Tag Archives: Cash

How Do You Plan for Market Evolution? Three Suggestions

Situation: A tech company competes in a rapidly changing marketplace. The companies they serve constantly evolve their platforms. The company must respond rapidly to assure compatibility with both hardware and software innovations. Users adapt to new platforms at different rates, and the company must address their needs, as well. With so much time spent tending these diverse needs, how do they plan for market evolution?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In the market you serve you must constantly reinvent yourselves as technology changes. Some platforms make changes on a 5-year cycle, while mobile platforms are currently on a 6-month cycle. This may force choices as to which platforms to serve. You also may want to focus on platforms where what you bring to the table is most useful.
  • You have made the strategic choice to tie the future of your company to a few large companies that dominate their markets. It is imperative that you cultivate close relationships with the technology as well as strategic leadership of those companies. This will give you more advanced insight into their plans, and they may even involve you in discussions about how the market evolves. If so, you will have positioned yourself for that evolution. These relationships may also become your exit strategy.
  • Businesses run on cash, or access to cash. As you cultivate relationships with your key customer companies, look for opportunities to invest in developing markets on a subscription basis which will provide ongoing annuity revenue. Figuring out how to leverage advertising or positioning options into your offering offers an additional revenue stream.

How Do You Focus Your Sales and Marketing? Eight Thoughts

Situation: A company has a technology road map and a flexible set of technical capabilities. To date they have elicited broad interest from a variety of different markets. They currently don’t have the resources to pursue a large number of different markets, and will likely need their next round of funding within the next year to year and a half. How do you focus your sales and marketing?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • A race to generate interest from a number of markets is a valid strategy at this stage of your development; provided that you raise or generate the cash to survive. This caveat describes your critical challenge – determining how long you can afford to maintain and fund a broad strategy.
  • Look at your burn rate and timeline. Pursue options that will generate cash before your next round of funding. Your top objective is to validate your ability to generate revenue prior to your next round.
  • You haven’t yet found the fish. You are fishing and have nibbles but no bites. Look at what your people are doing and start to eliminate options that are less likely to pay off both short and long-term.
  • To preserve development cash, create a new rule. Any project that you accept must come with development dollars. This will eliminate some smaller prospects and targets but will help you to focus on others which are more immediately promising.
  • When one company was in this position, their rule was that the first PO gets the engineers. No PO, no commitment of resources.
  • Another’s company’s policy is that they don’t work for free.
    • A softer version is to give the prospective client 30 days to produce an LOI for the proposed project or you will go elsewhere.
    • Even better is an LOI and $50K up front.
  • A third company’s strategy from the beginning was always to hunt for elephants – even when they had no money. This has worked well both short and long-term. It represented the level of faith that they had in their technology and capabilities.
  • The team needs to hear this message from you.

How Are You Responding to Market Instability? Seven Thoughts

Situation: Market swings in recent weeks have shaken up some people. A CEO is curious about how other companies are seeing this as well as how the see their companies doing in the current economy. How are you responding to market instability?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Business turned back up two years ago, and we are working on major sales opportunities.
    • Actions Taken:
      • We reduced executive expenses.
      • We are sharing a bookkeeper with another business to reduce salaries.
  • In April we increased staff to respond to strong first quarter demand; however since April revenue is flat to declining.
    • Actions Taken:
      • Let a few people go, may have to do more of this.
  • The current economy benefits our industry because our service thrives in an uncertain economy. We have not yet had to make adjustments.
  • We continue to see a big shift from direct hire and full-time to temp and part-time employees – this is working in our favor. Weaker competitors have closed shop.
  • Business is going well. Most customers have cash. The major decision that we face is how much to grow. We’ve seen some project cancellations, but not enough to hurt.
  • What concerns you about the future?
    • Availability of credit lines.
      • Varies by bank and your relationship with the bank.
      • Securing additional or increased lines may be difficult.
      • Anticipating a raise in rates by the Fed, lines may carry a higher interest rate.
    • The trickle-down effect from consumer spending continues to be weak. We are looking for opportunities less sensitive to swings in consumer spending.
    • Receivables are being pushed out.
  • What are you doing about this?
    • Proactively having employee meetings and being straight with employees about how the company is doing.
    • Good opportunities to lean up:
      • Cutting expenses.
      • Cutting less productive employees.

