CategoryManagement Archives — Page 3 of 4 — C. Lynn Northrup, CPA, CPIM

A New Beginning

January 1st, 2009

Well 2009 is here. Now we have a chance to put the trauma of 2008 behind us and move forward to new beginnings. I already have. My goals are set and I’m moving on to where my dreams are going to take me. 2008 was a pretty good year for us. First and foremost was creating the new look to my web site and this blog. That said, there’s even more to do now 2009 is under way.

My advice is always to be patient, focused, and disciplined because in the long run this type of thinking and action is what gets the job done. This motto combined with a habit of always set goals and objectives is crucial. Then you need to monitor your results and adjust as quickly as possible if things aren’t going the way you anticipated. It’s a process – and not a short one.

Some of the things we are pursuing for this New Year include actions in multiple areas. I want this blog and web site to be an authoritative resource for CPAs, family businesses, and retirees as they navigate the difficult journey ahead. My plans include new training programs, up to date information on the potential adoption of IFRS, solid support for building business value, and guidance for family-owned businesses seeking to develop succession and transition plans to a new future. Plus all the other material we have always provided.

A new mission will include retirees and those looking toward retirement. This will include a new book and lots of guidance on how to make the transition. I am flunking retirement, but have put ourselves into a place where I can play, work, and live like I always dreamed we would. I learned a lot in making our journey, so it’s time to share this knowledge and information with others. I hope you will enjoy and benefit from this initiative.

Well, Happy New Year and stay tuned as we move forward and enjoy! We’re looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead.

Recession Survival

December 30th, 2008

How you do survive the worst economic downturn since the great depression? This is a big question. Many people never experienced the depression or even the big recession of 1981 and 1982. I was a controller of a large corporation back in 81-82. This got me thinking about how could I provide guidance to those who haven’t experienced such turbulence.

Based on my experiences I created a toolkit to package all the tips and techniques of how to get through the tough times. One of the key elements of the survival toolkit is developing a plan and a budget for recession survival. The toolkit contains a cash flow and budgeting template. The process of developing a plan should include an assessment of whether the business needs a tune up, a turnaround, or is in a state of crisis. When you can’t cover payroll, you’re in a crisis. This is why cash is king. If you don’t have adequate liquidity or access to cash, the chances for survival get pretty slim.

During a recession it is time to get aggressive with your sales and marketing. It isn’t always just pricing. Make sure you reach as many potential customers as possible. It’s a numbers game, and having more leads in the pipeline is crucial. Understanding your profit margins is another essential step so you can make price adjustments and at the right level to secure a greater share of the market.

The Recession Survival Toolkit  outlines tips and techniques for reducing costs on every facet of the business. Just reviewing all of the potential opportunities to reduce costs is a healthy process. Usually the first step in cutting back is reduction of headcount. There are numerous ways to control payroll costs without reducing headcount. Consider adjusting hours worked or vacations with out pay as a way of keeping your valuable employees.

Another opportunity is to use lean workflow techniques and paperless systems to streamline the office and accounting functions. Not only is it cheaper, but it speeds up data retrieval, improves accuracy and saves time. It also minimizes the cost of paper and storage space.

Getting financing and having a relationship with your banker is a key element of making it through tough times. When your bank is your partner, your survival chances get a lot better. The toolkit reveals the techniques used by banks to make loan decisions. When you understand what the bank wants, you are in a better position to get the necessary financing.

Having developed a recession survival toolkit for businesses, I am now motivated to provide more guidance for individuals and retirees. I think CPAs have a responsibility to help citizens achieve a higher level of financial fitness. The AICPA and the Virginia Society of CPAs have launched a website that offers a great deal of information and advice on financial management.

Remember, it took a while for us to get in this mess, and it is going to take focus, patience, and discipline for us to get healthy again.

Cash Conversion Efficiency

December 29th, 2008

In these times, cash is king. Achieving better cash flow starts with sales and marketing. A tough economic environment means there are more businesses looking for the same customer. Taking a more aggressive approach to finding more sales leads that can be converted into sales is a critical component to increasing your cash flow. You might even have to shave the selling price to secure the sales, so knowing your profit margins is essential.

Once we secure the sales it is time to be firm on how and when you will get paid. This is one of the key areas where cash conversion efficiency begins. Get cash at the time of sale if possible. Most businesses sell on credit, typically with terms of payment in 30 days. The days accounts receivable are outstanding is one of components of the cash conversion efficiency ratio. The faster or fewer number of days sales outstanding, the better. This generates cash needed for the business.

You have to purchase materials or goods that are recorded in inventory before converting them into sales. Since you likely paid for these goods based on credit of 30 days net and perhaps a discount of 1 to 2 percent if paid sooner than the terms of credit. The more effectively you turn your inventory into sales by reducing cycle time is crucial. Likewise, use your vendors as a bank by adhering closely to the established terms of sale without losing the discount offered.

