Being in the Silicon Valley during the current economic crisis has been interesting. It has been especially insightful to compare the “Dot Com” crash 8 years ago to the current crisis and to see how the crashes have effected businesses differently.
I was surprised to realize that many businesses, especially in the tech sector, learned from the mistakes of their ancestors. It has been this resilience that prompted me to put together a short list of ways small businesses can survive the current crisis – and even come out on top at the end.
1. Cash is King – Regardless of the size of your businesses, cash is going to be king over the next 18-36 months. Up to even a few weeks ago you could pretty much count on your local bank giving you a small business loan or being approved for a business-use credit card. Unfortunately, the liquidity of the market has “thickened” dramatically and has made those opportunities shrink to almost nothing. You’ll no longer be able to rely on loans and credit to get you through the month. From now on… cash should be your #1 priority.
2. Don’t Focus on Growth – This sounds like bad advice for any small business owner, but the truth is that many businesses are going to continue along the same growth pattern as before and find themselves beat to hell by the time they emerge from this crisis. This is the time when you need to hunker down and just wait out the storm. This will benefit you not only in the short term by ensuring you don’t go bankrupt, but will also put you in the perfect position to make strategic growth decisions after the crisis is over. For example, by keeping you expenses down and your cash account padded, you will be in a position to spend quickly right out of the gate – purchasing your competition or just beating them to key customers – because you have saved for what I like to call the “sunny” day.
3. Focus on Value – Since you’ll be cutting back on expenses, spend time on the things that don’t cost that much money but add value to your business. Instead of spending $10k replacing an old machine, spend $100 in phone charges to re-connect with your customers, or improve customer service. Invent new ways to add value to current products without spending a ton of money. That investment of time and energy will pay for itself 10x.
4. Collect – One of the things you can do to add value to your business and increase cash flow is by collecting on your accounts receivable. If there was ever a time to go after those delinquent customers… now is the time. If you don’t have an invoicing system in place there are tons of free and fee-based services out there – from PayPal to FreshBooks. You can even use Excel as long as you are actively trying to collect that cash.
5. Don’t Give in to Hoarding – During this time when “cash is king” you should avoid buying in bulk or otherwise stockpiling supplies or inventories. Although the parable of the ant and grasshopper might come to mind, now is not the time to be hoarding. That extra spending drives expenses up, depletes your cash reserve, and at the end of the day might be worth nothing. What good is a pallet of copy paper at a discount if you don’t have a business capable of using it. You will always be able to buy these items later even if you pass up a small discount now. That “savings” could prove disastrous to your cash flows.
6. Leverage Technology – There are tons of websites, web services, and other technologies that can help save you money. For example, trade in your $600 flight and $400 hotel for that sales trip to Chicago for an online meeting service instead. These days you can share a presentation, hold a conference call, or even converse via webcam – with nothing but a DSL modem and $50 a month for the services. You can also step up efforts to find better prices on products or services you normally use – by simply performing a simple Google search. Buying you your widgets from ABC Company for the past 5 years shouldn’t prevent you from searching for XYZ Corp who is offering the same widgets at 50% off.