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Why a Slow Economy Doesn’t Have to Mean Dire Straits for Your Business

Is the slowing economy adversely affecting Atlanta’s businesses, or is it a great time to be in business?

Well that depends mostly on your recent revenues. But even if those are in reverse, a slowing economy can be a great time to take advantage of some opportunities and position your business to come out of the gate at full speed when the economy takes an upswing.

We wanted to hear what local professionals in finance and business had to say about the current state of affairs. CFO service provider Mike Iverson and Vistage Chair Tim Fulton had some good tips for bad times.

Cash is King

The first step to understanding how to make sure your glass is half full is to assess your financial situation and understand exactly how much cash and credit you have. Even if cash flow is good, “Now would be a good time to go the bank,” says Mike Iverson, CPA and Principal of Trillium Financial, “before the economy gets worse or your company financials get worse. Go to the bank and make clear why you want a line of credit and what you will use it for.” It’s important to be proactive when it comes to having the cash stores ready. If you wait until you need it, your statements probably won’t look as good, and the bank may decline a loan or line of credit. Planning ahead is always a good thing. “The key to survival in an economic downturn is to out perform the market, and accumulate cash”, says Tim Fulton, a Vistage International Group Chair which works with over 14,000 chief executives in 16 countries.

Another aspect of understanding your capital position is modeling. How long can your business last with a certain amount of decline? What will you do to make sure you can weather the storm and start growing again? Imagine the various scenarios – even the truly ugly ones – and devise solutions before they come to fruition. You’ll be able to think more clearly in the face of adversity if you have a battle plan and, again, a line of credit to back you up. This doesn’t mean that you have to focus on the worst case scenario, just plan for it, then focus on your everyday business.

Modeling the tough situations is especially important if you are in a cyclical business; for example, the automotive industry. When the economy hits the skids, the average car dealership will probably see sales decline rapidly. Managers must have enough cash reserves to ride out the storm, and to pay for overhead and inventory so they can still be in business a year from now.

If you are a manufacturer, or a company that manages a lot of inventory, be mindful of your production capacity. You don’t want to continue to run at full capacity and end up with an overstock. Go to your clients and continually measure what they anticipate ordering from you in the next two to three months. For production purposes, you might have to scale back so the inventory on hand can be used, and not end up obsolete. On the positive side, manufacturers are usually the first to see orders are picking up. They’re not necessarily the canary in the mine shaft, but these businesses tend to provide a leading indicator.

The Positives of Slower Times

Once your cash situation is well-positioned, the glass is definitely half full. Now is the perfect time to expand your business through capital investments such as acquiring a struggling competitor. You can often take advantage of businesses being sold at fire-sale prices.

“When the economy bottoms out, there will be an abundance of great investment opportunities,” says Fulton. “The business owner with cash will be in a strong position to take advantage of these opportunities.”

Companies with cash can also get the upper hand over competitors by investing in the introduction of new products and in new technology that other business can’t afford. “If you can do any of these things”, says Iverson, “you’ll be in a different place than your competitors because you will be nine to twelve months ahead of them.  You will have something to offer customers that your competitors cannot.”

Companies who differentiate themselves in this way will be growing when everyone else is declining. Constantly look at opportunities to grow with products and services that will serve others struggling with hard economic times and continue to help them through good economic times,” says Iverson.

Another way to grow through a slowing economy is to ramp up marketing. While other companies cut their marketing budgets, Fulton recommends against this instinct. “Be very, very focused in your marketing strategies. This is not a time to be spending a lot of money on broad branding efforts. It is a time to be laser-focused on acquiring new clients and retaining profitable existing clients,” he says.

Iverson agrees. “Marketing is the last place you should cut back,” he says. “Marketing initiatives are priming the pump to create your sales engine. If you cut back on that, you cut back on future sales and opportunities. If everyone else cuts back on marketing, you will stand out even more, possibly turning that half-full cup to overflowing.”