Your cash conversion is determined by combining the average number of days cash is tied up in accounts receivable plus the average number days cash is held in inventory less the average number of days of payables. The smaller the number of days contained in the cycle the better.

Some additional metrics that should be monitored include:
• Cash as a % of Sales
• Gross Margin %
• Selling, General, and Administrative Expense as a % of Sales
• Net Working Capital as a % of Sales

The faster your cycle time, the faster you will convert your sales into cash. A component in achieving faster cycle times is to reduce the number of days required to send out your sales invoices after goods have been shipped or services rendered.

A couple of good references on how cash conversion efficiency is used include Go with the Flow published on CFO.com and Cash Conversion Efficiency – A Great Outcome published by Management Mythbusters.

Focusing on these basics of accelerating cash flow will help keep your business healthy in these turbulent economic times.

The Reality of IFRS

December 24th, 2008

I am sure many CPAs have seen IFRS and heard there was going to be a convergence from Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to international accounting standards. But how many of them realize the magnitude of what lies ahead? I was involved in teaching SOX and internal control standards under Section 404. This gives me a pretty good idea of the effort required to make the shift. Since this web site and blog is geared to providing current and cutting edge information for businesses and CPAs it made sense to get on the IFRS band wagon sooner rather than later.Why all the fuss? Well IFRS accounting standards have been adopted by 113 countries and by 2011 it will be the standard used by 150 countries. The United States is immersed in global business and investors need to have the ability to evaluate investments around the globe. This makes a pretty good cased for a single set of globally accepted accounting standards. As was the case with SOX, CPAs are not yet prepared to shift to IFRS. Because of the global implications, CPAs in the United States will need to be capable of preparing and interpreting financial statements using IFRS.

The education process will be massive. It will impact investors, CPAs, and other specialists such as actuaries, and professional associations. Comprehensive education programs will be needed across the board. The AICPA has launched an initiative to help educate and pave the way for 2010 when conversion will likely be a reality.

In drafting this post the potential impact of the transition became starkly real. Colleges and universities will need to revise their curricula to accommodate the new standards. The CPA exam will need to be revised. Many CPAs could find themselves in situations where clients will demand adoption of IFRS. Those CPAs who make the effort to educate themselves will be on the winning end of the conversion game. My prediction is there will be more unprepared accountants versus those who make the leap.

This post is just the beginning and a way of sounding the alarm. I will be busy in the months ahead developing training material. Plus, we will be offering regular and current information on this site to help with the education process.  I’m looking forward to the journey, so sign up for my RSS feed and newsletters.  Let’s saddle up and enjoy the ride.

Family-Owned Business (Family Planning)

December 18th, 2008

There are tons of issues and challenges associated with succession planning. Most family businesses want the family to be involved with the business. This gets tricky when there is more than one child and even worse when spouses and cousins are thrown into the mix. Another component of the process relates to non-family managers involved in the business. They have a stake in the business and usually represent a critical link to the future success of the business.

There are many stories about fights and disputes that arise when family members get side ways over the selection of who is in charge. Without an effective planning and communication process, you open the door for lawsuits and fighting between family members. It doesn’t need to be that difficult when the succession and transition process is handled properly from the beginning. We use an approach that sets the stage for proper evaluation of both involved family members and non-family member managers. Our methodology makes a clear distinction between owners, boards, and management. This is done at the beginning and family owner plans are developed and shared with management in an effort to achieve agreement on how to move forward in a balanced fashion. Owners have a role separate from management and it should not be mixed with management responsibilities. These are separate roles and responsibilities. Open communication amoung family members is critical as they reach consensus on ownership goals and on the direction of the business.

One of the major obstacles to succession is the failure of entrepreneur owners to give up control of the company. This often is an attitude of denial and deceit relative to their own mortality. Once founders realize that it is healthy for them to move out of the center of the circle, we start to see progress. The lack of an effective ownership transition plan could be fatal if something unforeseen happens to the founder.

Our process involves family and non-family members in a positive fashion. By fostering effective communication, the business can focus on the right things and achieve a smooth transition. The failure to engage in this critical planning and communication process can prove fatal to the business. Maintaining a balance between all family owners and non-family management is the best way to secure a successful future and build the value of the business.

Get Help Now!

December 11th, 2008

These are economic conditions that I have not seen ever in a career of over 45 years. It will impact and hurt all businesses, particularly the smaller family-owned entrepreneur. One of the reasons for this is that driven entrepreneurs prefer to go solo and either do not want to ask for help or are unwilling to pay for advice that could save their business. The entrepreneur likes to break the rules and often feels they can get away with things. The danger of this approach in this tumultuous environment is there is a good chance of going down blind alleys with no escape.Now is the time to think strategically about the business. Get the help of advisors who can help lead businesses out of trouble before they get in too deep and go too far. The thinking and planning process is where entrepreneurs need to listen to advisors. If they don’t have an advisor they should go find one. Setting here writing this blog, I can think of several examples where companies didn’t want to seek advice or if they did, they didn’t listen. In some of these instances the results might be fatal. Companies failed to expand credit lines when they could and now getting credit isn’t an option. They also purchased assets when they should have save their cash.

