any business can turn at least a portion of their business into recurring revenues

The recurring business model is not costly or difficult to implement, but rather a low-risk, high-reward activity. It takes courage and openness to change your business, but it will be worth it.

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Small Business, Large Profits

All small business owners want to increase sales, open new locations, obtain more customers, add employees and grow, grow, and grow some more. It sounds good, but is it really necessary? Is there an alternative?

Necessity: It is necessary to grow your business as the alternative isn’t too appealing. You have financial obligations and people that depend upon you, such as family, employees, and customers. So, yes, it is necessary, however, here is a different view on growth.

Focus on profitability: If you double your profit margin then this has the same impact as doubling the sales of your business. Even if you increase the profit margin by several percentage points then it has the same impact as increasing sales. It sounds too easy, but here are some ways to do this:

  1. Decrease the number of services/products. Spreading yourself too thin usually decreases your profitability because it is hard to do everything well.
  2. Service the proper clients by targeting a more defined niche.
  3. Use marketing methods that only target the customers that you want to serve.
  4. Plan ahead for large purchases or investments, including space requirements, people, vendors, equipment, and technology.
  5. Price your products and services properly.

The interesting fact is that when you are more profitable, then each additional dollar of business is worth more to you, which makes it easier to actually grow further.

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How Long Should You Save Your Tax Returns and Financial Records?

The IRS says that you should normally keep your records for 3 years, and for some situations you should keep them for 6 to 7 years. However, I strongly disagree and here is what you should do and how to do it:

Tax returns: Do you want to know the prudent answer to how long you should save your tax returns? Until you are dead, and even then your heirs should probably keep them until years after the estate is settled. Why should you do this even though the IRS has 3 years to audit your returns and 6 years if you under report more than 25% of your income? Here are several real-world practical reasons:

  1. It is far too common that the State of New Jersey will send a letter to you stating that you never filed a tax return from more than 10 years ago. Additionally, if you are selling your business, trying to obtain a specific license, dissolving a business, or for any number of reasons, then the State will perform research to see if you filed all of your tax returns. Even though the State may be wrong, you will still generally need to file the returns.
  2. Information carries over from year to year. As your tax return becomes more complex, your income tax information tends to carry over for many years, such as investment losses and rental property purchases.
  3. A safe way of storing your tax returns is to keep both digital and hard copies.

Financial records/receipts: What if social security has incorrect information about your earnings from 25 years ago? If you have the actual records then you can prove your case more easily. This includes tax information, such as W-2’s and paystubs. Here are some timeframes based on the types of documents:

  1. Tax documents should be saved forever, just like you save your tax returns. This especially relates to business tax records. Brokerage statements should be included as part of your tax information as they contain purchase price information.
  2. Bank and credit cards statements can be discarded after a few years. However, if they contain tax information or are connected to a business or real estate, then you should save them forever.
  3. Utility bills can be discarded after about 6 months. Sometimes you need these to prove your residency, but the timeframe needed is generally a few months.
  4. ATM and purchase receipts can be discarded once you view the transaction on your bank statement or online. However, when purchasing from a restaurant, you should make sure that the amount after a tip is accounted for actually settles, which can take several days.
  5. Receipts for improvements to your home or for large business purchases should be saved forever.
  6. If you are short on physical space then save your records electronically, but make sure that you have a cloud backup.

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