As the Christmas and New Year period approaches, New Zealanders are thinking of kicking back and relaxing for a few well-deserved weeks of rest and recreation. While this may be good for some, it is a challenging time for many small business people.
Consumer spending leading up to Christmas and the inevitable sales that follow can be a boon for retail businesses with a considerable portion of their annual income reliant on this festive spend. For those not focused on retail, the late December-early January period is effectively a shutdown period as normal clientele head away on holiday or to the beach. This disruption to cash flow, additional staff costs, loss of productivity and a spike in personal living expenses can be stressful.
A few things that may help ease the inevitable cash flow concerns should be addressed by now. These include:
Debtors - Payment Due
Being on top of your accounts receivable is always good practice. Plenty of recent publicity has highlighted concerns about big business stretching or delaying payments at the expense of small business. Contacting people who owe you money may feel contrary to good relationship management but should not be ignored. Keep in mind that after a service or product exchange is completed and the terms of your payment agreement are due, then it is your money, not theirs that you are requesting. If you are still working on a payment on the 20th of the month following, you may want to negotiate better payment terms in the future. Remind people that you enjoy their custom and wish to continue your excellent service, however as a small business your livelihood depends on being paid on time.
Use online Invoicing and Banking Services
If you are still using paper-based invoicing and banking systems, then maybe now is the time to consider investing in online accounting software. While all the recognised platforms require a subscription, they will save you considerable time and hopefully reduce invoicing delays or errors. You may also want to consider the services of a bookkeeper who can be a useful conduit between you and an accountant.
Standardised electronic invoicing (e-Invoicing) and the use of the New Zealand Business Number (NZBN) are some of the digital innovations the New Zealand Government is investing in to help businesses save time and money.
Minister for Small Business Stuart Nash stated this month that the Government will also take the lead on prompt payment practices for small businesses dealing with government departments by setting a target to pay 95% of their domestic invoices in 10 business days by June 2020, not only increasing their cash flow, but also setting an example of improved business-to-business payment practices.
Staff on Leave and Staff Available
While the Christmas spend can be a boon for retail, there are the costs of additional staff rosters to consider. Ensure that wages and PAYE take priority. If you have staff that are not going to be productive over the Christmas period, this is an excellent time to ensure an agreed shutdown period is put in place, so excessive holiday pay doesn’t accumulate on your ledger. It’s also a good time to ensure staff who provide essential roles, such as accounts receivable and payable and monitoring of website, email and social platform enquiries are available to cover critical services.
Creditors - Taxes and Suppliers
If you have bills due and you know cash flow is going to be a problem, it is better to have discussions sooner than later with your creditors. It’s in their best interest to know they will get paid so they may be amenable to providing split or deferred payment on agreement. Provisional and GST payment may need to be considered for January, so advanced planning or communication with IRD would be beneficial.
Customer Service that Counts
All good customer relationships, especially those that have long term or repeat prospects, will benefit from excellent customer service on your part. This includes good communication, thanking and recognising their custom and preparing them for your continued engagement in the New Year.
Implementing out-of-office e-mail auto-replies and ensuring that your website, signage and social media platforms are updated to display your Christmas open hours and other essential information, are cost-effective ways of warranting current and potential clients are not missed or frustrated by your lack of availability through misinformation. If your business is reliant on key customers, be sure to contact them to ensure there is no unfinished business and you are ready to meet their expectation in the New Year.
Ultimately getting your business on track and manageable is important so that you can relax and enjoy Christmas yourself. Remind yourself why you got into business in the first place and remember that your family and friends are your lifelines to your personal wellbeing. If you neglect these vital personal relationships, you, and inevitably your business, will suffer.
Everything suggested in this post resolves around proper planning. If you feel you are out of your depth and need someone to share your challenges with, a Business Mentor who has had the experiences themselves and will steer you in the right direction, is a great place to start.