When investing in your business there are certain things you must do before making a decision. Actions such as buying a new product, paying for services or starting a new promotional or advertising campaign must be thought through. You don’t just get an idea and act on it, purchase new equipment or outsource services before thinking it through. Here are some of the steps you should take before spending any of your business’s hard earned money.
Check Your Budget and Planned Economics
Before spending any money on your business, you should first check how well you are doing against your budget. Are you on budget, below it or above it regarding your spending and profit levels. Do you actually have the cash to spend on new equipment or a fresh advertising campaign?
What you should not do is overspend your budget in the hope that the product, service or campaign will make enough money to cover it. Many companies that are doing well will have the spare cash to enable them to meet the expense while still staying on track financially.
Others that are not doing so well may be tempted to spend their way out of trouble. Perhaps you may believe that new equipment will be more efficient and help improve profitability. Maybe spending on a new promotional campaign will improve sales and get you back on budget? This may be true, but you should never act on impulse with business decisions especially those that involve spending. There are many ‘what ifs’ in business, such as:
- What if that product doesn’t improve efficiency as much as you hoped?
- What if outsourcing a specific task ultimately costs the business more than doing it yourself?
- What if your advertising campaigns fails to generate sufficient business to meet its cost?
Your business could then be in even more serious trouble. It might even fold! Before spending any money not budgeted for, make sure you either have the funds to cover the cost, and have done your homework to reduce any associated risk to a minimum. Here are some ways to achieve this.
- General Budgeting
A business budget should include fixed costs and variable costs with some put aside for development. As much expenditure as possible should be fixed in your annual budget, and potential variable costs should be analyzed very carefully.
Here are some examples of fixed annual costs:
- Fixed rate energy deals.
- Wages and salaries.
- Leasing vehicles and office buildings.
- Financed real estate or equipment.
Energy Costs: Fixed rate energy deals may save you money should energy prices increase as they often so. Their main benefit is the fixed cost that you can include as such in your budget. Your profitability will not be affected should energy costs increase.
Wages and Salaries: Arrange salary and wage negotiations for the end of your financial year. These will then be fixed costs for your budgeted year. Also, make sure wage negotiations and salary increased are applied prior to you setting the budget for the following year. You will know why if you have been learning from this.
Lease or Purchase: You could purchase vehicles and office space rather than lease if you have the capital to do so. Leasing is generally easier to budget. Then again, if you have the initial capital, purchasing saves money over the longer term. All you pay is interest which could change. It’s a difficult decision to make, and one that is often made for you.
Financing Equipment and/or Real Estate: Another way to maximize fixed costs would be purchasing on finance rather than buying outright. Sure, this will result in financed items costing more due to interest. However, they will then be a fixed cost that you can budget for. It is not so easy to budget for incidental expenditure during the financial year.
Changes in variable costs, such as hiring extra staff, should be calculated against projected extra income. It may also be justified by spending being under- budget due to higher than budgeted sales or lower operating costs (even though this implies sloppy budgeting!)
- Managing Incidental Expenditure
Any incidental expenditure should be carefully managed. Big businesses generally have the wherewithal to enable most such expenditure, other than major spending such as on new production or heavy equipment. This type of higher-level expenditure is normally planned ahead, then included in the budget for the next financial year. This would include the capital cost spread over a fixed period of time, including annual depreciation: the general reduction in value of equipment and vehicles over time.
Small businesses may not have this luxury and must purchase items outright or through finance. If this is you, then you must consider very carefully what your are buying and how to pay for it before ordering. What will it bring to your company? How long will it take to pay for itself?
A new advertising campaign may be a better investment than new office furniture. Frivolous spending may come back to bite you later in the year if you have to advertise and your cash is locked up in new desks!
Before spending any money at all that was not included in your start of year budget, you must consider carefully what that expense will bring to your business. Look at the item or service and assess its worth against its cost. What benefit does it bring to the business?
Are you buying just what you need, or are you paying extra for needless bells and whistles in fact, are these bells and whistles just glitter or are they worth the extra cost? Can the equipment do two jobs, rather than buying two cheaper items that ultimately cost more? That’s the kind of thinking you will need if you are to justify any unplanned spending.
- Should You Reinvest Your Capital?
Buying new machinery, new services and paying for new advertising and promotions can be costly. The question is, should you invest your capital on these improvements? Should you spend money on marketing communications, more sales personnel, new products, higher wages or bonuses or upgrade what you already have? Or should you stay as you are if it is working for you.
These are difficult decisions to make, so which should you go for if any? A proper understanding of the things to go for before investing further in your business is essential before you open that checkbook. In fact, should you reinvest your capital at all, or should you sit on it for when it is absolutely essential for you to spend? Rainy days may or may not come, and while waiting for one you may miss the bus!
If you have a good understanding of your core business, and can decide when it does or does not need extra cash injected to it, then you can make an objective decision. Any money spent on your business must be used to improve that business. Closely examine what you are paying for and if:
- Is it necessary?
- Will it improve your core business?
- Will it reduce manufacturing or service costs.
- Will it increase sales or reduce costs?
- Will the increased sales or lower costs result in increased profits?
- Does it give the best value above competitive products or services?
That first question is the critical one you must answer positively. If it is not necessary, then leave it. Go no further, unless you already making tons of profit and can afford to take chances. The others should also be considered. Expenditure can certainly result in increased sales if spent wisely. However, the cost of increasing sales may be greater than the extra profit achieved.
Get the idea? It’s not what you spend that is important, but how you spend it. Any expenditure must either reduce product costs (whether manufacturing or service provision costs) or increase the efficiency with which that product or service is provided. Either of these can help make more money or get more clients.
Things to Go For Before Investing In Your Business
So, knowing all of this, what are the things to go for before investing further in your business? What is needed before you actually spend the money? Our discussions above should now have you in the correct mindset. Understand your core product or service, and do not spend unless your spending impacts positively on that core: either expands it, improves it or makes it more profitable.
- Assess Costs vs. Payment Structure
Identify the factors needed to increase the difference between the cost of providing what you do and what you get paid for it. This cost might be a one-off, such as manufacturing a discrete product and getting paid for it. That’s OK. An ongoing service involves other problems. The cost of providing that service must be less than the payment you receive.
A service might involve a large initial capital expenditure, and then lower spending on a monthly basis. Your pricing must reflect both aspects, and the initial capital spent should be recovered over a defined period. If you calculate that over two years, then the minimum contract period must last two years. If costs are calculated over five years, then a five-year contract should be applied.
- Prospects and Customer Retention Rate
Your customer retention rate is another important metric. If you are already meeting the needs of your core market, then investigate the outlook for future revenue. If you have enough prospects in your sales funnel to warrant additional expenditure, then you must first make sure they will convert to customers. That’s when your customer retention rate becomes important. What proportion of prospects entering your sales funnel passes through to the bottom? This should be a budgeted figure even if just a guess.
If your retention rate is less than budgeted, and if you are not keeping your customers, then your sales funnel will be irrelevant. You must find out why your customers are leaving and sort that out. Make sure your revenue is either stable or increasing before spending over your original budget. Work on maximizing your income before considering further expenditure.
- How to Best Spend Your Money
Once you are happy that your business is making money, and that it continue to do so, then prioritize how you spend any excess over budget. Your first priority will be ensuring that cash keeps regularly coming into the business, and the volume of payments are properly managed.
- a) Your first expenditure after paying the regular bills should be to upgrade your financial systems. Make sure you have the best finance/accounts staff you can get, and then spend money on upgrading your financial software. That will pay off far more than making a one-off purchase of luxury vehicles or upgrading your office furniture.
- b) Next, keep your employees happy. Give them extra bonuses, more training and new equipment. Do not pay them more unless you are sure your income will remain growing. Extra pay cannot be reduced, but bonuses can be paid when warranted, and not paid when they are not.
- c) Any money spent should increase your profit margins, improve your core product/service or improve manufacturing efficiency. A service industry will have fewer direct costs than manufacturing, but even there, money spent should contribute to improving efficiency and profits.
Things to Do Before Investing In Your Business: Conclusion
Unless it is making amazing amounts of cash, you should consider the various things to do before investing in your business. Remember, you are here to make money, not spend it. If you have to spend then spend wisely. Spend money on what will improve your business but most of all, spend money you can afford to spend. You don’t want your business to fail before your ‘improvements’ have had time to filter back to your bank account.
