Steven Mugglestone

The more I learn, the less I know

Business Turnaround, a Dark Art or Common Sense and a Proper Business Plan

leave a comment »


Business Turnaround, a Dark Art or Common Sense and a Proper Business Plan

More than half of Britain’s small businesses collapse because of cash-flow problems. The UK Insolvency Service sites 65 common reasons why businesses fail.  Many advisers and “experts” publish lists of a number of reasons, seven being a common number, unlucky for the failed business, with clearly a prize and first place going to the Insolvency Service at 65, clearly retired exhausted after then.

We like to keep things simple as this helps us and our clients, but we believe that the success of a business (and therefore the failure of a business) is down to one area (ok, poetic license as it is a related area), cash flow problems due to the lack of a real plan and system of control (i.e. the area that an experienced business orientated FD is good at).

Looking at seven common reasons why businesses fail, it points to the same cause and solution:

  • Business started for the wrong reasons and to try and make money quickly (lack of a real plan and system of control)
  • Poor management and lack of management (lack of a real plan and system of control)
  • Lack of capital (lack of a real plan and system of control)
  • Poor location and marketing (lack of a real plan and system of control)
  • Lack of planning (lack of a real plan and system of control)
  • Over-expansion (lack of a real plan and system of control)
  • No website (lack of a real plan and system of control)

No apologies for labelling the point but all FDs would say the same thing, lack of cash caused by a lack of a real plan and system of control and improvement.  Other recent articles that we have read with interest now refer to zombie businesses and that pretty much sums it up, a re-animated corpse, with no mind of its own; no control of its own; in fact control lies with others; never learning and never changing. In fact a favourite observation of ours is the common lesson for most areas of human behaviour; “If you do the same thing that you have always done, you will always get the same result.”  This is as important to businesses as anything else.  In fact in business, if you do the same thing that you have always done, it is likely that the future results will be worse than before.  We do recognise that many also say; “If it’s not broke then don’t fix it,” but this is also ignoring both normal wear and tear and inevitable depreciation.

Speaking to and working with people who have experienced or been a part of a business failure (and those of us that have seen, have worked with and have been a part of successful turnarounds), there are a range of views and emotions, noting the lack of support from interested parties such as banks, other lenders and major creditors, but in the vast majority of these, there is a common issue, lack of a real plan, lack of innovation and change, lack of a system of control which leads to a cash flow crisis.  In fact the references to lack of support from the bank, when explored further, usually uncover a situation where the business has pretty much lost control to the bank or lender.  There are also a significant and scary number of businesses which only produce annual statutory accounts, find out that they have made a loss, months after the year end; face another issue, such as loss of a major customer or restricted key supply and then tell the bank all the bad news at the same time, asking for funding/overdraft extension, with no solutions being offered by them.  They lack any plan in respect of the relationship, communication and information being given to their bank and are confused and angry when the bank then either refuse the extension or worse still, reduce or remove the overdraft facility completely.  We are not going to comment on the issues surrounding banking over the last two years or so, as this is well documented, but we are aiming to concentrate on how businesses can and should take matters in their own hands and control.

As we are still in what can only be described as challenging and uncertain times for businesses, there are now many who describe themselves as turnaround specialists and look to help to ensure that your business starts on a road to recovery.

I will now make a sweeping generalisation and observation, but in my opinion, there appears to be broadly three types of turnaround specialists;

  • Investors and their advisers who are looking to save the business but also to take advantage of the vulnerable position of the business, to take part or majority ownership of the business for considerably less than normal market value, this is harsh but to be expected;
  • Insolvency experts acting as expert advisers (but usually only looking to support the lending bank).  The reports that they produce and advice that they give can be very biased for not only the lenders positions, but for them to win the future work from the lender, quite a lot of business people recognise this with the analogy of putting Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank and emergency blood supply;
  • There are, however, other experienced advisers who have been there, done that and have the necessary skills and desire to help the business turnaround and be successful.

Going back to the title of the blog, despite the mystery and myth of business turnaround specialists, it is not a dark art.  Businesses are successful because they have a good product; a real plan; a system of control and improvement and control of their cash, businesses fail because they may have a good product but they do not have a real robust plan; have no real system of control and improvement and they do not have control of their cash.  Businesses achieve a successful turnaround because they eventually recognise the position that they find themselves in and take the appropriate action and introduce a real and robust plan; a system of control and improvement, no matter how simple, and control of their cash, before it is too late.

