Archive for the ‘Financial reporting/metrics’ Category

5 Signs Your Business is in Trouble

May 3, 2011

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group, LLC

Here are 5 critical early stage signs that your company may be in trouble.  They all have to do with poor cash flow. If you are experiencing 1 or more of these,  as owner or CEO, you must act immediately:

  1. Vendors are reducing your credit limit:  This may be due to failure to pay on time, a poor credit report, reduction in the amount ordered or simply rumors about your company from other suppliers.  Are they asking for payment before they will ship the next order to you?
  2. Top people leaving for other companies:  When a company is in trouble the weakest performers will be the last to leave.  The top people will notice problems and find reasons to change companies.  Be concerned if this starts happening as the top people in your company will be talking to each other.
  3. Your accounts receivable balance is increasing:  This is the cash your company needs to live on.  If sales are not increasing but the accounts receivable balance is going up then you need to find out why and fix it.  Are there quality problems?  Are invoices not being mailed on time?  Do you have a couple large customers in financial trouble?  Is anyone assigned to work slow payers?
  4. Inventory and accounts payable are increasing but sales are down:  Is someone ordering inventory as if there is a big sales increase occurring?  Who is approving purchase orders?  Get with key suppliers and see if you can return inventory and get a credit off the next invoice.
  5. Gross margin is dropping:  This is cash not available for the company to use.  Is there a quality problem requiring replenishment of goods sold?  Was there a price increase from a supplier that was not passed on?  Is the sales department giving price breaks just to get orders?  Are competitors offering a better product and sales is cutting price to compete?

Management must maintain a dashboard of key indicators that are monitored daily or weekly.  This will allow the management team to identify problems early on and take action.

Keep Overhead Expense As A Percent Of Total Sales Low To Save Business Cash Flow

June 21, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group 

Some of the best well run companies in America keep their overhead expense very low.  It becomes a competitive advantage when competing against other businesses.  Your company needs to have the same strategy.

Any available cash from having overhead low can be channelled into marketing and sales to drive marketshare. You never know when the local television or radio station might come to you with a last-minute buy that you do not want to turn down.  If your cash is tied up in fixed overhead costs then that special offer becomes a lost opportunity.  For example, years ago due to a last-minute cancellation our company was offered a Super Bowl Ad by a local network affiliate. Due to having available cash on hand we were able to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity.  Customers talked about seeing that television spot for years afterward. 

Regardless of your industry, one way to monitor growth of overhead is to watch the trend of your actual overhead dollars being spent over time.  You would like overhead dollars to stay the same or decline as sales go up.  Another way to measure the change in overhead is to look at the combined overhead expense as a percent of sales.  As sales increase the percent will decline.  That will  be a good thing. 

What is the takeaway here?  

As owner, when you are managing areas like operations, inventory, and customer service, do not let an increase in overhead prevent you from taking advantage of marketing opportunities that may come up.  In addition, if sales shows an unexpected decline you will already have the overhead expense under control.

Look closely each month at every line item of overhead and constantly challenge the amounts. Overhead expenses can be reduced.

Always have overhead dollars and percent to sales low and trending downward and you will like the strategic flexibility it will give you.

6 Gaps In Business Insurance That Can Destroy Cash Flow

June 7, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

Business insurance can be a godsend when something unexpected happens that can cause the daily operation of your business to be interrupted.  It is cash well spent.

Most owners and CEOs do a good job of anticipating what needs to be covered and making sure the company has sufficient insurance.

But we are living in a different time.

What used to be enough insurance coverage may not be sufficient today.  It is more important than ever that your insurance agent understands your business and works closely to protect the company and it’s shareholders.

Here are 6 areas to discuss with your insurance agent and assure yourself that in case of loss the company is covered to the extent it needs to be.  If not, the gap will come out of the cash flow of the business:

Business Income Insurance:  If your business is destroyed by fire, tornado or some other catastrophe you need to cover income and expenses until the company can be fully operational again.  Most businesses have coverage in this area.  The problem may occur if your insurance coverage levels are for the size of the company 5 years ago.  Has the coverage been updated to reflect your growth.  Maybe the policy got switched to a house account at your agency and no one has updated this important coverage.  Also, make sure you are clear what conditions have to exist to get reimbursement.  That may vary by industry and type of company.

