Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Coping with a down economy

As promised, here are a few strategies to consider for coping with a down economy. Some of these steps are radical, while others are a more milder form of defense. Implement them according to the conditions you experience in your market area.

  1. Conserve your cash. Don't spend a dime on anything that isn't absolutely necessary to your operation. Examine every personal expense you have to find alternatives to any spending patterns.
  2. Refinance anything and everything you can. Stretch out the payments because getting cash later on will be difficult as more people will apply for loans and banks will become very picky.
  3. Work out a worst-case scenario cash flow projection that projects your company having a decrease in sales. As part of this, determine what expenses will be unavoidable. Look through your cash disbursements. Pre-plan a less expensive alternative to any expense category that you can.
  4. Know your costs well because poor pricing can put you out of business faster. Assume that cost-side pressures caused by a recession will last about two years after a recession is over.
  5. Beef up your advertising/marketing. Everyone else is cutting back. Now is the time to gain "mind share."
  6. Slowdowns mean layoffs. Therefore, new hires become available and are sometimes available at a lower rate of pay than your current rate. Take advantage of that fact.
  7. If part of your fleet is going to be idle for some time, try to store unused vehicles and get a reduced rate of insurance due to non-use.
  8. Selling off assets during a recession is difficult. Nevertheless, selling off unused equipment reduces insurance and registration costs and property taxes. Convert anything you don't need into cash well ahead of any signals that your area will be hard hit.
  9. Apply for credit long before you need it. You may have to "borrow" your future, and banks will raise interest rates on high-risk loans as conditions worsen.
  10. Look deeper in your own markets. Can you offer your current customer base a more diversified line of products and/or services?
  11. Review your business insurance to make sure your premiums have been adjusted for the depreciated value of your vehicles and equipment.
  12. Take a look at your estimated tax payments made to the IRS. Decreased earnings call for decreased estimated tax payments.

Cash is "king" during economic slowdowns no matter how mild or severe. Expect your customers to also feel the effect, which means they will pay you at a much slower rate than during the good times. That's precisely the reason that you'll need additional working capital to finance your receivables if nothing else.

Run a cash flow working capital projection using 60 days, 90 days, 120 days and even up to six months to be paid from some of your customers. How much cash do you need to survive? Find the answer to that question. Prepare and save for that eventuality and you'll be ready for a downturn.

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