Tag Archives: Credit

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.

Have You Hired People with Disabilities? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company is expanding. Some jobs that need to be filled are either utilitarian or don’t require full mobility. Labor through agencies runs $20/hour including agency fees. The CEO considering hiring the disabled including wounded warriors for this work. Have you hired people with disabilities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In San Mateo County California there is a group called Community Gatepath. They assess the work and work requirements and the company pays for disabled services a fair price piece basis. This worked well for sample product with simple packaging.
  • National groups include SourceAmerica.org and the Small Business Association which can assist with any regulatory questions pertaining to hiring the disabled.
  • Working with Easter Seals one company hired high functioning disabled individuals. For everyone involved, it was a very positive experience.
  • If you are interested in hiring disabled veterans, organizations like Hire Heroes USA provides both resumes and assistance. Tax credits are available for hiring disabled veterans.
  • There may be issues around how disabled workers process information or how they handle emotional situations that are different from non-disabled workers. Sensitivity among those supervising is important.
  • Interview and investigate the sponsoring organization and arrangements. Make sure that they are set up well for your needs as well as those of the disabled workers.

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.

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.

What Can SMBs Do To Empower Women? Six Options

Interview with Linda Gold, CEO, M3iworks

Situation: While women comprise the majority of US society and business customers, they continue to be underrepresented in business and government. For girls growing up, it’s hard to be what you can’t see, so girls and young women don’t see the opportunities that business offers them. What can SMBs do to empower women?

Advice from Linda Gold:

  • Women contribute greatly to the business community, particularly in small and medium-sized businesses which are the principal job creators in the US. For example, in tough times, smart companies and CEOs face outward rather than retreat inward. Women are naturally more collaborative and can be better at networking and building communities of interest that can open up new opportunities. Smart CEOs will leverage this talent.
  • Dr. John Gray (“Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”) points out that business is like a football game—it’s about getting the ball and running with it. While women know we should be given more credit for our contributions, we need to learn how to take more credit. We need to accept the credit and accolades we receive and deserve. And if a male team member takes “our ball” and runs with it, defense needs to “kick in” and recover the ball. You can only score if the ball is in your possession.
  • Dee Dee Myers, President Clinton’s former Press Secretary gives an example of how to gracefully take credit. When a colleague told her she had done a great job, instead of deflecting the credit, Myers simply and elegantly replied “Thank-you.”
  • Small and medium-sized businesses employ a significant population of women. This gives them the opportunity to raise the profile of their women employees both in the local press, at local social business events, and through social media.
    • The YWCA TWIN Awards – Tribute to Women and Industry – recognize women for excellence in their area of expertise, and for giving back to the community. In Silicon Valley, CEOs nominate their high-achieving executive women for this prestigious TWIN award each year.
  • Girls For A Change (GFC) is a national organization that empowers girls to create social change. GFC encourages young women to design, lead, fund and implement social change projects that tackle issues girls face in their own neighborhoods. The program depends on volunteer coaches – local business, professional and career women – who receive coach training and meet with girls for a 12-week period after school. By publicizing this opportunity within your company or sponsoring a GFC team, SMBs can make a significant contribution.
  • SMBs have a vested interest in encouraging public education to adopt more relevant curriculum and teaching methods. We are in the information age, not the industrial age. We can learn more about opportunities to offer services to and partner with local schools and educational foundations like the Silicon Valley Educational Foundation. We can also lobby for more H-1B visas.

You can contact Linda Gold at lgold@m3iworks.com

Key Words: Empower, Women, Representation, Role Model, Collaboration, Credit, Contribution, NAWBO, YWCA, TWIN, Girls For A Change, Education, Standards, H-1B, Visa

How Do You Build Acceptance of a Disruptive Model? Two Examples

Interview with Marc Rochman, CEO, Openbucks

Situation: A company has recently introduced a disruptive business proposition. The immediate focus is pitching the solution as an attractive alternative and building early traction. What are best practices for building acceptance of a disruptive model?

Advice from Marc Rochman, CEO of Openbucks:

  • Any business, especially an innovative start-up, is bound to meet a wall of resistance; the key is finding the cracks in the wall. To do this, you must demonstrate a significant benefit to both the company and its customers. However, most important is finding a partner who has an early adopter attitude or culture.
  • Often the principal resistance is not with the product or solution being presented, but fear of being the first through the gate – particularly with a product and company who haven’t yet proven themselves. This stems from a perception that if the solution turns out badly the penalty may be severe, especially for the executive who made the decision.
  • Openbucks recently introduced a new payment solution for people who don’t have bank accounts or credit cards such as teenagers and people without strong credit and those hesitant to use credit cards online. The solution allows people to purchase a gift card from a retailer and use that gift card to buy in-store goods as well as to buy and pay for digital goods inside hundreds of online games.
  • Openbucks’ first partner is Subway. They are innovative, imaginative and not afraid to be first with a new concept. In addition, Subway also happens to have a subsidiary that specializes in payments and payment processing so they immediately understood the model.
  • Another early partner is CVS Pharmacy. To CVS the appeal was the model of convenience and a way to encourage repeat customer visits. Since people routinely visit pharmacies to get prescriptions and a host of other products, it is easy for them to buy a gift card during a routine visit.
  • The keys to overcoming objections to innovation are:
    • Be resilient and patient, especially when working with large companies. Once they begin to see a trend of success, they will more likely be ready for mass adoption.
    • Strike the right balance between persistence and a willingness to adapt your product when you see an opportunity. Pivot or tweak your model to take advantage of a new opportunity that you did not anticipate originally. The pivot allows you to take an easier path instead of banging against the wall too long. Sometimes you just have to go around the wall.
  • Subway has more stores than any other retailer in the US. Adopting the Openbucks solution came naturally for Subway because they understand payment processes and how to use them to create loyalty and foot traffic.
  • The program is simple and a win-win-win for the consumer, retail outlet, and merchants who can collect cash-like payments from the unbanked, under-banked and those who prefer not to use a credit card online. The purchase of a $10 Subway gift card can be used to buy a Subway sandwich, and inside mini digital stores in hundreds of online games. Fifty-four percent of those who buy a Subway gift card also get a sandwich – a clear value to the retailer. Further, since they have the card, they are more likely to be repeat customers.

