A great way to start 2021 is to take a fresh look at your business finances. Many things changed in 2020, and if you are in the habit of spending on the same items year after year, it’s the perfect time to decide what is essential and what can go.

There are only a few ways to increase profits when you think about it in black and white terms. You can either raise revenues or cut costs. Let’s take a look at where we can potentially cut costs.

Publications

These expenses tend to be monthly or yearly, and we tend to just let them automatically renew time after time. But do we really need them? Take a look in your Dues and Subscriptions account to evaluate what you really need to stay informed, and cancel the rest.

Memberships

If you are a member of an organization or two, what benefits are you getting from your investment? Does it raise revenue for you? Do you use everything the membership offers? If not, it might need to go on the chopping block.

Memberships are especially tricky if the organization provides a local meeting component as a benefit and your state or county has been shut down. There’s a tradeoff right now between supporting the organization so that it’s still there when we can freely meet again and being responsible about your own business costs.

Office/Store Rent

With many employees working from home, the question has come up in many businesses about how much space they really need. As leases expire, consider how much space you really need. Some employees may love to work from home permanently, which frees up space.

Retail stores that have moved their business online may be able to cut back on customer-facing space but might need more inventory storage space. A restaurant that has successfully transitioned to pickup and delivery orders might be able to get by with a smaller seating area.

Software Apps

Are you paying for any technology applications that you are simply not using?  This is a good place to look for cuts.

Some applications charge by number of contacts.  Keeping your lists clean inside these apps will avoid increases and cut costs in some cases.

Office Supplies

Do you really still need things like staplers and scissors on everyone’s desk? If your business is going paperless, you can save a lot on office supplies.

Printing

Do you need to spend money on printing, or can the printed item be delivered electronically?

Shipping/Postage

While information can be delivered electronically, physical goods still need to be shipped.  Make sure you have the best deal with your shipping vendors based on your volume.  You may also need to consider building your shipping costs into the price of the product or add a shipping fee to the bill if you don’t already.

Marketing

A great way to increase profits is to become more intentional about your marketing costs. Are you able to measure what’s working and what isn’t? Or are you doing the same thing year after year?

Marketing has changed so much, even in the last few years. It might be time to implement digital marketing methods, which can be more cost-effective than older, outdated methods.

Labor

Make sure employees manage their time effectively by providing the right training and supervision. This should help to reduce labor expenses.

Telephone/Internet

Has your business changed?  Do you need all those extra features you are paying for?  Could you do without those extra lines?  Would another phone plan save you money on long distance or international calls? Many telecommunication companies will often bargain with you or offer you a new deal just for checking in with them.

This gives you ten places to look to cut costs and correspondingly increase profits for 2021. If you need help reviewing your income statement, please reach out.

One of the best tools to forecast cash requirements is the 13-week cash flow forecast. It can help a business owner predict what their cash balance will be 13 weeks in the future. It helps to answer whether there will be enough cash to cover payroll and bills for a particular week. If you’re having significant ups and downs in your cash balance, it’s the perfect tool to help gain clarity around your cash needs.

Thirteen weeks may sound like an odd length to select, but it’s the length of a calendar quarter. This is the length of a financial projection that is typically used when a business is in financial distress; however, it’s also useful when a company is going through some ups and downs or simply wants to get a better handle on its cash requirements.

The forecast computations start with entering cash receipts and cash disbursements into a spreadsheet. Start with actual spending and receipts for the first week, then use estimates for the remaining weeks. Include planned expenditures such as overhead, payroll, and loan payments. Add in inventory purchases. Project your receipts based on history or recent changes in your business.

Once you’ve completed your forecast, you can make changes and do what-if scenario planning.  For example, if the forecast shows that you will run out of cash in week seven, you have some time to decide what you need to do to remedy the shortfall. Options might be:

  • Accelerate the collection of 30 percent of your receivables.
  • Dip into your line of credit to cover a portion the shortfall.
  • Furlough 10 percent of your workers.

Plug your selected scenario into the forecast to see how much that relieves your shortfall.

The benefits of creating a 13-week cash flow forecast are many. You can see what actions need to be taken and when to take them well ahead of time. You can also see how much of an action you need to take. For example, instead of furloughing 50 percent of your staff, you may only need to furlough 25 percent.  Or instead of borrowing $50,000, you might only need $20,000.

The cash flow forecast can also save time when developing your annual budget. Budgets are especially useful when business conditions are volatile or when business owners need all the clarity they can get.

Try your hand creating a 13-week cash flow forecast for your business, or reach out to us for help any time.