Law and Ordinance Coverage:  You have successfully grown the company in an older building to save on overhead.  Now it burns to the ground.  Check now to see if your coverage is for replacement to the level it was before.  If it is then you may have a gap if building codes have been modified.  There may be new construction codes to address hurricane, tornado or other environmental needs.  I have also seen aesthetic codes requiring newly constructed buildings to have brick exteriors.  Ask your agent about law and ordinance coverage and if it is applicable to your business.

Business Personal Property:  Do you have a business that requires taking important tools and equipment offsite?  Some business personal property insurance policies only cover  loss within 1000 feet of your property.  If you put tools in a van and go to another location you may not be covered.  The solution would be “transportation coverage.”  Ask your agent to verify if this is an issue with your policy.  If it is then it needs corrected now.

Electronic Data Processing Insurance:  We are in the age of the computer.  Viruses, power surges and humidity levels could damage your software or hardware and result in loss of important customer data.  This could mean you no longer can access accounts receivable reports or customer databases.  If your company has developed an in-house CRM system you could have a real problem if the data is infected by a virus.  It is called EDP insurance.  Do you have it?  Do you need it?

Cyber Liability Insurance:  This was not necessary years ago.  However, if today your company has a website that captures email addresses and sends enewsletters or sells products over the internet, this may be coverage you need.  Issues can range from computer viruses unknowingly being passed on, identify theft or even copyright violations arising from content on your site.  Ask your agent what coverage is appropriate for your type of business.

Umbrella Liability Insurance:  This is additional liability coverage on top of regular liability coverage.  Do you have enough umbrella liability?  If your company vehicle hits a surgeon and he cannot use his hand to operate again are you sufficiently covered?  Maybe your company is not at fault but many umbrella policies will cover legal fees to defend your position.  If you have high enough liability coverage it gives the carrier all the more reason to mitigate the claim down or defend you against frivolous lawsuits.  Umbrella policies tend not to be expensive so make sure you have enough coverage.

As you can see, insurance has to be managed like everything else in your business.  Do not take for granted that your coverage is sufficient.  

In order to protect your business cash flow take the initiative to make sure your insurance agent is up to date on all aspects of your company.

Save Time And Cash With A Few Good Performance Measurements

May 27, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

Next to more sales and more cash most owners and managers would list a desire for more time in their day.

How does an owner keep track of what is happening in the company when he or she is consumed with meetings, addressing emergencies and fulfilling commitments outside the office?

It is a challenge to say the least!

I have found there are a few measures of performance I can access daily and weekly that quickly tells me if things are going as planned.  These measures almost act as early warning signals that a small problem may be about to become an all encompassing issue the whole management team will have to address.  I refer to them as “How are we doing” metrics.

Every manager and every company is different.  I encourage you to identify a few key metrics that will work for you and your business.  My suggestion, however, is to not overdue the number of measurements you are tracking.  If you are having to dedicate staff to just preparing a few indicators for your review then you are probably looking at too many.

The measurements should be easily accessible and help you improve the company.  If they cannot aid in increasing sales or cash flow then maybe you can review that data later.

Over the last 20 years there has been a mini industry created in performance measurements.  Many PhDs and consultants have made a career in marketing  “Balanced Scorecards”, “Strategy Maps” and other indicators of productivity.  I find most of them interesting but often too costly to prepare and sometimes ignored by management teams.  If you use these and they work for your company then by all means you should continue.

The measurements I use appear to be obvious ones but that is OK.  They have worked for me.  Maybe they might work for you:

Cash Report:  This is a daily report that  shows the bank balance, deposits made, payments transmitted and ending balance or float.  I never want to be surprised on cash, whether it’s coming or going.

Daily Sales:  I know my sales plan and this tells me if we are tracking to hit it.  If it is a company that issues leads daily I will want to know conversion rate.  If there are multiple locations, product lines, or divisions I will want to know if all of them are tracking to hit their monthly sales goals.

Accounts Receivable Aging:  I want to see this weekly and determine who owes us money and if the  amount is increasing.  In my opinion, we deserve to be paid for the quality work we did and I am very aggressive in wanting to be paid on time.  I will also do a mental calculation of days of sales outstanding.

Accounts Payable Report:  I want to see this weekly and compare the balance owed against cash on hand, jobs moving through the system and new sales being generated.  In the event I get a call from the CEO of my top supplier, I always want to know what we owe and if we are current.

