Old Mill Updates

COVID-19, cash and the future – Advice from Phil Mills, Head of Food & Drink – 17/04/20

Online activity has gone through the roof, but I’ve stayed quiet as far as social media goes. I guess the reasons are three-fold: Firstly, and unsurprisingly I’ve been busy talking to my clients, listening to concerns, sharing ideas;

Two. Amidst the myriad of webinars and content available, unpicking the governments hastily thrown together support packages – there are no experts out there at the moment. We’ve not had another experience like it in the last 75 years (at least) so sharing so called ‘expertise’ feels a little disingenuous. Like most others I’ve been relaying what I can discern from government sources, learned colleagues and associates.

Finally, no business is the same. Whilst some have shut their doors (possibly permanently) others are enjoying the sort of seasonal demand only ordinarily experienced with the promise of a big old chap coming down your chimney in a red suit.

17th April 2020

So why do I have something that I think is relevant to say now? A lot of articles I’ve read had cited a period of reflection. Well that’s not it. Reflection is a luxury that is challenging to achieve with three children aged five and under. And in any case, my view hasn’t really changed. Those of you who know me will know that I’m not prone to long periods of deliberation and over the years I’ve learnt to temper my enthusiasm (keeping me out of trouble). So, I suppose I’m just ready to share something a little more forward looking now.

Firstly, let me say. The government support schemes have been great. There are of course those that aren’t captured and will feel unsupported, I know, but on the whole the government have acted quickly to provide a huge amount of support. But I don’t want to talk about the government because this is about what you, as business owners can and should be doing for yourselves.

Number one

You need to evaluate your opportunities. That might sound like madness coming from an accountant and during a state of national emergency / lockdown. But if you start here then your thoughts won’t be constrained by a balance sheet (that doesn’t mean that you can ignore the financials – see below) and you might just start to develop ideas that you couldn’t have conceived otherwise. Think Tarquins Gin making hand sanitiser!

Number two

Evaluate your financials. You’ll get a range of views on this from ‘experts’ in this area but here are my tips:

  1. Understand your numbers. If you do already then great, skip this step and move onto tip two. If not then start with your last set of accounts and go through the detailed pages at the back. Understand how many sales you make and look at what it costs you to make those sales. Go through the ‘Administrative expenses’ and sense check each of them. Then mark up each number as either: has or will change (out of your hands); could be changed (in your hands); and won’t change. There may also be some new numbers you are expecting (e.g. new premises rent) – note these down
  2. Understand your cash flow. Taking each figure above start to build a picture of what will be happening to your cash each week and month. Understanding this for a year is great but nobody has a crystal ball, so aim for three months – life could be quite different three months down the line. Have you thought about any grants you’re eligible for? Have you thought of any one-off payments you’ll need to make? Or interest payments from any new lending? Etc
  3. Start to model some different scenarios. What would happen if you go after one of the opportunities you have identified? Do you need to increase your marketing spend? Could you share a distribution network with somebody else? What will happen when you change some of the numbers in your control? How will you fund the investment required? Etc, Etc.

Number three

Make a decision and get behind it. And if relevant then shout about it. Don’t underestimate the power this could have for you, and if you have one, your team. We are all emotional beings and making a clear decision in uncertain times is huge. If you’ve decided you’re going to deliver locally as a retail offering then get the message out there. If you’re doubling production to cope with demand tell people. If you’re changing your product line (think Burberry production of PPE) then let others know. This is a chance to inspire and make your team proud.

Number four

Revisit steps one to three weekly – do they still make sense? Do you need to adjust your plan? Does it need a complete change? If required, make the decision again!

Number five

Pause and reflect – what might be the future in say a year’s time, or three years time? And what are you learning now that should be embedded into the business in the long term?

Making a decision is important and saves you from drifting into the future without a plan.

I’m really pleased to say that the majority of people I have spoken to have sought to understand the immediate help available to them and are tackling cash flow planning, which is great but only part of the picture. So, if you’d like help with any aspect of this then please do get in touch. We are here to support ambitious businesses.