Posts Tagged ‘credit crunch’

Understanding the Credit Crisis

The credit crisis or credit crunch has affected most of us in one way or another. Most of us probably know roughly why it happened. But, could you explain it to someone?  More importantly, will you know how to watch for the signs of credit crunch in the future so you can avoid being trapped by it again?

Here is a very good animation explaining the credit crisis in an approachable way.

Categories: business, Finance Tags: ,

What Shape Is Your Recession?

28/04/2009 1 comment
What's your shape?  



What's your shape?

Troubled times tend to produce great creativity. Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ was set in the dust bowl of the Mid-West as the people moved west in search of work. The early eighties saw the rise of bands in the UK such as ‘The Specials’ whose tracks included ‘Ghost Town’ which portrayed British inner city decline as old industries collapsed and ended generations of working traditions. The Second World War saw the race to nuclear weapons to end the war sooner. Not all of that creativity was good but hard times pushed society and people to change the way it had worked in the past.

The last week has been a revelation on economics for me. I have learnt about ‘Keynes’ and his theories on economics which have come back into favour. ‘Quantitative Easing’ is nothing new except for the description. (If you want to follow a good blog on economics then I suggest following Peter Cannings’ Blog)

The tough times most of us are experiencing now don’t yet appear to have shown signs of great music or innovation which were not already happening before the recession took hold of the world with the exception of the politicians and soothsayers. 

And the politicians, journalists and soothsayers have excelled themselves in describing the recession for the last few weeks. There seems to be a new sport amongst them for describing the ‘shape of the recession.’ Some say the recession will be ‘W-shaped’. For others, it will be ‘V-Shaped’ or ‘L-shaped.’ The best I heard was that it would be ‘bath-shaped.’ 

Britain’s ‘Chancellor of the Exchequer’ revealed his budget last week which revealed more about the recession than any of the ‘shapes’ being conjured up by the soothsayers and politicians. There not so much a ‘shape’ but more of sound as the nation sighed a very long “Oh dear.” The journalists on the BBC’s Radio 4 ‘Today’ program described the budget as “salami-slicing” which was a new but novel description. 

But whatever the politicians and soothsayers predict, or however they describe the recession, it is not them who have to get us out of the mire we are sliding towards. It is you and me that have to prevent ourselves sliding into the swamp. There is no sign of the recession in the small business in which I work with 24 other talented and professional people apart from a determination to work our way past it. We have had more quotes going out to customers and prospects in the last four months of this year than we managed in the last six months of last year. 

It is now that our imaginations are being pushed to work out new ways in which to help our customers. It is now that we see a scramble for people to gain new skills. Our customers want to try things out without expending huge amounts of cash. They are experimenting with ideas that were fads yesterday but now seem to be eminently sensible. Small businesses don’t have the cash to burn on risky projects, but most of people in them will be trying things out to understand how they can be used for their large clients. 

So, the signs of creativity are beginning to show through in the recession. People are looking for value more than five years ago and this is driving creativity. But, as far as my shape for the recession goes, I don’t have the time to ponder upon it. Although, if I was to choose a shape for the recession it would be an ‘X’. ‘X’ marks the spot. The spot where I stop predicting and start doing. That’s the only we can get out of this mess.

Car Washing and Cash Flow

Car washing and cash flow are connected

Start at the bottom to see realities

Received wisdom says that you should hand wash your car from the top to bottom. You start by rinsing your car and loosening off the dirt. Then you get a sponge, dip it into a bucket of warm water containing that special car shampoo and start to wash the top of the car and work your way down. The problem with this method is that at the end of the whole process you can see where you missed with the sponge by the scattering of dirty patches around the car. It’s infuriating. 

Much the best way to hand wash your car is to start washing it from the bottom to the top of the car. You can see exactly where you have washed or not and you don’t get fooled by by your soap suds dripping over patches of dirty bodywork making them look as though you have cleaned them. It seems odd and I have had occasional mocking rebukes from friends saying I am talking rubbish. But it works.

So, what the heck has this got to do with cash flow? 

Anyone who has ever run a business will know that cash flow is one of the most important aspects of financial planning to get right to enable your business to survive. Get your cash flow wrong and your business dies. You might have orders in the pipeline, purchase orders and sales coming in. But, if the cash is not coming in and cash is going out faster than it comes in then a business that looks profitable on paper will go bust quickly. (If you want an example of a near miss for a business that could have gone bust then read my earlier article about a small business I know that could have easily gone bust).

When you put together a cash flow forecast on a spreadsheet, received wisdom will, generally, tell you to start at the top of the spreadsheet with your sales and other income each month for the first year. You might even forecast your sales or the first few months on week by week basis . Then you are told to write out your variable costs (those costs which increase depending on the number of sales of your product or service that you sell) into the cash  flow forecast for each month. And, then you add in your fixed costs for each month such as your rent, broadband costs, and salaries, for example.

At the bottom of the spreadsheet, using some simple formulas, you subtract your fixed and variable costs for each month from your monthly forecasted sales income. This then gives you a figure of how much cash will come in and out of your business bank account each month. It shows you how much money you need to fund your business at the start-up stage. It is likely that your cash flow will show that more money will go out in the first few months of your business than will come in. This is very important to understand.

But it is wrong. 

