Market Research is key to a new business becoming a profitable entity. It anticipates and minimises risk, identifies potential customers and helps ensure success. Only about half of new small businesses will survive 5 years. To ensure yours is a survivor, learn how to research your market, identify potential clients and have a strategy for attracting them. Market Research, or Business Intelligence as it is sometimes called, is a vital weapon in ensuring your new business survives to become a strong profitable entity. It is about anticipating and minimising risk, understanding your potential customers and so helping to ensure success for your new venture. Don’t skip this important step in the rush to get your product to market. Finding customers is the most difficult part of running a business. So it is vital to research your market, identify potential clients and have a strategy for attracting them before you invest your time and money in a new venture. Only about half of new small businesses will survive 5 years. Here are some of the factors that often contribute to a new business’s failure;- Lack of capital, often due to poor planning or unexpected costs Poor cash flow management Unexpected market factors- growth or reduction in market size Underestimating the competition New entrants to the market Technological problems Not having a strong business plan in place Lack of understanding of the market Poor advertising or marketing Weak product lack of selling and marketing expertise over trading or over expansion According to First Research, a Dun & Bradstreet firm, the global market research industry produces about $50 billion in annual revenue. Quality, professional market research helps you to ask the right questions for your business. Good market research reports will use a mixture of primary and secondary research to provide accurate information and conclusions. Primary research is information gathered through surveys, interviews and other direct contact with industry experts and participants. For example by contacting industry leaders and canvasing their opinions. Secondary research is information gathered from company reports, trade association documents and industry journals, and published market research reports. It is a good plan to carry out both Primary and Secondary research. Then you should check out competition and assess your potential consumer base. This should give you a fair idea of the viability of your business. If you commission professional advice, you can expect a report that will cover the following points;- Context/Background: This is a review of the recent history of the market; how it has developed into its current size and shape. It will also consider the market in the context of factors such as the economy, social and cultural changes, globalization, and technology, and consider how these factors are affecting the market. Detailed Market Data: While context and analysis are critical, this section will look at hard numbers. It will use whatever data is available. Competitor Information: Players, products, profiles, competitive analysis and other information on the market. Trend Analysis: This will look at what the data indicates about the health of the market and opportunities for future growth. It should cover emerging markets, and new forms of competition. An understanding of the market potential should be gained from the information above. The size of the market and its possible growth will determine the viability of opening up a business in the sector. So from this report, or from your own research, you should be able to consider the following types of questions. Assume your intended business is selling potted plants:- How many people buy potted plants? What is the market value? What is your cost price? What is the likely gross profit you could make selling a potted plants? How many potted plants must you sell to run a successful business Is this a realistic number for your business model? Is the market already saturated or near saturation? Can you enhance your business model-for example can you offer other products, services, sell online, open other outlets? Market research should answer key questions, expose risks, and will probably throw up other questions. Professional analysts who study markets, products, industries, sectors, and consumer demographics are trained to provide unbiased factual information, clearly stating the risks associated with a market. If you plan to conduct your own research rather than commissioning a professional Market Research project, be careful that you don’t seize on information and data to back up what you are hoping to find – that your business is a great idea!! But take care to be open to market realities and factors that may even enhance your business plans. Keep a look out for niche markets that may present better opportunities than mainstream, where there is more competition. Carefully assess market factors. There are many factors which can affect the size of a market and its pace and direction of growth. They include: Regional economics, politics, culture, geography and weather Seasonal and cyclical trends Fashionability and trends Customer wants and needs Competing markets Technological advances Educational opportunities Employment Regulatory requirements Financial incentives, grants and programmes Company schemes and productivity. Also look carefully at competition: Is there a lot of competition in your market? Who are the players? Is the market dominated by a few large companies or is it mostly small operators? