There is reason to be hopeful that the worst of the Coronavirus’s impact on the economy will be gone in 2021. In the third quarter of 2020, the U.S. economy recovered two-thirds of the output it lost in the first half of the year. The recent news about successful vaccine trials is cause for us all to hope that things return to normality sooner rather than later.
Owning a small or mid-sized business isn’t easy in the best of times, let alone the middle of an economic crisis. But if you’ve made it this far, then there are reasons to be optimistic. Here are 10 things you can do to future-proof your business finances in 2021.
1. Have a Flexible Budget
In the military it has long been said that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. If 2020 taught us anything about business, it’s that no budget survives contact with an unforeseen shock like a global pandemic and subsequent economic crisis.
A budget is really just an estimate, not something you can adhere to down to the last dollar. Budgeting always requires a great deal of flexibility–especially when preparing for whatever 2021 throws at you.
2. Invest in Marketing
Most businesses cut their costs when the pandemic hit, and we’re not here to convince you otherwise. However, be careful what you cut.
According to a Harvard Business Review study on the performance of thousands of public companies before and after the Great Recession of 2007-8, companies that deployed the optimal combination of defense and offense–cutting costs by improving operational efficiency while simultaneously spending more on marketing and R&D–enjoyed the biggest profits in the three years after the recession began.
The lesson here can be applied to small and large businesses alike: selective spending can help protect and even grow your business in the midst of an economic recession.
3. Apply for Affordable Financing
In normal times, most small businesses need some form of financing outside of cash flow to be able to grow. In the COVID-19 era, external financing can ensure your survival–and also enable your business to grow if you spend it wisely.
Whether you’re in the market for a business term loan, line of credit, accounts payable loan, or any other form of business financing, lenders will assess your business with a fine-tooth comb. Typical qualifying requirements for a business loan include: time in business, gross monthly revenue, and credit score.
One of the silver linings to come out of this economic crisis is record-low interest rates. According to the latest data from Experian, rates now start at:
- Traditional bank loans – 2%
- Online business loans – 7%
- SBA 7(a) loans – 5.5%
- Invoice financing – 13%
4. Protect Your Business Credit
If you’re especially reliant on credit, then it is crucial to do whatever possible to protect your business and personal credit rating.
Basic tips include:
- Keep tabs on your credit utilization–it’s better to use multiple credit accounts than max one out.
- Make payments on time and pay down debts as quickly as possible.
- Borrow from lenders that report to the credit bureaus–that way on-time payments will boost your credit score.
- Monitor your credit report and review bank accounts for suspicious activity that could hurt your credit score–and immediately notify the credit agencies when you find something.
- For a few dollars a month, you can use a credit monitoring service to alert you to fraudulent activity that could hurt your credit.
5. Shore up Your Emergency Fund
When the first shocks of the coronavirus were felt, it caused many business owners to drain their emergency funds. That’s legitimate–after all, COVID-19 economic restrictions were the very definition of an emergency. However, the end result was that many business owners were left with no funds to protect themselves in the event of a future emergency.
Your emergency fund is something you can access right away, no matter the type of emergency. It allows you to keep operating, even if you don’t have instant access to other funds. Fallen victim to a cyber-attack? Waiting for some overdue invoices to be paid? Been offered the chance to buy out a competitor on the cheap? The need for cold hard cash can arise in the most unexpected ways.
Business guru Dave Ramsey recommends treating your retained earnings, the net income left in your business after it has paid out dividends to shareholders, as your emergency fund. He suggests retaining enough to cover six months of operating expenses, noting, “that’s a lot of cash, but you’re your own credit line, too.”
6. Protect Your Relationships with Suppliers
In times of economic crisis, your suppliers are probably facing the same sort of financial constraints as you are. It’s not in your suppliers’ interests for you to go under, nor is it in your interest for them to go under. Therefore, the best way forward is cooperation.
Keeping in close contact with suppliers and proactively notifying them when things are tight are key to finding mutually beneficial solutions.
7. Automate Your Payroll
Automation used to be something big businesses did, but this is no longer the case. These days, there are many types of automation tools that are affordable enough for small businesses to use. Automation reduces expenditure and time spent on admin tasks, which is especially useful in these uncertain economic times.
If you’re fortunate enough to have employees, that brings with it tasks like payroll and taxation that can be a real drain on your resources. The best business payroll software automates payroll, employee benefits, and tax deductions. These programs integrate with third-party software, syncing data into your payroll so that you don’t have waste energy tracking down information or cross-referencing time sheets. The end result: you save time and money.
8. Invest in Business Tools
In addition to payroll software, there are plenty of other business tools you can use to automate business processes–saving you money in the long run.
Here are a few examples:
- Accounting software automates bookkeeping and expense tracking and makes tax reporting a lot easier.
- Email marketing software sends scheduled emails and tracks performance, boosting customer engagement while saving money on marketing.
- If you have employees (especially ones who work from home), project management tools are essential to managing time and budget.
9. Create New Revenue Streams
One of the interesting things about the 2020 crisis is that some businesses, like restaurants and bricks-and-mortar retailers, were hit hard, while other businesses, like software providers and ecommerce retailers, boomed.
There’s no knowing who will win and who will lose from economic developments in 2021. Therefore, the best way of future-proofing your business is to diversify into multiple revenue streams. As small business coach Jennifer Allwood says, “You don’t want to be caught with all your eggs in one basket, unable to make a shift or pivot. Incorporating things like affiliate marketing, digital and physical products, a monthly/recurring membership group, one-on-one consulting, ad revenue, and sponsored content can really help your bottom line if the economy takes a downturn.”
10. Stay Alert to the Economy
No matter how focused you are on your business, never lose sight of the world around you.
Brian Moran, CEO, Small Business Edge, says losing his small business in the Great Recession helped him prepare for the 2020 recession.
Moran lists 5 ways to prepare your business for recession–these are relevant now and in planning for future recession:
- Watch for red flags, e.g. slow-paying receivables, tightening credit lines, or something happening upstream within your supply chains.
- Stay on top of your receivables, otherwise you run the risk of not having enough cash on hand when disaster strikes.
- Develop alternative revenue streams built around what your customers might need if there’s a downturn in the economy.
- Review your contracts and agreements, so that you’re not stuck with a 10-year lease on new office space when recession hits.
- Look at every segment of your businesses and ask “What if?” For example: What if a recession hits our business? What if the bank pulls out of a line of credit? What if our largest customer goes out of business and takes our receivables with them?
Your Finances Are the Heart of Your Business
The main reason businesses fail is because of inadequate cash reserves or poor cash flow management–and that is equally true during a recession as in normal times. Either way, your finances are the beating heart of your business. If you fail to properly manage your finances, this can pose a mortal danger to your company. If your finances are well-organized, then you can feel confident to meet even the greatest of challenges.
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