One of the biggest challenges that any entrepreneur or small business owner ever faces is the challenge of debt.
Debt is one of the major causes of business failure and many small businesses are simply not equipped to deal with debt.
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Debt is always a challenge in personal finance but becomes an even bigger challenge in a business context.
Common business debt includes suppliers, salaries and bonuses, financial institutions or tax authorities in the case of Value Added Tax (VAT), Employers Tax and other applicable taxes.
The Big Deal
Every entrepreneur dreams of that one big deal which transforms a business and provides cash flow to meet expenses. Businesses land in debt while chasing ‘the big deal’.
Many business owners observe extreme caution when dealing with small clients, insisting on upfront payments and other measures before supplying a service or product. However, many otherwise prudent business owners, throw caution to the wind and do not practice prudence when approached by big business.
A lot of small businesses have been known to take substantial overdrafts, credit facilities and huge stock inventories when contacted by what appears to be a lucrative deal from large clients. Business owners sacrifice healthy cash flows for debt with narrower margins in order to gain economies of scale.
A number of businesses with insufficient cash flows, take out major loans just to service a large client, reducing their debt coverage ratio. To worsen the situation, once the big client is “secured”, new business development and marketing often take the back seat to service this new client.
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A situation where “all eggs are one basket” soon develops, and when a slight payment delay or order cancellation occurs, a thriving business can be driven to bankruptcy in a very short period.
In order to avoid falling into this situation, a small business must continue to increase client numbers and develop the business even after a large client is secured.
It may also be wise to engage an inventory management and financial consultant to assist with calculations and scenarios in order to maintain a business’s risk exposure within acceptable limits.
The Cost of Capital
In order to exceed payment schedules, it may be required to consider methods to improve cash flow and manage debt. This may be through renegotiating payment terms, for example reducing payment days after delivery of goods.
Another way to get the best deal is to remain abreast of new suppliers who may offer more favourable terms to a current supplier.
A business can also consider ways of rapidly reducing inventory such as discounts and specials for early settlement. Reducing inventory to “just in time” delivery and purchase may also assist in improving cash flow.
Just as in personal financial planning, methods such as debt consolidation can help improve a business’s cash flows.
This may involve a move away from multiple financial service providers to settle to one institution with favourable terms for all products utilised by a business.
It is also possible to negotiate interest rates on loans and credit balances with a business banking manager, and in some instances “lock into” fixed rates in a rising interest scenario.
A business must also avoid becoming liable to pay penalties and interest, on revolving credit such as a credit or charge card where debt repaid within 30 days attracts no interest.
What To Do When in Debt
In some instances, a small business may simply have cash flow challenges due to debt whilst in possession of viable long term contracts. In this instance, it may be possible to consider debt factoring.
Debt factoring is simply where a business sells its unpaid invoices to a third party in return for cash, often at a discount to the invoice value.
This frees up cash flow to meet debt obligations or to enable a company to produce more product.
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Many companies doing tender based business with government and state owned companies use this service, especially in periods of high demand where cash may be tied up in invoices. Many specialist companies and many business banking managers offer this service.
Debt is simply when expenses exceed income, and although a lot of effort is put into improving income and cash flow, many entrepreneurs forget that similar attention can be paid to managing a business’s expenses.
Office overheads, staff expenses and travel may need reduction and in other instances the business’s entire budget may need to be redone to cater for fundamental changes in a small business’s trading environment.
Another cue borrowed from personal finance is debt counselling. Professional business debt experts may need to be hired to help solve matters.
Counsellors may recommend debt consolidation, negotiation with creditors or counsellors will try and find ways of making a business more efficient to keep a business as a going concern.
When dealing with debt, it is important to understand that debt is a useful and necessary business tool that needs to be managed.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by debt but many simple solutions are available such as renting out an office or excess warehouse space.
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Other solutions may be to adapt existing equipment for other functionality that can be rented out or even liquidation of non-essential assets.
Such interventions require courage and a longer term viewpoint to prevent a business becoming a casualty of business failure.