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors? What is the market scope of your competitors? How profitable are they? What types of problems do they face? What is your Unique Selling Point (USP)? What can you offer customers that your competitors do not? Finding customers is the most difficult part of running a business. But without them you don’t have a business, so do some demographics research as well, to establish who your customer is. Make sure you know as much as possible about who will be buying from you. For example, if you’re marketing to consumers: What is their gender, age, marital status, religion, ethnicity Where do they live? What is their economic status? Do they already buy the product or service you’ll be offering? How are they purchasing these products or services? What issues do they have with your competition? What do they like about your competition? How much are they paying now, and will be willing to pay for your products or services? What do they do for a living? What are their lifestyles like? What do they think of your product or service? Why will they buy from you and no one else? How will you tell them about your business? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you promote your business much more effectively. Then you need to consider marketing and advertising .How will you attract consumer’s attention, get them to purchase your product, and come back to you for repeat purchases. What is your USP –how should you transmit that message? What can you do to assure customer retention? How can you exceed customers’ expectations? Can you offer some type of guarantee? What are the best advertising routes to reach customers? Some of the more common advertising routes include Websites, Social networking sites (such as Facebook), Radio, Television, E- mail marketing, E-bay, You Tube, Internet, magazines, newspapers. Trade magazines, Forums and Billboards. Social media advertising, blogging, and use of other online social forums, has rapidly become one of the biggest platforms on which to advertise your business. What type of advertising will work best for your business depends on who you are trying to reach, your budget, and your product. You need to find the most cost effective method for you. All of this information will be valuable in formulating your business plan, which we will discuss in another lesson. Having all this information at your fingertips will give you an edge over your competitors, an understanding of your client base and will improve your businesses chances of survival. 2) Most people starting a new business will need to develop a formal business plan in order to access finance. But actually it is a very good discipline in itself to have an up to date business plan, whether you are starting a business, or have been trading a while. If you use a good template it will force you to go through the whole rationale for your business, look at every aspect of it, and examine or re-examine it in terms of likely profitability - which for most people is the objective. Once you have a plan, it is relatively simple, and a good discipline, to review each year and check you are still on track. Your management team can review short, medium and long term objectives. You will also be asked to submit a business plan regularly if you have successfully accessed funding from a bank or investors. When banks and other financial institutions are considering a loan application, they will be looking for businesses that have good cash flow management, a strong balance sheet, a sound business plan, a well-balanced management team, a good business record, and who are looking to develop and grow. A business plan is a key first step. Also if you make an application for a grant or any other State Aid, they will inevitably ask to see your business plan. It is always easier to update an existing plan that to start from scratch. As always there are several different formats, none of which is right or wrong. A good small business plan defines exactly what you want to achieve and how you plan to achieve it. As a minimum your small business plan should clearly state: What your business will do The products or services it will provide How customers will access your products or services ( e.g. online, by phone, in a high street shop) Your approach to pricing You may also consider including the mission and objectives of a business, development plan, market strategies, competitive analysis, operations and management structure, employee need and financial details. Many banks will have a template you can use, and there are free templates available on the Internet. The format I like to use is to have a cover page listing contents, like this example. These are the sections I like to use, you can use what suits you best. Download an example Business Plan Click Here; Example Business Plan Taking each of these in turn; Executive summary. Although this will be the first section in your plan, it is easiest to write it last, as with all summaries. Introduce the company, its geographical location, provide an overview of product and market, legal status and sector Clarify your vision, objectives and aims. Mention planned launch date. Then, depending on the reason for writing the plan, you will probably mention the rationale for the funding you are seeking – whether it is start-up funding, working capital, or for an expansion plan. Summary of Background Provide some background. Explain why the business was established, its history to date, what the goals are and how you plan to get there. Are you looking for steady growth or fast expansion? Why do you need to expand, or secure more capital? Description of your products and services USP Target customer Outline of the business aims (SMART) Mention any patent, copyright, design registration Accreditations Clients Legal obligations H&S, licenses, insurance Business Environment Start by describing your business — what does it do and what makes it different from rivals? (USP) Review your market and competitors -ideally backed up by Research Profile of your target market and analysis of demand Size of target market, market