Tag Archives: Slowdown

How Do You Create Predictable Costs and Profit? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A company finds that it’s costs and profitability vary greatly by season and during economic fluctuations. Some of this is due to hourly rate fluctuation and payroll costs. They also have excess capacity during slow periods. However, new projects arise quickly, and the company must be prepared. How do you create predictable costs and profit?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Here’s the grim reality. In volatile markets, forecasts are meaningless. Instead of fretting over forecast accuracy, focus on increasing billable rates and managing expenses.
    • To generate additional revenue per project, add a flat percentage charge for project management on top of time and materials. This is often treated by clients like a sales tax or a gasoline cost adjustment and may not penalize contract negotiations.
  • Is it possible to build a sustainable revenue source to resolve profit lumpiness? There are options:
    • Application maintenance projects. After building a box add a provision for maintenance/upgrades as new capabilities and technologies are developed. This can cost-effectively extend the life of the box and long-term profitability of the product that the box supports, while gaining an annuity revenue stream.
    • Add a maintenance add-on service to leverage the company’s core competence on an ongoing basis. Provide technology upgrades through a maintenance subscription similar to software companies adding optional access to all new releases over the course of a year for a fixed subscription cost. The cost to the company for upgrade downloads is essentially nothing, but it gains an annual annuity revenue stream.
  • Investigate a help desk service to sell via subscription to small companies. Most clients use less than they anticipate; however, they prefer the security of a flat price subscription service.
  • What additional info can be gathered through sales to better drive sales forecasts metrics? Look at the past several years: is there any seasonality in a multi-year analysis. It may not occur every year, but if you there’s a pattern it may enable the company to proactively reduce costs where there’s a predictable dip in project demand.
  • Are sales people responsible for both maintaining client relationships and creating new business?  Most companies split these functions because maintenance is like farming while new business development is hunting – few sales people excel at both.
  • If, in development, the company develops IP, can this be used? When there’s down-time can capacity be leveraged to develop the company’s IP portfolio? Look at IP licensing opportunities. This provides an additional potential source of annuity revenue.
  • While it is important to figure out an annuity revenue stream, the principal lesson from the discussion is that most CEOs say that margins are better on fixed price projects than on time and materials. The key is to control to client requests for add-ins or adjustments and to include provision for these in contracts.

How Do You Ramp Back Up Following a Slowdown? Five Thoughts

Situation: A company is ramping back up following a two-year slowdown. During the slowdown employees were on reduced weeks versus historic 50+ hour weeks. When polled about resuming historic hours, several say that they say they don’t want to work more than 45 hours per week. What are best practices for ramping back up following a prolonged slowdown?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Communication is critical, particularly during times of change. Make sure that you clearly communicate the new situation, any change in direction that accompanies this, the need to readapt to the former schedule, and the benefits to the company and employees in terms of ongoing opportunity and employment.
  • If resumption of normal business includes any change in direction, add metrics and objectives that compliment the new direction. To ease the assumption of new roles and responsibilities, provide process check lists.
  • Provide more deadlines, and complement this with increased recognition and rewards.  Rewards do not necessarily mean money, particularly if your employees are knowledge workers who have to exercise critical judgment in their work.
  • Make sure that you are providing any training that employees need to move into new roles. Schedule training days on Fridays – but let those involved know that they are expected to get their regular week’s work done by Thursday evening.
  • During future slow periods, instead of cutting back hours for everyone, offer unpaid vacation to employee volunteers and keep everyone else working at normal capacity. This avoids forcing them to become accustomed to shorter hours at reduced pay.

Key Words: Slowdown, Resume, Work Hours, Adapt, Communication, Delegation, Change, Direction, Metrics, Objectives, Rewards, Training