I was talking to a business owner recently who was worried what her end of year results would look like after the pressures of a global pandemic, economic uncertainty and operational constraints had had their way – and she was hoping that somewhere there would be an extra 100k to pay off the mortgage.
We talked through her business plans and goals and decided the right place to start was with a financial forecast so, equipped with her profit and loss, balance sheets for the last three years, a whiteboard, laptop and two large cups of coffee, we settled down to cast a weather eye on her financials.
We discussed the previous three years’ revenues, how COVID19 had affected one of their product lines – and forced them to create two new ones. Then we created a monthly sales forecast per product line. At this point – and very sensibly too – she asked me how she could forecast what she was going to sell so first we examined the different product lines, their gross margin, analysed market demand, production capacity and last – but not least – which product they enjoyed the most. Then we looked into production capacity and her wish to grow the business sustainably.
She decided to split the revenues of their four product lines as follows: 40% for the highest margin and enjoyable one, 25% for the second and 20% and 15% for the others. Thinking also covered the efforts to improve processes, increase capacity and get new customers, so she decided to increase the revenues every quarter by 10% for the two top products, maintain the third and reduce by 5% the lowest margin product line. Pricing also needed consideration and we decided to increase by 5% the prices of the first two lines every six months and once per year for the other two. By this time we had finished our coffee and had some sales goals set for the business.
But more caffeine was needed as we then had to look at the resources necessary to produce and sell the lines. We started with the Cost of Goods Sold (CoGS) or materials and subcontractors costs and estimated an increase of their buying cost of 2% per quarter. With Revenues and CoGS to hand, we could calculate her Gross Profit (GP) by subtracting them and comparing it to the previous year. All looked good, with an increase from 76% to 78%, which meant more money available for paying salaries and expenses.
Next was Direct Labour (DL) – the people who produce the goods. Our previous calculations made it easy for her to determine the number of hours and people needed and it was evident she would need two new employees in the third quarter. But when we calculated the Contribution Profit (CP) over the months, subtracting the DL from the GP we saw that adding both employees at the same time would affect the CP too much, so we delayed hiring the second resource for two months.
Gradually, we moved through Operational Expenses (OE), including Indirect and Administrative Labour (IL), expenses such as the lease costs, power and marketing. To achieve the new sales targets Mary thought that a new sales representative would be needed and as training was key to doing the job well, she decided to add that resource in the first quarter of the year. Subtracting OE from the CP we arrived at the Operating Profit (OP).
Then Non-Operating Expenses (NOE) and Non-Operating Incomes (NOI) were entered into the Forecast and the Net Profit (NP) calculated. At the start of the year it looked a bit low due to increased labour costs but as it was not below the new break-even point of 10% NP and, Mary was achieving her mortgage goal, we decided to go ahead with that configuration. The financial forecast was finished! Mary now had a plan with clear goals and deadlines for her and her team, so she was able to return home feeling more confident.
Forecasting can seem overwhelming – and confusing – at times but the good news is that some of the tools available such as Numereyes can be a powerful and easier way of working out where you are with your business – and charting where you want to go.
For the third month in a row, small-to-medium size businesses outside the hard-hit sectors of retail, tourism and hospitality are proving confident, optimistic and actively planning for their future beyond COVID-19.
Our September Pulse Check shows exceptional levels of confidence and optimism with business levels booming or the same as last year, relatively unchanged levels of employment and sustained sales.
More than 80% of you are confident you’ll make it through, more than half report sustained or improved business levels, nearly two-thirds are optimistic about the next twelve months and 65% are already working on future strategies and getting business plans in place.
On the downside, 2020 has taken a toll with business owners feeling exhausted and that’s a real concern. Government support and business advisors have helped get through the difficult days of 2020 but despite weathering exhaustion, lockdowns, alert level changes and varying levels of uncertainty, you’re not giving up and have your head down, planning your way to the future.
For some, the forthcoming election, mainstream media stories and government policy are reducing confidence, while for others, their own resilience drawn from past experience, government policy, and the thought of open borders is a confidence booster.
Stephen James observed: “Our members are, for the most part, outside the sectors acutely affected, such as retail, tourism and hospitality. It may seem that member confidence levels and optimism are at odds with other commentary but our small business owners are efficient and resilient because they have to be. Small business owners regard their employees as family, do their utmost to retain them and are able to adapt and evolve business practices swiftly with the right support, even among those hardest hit.
“It’s heartening – and speaks volumes for business owners – that so many have got through with relatively unchanged levels of employment, due in part to the government support people have turned to and a willingness to change where necessary.
“One of our priorities will be to help business owners cope with the high levels of exhaustion they’ve reported. We see this as a danger area as, no matter how resilient they may be, working through an ongoing crisis is hard and it is draining. Supporting our business owners helps them to help their business, so developing strategies and solutions to what we know will be an ongoing challenge is an area we will be working on with our boards and through our coaching sessions”.
Many businesses just go with the flow but what happens when unpredicted things happen?
First reactions are often fear and uncertainty, then frustration as worrying questions come thick and fast. What is going to happen? How will I be able to continue trading and working? What will happen to my business and employees?
These feelings and questions are normal in the first moments of shock but it is possible to mitigate the effects of market upheaval for both the business and its people.
A business without goals – and plans to achieve those goals – is like playing football without knowing where the goal is. You can play well and have fun and even have a false expectation about getting good results but are these results the right ones? Do they improve the business situation you’re in or your position in the market?
The first step is to set goals and create a plan to achieve those goals. Then comes the tricky part: how do I set my goals if I don’t know what is going to happen next?
As Peter Drucker said, “You cannot predict the future, but you can create it” and the solution is to create scenarios. At minimum you should create two scenarios, the worst case and the probable case. You could add the best case if you want to.
Creating a scenario forces you to place yourself in a specific context, which can be out of normality, or focus on extreme conditions. This may create uncertainty or even fear but it also provides clarity on what you could do in a particular situation in order to achieve your goals. Once your goals for each scenario are clear, then you need to make a plan for each scenario and its set of goals.
Working with scenarios helps you to create certainty in a world of uncertainty. It allows you to be prepared for a wide range of possibilities, even those outside the scope of your imagined scenarios because, once the exercise is done, you have a broader view of the operating environment.
The ensuing reality will be different to the scenarios you created but two considerations here: the reality will generally fall somewhere between the worst and best case scenarios and, most likely, will be closest to the probable scenario you created – and this is not coincidence. If you follow a plan well, you will most likely reach the goals you forecasted.
If market forces make it impossible to achieve a goal, having planned a series of them gives you an advantage and a more positive position. You will not be shocked or unprepared. You will be ready to take action, drawing on your thinking from the various scenarios considered or, in the worst case, you will be able to set new goals and create a new plan.
How do you create good scenarios? Work with your team, do it with your coach or get the help of your board. You will get more ideas and will cover more variables. Two heads are better than one. The resulting collaboration will be a more robust and certain position for you and your business while your team will recognise your leadership and be more engaged in working towards your goals.
Does my organisation have the capacity to undertake this new task or project? This is one of the common questions that many companies, especially those experiencing strong growth and with limited resources, ask themselves every day.
How do you know if your resources can manage the increasing number of tasks and projects in the days, weeks and months ahead? Managing under-resourced companies growing at a fast pace, I have learned that the most important point is to know the capabilities of yourself and of your team and then to be able to decide which projects or tasks to execute, which to put on hold and which to abandon altogether.
A way to manage this is situation is by following these two steps:
Estimate the time every task will take. This must be discussed and agreed with the person or group of people
that is going to perform the activity, trying to consider all relevant aspects. Measure and register the actual time spent in every job done every day, every hour. It is key to report the spent time frequently and consistently to be accurate. People forget what they did the day before or how much time it took.
As Peter Drucker once said, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” If all team members register their spent time in any of the activities, tasks and projects that are being pursued, then project managers are immediately aware of such important things as:
• Are we ahead or delayed in the execution of the task?
• Was the task/project estimated time correct?
• Are we spending too much time on a task? Does it need improvement or re-engineering?
• Do we have free time to add a new activity, task or project?
• Do we need to reprioritise, put tasks on hold or abandon any of them?
• Do we need more resources to undertake existing or new tasks or projects?
Following this process also helps team members to look back and review their progress, to see what was achieved on a certain date and fulfil the humans’ inherent need for progression and growth. This helps to alleviate any feelings of frustration that employees often suffer from perceiving a lack of progress, overload or lack of direction.Following this pattern of project or task management has the longer-term benefit of changing employee behaviours. Since everybody becomes more aware of both the limited time available and pre-existing workloads, organisations become intrinsically better at organising and prioritising tasks and projects.
Alfredo Puche – The Alternative Board Nelson and Marlborough