At which stage do you accept that without a cash injection your business is probably doomed? Looking at the ABS statistics they show that in any three year period around 42% of registered SME’s fail. So the answer is that we should look for and accept cash and or help a lot sooner!
It is very hard when investing the enormous time, energy and focus needed to start and build an SME, to then find the time (and to provide the mental distance needed), to properly analyse and re-assess your management and direction. Being naturally entrepreneurial, SME owners have a tendency to fight on, often to a very bitter end.
When I left the corporate world to start my first SME I got to the end of year one and realised I was emotionally drained, failing and down to my last eight weeks or so of cash. Everything I had was on the line and I had no answers.
Recognising that I was no longer thinking straight I bundled my worried wife and two noisy young children into the car and we headed off for a long (and very cheap) weekend by the beach. It was mid-winter and raining; you can imagine my despair.
Late in the afternoon of our second day I took a long walk along the beach, in the rain and asked myself three questions:-
- Is the business concept viable
- If its viable have you managed it well
- If you had sufficient resources available what would you do differently
My answers were 1) yes 2) fair 3) build a team to leverage revenues.
I returned to the shack motivated and excited for the first time in weeks and when back at work I went about raising the cash and partners needed. It was surprisingly easy and within a year we had a happy and booming business.
Lucky bastard! I hear you whisper. Not really. In a now long career in and around SME’s I have realised a few truths about human nature:-
- By and large people want to help you
- There are more investors looking to invest than there are good ideas
- If your business is a good idea and you are honest, fair and hardworking you will find funding
- Investors are usually older, experienced, have suffered and recovered from failure - they understand your position
- By understanding your position and taking positive action you earn respect from your stakeholders.
So when do you put up the red flag and shout for help?
Assuming your business concept is viable and you are offering a product or service your customers want then consider the following danger signs:-
- Your business is growing, you are profitable and yet you are always short of cash. This happens in growing companies as to service higher sales you need more stock, labour, materials etc and your debtors ledger expands as sales grow. This all eats cash.
- You have more potential customers than you can handle and you are falling behind on paperwork and starting to knock back new business. At this stage you need to employ and or outsource more resources but how do you do this when cash is so tight?
- You know you could win larger more lucrative contracts and strengthen your business if you had more people, plant and equipment.
- Your debtors are slow payers and it is impacting on your ability to meet your payments as and when they fall due.
- The bank offers you an overdraft but only if you provide the family home as security.
If you are experiencing any one of the above your business is at risk, if you are experiencing any two you are in trouble and should seek help quickly.
In our company we see so many businesses fail which are fundamentally sound and indeed held so much growth potential.
When we analyse them we invariable find a point beyond which they had insufficient cash to maintain the business. Corners start getting cut, staff numbers are reduced, marketing budgets cut, bills go unpaid, staff morale falls, the staff start leaving and eventually an administrator or other court appointed official is installed
Possibly as many as 90% of the failed businesses (assuming no underlying fraud etc) we look at could have been saved had appropriate action been taken early enough.
So what should you do if you are at risk?
First of all have an open and frank discussion with your advisors including your accountant and lawyer. Walk them through your business plan and figures and explain your concerns and the amount of investment you think you need to achieve a turnaround. Not only will they offer advice but they may well know of potential investors.
Look on line for SME Turnaround Specialists – a good specialist company should have all of the in-house skills you need and access to numerous investors. You may be able to negotiate an hourly rate or a fee based upon their success or a combination of both. A preparedness to complete some or all of the work on a success fee tells you a lot about their level of confidence!
What will I have to give away to attract an investor? Less than you think. A savvy investor will want to see you remain motivated and happy so as to help build a return on investment. If you are both fair, reasonable and above all offer each other respect you should enjoy a profitable relationship which sees the business turnaround.
Once you have an investor on board start to build a team of business mentors. Many SME’s have an advisory board of a couple of specialists who meet as a regular board would and help you analyse and guide the business forward.