At the beginning of 2020, you might have thought that developing a business continuity plan was not a top priority. Or maybe you thought it was only for large businesses. Fast forward to today, and a business continuity plan has become an essential staple in business planning.

There are more business risks than ever before to consider that can affect business continuity. Businesses are being shuttered, reopened and shuttered again from the pandemic, fires, hurricanes and damage from riots, just to mention a few of the more common issues in this unusual year.

The biggest benefit of a business continuity plan is the process of developing it. It helps you think through the steps you should take if a business interruption occurs. If you have a disaster recovery plan – or even a few steps jotted down of what you’d do – then you have already started a portion of the process.

Here are some of the major pieces of a business continuity plan to consider developing for your business.

Roles and Responsibilities

In this section, all of the business stakeholders should be identified and listed. On a high level, questions like these should be answered:

  • What is each person’s role within the company, and how would that change if the business is interrupted?
  • What new skillsets should be acquired in the case of a disruption?

Potential Impacts to Your Business

This part of the continuity plan lists major scenarios where something could go wrong with your business.  It should include things like weather events, fire, riots, theft, leadership interruptions, cash flow shortages, and the long-term impact of the pandemic. For each event, an analysis should be made as to how it will affect the business and what possible outcomes could occur. This part is also called a Business Impact Analysis.

Recovery Strategies

Once you’ve identified impacts, the next set of questions covers how to most effectively recover from them.  These remedies might include seeking additional financing, selecting backup locations, checking IT department functionality, creating alternate supply chain and distribution sources, and identifying many more actions along these lines.

As we’ve seen this year, this is just as important to think through for small businesses as it is large businesses.

When owners and employees are not in the middle of an actual disaster, they can better map out a recovery strategy that’s optimal and cost-effective for the business.

Implementation

A good plan should be implemented through distribution, testing, and training. All stakeholders should read and understand the contents of the business continuity plan. The plan should be tested in drills and exercises when possible. Employees should be trained so they know their part and feel comfortable carrying it out while under high stress.

The long-term viability of your business is important, and it can be strengthened when you put a business continuity plan in place.  If we can help, feel free to reach out any time.

Video creation has gotten so easy that just about anyone can do it. You no longer need professionals. You don’t even need video editing software with the long learning curve and high price tag. All you need is an app and your imagination.

There are many reasons to create a video:

  • Web pages that include video rank higher than those that don’t have video.
  • People love to watch video; it’s more interesting than text.
  • Video is often the best way to educate people.
  • Your message comes more alive when you use more senses: sight and sound

The first step is to figure out what you want to say.  Here are a number of video topic ideas for your business:

  • A customer service tip
  • Your company mission, vision, and values
  • Your company’s origin story
  • Why you’re in business
  • A product, event, or service promotion
  • A sale
  • An employee spotlight
  • A customer spotlight
  • A how-to
  • A deadline reminder
  • A new product or service announcement

The next thing you need is a rough script of what you want the video to say, as well as graphics you can use to illustrate your points.

The final thing you need is a video creation app. Animoto is a great example of an easy-to-use video creation app.  Just open your browser and go to https://animoto.com/.  There are free and paid plans to choose from.

With most video creation apps, you have hundreds of templates that can get your started fast.  Choose the template that is closest to the type of message you want to start with.  You can easily replace your text, graphics, and sound with your own items, or ones that the software provides.

Options besides Animoto include Adobe Spark, Magisto, and several others.

Don’t be afraid to try your hand at video creation.  It’s an easy way to impress your customers.

Every company should have a strict process to follow when an employee leaves the company, no matter what type of termination it is – voluntary or involuntary. Here’s a checklist you can use to compare to your own process so that you can either confirm you’re on the right track or add some ideas to improve your current methods.

1. Collect the resignation letter.

While so many things are remote these days, you MUST get the employee’s resignation letter in writing and signed by them.  If they don’t supply one, create a form they can sign that includes the reason for termination.

If you initiated the termination, have the employee sign the notice of dismissal.

This is not only important for general human relations records, it’s also important this year for any Paycheck Protection Program forgiveness documentation if the employee turned down a hire-back request. There may also be a requirement to submit the paperwork to your state’s unemployment office.

2. Handle legal and benefits issues. 

  1. Collect any company advances owed by the employee.
  2. Ask the employee if they have any final expense reports to file.
  3. Remind the employee that certain legal requirements, such as confidentiality clauses and noncompete agreements must be upheld after employment.
  4. Review insurance options such as COBRA.
  5. Let the employee know how to access their 401(k) and other benefit plans.

