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How to Ensure Business Survival in the Age of Covid-19

In this article I outline how to endure the pandemic and emerge with the resources you need to benefit from the inevitable upturn.

The IMF has pegged world growth at under 3% for the first time since at least 2014.  Emerging markets are expected by the IMF to come back stronger while advanced economies look somewhat sluggish. See Chart.

Covid-19 will impact that growth going forward but the exact impact is hard to measure. In addition, oil and commodity prices have dropped precipitously and that affects growth in Canada quite heavily.

The U.S., Canada’s major trading partner, is expected by the Business Development Bank of Canada, to enter negative territory for the first half of the year before rebounding in the second half.  How accurate is this prediction?  I personally think it is optimistic given the projected effects of Covid-19 but in any event negative growth combined with social distancing will mean different things to different businesses.

In general, lack of demand is the main concern for business owners but a lack of supply and disruption in supply chains globally is also a major concern. (See chart) 

China, the first country impacted by Covid-19 has begun rebounding. This, combined with the economic stimulus packages rolling out across the globe gives cause to believe in mitigation of the economic shocks being experienced now.

     The affects on your business will depend on your individual business profile.

HOW TO CONDUCT CONTINUITY PLANNING

This chart from BDC gives a reasonable overview of your planning priorities. First and foremost, the health and safety of you, your employees, customers and suppliers are all interlinked and must be planned in a rigorous fashion. Plan your operations in light of the pandemic and then take steps to implement your plan and communicate and coordinate your plan with all of your stakeholders.

Health Planning: Communicate in an empathic way to all concerned.

  1. What are the best practices to keep employees safe?
  2. Who can work remotely?
  3. Contingency planning for quarantined employees.
  4. Can you expedite paperwork to reduce financial distress of laid-off employees?
  5. Have you contacted stakeholders to coordinate responses?
  6. Schedule updates and keep people in the know.

FINANCE AND YOUR BUSINESS

Changes you make to adjust for the pandemic will affect your cashflows.  Plan your changes and then take the time to capture and reflect the changes in your cashflow and your working capital requirements.

How much working capital will you need over the next 3, 6, 12 months?

BEGIN WITH CUSTOMERS: Communication is essential; put the right person on this job.

  1. Review this list every morning
  2. Call the customers that owe you money. Ability to pay? When can you expect payment?
  3. Customer promises to pay in two weeks?  Follow up after one week – gentle reminder. Invite them to be open with you if they are still experiencing difficulty.
  4. Existing and planned orders.  Are they on track? How does this reflect in cashflow.
  5. Ask for receivables.  Determine payment capacity of clients as well as timing of payments.
  6. Don’t forget to propose additional services that might be quick cash generators.
  7. Do you need to defer production? Adjust payment terms? This will slowdown incoming cash.

Next: YOUR SUPPLIERS

Supply chains around the world are constrained and you could be at risk of disappointing your customer.

  1. Call suppliers.  Confirm whether existing purchase orders will be filled on time.
  2. Can they meet your shipment quantities?
    1. You may need to delay production and it is important to know this early on so you can manage your customers expectations.
  3. You may experience lower cash outflows if suppliers are delayed. If they are on track your cash outflows may increase.
  4. Payables.  Try to negotiate deferred payment terms, if you can.
  5. If you promise to pay at certain date and subsequently cannot – give them advance notice. You expect it from others, extend the same courtesy.
  6. You may experience lower cash outflows if suppliers agree to later payments.
  7. Health and safety requirements may dictate additional cash outlays on personal protective equipment (PPE) etc.  Keep these outlays in mind too.

ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES

  1. Modified health and safety practices will impact your costs. Estimate those costs and factor it into your planning.
  2. As demand dips you may need to right-size your workforce.
  3. Are there regular operating expenses that you can defer in the short term?
    1. Would your landlord agree to a temporary postponement of rent?
    1. Can advertising, meals, travel etc. be deferred?
    1. A line by line review of expenses may be in order here. Every penny will count.

This rolling cashflow is an illustration. By establishing a rolling cashflow for your business you can see the immediate effects of operation upon your cashflow on a week by week basis. The duration of this rolling cashflow will depend on your own business circumstances. Don’t rely on this 24 week period and understand that these numbers are meant as a bow to the new temporary reality of dealing in the era of Covid-19.

Next, cash is the fuel of your business. This rolling cashflow is the gauge of how much fuel (working capital) you’ve got and what you are going to need and it must be comprehensive when it comes to money in and money out.  With this chart you can have a sense of how money is going to leave your business.  In this imaginary example the effects of continued operation and the cash requirement predicted becomes clearer.  The rolling cashflow is updated weekly to give as accurate a picture as can possibly be obtained.  This chart will have all of the information to inform how much working capital you need and you will then have all that you need to support your working capital loan request.

If you have the resources, you can enlarge this to encompass different scenarios. i.e. best, worst, probable cases. Your accountant can help you with this.

LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

But where is the end of the tunnel for your business?  This chart from BDC has no timeline for a reason; it lacks insight into the progression and decline of the Covid-19 pandemic and therefore the impact on your business activities.

But here is the thing: by charting your cashflow requirements into and past the downswing you can also plan to take advantage of life as it returns to normal.  This means updating your financial plan, having the working capital to purchase materials, recall employees and in short – to operationalize.  Plan your cashflow for the recovery phase as well because as things begin to turn around you will need to spend money to earn money. 

SUMMARY

There is an obvious need to stay on top of your game.  Managing your cashflow on a weekly basis – or even daily if needed – can assist you with managing your employees, customers and suppliers.  Review your spending and (real) cash inflows. Know and implement the health and safety requirements needed for your business and protect the people who make your business real. Maintain open communications with your stakeholders and remember that everyone is going through this pandemic at some level. Be empathetic but realistic in your planning and be in a position to thrive in the ramp up stage that will inevitably arrive.

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