potential, market trends Potential clients, or customers –target demographic Proposed Pricing –again ideally backed up by research Business background Analysis of your sector. Who are your key competitors? Assessments of your competitors SWOT analysis – showing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in your sector and facing your business. Operations Information about your management team and resources Give details of key personnel and their roles. Describe important assets such as premises and equipment. Staffing policy –will you hire or outsource? Go to Market Plan Outline your sales and marketing strategy. Include information on pricing Cost of product Market price Margin Route to market –internet, store, and phone? mention product launch dates , seasonality Investment Include details of any start-up investment, made by Directors Any bank loans or overdrafts Set up costs Equipment Premises Materials Transport Stock Data on your current financial situation How new funding sought will be used Cash Flow forecast This should be a spread sheet, covering at least a year, month by month. It should show;- Projected sales (different income streams with their own line of information) Cost of sale, Rent, rates, utilities, insurances, fuel, loan repayments, salaries, any other overheads. These should be totalled monthly. Download an example Cash Flow Forecast Click Here; Example Cash Flow Forecast The monthly sales figure, less the costs and overheads, all shown month by month, will form a monthly sales and cash flow forecasts, profit and loss projections and will flag up a funding requirement. 3) The Company structure you select for your business is critical. It influences the Director’s personal liability, the ability to raise funding, impacts the liability for tax and the paperwork required. Learn which structure is the best for you, as we review the different types of company structure, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Common structures are;- The legal structure of the company influences the liability for tax, the paperwork your business has to complete, the personal liability for the directors and your ability to raise funding for the business. So this is an important decision. Sole partner or proprietor, or sole trader Partnership Limited company The limited liability company (LLC) Limited liability partnership (LLP). Employee ownership Not for profit Charity Sole trader The most basic structure is the sole trader or proprietorship, which usually involves just one person who owns and operates the business. You have complete control over your business and make all the decisions. If you decide to start your business as a sole trader but later decide to take on partners, you can reorganize as a partnership or other entity. The tax aspects of a sole proprietorship are simple. The income and expenses are included on your personal income tax return. This means that any business losses you suffer may offset the income you have earned from other sources. The disadvantage is that you are personally responsible for your company’s liabilities. As a result, you are placing your assets at risk, and they could be seized to satisfy a business debt or a legal claim filed against you. Raising money may be difficult. Banks and other financing sources may be reluctant to make business loans to sole traders, so you will have to depend on your own financing sources, such as savings, home equity or family loans. Partnership If your business will be owned and run by several people, structuring your business as a partnership may be right for you. Partnerships can be general partnerships or limited partnerships. General partners are liable for all debts and obligations of the company, limited partners can contribute capital and are not liable for debts and obligations over that amount as long as they do not receive back their contribution or take part in the management of the business. Limited partnerships are more complex administratively; a general partnership is much easier to form. One of the major advantages of a partnership is the tax treatment. A partnership does not pay tax on its income but passes any profits or losses to the individual partners. But personal liability is an issue if you use a general partnership. General partners are personally liable for the partnership’s obligations and debts. Unless the partnership agreement forbids it, each general partner can act on behalf of the partnership, and may take out loans and make decisions that will affect and be legally binding on all the partners. Partnerships are more expensive to establish than sole proprietorships because they require more legal and accounting services. Corporation or limited company The corporate structure is more complex and expensive than most other business structures. A corporation or limited company is an independent legal entity, separate from its owners; it has to comply with more regulations and tax requirements. The biggest benefit for a business that is incorporated is the liability protection. A corporation’s debt is not considered that of its owners, so if you organize your business as a corporation, your personal assets are not at risk. A corporation can retain some of its profits without the owner paying tax on them. However many banks and finance companies will often insist on Directors offering personal guarantees for business loans. Limited companies or corporations can be privately or publicly owned. It is also easier for a public corporation to raise money, by selling stock to raise funds. Corporations do not depend on the involvement of named partners but can continue to trade, even if one of the shareholders retires, dies or sells the shares. Disadvantages are higher costs, and more complex rules and regulations. You will probably need the services of accountants and lawyers. Another