Marketing Percent to Net Sales:  This is normally a monthly report that tells me if we are overspending to create sales.  Many companies have gone out of business from spending too much in this area.  If sales are trailing the plan dramatically during the month I may cut back some area of marketing before the month is over.

These are the key performance measurements I stay on top of.  There are many other reports that I will review from time to time such as Revenue per Employee, Revenue per Visitor on a website and, of course, monthly financials.  But these 5 performance measures are important to me.  You may have different ones that work for your business.

Regardless what metric you use there are 3 important elements to keep in mind with each report:

  1. Establish a beginning baseline from which to measure results.  All measurements need a starting point.
  2. Always look at  trend over time of any performance measurement.  Are the current results just a blip or is there a pattern occurring?  Some management teams like to illustrate trends with a graph for impact.
  3. Take action.  Unless the results were a blip then, at a minimum, you need to ask more questions or look at additional data.  Is there a problem with pricing, a promotion, or a key account?  Are there quality issues preventing collection of money due?  Information is only good if you do something with it.

A few good performance measurements can save time, increase your personal productivity and improve cash flow and profit.

Make sure they exist in your company and are used.

Reduce Surprises With A Rolling 3 Month Cash Flow Projection

May 25, 2010

By Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

“Cash is more important than your mother.”  A west coast business professor once said that and as a former CEO I agree.  Just for the record my mother would agree with me.

With all the volatility occurring in the economy it is very difficult for any business to plan ahead.  We see turmoil in Europe that may reduce exports, a consumer only beginning to spend again, and private and public debt at uncomfortable levels to say the least.

What is an owner, CEO or senior manager to do in an environment like this?

First, I would remind you that your company runs on cash.  If you run out of cash you either have to replace it or go out of business.  Therefore, it is best to anticipate any peaks or short falls in your near term cash position so you do not find yourself making crisis management decisions when, for instance, it is time to make payroll.

The best tool to use is a rolling 3 month cash flow projection that lists your anticipated inflows and outflows of cash.  In otherwards, where is your cash coming from, where is it going and how much do you have left over?

In my opinion, this should be a monthly cash flow projection that is updated weekly.  If cash is extremely tight and unpredictable then a rolling weekly cash flow forecast is even better.

Meet weekly to update the projections with key management team members.  A side benefit will be a clearer understanding by everyone where the most productive use of cash is occurring.  I found this to be a positive energizing exercise for my management teams.

What to do if you see a shortfall in cash coming?  Here are a few options:

  1. Have a line of credit in place with your bank and use it as needed.  That is what it is there for.  Your banker should receive updates of your cash flow so he can anticipate the request and payback.  He will be impressed how you are managing your cash situation.  He will probably wish his other clients were doing similar calculations.
  2. Speed up payment of accounts receivable.  There always seems to be late payers and being aggressive in collecting may be all the added cash you need.
  3. Get extended terms from your key suppliers.  Rather than just delay paying, I have found it best to ask them for a temporary extension on terms.  If you have been a good customer and paid as agreed this should not be a problem.
  4. If you are a manufacturer one solution may be simply to return old inventory to your supplier and get a credit.  Apply the credit and it may actually offset a portion of the next invoice due.
  5. Cut expenses.  No doubt in the weekly management meetings,  areas will be identified where expenses can be reduced without hurting revenue. As CEO or owner you may have to make the final decision when and where to cut in order to get the action that needs to be taken.   

A rolling cash flow projection is one of the best management tools there is.

Be proactive.  Anticipate your short-term needs and you should not have any cash flow surprises.

Use A Baseline Measurement To Track Change In Performance

May 14, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

Here is a simple tip from the field of medicine that will increase your productivity, cash flow and overall profit performance.

I  cannot believe how often management in any type of business I see fails to do this.

And that is to start with a baseline measurement when making a change.

The best at using baseline measurements is the medical community.  The Doctor, nurse, or hospital always starts by getting your beginning weight, cholesterol reading, red blood cell count, blood pressure, temperature or some other measurement to help them track the rate of progress, or lack thereof.

As management, we need to do the same in order to assure ourselves that cash invested is getting the results we want.  If you are going to invest additional dollars in some new program or project you want to know that you will get an expected payback within an acceptable period of time.

You can have all the metrics, measurements, and progress points you want but it is imperative that you start with an accurate beginning baseline measurement from which you can track the expected improvement.

Think about that the next time you initiate a new energy savings program, search engine optimization strategy, increase in media spend, bonus program or any of the many tweaks and adjustments you make every month in your business.

