The credit crunch is making its way from Wall Street to Main Street and squeezing businesses across all industries. There are some proactive steps Arizona companies can take to prepare for potentially challenging days ahead.
Cash is king
If you have cash on your balance sheet, you have a greater degree of flexibility in your decision making.
Issue: In a slowing economy, understanding and managing cash flow are paramount.
Action Steps: Negotiate aggressive credit terms with suppliers and customers. As soon as invoices are late, begin subtle but firm collection efforts. In the short term, it may be wiser to sacrifice profitability in order to generate cash.
Be relentless on cost control
Look hard at discretionary expenses and remove unnecessary spending — but don’t compromise business strategy.
Issue: To maintain your current levels of profitability, you will almost certainly need to cut costs and spending where possible.
Action: Employ zero-based budgeting to review all costs carefully in terms of their value to the business.
Evaluate customers and suppliers
Understand the financial well-being of customers and suppliers. Look for signs of financial distress and express concerns.
Issue: Challenges in credit markets have put increased pressure on the purchasing power and credit worthiness of customers, resulting in a tightening of credit terms and product availability.
Action: Reevaluate credit terms with customers and negotiate the shortest reasonable terms.
Get smarter on taxes
It is important to look at how to manage those costs and the related impact on a company’s cash flow.
Issue: Taking appropriate advantage of the opportunities available to reduce tax liabilities.
Action: Take advantage of available tax credits, such as the fuel tax credit or deductions for domestic production or property depreciation. Take extra care when considering the calculation of quarterly estimated tax payments.
Reconsider capital investment plans
Is now really the time to invest in new capital assets?
Issue: Investing in new assets in a downturn can bleed you of cash. Carefully consider capital investment plans, and question the proposed value and timing.
Action: Take into account the timing of investments. If it isn’t mission critical, consider delaying or deferring.
Get closer to banks
Take a hard look at your reporting and accounting systems. If these are not quite what the bank would like to see, consider improving them.
Issue: Banks will be more cautious and concerned about credit quality. Borrowing will likely come at a higher price — both in terms of interest rates and fees — and will almost certainly include more restrictive covenants and require increased monitoring and transparency.
Action: Treat the bank as a partner by keeping it informed about the status of the business and giving it plenty of notice if you need help.
Consider financing options
Talk to a professional about arranging financing and consider alternatives to traditional lenders.
Issue: Having issues with your bank can result in a severe restriction in your borrowing capacity. It’s not as easy as it used to be to secure an alternative source of capital.
Action: Consider other financing sources such as leasing, asset-based lenders, factoring companies or even government-supported financing programs. Look at negotiating payments on long-overdue accounts receivable or obtain financing through trade vendors.
Keep an eye out for bargains
Be alert to opportunities where business valuations are falling and where business owners are looking for quick exits.
Issue: The current feeling of uncertainty will drive many shareholders to seek an exit rather than hunkering down and trying to weather the storm independently, creating buying opportunities at depressed prices.
Action: Whether playing the stock market, engaging in real estate or considering acquisitions, the best buys are made in a down market. But make sure the action makes sense with your growth plan.
Protect personal wealth
Before agreeing to become more personally exposed for the sake of the business and less diversified personally, think about options.
Issue: It is likely that businesses will have greater borrowing needs. Solving business cash needs with personal assets will reduce diversification of overall personal net worth and further expose you to the recessionary economy.
Action: Equity financing provides resources if the economy does not improve as quickly as expected. If debt financing is the best course, avoid personal guarantees and pledges of personal assets. Employ experienced counsel to help with the transaction.
Get help far in advance of a financial crisis, if at all possible.
Issue: The future is uncertain and trade credit is contracting.
Action: Look at your business without its existing debt and determine its debt capacity based on the most current financialprojections. Do not wait until you are almost out of cash.
The more time you have to identify your options and craft a plan, the better your chances of success. Contact your professional services advisors immediately to discuss your current situation.
Ed O’Brien is the managing partner of Grant Thornton’s Phoenix office. For more information, call (602) 474-3444 or visit www.grantthornton.com