drawback to forming a public corporation is the tax situation. Companies pay corporate income tax but earnings distributed to shareholders as dividends are taxed as personal income. However salaries and compensation are paid before corporation tax. A shareholders’ agreement can provide for and deal with other important issues, including: board constitution and control of the management of the business contributions of each party and how those contributions may be applied agreeing and amending a business plan terms on which shares can be transferred distribution policy reserved matters to protect any minority shareholders confidentiality and restrictive covenants ownership of intellectual property rights Although these points can be included in the company’s articles of association, most of them will not be included by default on the incorporation of a company, so would need to be amended. The articles of association is a public document and any provisions included would be subject to company law, limiting the scope of bespoke provisions. The shareholders’ agreement is a private document, enforceable only between the parties. This affords flexibility to tailor the provisions according to personal requirements and circumstances. The parties’ exit strategies should be considered when drawing up these documents, and may be factored into agreements. Employee ownership This a business model in which employees totally or significantly own the company. There are several formats: The workforce directly own most or all of the share capital The share capital held in trust for the benefit of the employees; A hybrid of these two formats. Employee ownership is becoming a popular alternative business structure for start-ups seeking employee commitment, long- established businesses dealing with a succession challenge, or new forms of public service delivery vehicles. In the UK, employee ownership already contributes more than £30bn each year to GDP. Growing interest in this form of business structure in both the private and public sector led to a 10% increase in the number of employee owned companies created in the UK in 2012. Economic competitiveness and high performance are a feature of employee owned business, which tend to have higher productivity, greater levels of innovation, better resilience to economic turbulence and more engaged workers than externally owned organisations. Shares in employee owned businesses have significantly outperformed those in the FTSE All-Share Index over the last 15 years. The implementation of employee ownership can be simple and straightforward. The costs of creating an employee owned business from the outset or achieving an employee buyout are modest compared with other types of company formations or mergers and acquisitions. Building a structure that creates a genuine sense of ownership amongst employees is one of the considerations when selecting the model. Other issues to be considered include;- How the transfer to employee ownership will be funded long term safeguards for employees? How will the voice of the employees be heard? How will senior managers be free to commercially drive the business, and still be properly accountable to the employee owners? The sense of purpose and commitment that employee ownership delivers makes this an attractive option. It encourages retention of the very best talent to enable businesses to compete successfully. A practical guide to setting up employee owned businesses in the UK is published by the Employee Ownership Association. The non-profit and charity sector The purpose of the non-profit sector is to improve and enrich society, and create social wealth rather than material wealth. Firms in this sector exists to make a difference to society rather than to make financial profits. This is also referred to as the third sector, the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS), the not-for-profit sector, the charity sector, the social sector. It is made up of many different types of activity affecting many aspects of society. The term, the third sector, indicates that it sits between government (the public sector) and the private or commercial sector. These companies can exist in a range of formats from social enterprises, trades unions, public arts organisations, community interest companies, voluntary and community organisations, independent schools, faith groups, housing associations, friendly societies, and mutual societies. They must be registered and approved by the relevant governing body and abide by their regulations. Because they broadly exist for public benefit they are usually eligible for a range of income and property tax exemptions. Whatever option you choose for your structure, the name you choose for your business should reflect the image you want to project to your market. Select one that’s easy to pronounce and remember. And make sure that it’s not already in use, that it is available as a web address and will work on your business stationery. 