What can I do to get my SME financially fit? — a check list for smaller companies

By Nigel Harse & Rod Hore

As the recruitment industry emerges from the downturn of the past couple of years there has been a rapid rise in the number of recruitment company startups. There are also a large number of established companies that feel they are back in start-up mode as they rebuild their business from a series of cuts.

This month we have put our thoughts together to present a checklist that business owners can use to verify their financial health. You may be surprised that it’s not all about dollars! Being fi nancially fit is not limited to, but includes, great cash-flow management. It also involves actions that give your organisation the right to earn revenue into the future as well as decisions that make your use of cash and capital as efficient as is possible.

(1) Go where you can make a difference or make an impact.

You have limited financial resources and sales and delivery capability so you can’t afford to chase opportunities that don’t give you a high probability of a return. A good rule of thumb is to be wary of going where the larger companies are as they can offer a different solution at a different price-point.

(2) Hold your nerve and be tough on your terms and conditions.

Remember that your business terms and conditions are a large part of your brand in the marketplace. If you want to be known as a business that works exclusively with clients then you need to win that type of work.
Recruitment processes

(3) Measure your activities and your results from day one.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure”– as a small company it is recommended that you constantly benchmark your results so that you have blinding clarity about your performance and effi ciency. Last decade created wealth for business owners that didn’t accept their current position and had an attitude of continuous improvement.

(4) Choose your technology platform wisely.

As soon as is possible, get onto a technology platform that will grow with you and not restrict you in the future. Your future may include perm & temp, remote offices, staff working from home, outsourcing, customer portals – and your technology needs to keep up with you. Today there is a genuine leap forward in available recruitment technology
that is web-based, integrated, flexible and offered as a software service.

(5) Cashflow.

All small businesses need to have absolute certainty and clarity about their fixed costs and their variable costs into the near-tomedium term future and have mechanisms in place to review this on a regular basis. Cash flow management is a basic and essential business requirement.

(6) Borrowing money.

If you do need to borrow money as an overdraft or a factoring arrangement or even off friends and family, make surey ou are getting the best terms and the maximum flexibility possible. You need to allow about eight weeks to arrange credit so plan ahead. Your negotiations with the financial institution (yes, you can negotiate) must include the flexibility to get out of the arrangements as your cash reserves improve or your situation changes.

(7) Beg, borrow and steal, as the saying goes.

One stark lesson from the downturn is the stories of companies that folded because of their high fixed cost overhead structure. Don’t invest in fixed overheads, like rent, until you really need them. If you are a good leader and have an exciting business then accommodation facilities will not be a detrimental factor to your business in the short to medium term.

(8) Establish employee conditions that will work when you are larger, or change the process.

Decide early if you are going to pay individual commissions, team bonuses and special privileges. Will your staff bonus structure work when there is a middle management team in place? Are the special deals you are offering to early employees sustainable in the longer term? Do you plan extra features in the recruitment process such as technology, or resources, or outsourcing that will change the cost structure?
Directors and shareholding

(9) Structure your business and your personal assets properly.

There are a number of basic structural arrangements that should be put in place by anyone who is a director of a company. If you haven’t received any professional advice in this area, you should.

(10) Reward yourself.

Don’t forget to look after yourself. Small business owners take incredible risks and need to ensure they gradually reward themselves for the risk and effort. At a minimum business owners should pay themselves the equivalent of a standard salary.

A summary of the above points is to:
(i) preserve cash;
(ii) delay spending, and
(iii) don’t give away the future.

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