A CEO closely watches company cash flow so assure that it is enough to fund the
company during both upswings and downturns. The company is doing well, but the
CEO is concerned about a near-term potential downturn. Where so you find
sources of capital or savings?
from the CEOs:
anticipating future cash flow needs, planning to breakeven may not be enough.
Anticipate contingencies and cut enough to be profitable. This is particularly
true if a downturn is longer than anticipated.
a close look at operating capacity.
current capacity based on staff count and average billing rates.
best – worst case scenarios given market trends. Compare each against current capacity
and evaluate the gaps. This will help set staffing levels to assure that the
company is not overcommitted in case of a downturn.
future cash flow for non-payables based on experience. This may indicate the
need to cut expenses deeper to assure that the company survives an extended
a recovery, pull back those who were let go.
there is underutilized time from the team, pitch this to investors to obtain
equity financing for new IP.
selling a key customer on a royalty model. This can be a small royalty – maybe 1-2%
of products sold based on the company’s contribution. This is pure profit to the company, and provides
an annuity revenue stream, even if small.
at banks which are aggressively expanding in the region. If they are hungry for
new clients they will offer attractive rates.
are better sources of funding than investors. A good client can become a strategic
partner. Do some homework before first before making the call to a key contact.
the level of financing that is needed.
where it would be used and what kind of return the company can yield on the
Situation: A CEO is contemplating retiring in the next two years. The company is profitable but is primarily dependent upon a single large client for whom the CEO is the primary contact. Compared to national averages the company’s profitability is very favorable. The CEO questions whether his valuation of the company is reasonable. What is a favorable exit strategy?
Advice from the CEOs:
The principal question from the group is whether the anticipated valuation on exit will yield the financial rewards that the CEO requires.
The buyer will discount the value of the current business because the CEO is too important to the business, and because they will not assume that there is ongoing value to the current business beyond 2-3 years.
The best option is to sell to a buyer who wants entry into the key client. They will have reasons beyond the value of the company to pay a premium for this access.
For planning purposes put the value at 2-3 years of the cash that the CEO takes out of the company, discounted to present value plus some premium for the entry that the buyer seeks. Look at the dollars that this will yield and decide whether this sum is a satisfactory payment.
Concerning the company’s relationship with the key client:
The company’s reliance on the key client is two-fold – they are the key customer, and they drive the market which yields a premium price for the company’s products.
Purchasers do not like to be dependent on a single supplier. Their purchasing department will always be looking for alternative sources.
During the exit window it is critical to develop new customer relationships to sustain the company’s growth and reduce reliance on the single key customer.
If the key client is #1, who is developing technologies that will compete with the key client?
What are their markets?
Where are they going?
How are they trying to exploit the chinks in key client’s armor?
What can the company do to secure a vendor relationship with the companies who may replace the key client?
Situation: A company targets mid-sized clients with pricing that is similar to its competitors. They believe that their principal differentiation is their relationship with their clients. The problem is that this is also what all of their competitors claim. They are considering testing a new pricing concept – a monthly fixed fee that will provide a pre-negotiated set of services at a favorable discount, with a weekly presence in their clients’ offices. How to you test a new service delivery model?
Advice from the CEOs:
This looks like an appealing concept. With this arrangement there is no clock ticking and the client may view your various services as a more open menu of options available to them.
Another company has a similar relationship with their CPA firm and have both enjoyed this and are using more services from this firm.
Just a regular presence in the office is worth the retainer.
Another appeal is that this allows regular participation in management and Board meetings.
Another CEO offers a similar program for her professional service company’s clients and have found it successful.
Since there appears to be strong support for this model within the group, what is the best way to implement this new offer?
Negotiate an initial monthly rate for a set level of services as a retainer without a clock.
Agree to a periodic review and adjustment of services and pricing – perhaps quarterly – based on the time and services that have been provided during the preceding period.
How do you sell this program to those within your own company who are skeptical?
Try the program with three clients on a limited trial basis and measure it.
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 provides both contract staff and consulting services. They have a large client for whom they provide staff, but not consulting. The client routinely requests discounted rates on contract staff from the company. The CEO believes that the client requests lower rates because they, in turn, offers consulting to their customers, using the company’s staff, and want to offer these services at a competitive rate. How can the CEO better respond to the next requests for discounted rates? In addition, is there a way for the company to market their consulting services directly to the large client’s customers? How do you balance two businesses?
Advice from the CEOs:
Don’t avoid the conversation on your rates. Make sure that your client knows that they are getting top quality services and that this is reflected in your rates.
Make the issue a price / quality trade-off. If cutting costs is important to the client, offer lower quality options at a lower price and let the client decide what will fill their needs. This positions you as flexible and willing to work with the client, without losing margin.
Offer modest discounts for incremental business, but not current business.
Tell the client sooner, rather than later, that your prices are as low as you can make them. Don’t wait until you are in pain.
How can you promote your own business to end customers via the staff that you provide for this client?
Give them business cards to give out that reflect your business, not your client’s.
Provide them with wear nicely embroidered “Company” shirts to wear at work.
Be aware that your desire to approach the client’s customers directly with your services will be a threat to your client and may result in them firing you as a provider of contract staff.
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.
Situation: A company has an offshore operation with 10 engineers and a good General Manager. They will hire five more engineers in the next month. Their target billing rate is projected to be profitable when they reach 15 engineers. Their challenge is that they need to bear the investment loss to have an offshore capability, but are not sure that they’ll see a pay-off. How can you accelerate the offshore learning curve?
Advice from the CEOs:
Given the current situation, give yourself a window of 60 to 90 days. Create a go/no go decision point and let the General Manager know this. It will provide motivation for the off-shore operation to come up to speed faster.
Another company projected a 2 year break-even based on others’ experience in the geographic location.
They are nearing the 2-year point with the office up and running, on target with schedule, under a General Manager with proven experience.
They see payback on their initial investment at the 2.5 to 3 year point, and thereafter duplicating their payback every 6-12 months or better.
It is important not to undercharge for off-shore work.
One company charges $125 for work done in India that they would have charged at $180 if done in the US – a 29% discount. This is for high billing rates, with spreads even better for lower billing rate work.
If a client pushes for offshore rates, bargain for a lower initial discount for off-shore work compared with US-based work, but combine this with an offer to generously share additional discounts as the offshore location improves productivity.
Bottom Line: Stay the course. Long-term this investment will pay off.
Situation: A company has a long standing relationship providing an exclusive product to a major customer and has a negotiated price and volume contract for this product. The customer changes product design every few years, and the company is the favored supplier of certain components. The customer’s purchasing agent has asked to renegotiate price on the current contract. The company wants to maintain a good supplier relationship with the company, but doesn’t want to lower the price on its product. How should the CEO work with the purchasing agent?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are two distinct opinions from the group:
You have a contract in place for volume and price. If you yield on price now just to assure the remaining business on the current contract you are saying, in essence, that future pricing contracts are also negotiable even after the contract is negotiated and signed.
On the other hand, if you know that there is a model design change in process and want to assure a good ongoing relationship with the company you may choose to yield a bit on price for the remainder of the current contract.
The choice between these two will be a gut choice based on your relationship with the customer as well as your past history with the purchasing agent.
You might want to try a creative alternative. Check with your own component vendor and inquire about pricing if you place orders for your own remaining components on the current product today versus in several weeks. If there is a discount for placing the order today, call the purchasing agent and tell him that if he orders the remaining product on the current contract today, you will pass on the discount that you receive from your vendor. If you don’t get the order today, then you will lose the discount, and there may be a delay on your being able to deliver the remaining parts under the current contract.