In some overtrading situations, where the businesses are growing rapidly, control can be lost as they did not believe that they needed it.  The sales and money keeps rolling in.  In many situations, we have seen the business hit a wall, when either an unexpected cost arrives (usually the tax bill, but if you do not have a real plan then anything could be unexpected) or when they face a supply problem.  We have seen many situations where a business has one main source of supply for a key component, product or service and when this supplier cannot provide the volume or specification required (or has gone out of business themselves); this has the knock on effect to our business.  This may fall under risk management, but it is common sense management that many businesses fail to address until it comes along to hurt them.  Having one supplier for a key area can prove fatal, indeed one key supplier sometimes can wield too much power over the business anyway.

As any successful and experienced FD would also tell you, a real plan is not only about one area, and it is common-place that the FD is the architect of the plan and its delivery; it is about ensuring that all parts of the business have a plan and the ability to deliver the plan and this has to include;

  • Recognition of where you stand, your strengths and your failings, what are your opportunities and what needs to be protected;
  • A good product/service combined with a marketing plan to deliver the appropriate sales;
  • A good knowledge of key supply and a good supply plan and agreements;
  • An operational and delivery plan, recognising and controlling key drivers in the business;
  • Appropriate recognition of your team development, management and leadership;
  • A budget which includes the key performance indicators relevant to the business;
  • An appropriate financial plan recognising the requirements for long term investment and finance as well as working capital management and short term cash flow;

Recognising the above and how an experienced FD can help and yes that includes the creative marketing stuff as well, when a business is facing financial difficulty it is cash that has to be the key priority and when we start to help this has to be the first area to control.  Sometimes, however, a formal insolvency route of administration or receivership will be required to allow the business to be put back on track, but sometimes a common sense plan will enable a business to right itself without the need for a formal insolvency process.

Some of the areas that a turnaround strategy and plan will include will be:

  • A thirteen week rolling cash-flow dealing with immediate and short term cash flow issues, identifying and managing the pressure points.  It is still remarkable the number of businesses that do not have a short term rolling cash flow plan.
  • A cash plan, breaking down what cash has to be collected weekly from debtors and how; what are the priority of creditor payments and then more formalised revised repayment schedules agreed with key suppliers.
  • A detailed recognition of short and medium term cash requirements and following a draft cash plan, engaging with banks and other sources of credit and lending to bridge the shortfall.
  • Recognition of the break-even position of the business and translation of that into a simple and understandable plan (i.e. the number of sales required a week or the number of conversions needed or jobs needed to be completed every week).
  • Following the break-even review, a plan for staffing requirements with the current and future work.
  • A marketing and sales pipeline made into a simple and realistic plan of hot leads and conversions to sales.  Who are they, where are we with the contract progression (which also recognises the price and profits for the contract) and control of this sales lead flow and reporting.
  • A rolling 13 week marketing and sales plan, what is coming in for the next three months and what marketing initiatives are being put in place for week 13 and onwards.  Having worked in retail this is a very useful, practical and vital plan that addresses every week the initiatives being put in place for week 13.
  • A profit improvement plan, reviewing all key supply and support contracts and where necessary going back out to the market for competitive tenders.  Again the real benefits will be obtained from having a full and detailed understanding of what it is you need and use, volumes, product requirements and when required, to be able to fully specify the tender and obtain realistic tender proposals.
  • A medium and long term plan of what the business needs to develop, following on from recognition of the business strengths, what are the real unique selling points that the business offers and how these areas should be further exploited for the benefit of the business.

We are not saying that business turnarounds are easy or can always be done with a positive outcome in every situation.  Sometimes the business has left the position too long or the market in which they trade has shifted significantly and the business has not changed to reflect that.  In many situations, however, businesses that are failing or are hitting a rough time can be helped and turned around by practical and common sense measures.  The business owner, however, needs to recognise the issue, take a step back and consider what is happening.  Many times the businesses are just doing the same thing over and over again (very zombie like) and with only their fingers crossed expect to see improvements and things change.  This will not happen in the majority of times and a more measured and practical critique and plan will be required.

I think it is fair to say that not all accountants and advisers are the same and some of the areas outlined above do define how a good professional adviser can add real value and support to a business and can help that business to get back on its feet and achieve the success that it first set out to achieve.

Steven Mugglestone BA FCA,
Finance Director Services
McGregors Corporate, Entrepreneurial Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers
…….Really good for your business

McGregors Corporate are a Member of Probiz Tax, providing Innovative Tax Solutions to Owner Managed Businesses.

http://uk.linkedin.com/in/stevenmugglestonefca/
http://twitter.com/McGsCorporate
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhC0wlglePE
http://www.mcgregorscorporate.co.uk/

T: 0845 519 5659                T: 0121 236 3317
steven@mcgregorsbirmingham.co.uk

Connect, call, talk, email, contact us, send a messenger pigeon and arrange a discussion, review and free meeting.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: