Few, if any of us, will have experienced the current economic conditions that have led to unprecedented cost of living hikes and inflation at a 40 year high, with further increases more than likely.
The sky rocketing increases in energy prices, leading to eye watering increases to both domestic and business energy costs, are not the only contributor to the current situation and rising prices for goods and services. The conflict in Ukraine, along with labour shortages, wage pressures, frustrated supply chains and growing food scarcity with the prolonged hot weather and lack of rain leading to crop shortages are all contributing to rising costs.
Whilst businesses have shown resilience in managing the impact of the pandemic over the last couple of years, they now find new challenges ahead. Many businesses are still reporting strong order books and customer demand still seems strong. An economic downturn is though predicted, not least by the Bank of England for next year, as consumers and businesses tighten their reins and seek to manage the situation.
Getting ahead of the curve is invariably the trick for any business seeking to deal with the situation. There is a real need for business leaders and owners to assess how their organisation is and might be affected and to look to put plans in place to manage the same.
There is a well-used adage that cash is king, certainly a focus on your cashflow for the year ahead is a great place to start. Reviewing forecasts and considering the demands on cash, along with perhaps changes to the timing of income and expenditure will be key. It may also be beneficial to consider your availability of working capital, perhaps the need to defer capital spend and/or review the facilities you have in place to weather the storm. It might be time to review your funding model, to see if your cost of finance could be reduced and/or additional facilities put in place. Certainly, if you don’t already do it, monitoring of cash within the business needs be a timely, perhaps daily activity, along with the management of debtors and creditors.
The cost-of-living crisis is undoubtedly having a significant impact on margins, with input costs seemingly changing on a daily basis. As a result greater attention should be given to managing margins with regular reviews helping as much as possible to ensure margins are maintained. There is a need to keep a keen eye on pricing, especially for those quoting or contracting for work. It may be difficult to honour future prices, so do ensure your terms allow for management of any increase in costs.
With some indication that business failures and insolvencies are on the upward trajectory and the risk of bad debts are on the increase, more close management of your aged debtors and rigorous debt collection must be on the cards. A focus on suppliers too could be worthwhile, as the loss of one could have an impact on your own business.
Whilst a focus on finance is key, there are a number of other aspects that you may need to take into account. Like you, your staff are no doubt looking at how they manage the situation, many will be concerned about how they are going to cope. This could lead to increased anxiety and health issues and potentially reduced productivity, even absenteeism. Being aware of this and looking to help where you can no doubt will be beneficial to one and all.
Employers are also likely to see pressure on pay, as employees seek pay rises, along with potentially staff leaving for higher paid jobs.
Unfortunately, like economic down turns, the current situation is likely to give rise to increased fraud, theft and cyber-attacks. It is therefore important that proper and robust systems and processes are in place for early detection, management and avoidance.
To manage the situation, businesses really need to ensure that they have timely and accurate financial information. Certainly, with the development of online/cloud-based accounting applications it is possible to have such information, even in real time. However, there might be a need to ensure the information provided is what you need and that action is taken as appropriate, rather than ignored or kicked down the road. What is measured can and tends to be managed.