Make sure you research your core business. Only spend money that helps develop that core. If you can expand your core business then you will succeed. So never spend money needlessly every dollar or pound spent must improve or expand your core business.
Finally, having done all that and you still have money to spend, then do so on anything that improves your product or keeps your employees happy. Your employees are as much an asset to your business as the bricks and mortar and the equipment. Investing in your business is sensible, but do it at the right time and spend your money on improving your business or expanding it. Identify your core product or service, the reason for the existence of your business, and spend money on that.
Author Bio: Sonal Patil is an avid reader and loves to experiment new things and a huge technology enthusiast. She is a research analyst being which she enjoys to analyse the market and work on market data at an market research providing firm in the industry.
Business recovery from COVID-19 lies in implementing the practice of Open Book Management
By Suranga Herath is CEO of English Tea Shop, the leading independent speciality and organic tea company.
Over the course of the last few months, most businesses have been forced to adapt their strategy against the backdrop of the pandemic. For many companies, business growth and development slowed and certain key goals and innovations fell to the wayside in order to prioritise ‘survival’.
For my business – a speciality tea company – we place great emphasis on exporting across the globe and bringing people together to enjoy a cup of tea as part of a wider community. Neither of those things have been possible amidst the pandemic. Whilst this was initially difficult for us, we are now steadily transforming our business to function in the new world order and our business model of Creating Shared Value is instrumental in making this happen. This has not only brought us closer with our suppliers and customers during this challenging time, but also through the practice of Open Book Management (OBM) we have been able to navigate this time united and focussed. OBM fosters a unique culture of employee and stakeholder transparency, empowerment, and satisfaction; in turn leading to incredible results, loyalty and increased productivity across the board.
So as we start adjusting to the new normal, I wanted to share a couple of reflections that I believe has made a fundamental difference during this challenging time. My firm belief is that whilst the road to recovery will be a long process for any business, it is through implementing initiatives like the Open Book Management that businesses from all sectors can put their best foot forward as we enter the new normal.
Open Book Management – a definition
Open-book management (OBM) is the business practice of creating transparency through sharing financial information with employees across the company. The power of its implementation lies beyond just the practical means, as the philosophy and theory carry profound ripple effect across the entire organisation and culture. Whilst for many leaders the idea of sharing financial information with employees beyond the senior management team seems alien, the benefits reaped are worth the effort.
Open Book Management (OBM) is a system that incorporates this financial transparency alongside providing teaching, KPIs and bonus systems for employees, as well as Employee Share Ownership Program (ESOP) which gives staff a percentage of the company shares. The idea behind this is that when employees gain a better understanding of how the organisation is run, they become empowered by this knowledge and become more committed to the company and its results.
This is not necessarily limited to employees, and is often extended to stakeholders; in fact, at English Tea Shop we have been equally transparent with our community of organic farmers, reaching out to them during Covid to be transparent around our cash flow and assure them in their role as suppliers.
Road to Recovery
Regardless of industry, size or previous growth, any business leader will admit that the recovery from prolonged socio and economic disruption like the COVID-19 pandemic is a long and challenging process. Businesses that choose to shake up their traditional business models and embrace a more disruptive and progressive approach will experience a first mover advantage and put themselves in a good position for the long and hard battle ahead. In my view, initiatives like OBM and the Great Game of Business are the perfect starting point for any business that is looking to motivate its workforce through fostering a strong community and igniting entrepreneurial spirit.
Since inception, my goal for English Tea Shop has always been to build a business of dedicated people with sustainability as our guiding force. Our model of Creating Shared Value is focused on creating win-win situations whilst finding opportunities for growth in sustainable development. All whilst looking after our Prajava (Sri Lankan word for community).
Over the last couple of years we’ve grown substantially, whilst keeping a happy and motivated workforce. This has resulted in numerous awards wins. But perhaps the biggest measurable achievement to date is the 31% improvement of productivity across our factories in just under 12 months. This came about organically without any further investment towards new technology or systems during that period.