4) Do you understand the implications of accepting a directorship? Directors are personally liable for actions or omissions, can be disqualified from acting as a Director and can be made personally liable for the company’s debts. Did you know that as a director of a limited company, you have a duty to try to make the company a success, using your skills, experience and judgment? Company Directors have responsibilities which include ensuring that the company trades lawfully and complies with all legislation and regulation. Their responsibilities are a series of statutory, common law and equitable obligations owed by members of the Board of Directors to the organisation that employs them. Statutory and regulatory responsibility varies in different jurisdictions, but there are a number of similarities in the framework for directors’ duties. Directors owe duties to the company , not to individual shareholders, employees or creditors except in exceptional circumstances. Directors’ core duty is to remain loyal to the company, and avoid conflicts of interest Directors are expected to display a high standard of care, skill or diligence Directors are expected to act in good faith to promote the success of the corporation While this system works well in many countries, some countries have a weaker culture and tradition of enforcing these values, and a greater cultural tolerance for conflict-of-interest. Judges may be less likely to review transactions to decide whether they are fair to minority shareholders. As a director of a limited company, you have a duty to try to make the company a success, using your skills, experience and judgment. You must also follow the company’s rules, make decisions for the benefit of the company, not yourself, and declare to other shareholders if you personally benefit from a company transaction or contract. The board of directors of a company is primarily responsible for:- setting the company’s strategic objectives and policies monitoring progress towards achieving the objectives and policies appointing senior management Accounting for the company’s activities to owners or shareholders. The Chief Executive Officer, or Managing Director if there is no CEO, is responsible for the performance of the company, in line with the Board’s overall strategy. He or she reports to the Chairman or Board of Directors. The first directors of a company are appointed at the time of its registration. Subsequent appointments are governed by the company’s Articles of Association or Shareholders Agreements. On appointment a new director will be asked to provide certain personal information for registration. They will normally give notice of any interests in contracts involving the company and their interest in the company’s shares. A newly appointed Director should make themselves familiar with the company’s Memorandum and Articles of Association, details of the business e.g. recent board minutes and management accounts, and the statutory reports and accounts for at least the past two years. The Directors are responsible for the management of the company within the relevant legal system and the articles of association. For example, articles of association may include restrictions on borrowing by the company. The directors must act collectively as a board but the articles usually allow the board to delegate powers to individual directors as appropriate. Directors need to be aware that they are personally subject to statutory duties in their capacity as directors of a company. In addition the company, as a separate legal entity, is subject to statutory controls and the Directors are responsible for ensuring that the company complies with them. In the UK the Companies Act 2006 sets out seven general duties of directors which are:- to act within powers in accordance with the company’s constitution and to use those powers only for the purposes for which they were conferred to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members to exercise independent judgment to exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence to avoid conflicts of interest not to accept benefits from third parties to declare an interest in a proposed transaction or arrangement In the UK these statutory duties are interpreted in accordance with previous case law which remains relevant. In addition to the seven general duties listed above, a director will be subject to other regulation and legislation including the Insolvency Act 1986, the Company Directors’ Disqualification Act 1986, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Directors may be liable to penalties if the company fails to carry out its statutory duties. If they had reasonable grounds to believe that a competent person, such as another director or third party, had been given the duty to see that the statutory provisions were complied with, then they may use that as a defence. Another responsibility of the directors is to ensure that the company maintains full and accurate accounting records. A balance sheet and a profit and loss account for each financial period must be presented to shareholders and filed with the Registrar of Companies. Directors are personally liability, both civilly and criminally, for their actions or omissions, when directing the company. They can also be disqualified from acting as a director of a company, and can in certain circumstances be made personally liable for the company’s debts. They also need to ensure Health and Safety at Work is complied with and can be charged with Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide. If a director is found guilty of these acts or omissions they can be fined and imprisoned and disqualified. You can ask other people to manage some of these things day-to- day. For example, an accountant can manage your accounts for you – but you’re still legally responsible for them. 5) What are potential investors looking for in a company? They want to see research and establish the potential risks and returns involved in investing. Do you know who to approach for finance, and how? What do they expect from you, what are the legal issues, what documentation will you be expected to sign? Should you offer personal guarantees or other security? Nearly every business being launched will require some investment capital. If you can rely on savings or family and friends for seed financing that is a great start. Many banks and investors will expect to see that you and your family have invested in the venture. But, most entrepreneurs will need additional financing to get a business started. Check if there are any starts up or support grants in your area. If you have a business idea that could benefit from an injection of