Most will agree that the light at the end of the tunnel is no longer an oncoming train and whilst the 2008 recession (such as it was) is long over, it will still take the economy (read SMME’s) some time to rally, make a come-back and hopefully deposit us right back to where we were – obviously not in terms of what caused the melt down in the first place, but certainly in terms of running productive, successful businesses.
I know that I really had to ‘grit’ my teeth and bear it for a few months – you know what I mean – the uncertainty of money coming in or getting work in or making the sale and so on.
Fact of the matter is , that when you are in the dwang – that’s exactly where you are and sometimes it is just a matter of waiting it out. There are a number of tips though, that will help and guide you through, should you find yourself in difficult or trying times. Actually it is not a bad thing to get yourself in the habit of doing these all the time – bad or good times.
For me, if you have lost control of your finances, then you have lost control of your business. I think that most people, when they think of business finances, what they think about are the books and whilst I agree with that on some level, I also want to make it very clear that the books are ‘reactive’. By that I mean that they are ‘in the past’ – what is contained in your books has already happened. Cash flow, on the other hand, governs what is happening right now.
Think about it for a moment – it doesn’t matter how many people owe you money, or who have promised to pay you – the bottom line is that when you look at your bank account, it is about what is actually there (less what needs to be paid out) that actually counts. So it stands to reason that the cash flow needs to be properly managed and should be discussed at every management meeting. If, like me, you are on your own, it is a good idea to make time (at least weekly) to check up and see what is going on.
Make sure that the Management Accounts are monitored on a regular basis and that they are consistently checked for issues such as the key ratios, this will assist in enabling you to identify trends earlier, when you can still do something about them, rather than later, when you are already in the smelly brown stuff. Updating your cash flow forecasts on a regular basis will also assist in ensuring that you are ahead of the game – remember to watch the sensitive bits – issues like a change in the exchange rate or a price hike in fuel could have a huge effect on your margins.
Now that we have had a look at some of the issues around Finance and today we continue with Margins.
As usual, let’s have a look at exactly what a “margin” is. The Wiki says :
The profit margin is mostly used for internal comparison. It is difficult to accurately compare the net profit ratio for different entities. Individual businesses' operating and financing arrangements vary so much that different entities are bound to have different levels of expenditure, so that comparison of one with another can have little meaning. A low profit margin indicates a low margin of safety: higher risk that a decline in sales will erase profits and result in a net loss.
Profit margin is an indicator of a company's pricing strategies and how well it controls costs. Differences in competitive strategy and product mix cause the profit margin to vary among different companies.”
The easiest way for me to remember it is that the margin is the difference (financially) between what everything cost (not only materials, but also time and expenses [for me as a service type business] and research, printing, paper, ink etc.) and what I charge. If your margins are too low, you will never make a profit and on the other hand if you set your margins too high, you run the risk of never making a sale – it’s a delicately balanced scenario!
Essentially there are two ways to increase your margins (profit margins) and those are either to cut costs or cut prices. In order to know which one to do it is obviously essential that you focus on your margins on a regular basis and also on what the current economic trends are as it is not always a good thing to cut prices, although it is always a good thing to cut costs, as long as that ‘cost’ does not interfere with the quality of your product or service.
Sometimes increasing the price of your services or your product has a powerful statement attached to it – it says “I’m worth it” or “the product is worth it”. I know that when I started out, I had nothing to compare my services to and the result is that I used my corporate ‘salary’ as a gauge to set my hourly rates – wow, was that ever a big mistake. I priced myself far too low and the result is that I attracted many clients, all of who desperately needed by expertise, but all of who could not afford me! Within 24 months I had doubled my hourly rate and I was attracting clients who not only needed me, but who could also afford me.
In this particular instance, me raising my charges had an incredibly powerful effect – it said ‘this is what I am worth’ and the psychological effect on me, as an individual, was incredible. Before, even though my prices were very low, I was chasing business by giving discounts, hoping to retain the very clients that could not afford my services in the first place – that was a very costly mistake – I wrote off a lot of money to bad debt.
Nowadays, if I am going to give a discount – it is because there is a huge value to me and it is based on a whole different set of criteria, such as (but not limited to) early or timeous payment, number of hours on retainer etc.
Cutting costs is definitely the best way to increase your margins and thereby increase your profits. This is not always an easy thing to do particularly in tough times, when you are looking at staff and salaries. You have to divorce yourself from the emotions and look at the cold hard facts. Can you do without this particular function being performed by a single person, in other words “Don’t make it about a person or personal”, but rather about what’s good for the Company. If you have two people doing work that can be done by one person, then it stands to reason that you only need to employ one person – don’t get sucked into the emotional side of things.
Keeping your costs to a minimum and your clients to a maximum is therefore the best way to ensure that your margin remains on track and is the best way to meet and even surpass your budget requirements.