From a business perspective, this meant we had increased capacity to do more, and reach a wider audience. It also helped us win a host of prestigious awards for Sustainability, such as the Queen’s Award, National Business Award, Gold awards at Sri Lanka’s National Productivity Awards and many others. Just this month, we were awarded the “The Great Game of Business All-Star” for our commitment to generating results through integrating Open Book Management within the Creating Shared Value business model.
Even during the most difficult years, such as Brexit, we were able to keep our head high and remain profitable despite the numerous external challenges, and this was because everyone worked towards a commonly shared goal and had a high level of accountability in terms of their individual actions; no matter how little they believe them to affect the bigger picture. This is the magic of OBM.
While for my business and many alike financials have been strong, the most profound impact of OBM lies on the level of understanding it fosters greater understanding of business. When everyone started thinking and acting like commercially-minded business people they understood challenges better, and they applied their knowledge and skills much better. Hence, we are confident of a long-term approach that will make us a uniquely sustainable business.
From my perspective, there is nothing more powerful than a business driven by entrepreneurially minded employees, that understand how their role plays a part in the bigger picture and strategy of the business. This is exactly the type of mindset and culture that OBM fosters, and embedded across the entire organisation, and if our results are anything to go by the potential is endless.
I urge other businesses to take stock of their current operations and means of growth, and look beyond the traditional strategies as it is through progressive approaches like OBM that the combination of business growth and employee satisfaction can be achieved.
And with more uncertainty heading our way, now is the time to start.
The Impact of Covid-19 on Planning
By Nilly Essaides, Sherri Liao and Gilles Bonelli, The Hackett Group
The economic consequences of the coronavirus outbreak vary by country and company, but one common factor is that most financial planning and analysis (FP&A) teams have had to go back to the drawing board to revise their forecasting process and update scenario plans. The unprecedented level of disruption in business conditions compels FP&A to abandon their traditional, tedious, bottom-up forecasting processes to produce forward-looking insights faster and more frequently. To accomplish this, FP&A should deploy high-level, cross-functional teams that, by working with a small number of KPIs, can assess how different scenarios are playing out in the market and recalibrate the business outlook.
Forecasting at the speed of change
The human and economic devastation caused by the rapid spread of Covid-19 upended budgets and rendered performance targets obsolete. At most companies, even worst-case scenarios did not account for an event of this magnitude – and for some, their very survival is on the line.
Under normal conditions, forecasting and scenario planning are distinct activities. Forecasting is about understanding where the business is landing compared to expectations (monthly, quarterly or on a rolling basis); scenario planning considers what could happen to the organization given one or more material changes in the business environment. At present, the line between the two is blurring as circumstances can change so fast that it is no longer possible to create a forecast based on past data. In addition, scenario plans must be reviewed frequently to ascertain which are becoming more likely.
Consequently, FP&A teams must exchange their traditional bottom-up, granular approach with a top-down, high-level methodology and conduct the forecast more frequently – but few are set up to accommodate this new process. More often, forecasting involves an all-consuming effort to collect data from business units and functions. To enable a more rapid response, FP&A should assemble a senior-level, cross-functional “SWAT” team with the mandate to review a limited number of KPIs (five to six, at most) in order to build a forecast that can be altered quickly as trigger events validate or disprove scenario plans.
This small team of experts can triage activities effectively while assigning specific areas of responsibility to more junior staff, such as forecasting working capital or discretionary spending. These specialists should work with a set of more granular KPIs. So, while the SWAT team may use a single cash metric, the working-capital team would dive deeper into DSO, DPO and inventory levels.
The first step is to alter the forecasting process, and the next is to adjust the feedback loop created through the management review meeting. Typically, these meetings focus mostly on BU-by-BU, actual-to-forecast and actual-to-budget variance analysis, using historical data. However, for many organizations – particularly those that have experienced a major reset of market demand and ongoing operations – spending time looking back at low-level comparative narratives is unproductive.
Instead, management should spend the bulk of its time reviewing the company’s best-case, minimum-viability and worst-case scenarios to determine which one seems to be playing out. To make sure planners target the right activities, management must ask the right questions: not how the company performed versus budget, but how conditions have changed and how that affects the forecast for emerging supply and demand scenarios.