By starting at the top with your sales income, you start the whole process of building your cash flow forecast on a false premise. A fantasy. Forecasting your sales income is the most difficult thing to do and starting at the top of the spreadsheet is a massive mistake. You will fall into the trap of entering sales income figures which look right rather than those that are possible. And when you finish putting together your cash flow forecast, you sit back and feel good because your spreadsheet shows that you have a great business idea which is going to make you lots of profits. You start your business full of cheer and six months later you wonder what happened to your great business idea as it collapses around you.

You can avoid this trap. You avoid it by putting together a cash flow forecast from the bottom up in the spreadsheet. Costs to your business are definite. Sales income is a ghost at this stage. You can find out exactly how much everything will cost you down to the last penny. Find a sense of interest and intrigue in discovering your costs to your business each month that others will find baffling. Because finding certainty in your costs is the only sure thing which you can do for your business finances at this stage. 

When you have done this and used your simple formulas to work out your fixed costs and the costs you will incur when you do sell a product, which will be your variable costs, you can begin to work out what you need to sell and when you need the cash to come in to cover your costs. When you know this, you can work out how you will get your sales. This is sales strategy. You can research your potential customers. You can ask them if they would buy your product. You can work out if your product or service is too expensive or too cheap. You can work out what else you will need to do to sell and market your product or service. 

When you know these highly important details, you will know whether your business idea is not just a good idea but something which you will be able to sell profitably. You will save yourself a lot of trouble and money too.  

And why should you believe me? Because I started a business with a cash flow forecast at the top of the spreadsheet and completely overestimated how much I could sell and underestimated when the cash would come in. The business went bust. It was painful but it taught me the right way to plan a business and its cash flow forecast.

So, when you are next planning  to start a business and you are planning your cash flow, take a few moments out and hand wash your car. But do it from the bottom to the top. You won’t miss anything then and you will see that the received wisdom of hand washing cars the other way round is wrong. And then go back inside and do the same with your cash flow forecast.

Advertising in the Recession



Corporate Hospitality is Accountable

Corporate Hospitality is Accountable

I heard an interesting piece on a BBC Radio show this lunchtime where the presenter had two guests from the corporate hospitality business speaking about their industry in these tough times. I shared the presenter’s reaction to the state that their businesses might be in because of the obligatory cuts that business and organisations are making to their marketing budgets which include corporate hospitality.


Of course, I listened and could not help but think that they were going to be facing dire straits because corporate hospitality is just a ‘big jolly’ with no real benefits apart to the company apart from getting a better seat at Wimbledon or the Olympics if you are a client and a day off work if you are the hosting business. And the expense of inviting a client to an event, whether sporting or arts, is very costly. The speakers were talking about some of the top-end events costing several thousand pounds per seat. 

But the guests talked about the fact that their clients were still bringing their customers to the same events, but instead of having champagne all night at the Royal Albert Hall, their clients had just offered wine and beer all night. Still, I thought, nobody is really  persuaded by these events to make them buy products or services, are they? The guests, obviously, said that this was not the case and that their clients still valued the benefits of corporate hospitality. 

The one of the guests said something which I found remarkable becuase I had just not thought about it and I had let my own dogma get in the way of clear thinking. The guest said, “Well, of course, you can account for every penny you spend on a client at a corporate hospitality event which you cannot do with other advertising. You can track its effectiveness on whether they buy your product or service.”  

What was I thinking? He is absolutely right about the accountability that a marketing manager benefits from bringing a client to an event. He was not entirely up to speed about digital marketing. Through the web, you can track people’s behaviour, interests and habits which many forms of advertising fail to do. And now that we are in a recession, accountability in marketing and advertising is vital. 

So, while marketing budgets are being slashed by the management, marketers will be able to fight well if they understnad which aspects of their planned marketing investments can be easily measured for their effectivness and return on invesment.

Before lunch today, I thought it was only digital advertising and marketing that could offer that level of detail. Now I am a little wiser.

Does anyone have tickets to Wimbledon?

Small Business Realities & the Credit Crunch


Running your own business is a tough thing to do. Nevertheless, you can control most aspects of the business, although you may never seem to have enough time to do them thoroughly. You can control how much your product service or costs to make and market. You can control your cash-flow. You can control how much you pay yourself. But the credit crunch has highlighted aspects of a business which cannot be controlled. 

Someone I know well runs a retail lighting business in London and has done so successfully for many years. His family business has a warehouse in the midlands of the UK from where they run their international and mail order business. They have franchises in some stores in the USA too. Business is going well.

He had been considering investing in more property in London for some months before the credit crunch but he could not find anything suitable so he put off the purchase and kept the cash liquid until he found something suitable. However, this January the business had a disastrous run of sales and he had to dip into the cash he would have used to buy the property to maintain their cash-flow. The business also had to let some staff go to make efficiencies. 

Had the business not had this cash, he would have had to go to the bank to borrow the money in the form of an extended overdraft perhaps. Things as they are now mean that, in fact, the bank would not have lent them the money despite the fact that the business has a healthy track record and that the business has good order books into the future. 

Therefore, the business could have folded within a month had he not had the cash reserves to carry them over into a healthy month of sales in February. That is how the credit crunch is affecting small businesses up and down the country and across much of the world. 

No wonder the Government is trying everything it can to encourage the banks to lend money including plans such as owning them, providing guarantee schemes and using “quantitative easing” to get cash where it is needed. No wonder too that there is such a backlash against the rewards for failure which many bankers are receiving. 

Good businesses are folding due to circumstances experienced by my friend and his business because they have one bad month. There are no bale-outs for them.