What are Your Key Business Metrics? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A CEO has been analyzing the metrics that she uses to track her company’s performance. Historically she has used common metrics like sales, gross and net margin, profit and net operating income, budget plan vs. actual expenses, and sales forecast vs. actual sales. She is curious what other companies use to track performance. What are your key business metrics?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The most important financial metric for many companies is actually cash flow – how much cash you have on hand and your cash flow forecast. Two metrics that can help you to better understand and boost cash flow are:
    • Receivables – aging rate
    • DSO – Days Sales Outstanding
  • Additional financial metrics include:
    • Portfolio performance
    • Variable versus fixed cost ratios
  • To augment understanding of profitability, track “good” profit – revenue from customers who are profitable, as opposed to revenue that is either break-even or unprofitable.
  • Sales metrics to measure future revenue include:
    • Order backlog – by month for X months out
    • From this, forecast beyond visible orders
  • Marketing metrics include:
    • Net promoter score – would the customer refer us to a friend or family member?
    • Client and referral client retention rate
  • Metrics for utilization of resources for a service provider include:
    • Total hours paid versus total hours billed
    • Resource utilization
  • Business trend tracking. If business is seasonal, look for historic peak to peak times – this may be 3 months and may be 18 months. Determine this and make the rolling cycle equivalent to your business cycle.
  • Review your metrics regularly to reinforce their importance across the company

What Will You Do Differently in 2015? Six Observations

As we begin 2015 more people are feeling upbeat about the economy than they have through most of the last six years. The dollar is at new highs against global currencies. The US is approaching energy self-sufficiency. However, some still see regulatory headwinds and downsides. What do you see and what will you do differently in 2015?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Over the last six years, software companies have seen large increases in outstanding credit to clients, combined with restrictions on clients’ credit lines available and fewer new purchases. We hope for a better year in 2015, and will focus on reducing outstanding credit to improve cash flow.
  • Cash continues to be king. B2B business sectors with good cash positions are solid.
    • If your product/service saves clients money and makes financial sense, you’re in good shape.
    • Raising money will continue to be a challenge. Investors have been focusing on accelerating deliverables, creating a difficult environment for entrepreneurs. The Wall Street Journal says that the share of people under 30 who own businesses has reached a 24-year low, referring to young entrepreneurs as an endangered species,.
  • What is your current planning horizon?
    • We continue to plan quarter to quarter. There are too many variables for a longer horizon. We pay up our credit lines, and cover multiple payrolls with safe bank deposits.
    • We are watching headcount and dollars in the bank.
    • We are communicating more with our best employees and bringing them into more decisions so that they won’t be looking elsewhere.

How Do You Craft an Effective Trial Offer? Five Suggestions

Situation: A professional services company has developed a new trial offer to promote their services to prospective clients. The offer includes a discount for an initial evaluation accompanied by a discount on services should the client choose to proceed with recommended solutions. They seek guidance on whether this is an effective approach. How do you craft and effective trial offer?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The suggested approach is similar to what others offer to new prospects, but only goes half way. A discounted offer only works if you’ve convinced the prospective client that first, they need your services, and second, that there will be a positive financial impact to their bottom line if they agree to your trail offer. You need to add recommendations that will demonstrate a significant short term financial benefit.
  • Target your message. Give the prospect a reason to spend scarce dollars now.
  • Offer to apply all or some of the initial fee to future expenses if they contract you to solve problems that you identify in your initial review.
  • An example of a more targeted offer would be as follows – we will audit your accounts receivable as well as any debts that you’ve written off last in the last 2-3 years. Based on this audit, our past experience has been that you can boost short-term collectibles from these accounts by 30%. An offer like this demonstrates an immediate impact on cash flow.
  • Do you feel comfortable offering a guarantee? You will save the client $X over a guaranteed period or the service will be free.

What are Best Ways to Boost Cash Flow? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company is frequently short of cash at payroll time. It has good revenue and profitability, but timing of receipts can make it difficult to meet payroll. Are the CEO and CFO doing something wrong, and what changes should they look at to better manage cash flow needs? What are best ways to boost cash flow?

  • All financing begins with your cash flow pattern! Your ability to manage cash flow is the foundation of credit worthiness. It is both a reflection of past performance and specific future performance expectations.
    • What can you do to optimize your situation?
      • First – put your own house in order!
      • Review your business model and the aspects of the business model that are causing cash flow challenges. Based on what you find, fine-tune your business model and its cash flow capacity. If receipts are the challenge, work with your customers to focus on timely payments.
      • Understand your financing needs in their full context. What short-term financing options are available? Will your bank offer you better terms on your line of credit to keep your business.
    • Stop, think and analyze before you act.
      • Framing:  View the problem in its full context!
      • Alternatives:  Consider all relevant choices!
      • Trade-offs:  Get more than you are giving up!
  • It is important to fine tune your business model, not just in slack times when you have the time, but also in good times so that you are well-prepared for the next slack period.
  • When times are flush, set aside funds to invest in analysis of your business model.
  • Special thanks and in memory of Eric Helfert, PhD for his advice in this discussion.