A revised approach to identifying scenarios
For planning purposes, most companies develop three scenarios: base, best and worst. Given the nature of the Covid-19 crisis, a revised set of scenarios is needed:
- Best-case scenario: The best-case scenario should be anchored within tested hypotheses and initially focus on an assessment of demand conditions and capacity constraints. Current data may be mostly qualitative, but it should include insights gleaned from other countries and regions, particularly those exhibiting early signs of recovery.
- Minimum-viability scenario: This is the “new” base for companies hard-hit by the crisis or the scenario with minimum acceptable results to key stakeholders while remaining in business. This scenario must include a set of potential cost-reduction options in case conditions deteriorate rapidly. For instance, a minimum-viability scenario may include an X% reduction in workforce based on demand and supply projections.
- Worst-case scenario: The coronavirus pandemic may pose an existential risk to some organizations, so FP&A teams must also develop a scenario based on the worst possible conditions, including circumstances that may put the company out of business. In this case, FP&A should identify and monitor indicators that pose the greatest threat to the company’s status as a going concern.
Digging deeper into each scenario
Each key market or country or region should be categorized according to a variety of possible GDP growth scenarios.
A U-shaped recovery assumes the fastest rebound in key countries where GDP quickly reaches or nears pre-Covid-19 levels. These will be geographies where evidence of fast, effective control of the virus’s spread is combined with a strong policy response to prevent structural damage to the area’s economy.
A W-shaped recovery assumes a quick, partial recovery followed by a second wave decline in GDP in key countries or regions. These will be cases where evidence of fast, effective control of the virus’s spread is not accompanied by a strong policy response to prevent structural damage to the national economy.
An L-shaped recovery assumes that there will be no rebound in GDP. These will be countries or regions where there is no evidence of effective control of the virus’s spread.
The team should identify specific actions to be taken under each scenario so that management can act as economic conditions unfold. Additionally, FP&A must determine how changes in the environment may affect the company’s commercial and SG&A functions. Further, the trajectory of GDP will vary, driven by the public health and economic response of each country or region. Both inputs will be critical as companies determine how to proceed.
Due to the interdependence of different markets, it is important to consider elements of each in the entire strategic portfolio’s value chain. If a component of the value chain in any strategic portfolio is reliant on activities taking place in countries where a U-shape recovery is expected, then this component should attract more investment compared to those in countries where a slower recovery is likely.
If a component of the value chain in any strategic portfolio is reliant on activities taking place in countries where a W-shape recovery is expected, then investment in this component should be maintained. Accordingly, if a component of the value chain is directed to markets in countries where an L-shape recovery is expected, consider gradually divesting from the portfolio and phasing out related activities.
A catalyst for change
Covid-19 has underscored the discrepancy in planning and analytics capability between top-performing and typical peer-group FP&A organizations. The Hackett Group’s 2018 EPM Performance Study revealed that top-performing FP&A organizations have invested more in technology, which has enabled them to run more analysis and deliver reporting faster and more efficiently. Of top performers, 67% have implemented a primary financial planning and forecasting system to consolidate corporate and country, region or BU information.
Consequently, top-performing teams complete the forecast 3.5 times faster than the peer group and are twice as accurate. These capabilities are essential, as FP&A must provide information more quickly to help make operational decisions. Further, top performers have automated more of their data collection processes and use a standard set of data definitions across categories 92% of the time. This means their staff spend 44% more time analyzing data than collecting it, meaning that the team can redirect capacity to focus on Covid-19-driven demands for information and analysis.
While adoption of rolling forecasts remains generally low, top performers are 55% more likely to have done so than the peer group. Consequently, they can transition more easily from a fixed budget to planning based on a dynamic forecast. Additionally, one-third of forecasts among this group already rely on cross-functional collaboration, almost double the rate of the peer group.
Planning in the age of Covid-19
The coronavirus pandemic’s immediate and long-term repercussions will have a lasting effect on the way organizations plan and forecast, as well as how they approach scenario analysis. Early in the crisis, most FP&A teams had to scramble to adjust forecasting cadence, redraw scenarios, identify new KPIs and establish cross-functional emergency action teams. In contrast, FP&A top performers were able to adjust their existing processes relatively easily.