How To Embrace An Exponential Mindset For Your Business
In the age of exponential technologies, it’s a risk not to take a risk.
Think global and exponential
If you’re an entrepreneur trying to establish a successful business, it’ll be dead before it even takes off, if you don’t build it for the future. You have to think three to five years ahead, so when it launches, it’s still relevant.
Think like former Canadian pro ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky, who said: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” And these days it’s easier for entrepreneurs to predict the future thanks to technology and data insights.
Consider what Singularity University co-founder Ray Kurzweil calls The Law of Accelerating Returns. He says the only thing that’s constant is change and that change itself is accelerating exponentially. As per Moore’s Law, information-enabled industries are doubling their performance and halving their price every 18 months, according to the price-performance ratio. The field of biotechnology has managed to surpass that.
There’s no time to slow down, your business has to constantly evolve, and you have to keep asking “what’s next”. Encourage experimentation and innovation in your company. Innovation focuses on incrementally improving your already existing products and services, while experimentation allows for fresh outlooks and breakthrough strategies that leapfrog old ways.
We should reprogramme our linear mindset into an exponential one. Don’t aim to grow your business by 10 per cent year-on-year, but rather 10 times. The first thing I learned at Singularity University is the potential of exponential growth. If you take 30 linear steps, you only move 30 places, but if you move 30 exponential steps your place doubles with each step and by the 30th step, you’ve moved over a billion places.
We’ve seen this happen with unicorns – not the magical creatures, but start-up companies that are valued at over $1 billion within their first year – like Slack (cloud-based team collaboration tools and services) and Square Inc. (a mobile payment company). It once took around 20 years for American companies to reach the billion-dollar valuation mark, now it may take less than a year.
In the early stages – until your third step – your progress may seem linear. Many exponentially-geared companies give up at this point – just as their growth rate is about to explode. Persevere!
A few decades ago it was unthinkable for an individual or start-up to disrupt entire industries. Start thinking globally, not locally. Use staff-on-demand and crowd souring to propel your business ahead of the competition. It’s unlikely that you have the world’s smartest minds working for you, however with the power of the crowd, you just might.
If you’re struggling to find a solution, turn the challenge into a game and offer prize money. You’ll have thousands of people attempting to solve your problem, but will only pay for the best solution. Kaggle is a platform for predictive modelling and analytics competitions. It lets statisticians and data miners compete to produce the best models for predicting and describing data. Mining company Gold Corp placed its geological data online and offered money to anyone who could locate gold at their Canadian mine. Four of the five winning entries struck gold. And in 2011 it took a team of gamers 10 days to solve an enzyme riddle that could hold the key to curing AIDS.
The six Ds of tech
As companies become information-enabled they should internalise what Singularity University co-founder Peter Diamandis calls the six-step growth cycle of digital technologies. These Six Ds of Tech Disruption are digitisation, deception, disruption, demonetisation, dematerialisation, and democratisation.
The first step is digitisation. Once something enters the digital realm it gains the potential for exponential growth. Think of the radio and CDs. You no longer need either, instead you can stream online, listen via YouTube or download music. After digitisation, growth appears slow, even deceptive. Sadly that’s when many companies opt out. Be patient!
No one imagined Kodak would disappear after a century. Kodak thought they were in the business of printing photographs, while they were in the business of memories. Think about the need your business solves. Kodak invented the digital camera, but was too scared to disrupt its own industry. It didn’t realise that people were no longer taking photographs in the same way, so their competitors disrupted the industry instead.
Today, the camera has become part of the smartphone and photographs are predominantly shared via social media. Instagram epitomises the next step in the equation: demonetisation. With time technology becomes cheaper and even free. Instead of printing photographs, many people instantly share them on a free smartphone app like Instagram.
Next comes dematerialisation. The radio, camera, video recorder, GPS, calculator and calendar are disappearing from the physical world as they’re being built into the smartphone. The wallet will dematerialise next with the advent of online transactions and cryptocurrencies.
