Inoculating Your Business for the Post-COVID Economy: Disruptions Create Opportunity
February 16, 2021
By Leon LeBrecque, originally featured in SBAM’s FOCUS Magazine
Good riddance to 2020, to pandemics, to shutdowns, to complicated new regulations and to elections. The question we need to ask ourselves now is what will we do as we move forward? This article summarizes a few ideas for our businesses as we enter a new year, and (hopefully) post-COVID era.
Business Inoculation. It would be nice if we could give our businesses a vaccine to stop the economic damage wrought by the effects of COVID. Sorry, no can do. It may sound morbid, but bad times are the true test of business mettle: Who lives and who dies?
Out of 100 businesses, a portion (say 20 percent) will likely fail. Another group will limp through and survive, and another portion (say 10 percent) will seize opportunity. This means the opportunists will get more customers, hire better team members, find bargains on property or equipment and take advantage of the changes in the digital landscape. Some players will lose their lunch money and the opportunists will get it.
Here are 10 ideas to provide survival, or better yet, prospective opportunity:
Gut check. First up on the agenda is to go over all your current business finances: What does your balance sheet look like now? Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgiveness? Cash in the bank? Weekly burn rate? Loan situation?
Take a snapshot of the business finances and make it your dashboard. At the same time, look at your personal finances: Where are your assets and liabilities? What is coming due? What is essential or nonessential? How do you insulate personal finances from business finances?
Cash Flow: Channel Clint Eastwood. Next up is a detailed cash flow projection. Here, we channel the movie: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Your “Good” projection is revenue increase and cost containment. It’s the scenario you want. The “Bad” is a reduction of revenue, a six-month drag on recovery and hard-to-hire employees. The “Ugly” is a drop big enough to take you out. Why think that way? Because it might happen, and you should have a plan.
Cash is King. Warren Buffet said, “Cash is king, but it’s not a king that just sits there and does nothing.” Build your mode to have dry powder. By the way, dry powder is safe powder, so building up cash in the business makes it at risk, whereas having it in your name may be safer.
How much? See points one and two, but I’ll pose the question: How would you have fared the pandemic if you had a year’s worth of cash stashed somewhere?
Line up Credit. Work on your credit facilities now. Interest rates are at record lows, and banks will be lending, but you want to be at the top of the list. Have your business plan, forecasts and model ready—you need it for you and for the lender. Be the application at the top of the lender’s list.
Taxes: Lemonade from Lemons. 2020 is full of tax breaks, from the PPP to the temporary expansion of Net Operating Loss (NOL) carrybacks, to the clarification of Qualified Improvement Property (QIP). A bad 2020 can mean a tax refund from previous years or carry-forwards to a better year in 2021. Talk to your CPA. And while you’re at it, if you have a low personal income for 2020, consider a Roth conversion to make part of your IRA or 401(k) tax free while your tax rate is low.
Weaponize Digital. One thing we quickly learned this year was that we didn’t need to go into offices, or even attend trade shows or seminars in person. Think about this: Right now, you probably have access to every customer, prospect and potential new hire at your fingertips. Use digital to scout your competition. Use digital to hunt prospects. Use digital to have effective communication with your customers. And go fishing for your next new hires. Your customers, prospects and new hires are out there, looking at their computer screen, just like you are right now. And, by the way, so is your competition.
Power up Your Team. I think almost all of us need a mental health break. The stress of 2020 and the pandemic is immense on employees and families. Imagine (shouldn’t be hard) working from home and home schooling three kids and sharing that duty with a work-from-home spouse. Look at your “A” players and make sure they are in a good place. Share some of the company plans, communicate the optimism (coupled with reality). Great leaders emerge in adversity.
Sharpen the Saw. This is the time to learn as much as you can, both about your business and about other aspects of life. Learn about Customer Relationship Management (CRM), learn about marketing, learn about technical issues. Get Audible or podcasts and listen while you’re on your new treadmill.
Keep Yourself Healthy. Speaking of treadmills, I read a great book called Your Oxygen Mask First: 17 Habits to Help High Achievers Survive & Thrive in Leadership & Life by Kevin N. Lawrence. During the safety talk on planes they tell us in case of an emergency put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. This proves true in many aspects of life. You can’t help your business or your family if you’re not okay. Give yourself room to take care of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually. Make it a priority.
Treat the Business Like an Investment. Maybe the most important lesson I’ve learned over the years is to treat your business like an investment. Do this thought exercise: “If I were to buy my business today with my family’s money, what would I pay? What would I fix and what would be my eventual plan?”
We can get so wrapped up in the weeds of running a business, we forget it’s a business. My business is one of my biggest (okay, it’s my biggest) investments. I need to watch it, monitor it and constantly improve it. Pretend you are the owner. Oh wait, you are!
Leon LaBrecque, JD, CPA, CFP, CFA is the Chief Growth Officer of Sequoia Financial Group. Leon has been an advisor and run businesses for over 42 years. He’s a former college professor, attorney, CPA and advisor to business owners. Leon is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, appears on national and local media and serves on multiple boards, including the Michigan Association of CPAs. Leon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org