3. Update the payroll system and cut the final paycheck.

Compute PTO and vacation balances due the employee.  Calculate severance pay. Cut the final paycheck, incorporating those items.

Review the paycheck amounts with the employee, and ask them for a forwarding address.

4. Collect company property.

The employee should turn over their computer equipment, including laptops, monitors, mice, keyboards, PCs, Macs, phones, beepers, printers, drives, and scanners. Don’t forget to ask for keys, business cards, name badges, security badges, gate and garage door openers, uniforms, and tools. Oh, and company cars or trucks.

5. Revoke computer access. 

Any user accounts held in the employee’s name should be revoked. Many passwords may need to be changed.  Their email address should either be forwarded to someone else who can answer the emails, updated with an autoresponder, or revoked altogether.

Voice mail and their phone extension should also be re-routed.  Take the employee’s name off of any internal distribution list and remove them from the About page of your website.

6. Hold an exit interview.

The business owner should hold an exit interview with the employee if they are leaving voluntarily.  Ask questions such as these:

  1. Why did you decide to start searching for a new job?
  2. Was there anything we could have done to keep you employed here?
  3. If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
  4. Could you describe your relationship with your direct supervisor?
  5. Would you consider working here again?

7. Communicate this change to your staff and customers. 

Let your staff know immediately after the employee leaves that they will not be coming back. Don’t go into detail about the termination; that information is private.

If the employee was involuntarily terminated, assure your staff that their jobs are safe (if they are) so they don’t ruminate or spread false rumors.

If the employee worked with customers, each customer should be notified and given the name of the new staff member that will be handling their issues.

Follow these steps to protect your company when an employee is terminated.

The purpose of marketing is, in part, about creating relationships with customers and prospects. While traditional advertising is a standard way of letting prospects know more about you, it’s not always the most creative way to connect.

To spice up your marketing, let’s explore six unusual ways to connect with customers.

1. Celebrate an obscure or fun holiday.

For example, August 27 is National Just Because Day.  It’s a day to do random things, which can be pretty easily tied to whatever your service or product is.

You can do something as small as send an email or as big as hosting a live event on the holiday you choose.

2. Feature a customer or staff member.

A great way for customers to get to know your team and for your team to get to know your customers is to feature them in a short writeup that you post or send out.

Make this fun by sharing things like favorite ice cream, activity they would love to do, country they want to visit most, most fun responsibility they have at work, favorite purchase from you, and more.

3. Highlight community work.

Does your organization have a favorite charity?  If so, share experiences with your customers.  Many customers value and prefer to support businesses that make community contributions.

Go as far as holding a volunteer day or do as little as a writeup for donations in your newsletter.

4. Take a survey.

When is the last time you’ve been asked a “deep” question?  Send a survey that asks your colleagues and customers a question like what inspires them.  Then share the results, with their permission, of course.

This type of activity can lead to meaningful conversations and a deeper connection with your customers.  It may also provide great insight into how you can connect with what’s important to your clients.

5. Provide a gift guide.

Is it close to Christmas or another holiday where gifts are exchanged?  If so, your customer might benefit from a gift guide you can put together.

You don’t have to own a retail store to benefit from this idea.  Service organizations can provide gift certificate and other ideas in their gift guides.  And you don’t always have to list only your own items. Add your customers’ and suppliers’ items and make it one big “business family” affair.

6. Tell people a story.

Do you remember your first sale?  Write a story about your first sale, the first day you opened your new location, your first hire, or another fun business milestone.

People love hearing stories about how others got started.  Don’t be so private that you miss out on this wonderful way to connect with clients.

Try these six fresh marketing ideas to create a meaningful connection with your customers and prospects, and watch your relationships blossom.

Paying bills is never fun, but paying bills you shouldn’t pay in the first place is even worse. There are many risks that can part a small business owner with their hard-earned cash, and here are five to watch out for when it comes to your bill-paying process.

1. Fraudulent invoices

Some companies will send marketing documents disguised as invoices to businesses. You may have to read the fine print to notice it’s not really an invoice. In some cases, it’s simply outright fraud, trying to get you to pay something that is not owed.

Many times, these invoices look official, similar to legal filing requirements, but don’t be fooled.  Examination of the fine print can save you a lot of money.

Set up procedures to catch these types of invoices. Managers should be careful not to approve these invoices for payment. Bookkeepers should be trained to question their supervisors about these invoices.

2. Item(s) not received

Three-way matching can prevent paying an invoice for which the goods were never received. Put into place a couple of procedures to prevent this accounts-payable error:

  1. Have warehouse staff match the shipping receipt to what’s in the shipment when it arrives.
  2. Have accounts payable staff match the marked-up shipping receipt to the invoice when it comes in. If the invoice shows that more items were billed for than received, a call to the vendor to correct the invoice is in order.  The invoice amount should be adjusted on the books and a check can be cut for the reduced amount.

