Archive for the ‘ Business ’ Category

An Economic Downturn Can Be a Great Time to Start a Business

Really?  It sounds strange, but think about it.

  • Costs are lower.
  • More workers are available and looking for work.
  • Potential customers are looking to cut costs and are more likely to give a new supplier a try.
  • The competition is likely focused internally on cutting costs themselves, and perhaps not giving much effort to marketing.

The one difficulty left to face is . . . . capital.

Lenders and investors are very careful about who and what they invest in during a downturn.  You may have a savings account, a home equity line of credit, credit cards, or other sources of cash to start up a business.  This is well and good.  But if capital is short, your plan of attack to attract that capital needs to be a very well prepared business plan.

Four Ideas For a Better Business Plan 

  1. Be Thorough.  Cover all of the details of your start-up business.  Go to http://www.citizensmn.com/business/getting-started/how-to-prepare-a-business-plan.html  for additional information on this topic.
  2. Use Candor.  No one wants to hear that “we are the best” and “everything is wonderful”.  Identify your critical factors for success, and tell why you are uniquely qualified to succeed, even if your future success is based upon past failures.  Don’t be afraid to identify your weaknesses, and how you plan to address those.
  3. Be Conservative and Identify Contingencies.  Everyone knows that initial sales projections are difficult to meet.  Thus, give a solid basis for your underlying assumptions, and show a “worst case”, “best case”, and “most likely” case scenario.
  4.  Make a Case for Why You’ve Built the Better Mousetrap.  In other words, there has to be a reason that the public will change their behavior and buy your product or service over what they are currently doing.  What is that reason?  What will incent customers to use your mousetrap?  Does it solve a problem? What is that problem? 

For Further Reading 

These related books will inspire you to find your niche and transform your business into something unique and lasting:

  • Purple Cow, by Seth Godin.  Transform your business by being remarkable.
  • Good to Great, by Jim Collins.  Why some companies make the leap… and others don’t.
  • Thank God It’s Monday, by Roxanne Emmerich.  How to create a workplace you and your customers love.

By: Julie Baumgartner, Vice President

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Four Ways for Your Business to Survive and Thrive in a Down Economy

As a business owner, bad news on the economic front causes worry—worry about you and your family, about your business, and about your employees.  Question is, what can you do about it? 

Four Ways to Survive and Thrive in a Downturn

The biggest mistake that business owners make in a downturn is to be overly optimistic and do nothing—to simply wait for things to improve.  Oh, you might think that your business is “recession-proof”, or that you are better-prepared than your competitors to weather a downturn.  But are there signs of trouble?  Are incoming orders declining, or are customers lagging behind on payments, or are inventory levels slowly creeping up?  Rather than ignoring these signs, now is the time to really put your ear to the ground and find out what your vendors, suppliers, and customers are saying.  Listen to your front-line employees.  Then:

1.  Begin by building contingency-planning into your business plan.  What if your customer can’t pay that large account receivable on time?  What if your sales staff doesn’t reach established sales goals?  What if that new line of inventory doesn’t sell before you have to make your vendor payment?  Can you stay in compliance with your loan covenants at the bank?  Now is the time to pro-actively enlist the help of your banker and your other advisers–knowing that you are looking ahead and positioning your business for a downturn will give them confidence in you, and they will be more able to help you during difficult times. 

2.  Keep in mind that cash is king, and anything you can do to maximize cash will put your business in a position of strength.  Get rid of slow-moving or obsolete inventory through special sales.  Think of other uses for inventory that might create sales in non-traditional markets.  Monitor your accounts receivable and demand payment on time.  Don’t become your customers’ banker—expanded terms mean expanded risk.  Be prepared to cut off, go COD, or file a mechanic’s lien if necessary, as a customer who is solvent today may be in bankruptcy tomorrow.  And finally, look at your fixed assets with an eye to selling anything that is non-productive.

3.  On the expense side, use a critical eye in determining your cost structure.  Do you have the right people in the right spots?  Are your employees performing at their maximum?  Are you organized properly? Ask your employees to look at their job descriptions and duties—are they doing something because “it’s always been done”, or are there some duties that can be dropped or done more effectively?  Is there duplication of efforts anywhere?  Have your expenses been creeping up?  Find out why.  From this analysis, identify 5-7 expense-reducing opportunities and make them happen.

4.  Identify your most profitable product and service lines, and those with the most potential to grow. Contrary to what many believe, those who thrive in a downturn avoid diversification and, instead, focus intensely on those products and services that make up their core business.  If possible, sell off—for cash—those lines that you don’t feel contribute to your core value as a business.  Save the cash, or use the proceeds to invest in assets that will further what really makes you money.  And for goodness sakes, don’t cut the advertising budget for those revenue lines that will keep you in the industry forefront.

Move Forward Enthusiastically

At this point, make sure your entire workforce is engaged and moving in the same direction—develop a mission and vision to sell the profitable products and services upon which you have built a solid reputation.  Generate enthusiasm for the task at hand—after all, being part of a company that is moving ahead in a downturn vs. simply digging its head in the sand is exciting!  And be sure to celebrate small successes and milestones along the way. 

If you’ve done these things, be assured that you are doing everything you can to survive and thrive in a tough environment.

By: Julie Baumgartner, Vice President

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