As companies start to shift from crisis mode to operationalizing changes required by the pandemic, post-crisis scenarios are starting to take shape. Expectations are for a prolonged period of uncertainty and a second wave of infections this fall, however, which makes it imperative that FP&A organizations update their approach to scenario planning immediately.
Covid-19 can reboot belt and road initiative towards a sustainable future
- A new CMS report reveals that Covid-19 has boosted Chinese enthusiasm for adopting the principles of BRI 2.0, leading to an increased focus on sustainable and environmentally friendly projects such as smart cities and renewables & hydro
- The appetite for an improved ‘Health Silk Road’ has significantly increased among the majority of both international and Chinese senior executives involved in BRI
- Meanwhile, the research uncovers a clear mismatch in sentiment between Chinese and non-Chinese towards BRI and the success of projects
As global economies strive to build back better and greener from the global pandemic, global law firm CMS’s 2020 Belt and Road Initiative report reveals that the pandemic has boosted Chinese enthusiasm for adopting the principles of BRI 2.0, which will pivot it towards an environmentally friendly future.
BRI 2.0 is a new phase of BRI intended to encourage international involvement, which was announced in April 2019 by President Xi Jinping at the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing.
The study was conducted in partnership with global research firm Acuris and TianTong Law Firm and included a major survey of 500 senior executives from both Chinese and international participants in BRI projects. Their views were sought on a range of issues around BRI, including likely future involvement and obstacles they have encountered to date.
Increased enthusiasm for sustainable projects
The research found that nearly two-thirds of both Chinese (63%) and international (62%) executives agree that it is important that their BRI projects should be sustainable and environmentally friendly. Furthermore, the majority (84%) of Chinese respondents believe that sustainability and environmental considerations will be given greater importance when planning and completing BRI 2.0 projects.
Enthusiasm remains for traditional sectors like logistics, roads and rail, and now, particularly among Chinese executives, there is growing interest in relatively new sectors like energy networks and power grids, smart cities and renewables & hydro. For international respondents, the emphasis on sustainable projects is also increasing, with only a handful (13%) previously involved in renewables and hydro but nearly three times as many (34%) planning to target the sector for future opportunities.
Importantly, CMS’s research reveals that Covid-19 has given a boost to the ‘Health Silk Road’, which aims to increase medical infrastructure and public health in BRI countries. Nearly all the international executives (93%) and 85% of Chinese respondents see Covid-19 as a major catalyst for it.
Munir Hassan, Head of CMS Energy Group, said: “It’s clear that interest in more ‘modern’ and sustainable sectors, such as smart cities, healthcare and renewables has increased in significance. Renewables projects typically require less capital commitment, are quicker to complete and are likely to be judged at lower risk, which will be attractive to international and Chinese participants. As efforts to limit climate change intensify, there will be a major role for BRI investments to play.”
Mismatch between Chinese and non-Chinese views
The research reveals that general sentiment towards BRI has declined in the last 12 months and one reason for this is geopolitical uncertainty, particularly among international participants. The survey has also uncovered a clear mismatch between views of Chinese and international executives that are involved in BRI projects.
Over two-thirds (69%) of international respondents said they found the process of participating in BRI related projects more challenging than they had expected, compared to just 40% of Chinese respondents. Likewise, only 37% of international participants said they were satisfied with the process and outcome of their involvement, compared to the majority (75%) of Chinese equivalents.
International participants have experienced difficulty with transparency, information flow and equality in partnerships and for many, this had impacted their view of BRI. But there are signs that more projects are now being structured to accommodate these concerns providing attractive opportunities for those international participants still keen on BRI involvement.
Regarding future partnerships / JVs, Chinese respondents are more enthusiastic than non-Chinese, with 77% likely to consider them, compared to just under half of non-Chinese (48%).
Munir Hassan added: “A key area of growth is likely to lie in projects that meet the trends of the future. Affordable projects, embracing modern technologies and methods, as well as the “open, green and clean” approach of BRI 2.0, will be those that stand the greatest chance of success.”
Business recovery from COVID-19 lies in implementing the practice of Open Book Management
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