3. Wrong amount

Sometimes the wrong price can be listed on the invoice.  If this happens, there may have been a misunderstanding during the sales process.  A call to the vendor is needed in this case as well so that a corrected invoice can be issued.

4. Math error

This hardly happens in these days of computers, but it can.  All invoices should be reviewed for reasonableness.  If it doesn’t make sense that something should cost so much, it probably shouldn’t.  In rare cases, a price may have been entered wrong or a computer bug could have occurred.

Spot-checking the invoice’s math can save money if an error has been made.

5. Duplicate invoice

This happens way too often.  We may get an emailed invoice; then the same invoice comes in the mail.  We need procedures in place to keep it from being paid twice.

Many accounting systems do this automatically, but if one character is off related to vendor name, the system could break down.  Review a list of disbursements monthly to make sure payments don’t get duplicated.

Procedures are the answer to reducing accounts payable errors and making sure you pay only the invoices that are truly due.

If revenue hasn’t come back as fast as you expected it to, it may be time to review your budget and determine if some planned expenses can be cut. Here are five places to look to do just that.

1. Travel

Since most events have been moved online or cancelled altogether, you can likely redirect any money you’ve budgeted for travel this year to other more urgent expenses. And if you have prepaid these items, you may be able to get a refund. Hotels have flexible refunds up to the date of the stay unless you took a prepaid deal.  And airlines have begrudgingly provided refunds, although in some cases, it did take time to get them.

Now that so many employees are familiar with Zoom and other videoconferencing tools, you may want to rethink any future travel requirements that could easily be accomplished virtually with a much lower budget.

2. Training

While it’s never a good idea to cut training, there may be ways to deliver it more affordably. You may be able to purchase subscriptions to online courses that include an “all-you-can-eat” component to them.  A good example is Lynda.com, now owned by LinkedIn.

Any unnecessary training that can be delayed is another way to free up funds.

3. Dues and Subscriptions

If money is tight, evaluating your memberships is one area where you may be able to free up money. Especially since many in-person events have been cancelled, this might be a good time cancel any renewals you are not able to fully utilize.

Subscriptions are also something you can review.  Can any of these be cancelled to free up cash?  You can always re-subscribe when things get better.

4. Employee Perks

If you provide your employees with benefits and times are extremely lean, cutting them is an option to keep from laying off workers.  Some of the options might be:

  • Eliminating perks like movie day, free car washes, or onsite chair massages
  • Stopping coverage of paid volunteer hours
  • Cutting education expenses if you are paying college tuition for some employees
  • Cancelling employees’ memberships and subscriptions as described above
  • Slashing training budgets as described above
  • Converting event attendance and sales meetings to online versions
  • Disallowing overtime work
  • Holding off on employee bonuses
  • Reducing vacation or holiday pay
  • Cutting down on health care options such as vision and dental plans
  • Reducing 401(k) matches on a temporary basis (watch out for plan requirements, though)
  • Cutting regular hours

All of these are steps you can take to avoid having to reduce your workforce.

5. Layoffs

One painful place to look for more cash is your workforce. If work has slowed due to demand, you can raise cash by furloughing or laying off workers.  Unfortunately, many businesses have already had to do this.

By looking deeply at all of your business expenses, you can find places to cut spending so that you will be in a better position for the future.

Many families and small business owners have seen decreases in income over the last several months. Money struggles can cause us to experience stress and worry, and none of us need that right now. Instead we need to boost our immune systems and decrease stress.

Here are some tips on how we can take back control of our finances and reduce our stress around money.

1. Assess your situation.

Take an inventory of your bank accounts, credit cards, and other financial accounts.  This helps you to see the entire picture. You can be financially healthy in different ways. For example, you might be low on income coming in but if you have healthy savings or plenty of assets, you might be just fine.

2. Track your spending.

When you can see where the money is going, you can make good decisions about what changes you need to make. Use tracking software like Quicken® or simply a spreadsheet so you can see how much you really need for things like the rent or mortgage, food, utilities, and other necessities.

3. Make any changes that you need to.

If you have more expenses than income, here are several ways to get back in balance:

  • Cut any unnecessary spending. For example, trade the expensive $100+ cable bill for a $15 Netflix subscription, at least for a while.
  • File your taxes early, especially if you have a refund coming.
  • Avoid temptation spending if you don’t have enough for the basics. Remember what’s important and find the will to curb impulses.
  • Sell some of the items you own that you no longer need to raise money.
  • Get a second job.
  • Get support from local nonprofits that can help you if you qualify.
  • If you must, dip into your savings or 401(k).
  • Ask family members to help.