capital, the most usual financing route is Banks or venture capitalists. Angel investors are becoming more common, and crowd funding is a growing source of investment. In these days of austerity, raising finance is more difficult and expensive than ever. You should have a business plan in place that will enable potential investors to see you have a realistic grasp of the costs of the business and a commercial plan in place to offer them a return on their investment. Ideally, Investors will want to support firms with good cash flow management, a strong balance sheet, a sound business plan, a well-balanced management team, a good business record, and who are looking to develop and grow. If you are a start-up, there are limits to which of these boxes you can tick, but at least put yourself in the best light by having the others ticked!! You need to put some real effort into preparing a business plan. Don’t just mindlessly fill in a template. This needs to be a well thought out document, with particular emphasis on how you are going to achieve projected sales. Venture capitalists and financial institutions need to ensure that their money will be well invested. They will expect you to “pitch” your product or service to them. They will want to establish the potential risks and returns involved in doing business with you. Having your market research and business plan well prepared demonstrates to potential lenders that you are serious, have thoroughly studied your market sector, your potential customer- base, and your competitors. And that you are prepared for the possible financial hurdles ahead. When it comes to raising debt or equity finance there are a number of legal issues to consider carefully .You will be asked to sign standard documents, the small print must be read and understood before you sign them. Be aware of the fees you are accepting. Investors will expect you to check carefully what you are committing yourself to. So if you are not clear what something means, ask for clarification. Be clear at the outset about any strings attached to the finance that are mentioned in the documentation. Ask for a detailed term sheet early on in the process. They may ask for personal guarantees or other security, and may set financial covenants. You should be wary of using your home as security, and be sure covenants are achievable and clearly understood. Crowd funding is the current alternative trend in raising finance. While banks are still reluctant to offer competitive finance, small businesses are searching for alternative sources of investment. Similar to Angel Investment, Crowd Funding is a way of raising finances by selling part of your equity. The main difference is that instead of there being just one investor, you sell your investment idea to a crowd. The success of Crowd Funding has disrupted the investment business, giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to access funding from the masses, without the usual upfront fees. The winners seem to be those with the highest social capital or largest database. It demonstrates the value of trusted relationships and an engaged network. Business investors want to put their capital behind exciting new projects. Many are finding that more traditional forms of investment are showing very poor returns. They appreciate that with new businesses sometimes an exceptional Return on Investment (ROI) is achievable. Some enjoy the spirit of adventure. All of them will be successful business people in their own right, they are often strong-willed, determined, dedicated and hard- nosed. These days it is as much about the entrepreneur choosing their investor as the other way around. Currently in the UK the Financial Services Authority (FSA) views Crowd Funding as a raising money for funding from the public, which is currently illegal unless approved by the FSA. So check that your chosen Crowd Funding platform complies with the relevant authorities, or you could put your business and yourself outside the law. Be aware that investors will want to see some detail of your business before investing. This could leave your idea vulnerable to “copying”, so when you are drafting your business pitch for potential investors, provide enough information to attract attention and interest, without giving any vital information away. Then, when potential investors come forward, ask them to sign a NDA (non- disclosure agreement) before you provide further information. A common error Entrepreneurs seeking additional investment often make is underestimating their funding requirement. Then when the finance is agreed and provided, they may find that they need more capital. This can be very damaging to the relationship with the investor and will leave you short of funds to complete your plans. So ask for a little more than you think you actually need so that you have a reserve or contingency fund. If used properly, Crowd Funding can be more successful than sourcing the full investment required from a single individual or organization. But make sure you have done your research and taken precautions to protect your business and yourself. 