Which is Preferable C or S-Corp Status? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company’s accountant advises them to transition from a C Corporation to an S Corporation. Remaining a C Corp would force them into accrual accounting with significant tax consequences. The accountant also advises that it is easier to sell an S Corp to a buyer, and S Corp status would relieve problems with retained earnings. Which do you think is preferable, C or S Corp status?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Accountants disagree. Get a second opinion. Also consult a tax or corporate lawyer who will provide another perspective.
  • Another company looked at S vs. C status and found two key factors:
    • S Corp status is great if you expect to lose money for a few years because of the benefit that it can offer to personal taxes. Over the long-term you should look at the difference between personal and corporate tax rates and set your strategy so that it makes the most sense.
    • An S Corp cannot have non-U.S. shareholders.
  • There is more flexibility with C Corp status in your ability to grant options, sell shares, etc. For a suitor, purchase of C Corp shares prior to a full acquisition is like a date before deciding on marriage.
  • C Corp status is good if you are building an empire. S Corp status is better if want to have employee ownership under an ESOP as an option for exit.
  • Since taxes are a significant part of this decision, think carefully before you shift from cash accounting.
    • Once you commit to accrual accounting you can’t go back to cash basis.
    • To the extent have an accrued tax liability you can extend payment of this liability over multiple years.
  • You also may want to consider a hybrid accounting method:
    • Accrual for sales
    • Cash for service
    • Look at whether there are tax advantages to a hybrid model.

Better to Focus on Cash or IP Protection? Three Suggestions

Situation: A company is resource constrained and faced with a serious trade-off: do they focus on short term cash needs – immediate product improvements that will speed new product iterations to boost sales; or longer term strategic concerns – assuring that they have good IP protection on their technology before they launch new versions? When you are resource constrained, does it make more sense to focus on initiatives that will quickly produce cash or strategic concerns that will protect your future?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Build two timelines – one for shoring up the patent portfolio so that you can safely build and launch new IP-protected versions of your technology and one for quickly completing product improvements to speed development of new product iterations which will generate cash. Assess both the energy requirements and the dollar risks and implications of each timeline. If you do not have the resources to do both in parallel, this analysis will help you to determine your best course of action. The risk analysis of each timeline should take into account what would happen if another company were to duplicate your technology and get to market with improvements before you do.
  • As a compliment to the above exercise, ask what happens if I don’t do either A or B? Do a SWOT and investment analysis on both. Which is the greater risk – launching with insufficiently protected IP or risking not being first to market?
  • These analyses will help you assess whether it may be feasible to accomplish part or all of either task with dollars in lieu of your own resources.

How Can You Unwind a Redemption Clause? Six Options

Situation: A company exchanged a small percent of their stock for a Series A unsecured note 4.5 years ago. The company has not undergone an IPO because of the recession and if the note is not repaid in 5 years, the holder has the right to call the line. If the company can’t repay the line, the holder gains governance rights. Revenue declined during the recession and while it is on the upswing, the company doesn’t have the cash to repay the note. What are the best alternatives for the company to unwind this redemption clause?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Raising money to repay the debt will be problematic because of the current liability. Investors want their investment to fund growth and returns, not to simply repay debt.
  • Assuming that your revenue rebound is sustainable can you prioritize resources to accumulate cash to repay the note? Jack Stack, in The Great Game of Business describes how he was able to rally his company’s employees to pay off a seemingly impossible debt load in one year to save his company,
  • If raising the cash to pay the note is impossible, you have 5 options:
    • Convert the note to long-term debt that you can service.
    • Convert the note to equity at a lower evaluation and take some dilution.
    • Renew and push out the note, with a sweetener.
    • A combination of the above.
    • File Chapter 11 if you can’t produce or raise the funds.
  • Have your options in place at least 2-3 months before the note is due. This gives you time to talk to and bargain with the note holder.
  • Start a PR campaign with the note holder.
    • Look for leading and lagging indicators that show your progress.
    • Build a story that lends credibility to your forecasts of future success.
    • Pitch that you are a good long-term investment, and now is the prime time to trade the note for equity.
    • Prep the holder, and build this story gradually over time.