Did you have a starting point to measure against?

If it works for your blood pressure it may also be a remedy for your business.

Is Your Core Product Still Generating Profit and Cash Flow?

May 10, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

Is your core product still a priority in your company?

Do your employees know what your core product is?

Is your core product profitable and creating cash to drive your business forward?

A core product of a specific business historically has solved a problem or fulfilled a unique need better than the competition.  Often it represents a product or service that is first to the market and is hard to displace.

As sales of a core product grows for a company a major benefit is a strong loyal customer base.  Examples of companies and their core products:

  • Starbucks:  a good cup of coffee
  • Google:  search and advertising
  • KFC:  chicken
  • Goodyear:  tires 

A few thoughts on core products:

  1. The core product of your business should be your company’s most profitable product line.  Calculate the direct profit of all of your products by taking the selling price less direct costs such as labor and materials.  You must know how profitable each product line is.  Based on profit, is your core product still #1.  If not, why not?
  2. Has your company become bored with your core product and branched into other product lines that are not as profitable but are using up cash and management time and talent?
  3. Does your customer know that you have been known for your core product and why?
  4. Have you evolved your core product to stay abreast of your customer’s needs or have you allowed competition to steal sales with a newer better version?

As a company grows sometimes it loses focus and direction.  Make sure your core product is the most profitable part of your business.

Never let a competitor take your core product and the loyal customers that go with it.

Am I Making Money? What Happened To My Cash?

April 30, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

Those are the 2 most basic questions every business owner, CEO, or senior manager should be asking.

Things move fast in today’s business world.  The economy, government, competitors and consumer groups are constantly challenging our way of doing business.

We have a plan in place and doing our best to grow our company everyday.  Is it working the way we want?  There are daily KPIs and dashboards in place to help us.  To me there is only one true analytical measurement and that is the monthly financial statement. Yes, I said monthly.  This is a place not to skimp on spending.  Quarterly or year-end reports are way too late.  Also, I suggest using a CPA.  If you cannot afford one full-time then use a reputable one on a part-time basis.

Monthly financial statements should be 2 things:

  • Accurate:  you do not have the management time to go back and correct bad numbers.  Besides, credibility is damaged when outsiders (think lenders) see you revising  results.  It’s a red flag that there may be bigger problems.
  • Timely:  you want to take actions to correct problems.  Getting a late financial statement means you lost another 30 days to improve.  I want to see financials no later than the 10th of the following month.

Still not convinced you need monthly financials?  Here are 11 important reasons you do need them:

  1. Are you getting the results you planned to get?  If so, then good. If not, then you want to know why, where and by how much you are missing your budget.  Was your original budget even accurate?
  2. It helps hold a manager accountable.  The management team deserves to know what areas are performing and not performing. Each of the managers needs to know how they personally are doing.
  3. There is always an area of the company that needs fixed.  This will help to clearly identify what it is and if progress is being made.  If there are multiple problems then the numbers will help you prioritize what to attack.
  4. If you have borrowed money then your lenders will expect financials.  If there are Board of Directors or advisors they will want to see the direction of the company.  Remember, there may be outside audiences wanting to see your financial results.
  5. The obvious will hit you between the eyes—– good or bad.
  6. Is there a 2-3 month trend occurring?  It could be in overall sales, profit or gross margin.  You also may find a clear trend in an important line item that is costing you profit and cash.  An example might be sales dropping while marketing and accounts receivable are increasing. 
  7. Is a branch location or product line not performing?  Without the ability to measure results you may waste valuable cash and management time  trying to grow the wrong part of your business.
  8. If you operate a seasonal business you need to know your off-season financial performance as well as whether the company executed as planned during your best months.  Example:  retail at Christmas, landscaping during the spring/summer.
  9. It can help your tax accountant by showing him/her whether you are making a profit during the year and at year-end.
  10. It helps you manage and plan cash flow needs based upon what is actually happening.  Do your cash flow budgets need to change going forward.
  11. If you are in an industry that blindly shares financial information, it lets you compare how you are doing against the top performers. 

Daily and weekly KPIs are critical to the success of a business but the monthly financial statement is the final scorecard that tells you if the sum of all your actions gave you the results you wanted.  You may discover the KPIs were wrong.

You must know what is happening with your cash and if  the business is profitable.

A timely and accurate financial statement will do that for you.