As managers reset the business for recovery, companies need to adopt a lean culture where expenditure is minimised and every cost is questioned.
One of the greatest risks facing many businesses in the current environment is running out of cash. A company that can’t pay its bills, regardless of how profitable it is, will quickly go out of business. Cash conservation is therefore key to survival.
While in the medium to longer term companies will have to look at reengineering their business and operational models in order to meet challenges presented by the post-Covid-19 world, the short term is going to see a focus on cash according to Business Financial Consultant Brendan Binchy.
“There is much more urgency relating to cash now,” he says. “And there are many things a business can do to manage its cash. Almost everyone out there is availing of debt payment deferrals, for example. They are trying to hit the pause button on cash going out wherever they can so that they can preserve the status quo as much as possible. They are also looking at other areas like aged debtors. You almost have to look at it like a company threatened in a pre-receivership condition.”
Binchy recommends a structured approach to cash conservation and this starts with the balance sheet. “The profit and loss account is a record of a business over a period of time, but the balance sheet gives a snapshot of the business at a particular moment in time.”
Companies should pay particular attention to their gearing, he advises. This is the ratio of debt to equity on the balance sheet. “The lower it is the better, but losses will erode equity and increase the gearing ratio,” Binchy continues.
A healthy gearing ratio will allow companies to borrow judiciously in order to bolster their cash position. “This can be very helpful, but companies need to be aware of the associated debt service costs.”
The next step is to look at asset funding, where they may be scope for some reverse engineering. “Businesses frequently purchase assets for cash during good times,” Binchy notes. “They could be re-financed now with bank debt and this will improve the cash position. Generally speaking, the asset lifetime and the funding cycle should be the same. It is important to remember that trade debt, like invoice financing, is for working capital not capital expenditure.”
The sales lead to cash cycle is the next area for examining.
“It takes time for marketing effort to translate into sales leads, buying decisions, billing, and cash collection”, Binchy explains.
“This can be quite protracted, and companies need to look for ways to get to close sales quickly and speed up invoicing.”
The supply chain should also come in for attention to slow the outward flow of cash. “Companies should identify strategic supplier relationships, tighten stock management overall, improve workflows, and negotiate new arrangements such as stockholding facilities with key suppliers. Talking to key suppliers and developing strategic partnerships is a very good ongoing strategy for companies. The more they do it the better.”
And then there are what Binchy calls the common-sense measures.
“Defer capital expenditure and other spending decisions wherever possible,” he advises. “Companies need to adopt a mean and lean culture where expenditure is minimised, and every cost is questioned. But this must come from the top down and everyone must share the pain and to be seen to share it.”
Once those actions have been taken, it is time to put together a budget plan. “Having these measures in place means you already have your fingers on the pulse and you can make a budget plan to take you from where the business was before the crisis to what’s likely to happen afterwards. The most important thing about the plan is that it should be iterative. You’re not going to get everything right first time around. The plan gives you a framework to forecast and plan for what might happen. You can adjust it weekly and monthly rather than having to build new plans all the time.”
And businesses don’t have to do this on their own. Binchy recommends the Enterprise Ireland Lean Business Continuity Voucher as a good starting point. This offers eligible companies up to €2,500 in training or advisory services to help them identify and implement the measures needed to ensure they can continue to operate during the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is also the Covid-19 Business Financial Planning Grant, which is worth up to €5,000, and can be used by companies to pay up to 100% of the cost of engaging an approved financial consultant to assist them prepare a financial plan, understand their immediate financial position, manage costs and identify their funding requirement.
When it comes to cash for the business, Binchy points to the Temporary Covid-19 Wage Subsidy which he says has been very helpful to businesses throughout the country.
Sources of working capital and loan finance include the €450 million Covid-19 Working Capital Loan Fund and the €200 million Future Growth Loan Scheme fund available through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland. Businesses which have difficulty accessing bank finance can apply for funding of up to €800,000 from the Enterprise Ireland Sustaining Enterprise Funds. There is also a fund for smaller companies which offers funding of up to €25,000 and €50,000 depending on the size of the business.