Finally, democratisation happens when government, corporates and the wealthy no longer hold control and masses of people have access. Just think, the average South African with a smartphone has access to much more information than the president of the United States of America had 20 years ago.
In the age of exponential technologies, it’s a risk not to take a risk.
Why, When You Fail, You Should ‘Fail Forward’
So, you’ve fallen on your face? Consider that you’re walking in the footsteps of some ‘famous failures,’ like Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and Stephen King.
5 Inspiring stories to keep in mind1000 times he failed
Teachers described him as “too stupid to learn anything.” He got fired from two jobs because he was “non-productive.”
Then he tried inventing something completely new. What’s even crazier is that he tried 1 000 times, unsuccessfully. When a reporter asked him how it felt to fail 1 000 times, the story goes, he replied, “I didn’t fail 1 000 times. “[The invention] was an invention with 1 000 steps.”
Through pure determination, Thomas Edison – initially a failure – made the world a brighter place to live in. If such good things come from success, then why do we choose to always look at the brighter days and completely disown the tough times?
Here are five more inspiring stories to keep in mind, should you ever feel that you’re the biggest failure.
The woman whose book got rejected 36 times
You’d think that once one book you’ve written becomes a bestseller, publishing another one would be a walk in the park. But it’s not that easy. At least not for Arianna Huffington.
Having produced that first bestseller, The Female Woman, when she was only 23,, Huffington tried to pitch her second book, but none of the 36 publishers she approached said yes. Still, she didn’t give up.
And that’s just one of a couple of failures from The Huffington Post’s co-founder. She has been dropped from hosting a BBC show, garnered 0.55 percent of the vote (when she ran for governor of California) and been unsuccessful when she called for then-President Bill Clinton’s resignation through her website.
But now The Huffington Post gets millions of visitors every month; she’s had a successful book career; and, if it helps, she’s very rich. Clearly, “failure is a stepping stone to success.”
The woman who was “unfit for television”
Oprah Winfrey is worth more than $3 billion. But it hasn’t always been like that. And, considering that a Baltimore TV producer called her “unfit for television” right before he fired her, it’s telling that the main source of Oprah’s success was a TV show that ran for more than 20 seasons.
Oprah also tried to get into the movie business with the movie Beloved. It lost to Bride of Chucky in terms of revenue and consequently lost the $80 million invested in it. Oprah has said this failure sent her into a state of depression.
But then, in 2013, she got back onto the horse (speaking cinematically) with The Butler.
See? Even when you make it, you’re still at risk of failure. Henry Ford, William Crapo Durant and Walt Disney (among so many others) all went bankrupt after they’d already made it big. But each one sprang back in his own way.
The man who was fired from the company he’d founded
Not all of Apple’s products have received mass acclaim. More specifically, not all of the Apple products launched by Steve Jobs have been successful.
One such failuret was the Lisa computer. This was supposed to be a desktop computer targeted at personal business users. For a purchase price of $10,000 (about $24,000 today) consumers could buy the first desktop that would allow them to use a mouse to work with a 5MHz processor and up to 1MB RAM. The Lisa sounded like a magnificent idea, at least at the time.
However, the pricey computer sold poorly, and then-CEO John Scully, someone Jobs had chosen for that position a few years earlier (there are so many lessons in this story), helped remove Jobs from the Macintosh division in 1985.
So Jobs left Apple. Then he founded NeXT, and failed again, but sold the software division of NeXT to Apple in 1997. Then he returned and became CEO in 2000, and this time he was determined to make Apple something special. He succeeded.
The man who almost gave up after 30 rejections
Stephen King was just selling short stories and teaching English when he had the idea to write Carrie. However, despite the $2,500 advance he received for the novel, he decided to give up on the book after 30 rejections.
But his wife wasn’t going to let him do that. She urged him on, and he finally agreed to submit the manuscript again.
Carrie is one of King’s bestsellers and went on to become two film adaptations, one of which won the lead actress Sissy Spacek an Oscar.