I have had bankers tell me they wished some of these companies would seek help because it makes their job easier and reduces risk. It is all about being penny wise and pound foolish. A little money spent on planning and prevention could be the difference between solvency and bankruptcy. You would think more entrepreneurs would pay the price and choose solvency.

Another issue where procrastination is high is succession and transition planning. Time and effort devoted to putting good succession and transition plans in place allows business owners to preserve the wealth achieved over a lifetime of work. The failure to implement these plans either due to lack of time or not wanting to spend advisor fees results in the loss of all the accumulated wealth or in excessive estate taxes. It also produces a mess for the survivors to clean up when it could have been avoided.

One final caveat is that advisors do their best work when they can focus on fixing the business rather than managing a short-term cash crisis. It is easier to prevent the fire than to put it out after it gets started.

Customer Value

December 2nd, 2008

In todays economy it critical to preserve customer value. The key is earning and keeping customer trust. Understand that your business creates or destroys customer value with every decision it makes and every action it takes. Every customer contact and interaction is vital. There is a good chance that customer value is either created or destroyed based on some action taken by someone in your organization.We know someone who recently had some work done on their house and the quality of the product installed was poor. They needed resolution to the issues. The communication from the company was as if they didn’t exist and didn’t matter. Their recourse was to withhold an amount in an attempt to get some resolution to their issues and concerns. In response, the company sent a notice of an attempt to file a mechanic’s lien. The salesman who sold the product knew of the pending action and never called in an attempt to settle the matter.

These people were justifiably upset. The president of the company ultimately apologized, but by then the damage was done. The amazing thing is the company could have gotten paid on time if they had done things right in the first place and listened to the customer. The president instituted the new collection policy to accelerate cash flow when he should have taken more time to make sure his people were listening to customers and taking care of their concerns.

It is important to realize that customers are no longer just connected to companies in business transactions. They are strongly linked and connected to other customers. Customers talk to other customers. You can no longer manage your business on a customer by customer basis. The actions described above will severely damage the company’s future business. This is a perfect example of burning customer trust and throwing it out the window.

Every customer represents potential future cash flows. Your future revenue is linked to how potential customers will behave. Each customer has a life time value which you can translate into the net present value of all future cash flow attributable to each customer. This can be further extended to the contacts of these customers. Customers represent your most critical asset and resource which are essential to the survival of your business. When there are only so many customers you can’t upset them. When you drive customers away you end up destroying the life blood and long-term value of your business.

Complacency

November 28th, 2008

I thought it would be useful in this troubling economic environment to explore complacency. Linked together with complacency is a false sense of urgency. These are the two biggest issues that I wrestle with in my consulting practice and in dealing with clients.Complacency emerges from a sense of success or perceived success. Hey, I know what I’m doing because I built this successful business. The wagons might be circled and the bank has shut me down, but I know what I’m doing. Perception might be nine tenths of the law, but here reality is a different story.

Then the urgency level starts to spike. The trouble is this is a false sense of urgency because the complacent paradigm has these people doing the same things they’ve always done except they’re doing it faster. All they are doing is digging the hole deeper when they should stop digging.

I try to invoke the unvarnished truth and get them out from under the covers and feel how cold it really is out there. Maybe it is time to slow down and really think through the business and what we need to do going forward versus the same old things that aren’t going to work anymore. We need to change.

This is the challenge for CPAs in today’s economic reality. Stop doing what we have always been doing and start dispensing real business advice to our clients. It is going to be tougher and it’s likely that the same products and services won’t get the job done. It’s time for innovation to kick in and start thinking different about what to change and how to change.

Making It Happen

November 26th, 2008

Here are seven simple management concepts that will help keep you on track and get things done. I thought it was appropriate as we get ready to celebrate another Thanksgiving.The seven steps are:
1. Know your people.
2. Insist on realism.
3. Set clear goals and priorities.
4. Follow through.
5. Reward people who get the job done.
6. Expand people’s capabilities.
7. Know yourself.

Have a great holiday, rest, and recharge your batteries so you’ll be ready to look for new opportunities behind those rocks of resistance.

Work Simplification

November 21st, 2008

In these days of uncertainty and tough economic conditions it is critical to take all the necessary steps to keep costs under control. Usually the first step most companies take is to wield a big sharp axe and cut their payroll, often without thought or consideration. I have a better approach. How about work simplification.

Here’s how it works. Gather each supervisor and employee and have them challenge every detail of their jobs. Here are a list of questions they should ask:

  • What is its purpose?
  • Why is it necessary?
  • Where should it be done?
  • When should it get done?
  • Who should do it?
  • How should it be done to get better results?

This is a simple process that can pay big dividends. It will also give you good feedback on which supervisors and which employees are really thinking. Give it a try and my guess is that it will pay dividends.

In the long run it might be a sharper tool than the unwieldly axe.