4. Build a budget and stick with it.

Making a plan helps some people reduce their stress a great deal. They feel good that they now have goals and can develop new habits that will work for their lifestyle.

In your software or spreadsheet, commit to monthly spending limits for each major category: housing and utilities, food, transportation, clothing, entertainment, savings, paying off debt, and other.

Each month, track how you did by comparing your actual spending with your planned spending.  Give yourself a grade on how you did, and either reward yourself or make the changes you need to.

5. Pay off debt.

If you have debt, make a plan to pay it off systematically.  Here are some ways you can speed that up:

  • Pay down the debt that has the highest interest rates. You might even be able to consolidate and refinance your debt to a lower rate.
  • Make a payment every single month, even if it’s small.
  • See a credit counselor for more ideas on how to get out of debt faster.

6. Build a cushion for the future.

If your spending and income is balanced, but you don’t have a savings cushion, that can also be stressful. You need a safety net to fall back on for times just like these.

Decide on an amount that you can put away for a “rainy day” fund, and stick to it.  It’s also never too early to start saving for your retirement years.  The younger you start, the more your money will grow into a significant nest egg, providing comfort and flexibility in your final years.

7. Identify any other stressors related to money.

Perhaps a relative constantly asks you for money, and this causes you stress. In this case, you may have to make a “tough love” decision to reduce your stress while maintaining family relationships. These are very personal, individual decisions that include factors far beyond finance.  But if they are causing stress, some kind of action should be taken.

8. Make your accounts work for you.

If possible, select credit cards that give cash back, miles, or other perks. Keep you bank balance high enough so that you don’t get charged a monthly fee, and try to get an account that pays interest.  You won’t get rich from these things, but they are fun perks that help you save.

9. Invest wisely so you can sleep at night no matter what happens.

Understand your risk tolerance level when it comes to investments, and avoid investments that are too risky.  You’ll sleep better at night knowing your money is safe.

Hopefully, these tips will help you decrease your money stress and improve your control over your finances.

The only way to get smarter about how to invest your marketing dollars is to document and measure what’s happening now in your business.  What you’ve measured, you can then improve.

Marketing Spend

The first step to measuring what you spend on marketing is to aggregate all of the costs.  They may be in one account or several.  Some of the places to look for marketing expenses include:

  • Advertising – for online or print ads, trade shows, sponsorships, and other advertising costs
  • Dues and subscriptions – for membership fees to networking and professional associations
  • Education – for marketing training
  • Marketing – for obvious reasons
  • Office supplies – for graphics subscriptions and fees
  • Payroll, salaries, and wages – for allocation of employee time spent on marketing projects
  • Printing and postage – for flyers and direct mail
  • Professional fees – for marketing consultants, coaches, designers, and writers
  • Software/Technology – for marketing software and apps
  • Travel – for trade show or conference attendance

Once you have aggregated all of these costs, you’ll have a good idea of what you’re spending on marketing and you can calculate the first metric, marketing spend.  The formula is:

Total marketing costs / total gross revenue = Marketing spend

This gives you a percentage.

Most companies spend five to ten percent on marketing. Higher growth companies will spend close to ten percent, and stable growth or slow growth companies will spend close to five percent. Large companies will spend more, from nine to 12 percent of gross revenues, than small companies.

CAC – Cost to Acquire Customer

Probably the most important metric for marketing is how much it costs on average to acquire one customer. To compute this, count the number of new customers for any period of time, and use this number in the following formula:

Total marketing costs / number of new customers = CAC

A more granular version of CAC is CPA, cost per acquisition. Unlike CAC, CPA is measured by campaign or marketing channel, or the source of how the customer was acquired. Example marketing channels include email marketing, social media, and paid ads, to name a few.

Revenue per Customer

Revenue per customer is a good measure in many companies.  It can tell you how much, on average, a customer will spend at your company over a period of time, adding up all of the orders, projects, visits, or engagements for that customer. The formula is simple:

Total revenue for a period / total number of customers for the same period = Revenue per customer

A similar metric that’s valuable is how much a customer will spend at your company in their lifetime. That’s called CLV or customer lifetime value.  Use the same formula above but compute it based on the longest period of time you have records for.

When you can compare revenue per customer or CLV with CAC, you can determine how much you can afford to spend to acquire new clients.

Let us know if we can help you calculate these metrics so you can become wiser about how to invest your marketing dollars.