Situation: A CEO’s company is short of cash to make a scheduled payment against a line of credit. They have been notified that if the payment isn’t made, the bank will transfer cash from the company’s checking account to satisfy the payment. This would compromise their ability to meet payroll and pay vendors. How are your relations with your bank?
Advice from the CEOs:
What the company needs is time, so that they can pay down the line of credit from cash flow. It is best to compartmentalize any discomfort with this situation. Remember that any bank action generally takes time.
Advice from the company’s lawyer is that if they stop making deposits, the bank will notice and react negatively. Given that the current interest rate on the line is low, a negative reaction from the bank could lead to an increase in the rate.
The company has a bargaining chip. The bank does not want to show the company’s line as delinquent. If they admit that a delinquency exists, it puts them in a bad place.
Develop a contingency plan to guard against the company’s biggest risk – inability to make payroll. Assure that this can be covered.
Use checks paid by customers to move a portion of company assets to another bank.
Secure a new line of credit with another bank to cover credit needs, including salary coverage if the current bank acts adversely.
Assure that any conversations with the bank are documented in letters to the company’s contact at the bank.
Situation: The CEO of an early stage company has identified a person to help her as an assistant. This will be her first real employee. Prior hires have been contractors who have been paid on revenue generated. This individual’s salary will be an expense without clear association to revenue. What guidelines do you suggest as she makes this hire? How do you hire your first employee?
Advice from the CEOs:
Create a cash flow projection to make sure that you have the cash to afford an employee.
If you consistently expect 40+ hours of work from this individual, consider a salaried position which will give both of you more flexibility.
Paychex currently handles your payroll and benefits. Work with them to make sure that all labor law compliance issues are covered. Also, consider hiring a labor law consultant to help you avoid minefields.
Do a background check even if you have known this individual for a long time.
Consider working with a professional employment organization that can provide back-office HR support for you.
An employee handbook is unnecessary at this point. However, think through how you will want to handle issues that may come up including vacation, benefits and paid/unpaid leave like bereavement leave. Document these for inclusion in a future employee handbook.
Under the current health care law employers with less than fifty employees are not required to provide health benefits without paying a penalty. This may change as the law continues to evolve.
Situation: A company has a significant monthly payroll, and business is growing. Accounts payable collections are 90-120 days. Their challenge is to finance the gap. They have tried, but can’t get their bank to provide financing. An SBA loan will help. How do you manage cash flow gaps?
Advice from the CEOs:
Look for private non-bank financing.
Your AR is safe, low risk, and from reputable companies.
Non-bank financing offers better rates than banks, with access to cash from the lender on reasonable notice.
Investigate Lendingclub.com. They offer business loans up to $300K at 5.9%. Lendingclub.com operates by spreading the risk over thousands of investors.
Talk to lots of banks – not just those with whom who’ve worked in the past. Given your cash flow needs and good credit history, if you offer to shift all of your business to another bank you may get a more positive response. Once you have talked to other banks, let your current bank know your plans. They may become more responsive.
Change your service policy so that you give your best service to customers who pay you fastest. Once the purchasers at companies with whom you work learn about this, they will pressure their AP people to speed their payments to you.
Put more focus more on services which pay up front.
Going forward switch as much business as possible to ACH payments.
Offer customers early pay discounts – 1% net 10 or ½ of the Lendingclub.com rate to your biggest clients.
Befriend lower level employees in client companies. Particularly those with whom you have regular business contact.
They can tell you how to get to the top of the AP pile.
Let them teach you their company’s practices.
Plan finances going forward so that you can finance the gap yourself.
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.
Situation: A company, noting that business conditions have improved, is planning for growth. This means keeping current customers and taking on the next tier of customers. They are also focused on improving customer service and the customer service experience. All of this costs money. How do you control expenses as you grow?
Advice from Andy Wallace:
As a small business, you can’t spend more than you have. You need to focus on all expenses from supplies to workers compensation. Major expenses are inventory and payroll. You need to focus on the line items, control the little things and control the big things.
There are three areas that we monitor frequently: inventory control systems, overtime, and assuring that safety is first to reduce accidents and control workers compensation costs.
Employees respect employers who respect them and their families. Recently we had an employee who was called by school because their child was sick. We told the employee to take the rest of the day off to take care of the child. The employee was back in an hour, having made other arrangements for the child’s care.
As you grow your payroll, hire the right folks with the right skills. Take time and don’t rush – you need to fill the position with the right person. As a small company having the right skills is important and reduces the costs for training and on-boarding new employees.
Important skills for us vary by position but include solid computer and technology skills; attention to detail, as well as writing, communication and math skills; the ability to multitask and respond positively to interruptions.
The culture of our company is extremely important. It’s the foundation of the company and we want to perpetuate it. Culture starts at the top with the leadership as examples for the employees to follow. It can’t be “do as I say, not what I do.” Employees know who arrives early and stays late, who is attentive to details. If we don’t set the right tone as leaders of the company, we can’t expect them to follow.