6) Profitability is important in the long run; in the short run, cash flow has to be carefully managed to avoid running out of cash and potentially being forced into liquidation. What processes can you put in place to manage the situation, what tools are available? Learn to forecast when the business may run out of cash and take preventative action, in the form of chasing payments, speaking to your bank manager, or raising a private injection of cash. Inability to stay on top of cash-flow is a common downfall of companies who can then no longer cover their required outgoings such as salaries, rent, or raw material supplies. Running out of cash is the reason for the majority of companies being forced into liquidation. Although profitability is important in the long run for a company, in the short run, cash flow has to be very carefully managed. It is important to ensure that you have a regular payment run with processes that are set up correctly. If you don’t send your invoices out to the right contact, at the right time and chase payment when appropriate, you will probably not be paid on time. Remember to allow time for the payment to clear in the bank as well. One of the biggest problems for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is that many large companies are increasing their standard payment terms, which are sometimes up to 90 days. Smaller companies may have no option other than to wait for payment. The best you can do is invoice clients early, ensure your payments are in their systems and confirm politely with the accounts department that your invoice will be paid on time. Be very wary of driving down prices in order to win work. By working to low margins you are having to work much harder to break even, and it is difficult to put prices up. Try not to be too dependent on an overdraft. Don’t see it as part of your cash flow funding, but as a fall back if funds are tight. If you are likely to breach your overdraft, the best bet is to advise your bank manager in advance. Tell them why there is a problem, when it will be resolved, and what other monies you are expecting into the account. Banks much prefer to work with a management team that has control of their finances, even if there is a temporary problem, than with people who have no control over their financial affairs. Send your lender regular copies of your management accounts with a summary of your performance. Then if you need to extend loan facilities, you have already demonstrated you are in control. Think of your cash-flow as the most important aspect of your business, possibly as important as sales activity. Know how much it is going to cost to run the company over the next 6 months. Know where and when the money will come from Be wary of hidden costs. Build everything in to your plan – including professional fees, insurance, and interest on your overdraft, contingency for sickness Remember that every time you give credit to your customers it is costing you cash-flow. Carry out regular cash-flow forecasts. This will vary according to your business, but weekly is probably a good idea if finances are shaky. The tricky part is predicting payments accurately for the current week, and future sales. Plan expenses carefully, and be aware of what has to be paid regularly, as well as one –off payments. Review this every week or month and look at your actual position against your budgeted position. If you are not on target, then find out why and do something about it. Are payments late? Do you need to call and chase payment? Are you buying stock at the right price? Are you making your profit margins on sales? If your accounting records are well maintained, this becomes a relatively simple task. They will give you a base for your calculations, combining the sales you believe you will have, and the costs you know are likely to occur. By doing this you are able to see clearly when the business may run out of cash and take preventative action, in the form of chasing payments, speaking to your bank manager, or raising a private injection of cash. Some tips: Keep your financial forecasts simple and up to date. Try to have contracts lined up before you start your business. Negotiate hard for prices and payment terms with suppliers. If possible negotiate credit terms when you negotiate your sales price, in your initial sales meetings. Do credit searches on anyone who will owe you money. Don’t give clients credit , try to get a percentage payment upfront For new customers ask them to pay on invoice, or in 14 days, before you go to 30 days. To encourage customers to pay quickly, offer them discounts for early settlement and consider penalties for late payment. Mark these penalties on your invoice template, and enforce them if you need to. Get professional advice on whether to register for taxes Make sure your company systems and inventory management are efficient. Turn your financial management into a habit. Take a proactive approach to managing debtors and keep credit management near the top of your list. Today, simply invoicing a client for a product or service is no longer a guarantee of payment. Chasing payment is time consuming – time which could otherwise be used building up important business and customer relations. There is a point where the cost of chasing customers outweighs the benefits of keeping them. A good credit manager can reduce the wasted resources invested in such customers and ultimately prevent write-offs. At a time when cash counts, companies with the foresight to integrate credit management systems and procedures into their business processes will find themselves first in line when it comes to being paid, and being paid on time. Good credit control is consistent, and works to a system of statements, letters, and telephone calls with legal action as a last resort. Most small companies allocate too little resource to it, and often it will be the owner-manager who chases payment. This can make relationships with suppliers difficult, so try to employ a credit controller to do that. A Credit controller will implement a system of consistent and regular contact with the customer, and focus on actively building relationships with customers finance departments, encourage customers to communicate with them about their cash flow situation, keeping them informed of any problems. At least if you know about them you can deal with them! Unless you are dealing with your State Department, consider debt protection. It will cover you if a supplier’s business fails, but check prices carefully. Sometimes cost are prohibitive and outweigh benefits.