The man who quit – just before striking gold
One last story comes from Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich. In it, the author writes of an interview with a millionaire named R.U. Darby who in turn described an uncle of his who, having heard of the riches that came from finding gold, set out to do just that. After weeks of commitment, this miner finally spotted a vein of shining ore. He raised the money for the necessary machinery and went ahead and he started shipping the gold. However, before long, he’d lost the vein of the gold ore.
He tried to find it again and was unsuccessful. Then his workers quit and sold the machinery to a junk man. The junk man called in an engineer to inspect why the project had failed, and it was determined that the vein was just 3 feet (three) away from where the Darbys had left off.
The lesson? Before you stop trying, try again. If not for yourself, then for other people. What would the world be like without Thomas Edison’s invention? How about Alexander Graham Bell? Use failure as a step to elevate you because it’s by learning to accept failure that we can see great success.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How To Recession-Proof Your Business
South Africa is in a technical recession. Here’s how to navigate the turbulent times ahead.
For the lay-man like myself, it’s important to understand that a technical recession is an economic term that describes two consecutive quarters of negative growth in an economy. For South Africa, gross domestic product (GDP) declined 0,7% during the first quarter of 2017 after contracting by 0,3% in the fourth quarter of 2016.
Why is this a big deal? Because the economic outlook, even without the technical recession, was bleak. Ratings agencies are losing confidence in South Africa. S&P downgraded the country to junk status earlier this year, followed by Moodys, which revised South Africa down a notch.
How organisations respond to recessions
There are a number of knee-jerk reactions to a recession as a direct result of decreasing revenues and profits. The most relevant to SMEs are:
- Cutting R&D spending. This means no new product lines, and no incremental innovation expenditure unless it returns direct value to the business.
- People get fired. In a time where underperformance has a double impact on the business, people that aren’t performing are performance-managed out the door.
- Market shares shrink. This is often due to reduced R&D spends.
- Processes are evaluated. Companies start looking for efficiencies that should have already been in place.
Outlook and opportunities for SMEs
For SMEs, sales and product planning in a recession is key and must align to the way big business is responding to the recession.
Fundraising for capital expenditure is more expensive, but not impossible. It may be valuable to invest ahead of the curve to capture the emergent big businesses during this period and therefore external investment may make sense.
In an increasingly collaborative economy, SMEs should look to each other for partnerships and complementary projects that cost little to assemble, but amount to great value for a big business.
Survival of the nimblest
SMEs have the ability to be nimble and move quickly to change organisational structures and deliver on just-in-time value. This can be hamstrung by unpredictable fluctuating expenses like cell phone contracts that may vary in cost in an unpredictable way from month to month. The fewer of these costs on your books, the better.
The term ‘always be closing’ is a famous sales mantra, it’s also applicable in a recessionary context. First, because you don’t know what they don’t know and unless you tell them — who will? Second, the feedback loop of understanding the concerns and actions from your customer or client can only be understood through interaction.
Is it clear that you are the best provider for the job that needs to be done? If not, it is important to build a stakeholder strategy that puts your business in front of the key procurement and strategy custodians. This may be a great opportunity to exhibit demos, case studies and showcase the efficiency that you offer.
Focus on value
I can’t over-state this. Value, value, value. It goes without saying that one of the key reasons anyone would consider an alternative supplier is because of the specific problem they solve, so this should be your approach in reinforcing the value you bring to the table. Repetition builds memory structure.
One recession doesn’t fit all
It’s important to understand that for SMEs a recession can have an expansionary effect in the same way the lipstick effect applies to luxury goods and services.
The lipstick effect is the theory that when facing an economic crisis, consumers will be more willing to buy less costly luxury goods. Instead of buying expensive fur coats, for example, people will buy expensive lipstick.
A series of psychology experiments have confirmed for the first time that while tougher economic times decrease desire for most items, they also reliably increase women’s yearning for products that boost their attractiveness.
So, for SMEs, the formula is simple — don’t panic, analyse your customer value chain and position your solution accordingly and then sell, sell, sell.
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