You can contact Marc Rochman at info@openbucks.com

Key Words: Strategy, Sales & Marketing, Disruptive, Brand, Acceptance, Resistance, Retail, Benefit, Fear, Gift Card, Payment, Credit, Subway, CVS, Convenience, Objections, Pivot

How Do You Fund Growth? Five Points of Focus

Interview with Hannah Kain, President & CEO, ALOM

Situation: While funding from banks and institutional sources has been challenging in recent years, growing companies need to fund their growth. How have you funded your company’s growth?

Advice from Hannah Kain:

  • We focus on frugality and prevent wWhile funding from banks and institutional sources has been challenging in recent years, growing companies need to fund their growth. How have you funded your company’s growthasteful spending. However we invest in tools that enable staff to purchase wisely and stay ahead of customer demands. We also collaborate with vendors to manage costs.
  • As a result, the last two years have not forced us to change how we fund growth. We are getting large contracts and work globally to solve customers’ logistics challenges. Our challenge has been moving from centralized distribution to strategically placed centers around the globe, increasing inventory costs and cash needs.
  • Where we have changed is in how we negotiate terms and credit with our customers. We manage vendor accounts payable to maximize cash flow while treating them as business partners. This requires close vendor communications to assure that everyone’s needs are met.
  • We have been cautious with our banks and seldom dip into credit lines. Managing vendor payments has been more effective.
  • Essential to vendor communications are open sharing of information and goal setting. We work to create a team atmosphere. This is similar to what we do in our offices. In our experience, instilling the right culture is far more powerful than financial incentives.
    • We share information through all-hands company meetings and regular updates so that everyone gets the full picture.
    • We also share information with our vendors so that each side is aware of the other’s needs.
    • We create an annual one-page business plan for the company, and parallel plans down to the supervisor level. Performance against plans is updated regularly to assure that we remain on top of situations.
  • We focus training on new tools. Our staff gets technology they need to be successful.
    • We generously provide technology to our employees, provided that they give a logical business rationale. This includes home computers, iPhones or Applets to help them do their jobs.
    • Similarly, when a vendor or customer asks for a service improvement or a new service with a good business rationale, we invest to support this.
  • These methods have allowed us to finance most of our growth internally.

You can contact Hannah Kain at hannah@alom.com

Key Words: Funding, Bank, Institutional, Growth, Spending, Tools, Empower, Customer, Demand, Costs, Vendor, Cash, Needs, Terms, Credit, AP, Partner, Payment, Information, Sharing, Goal, Culture, Performance, Technology, Service

What are the Best Current Avenues for Raising Capital?

Interview with Sandy Lawrence, Past CEO, Therative, Inc.

Situation: The technology sector is growing following a couple of lean years. Whether you want to fund a new company, or a new effort within a smaller company, what are the best avenues to capital? How has the game changed?

Advice:

  • Funding and credit markets are opening but still tight. The bar has been raised because too many people are chasing too few available dollars.
  • The venture capital sector has consolidated. Over 80% of current focus is on technology, software and medical. Under 20% goes to the consumer sector.
    • It is important to target VCs who specialize in your technology, market and business model.
    • Research current VC portfolios.
  • Angels now act more like VCs – particularly structured angel groups.
    • Initial investments are typically under $1 million.
  • If you have a technology, investigate the grant world – e.g., NIH or DARPA. These organizations fund research, but not marketing, etc.
    • Look for specific programs or RFPs that align with your technology.
    • Target your grant request toward prototype development and studies.
    • Search LinkedIn for military people who can introduce you to contacts within programs like DARPA.
  • Investigate SBA Grants, and foundations with an interest in your technology or application.
    • Foundations sometimes will grant funds ($100k) to support the work of individual scientists and researchers.
  • Call on friends and family who believe in you and your work.
  • Whoever you approach, these rules apply:
    • Do your homework. Choose sources that align with your project and profile.
    • Presentations must be crisp and easily understood. Investing in professional assistance is wise.
    • Be able to make your case in 15 minutes or less. The first minutes are most crucial, so have your ‘elevator’ pitch perfected.
    • Your model and financials must support a high multiple exit, 5-10x their investment in a reasonable period of time (~5 years).
    • Team, Team, Team – credentials, experience, presentation – be a team with whom the investor can work.

You can contact Sandy Lawrence at slawrence@therative.com

Key Words: Fund Raising, Credit, Capital, Venture Capital, Angel, SBA, Foundations, Military, Presentation