The Coronavirus pandemic has sent a shock wave through the global economy. If your business is anything like mine, you are most likely already seeing a drop off in demand and a slowdown in traffic. Sadly, many of my clients who operate “non-essential” businesses have been forced to shut their doors to limit the spread of the virus. Many others that may still be operating are doing so at a much more reduced level of activity.

All of this impacts cash. I think this crisis will be short term and I am hoping we’ll get through this in just a few months and we’ll see both demand and economic activity significantly increase. But for now, it’s imperative to take whatever steps we can to conserve our cash. Here are three ways I am doing just that:

  1. I am talking to my bank.

My company uses a large, multi-national bank. Like many other banks, big and small, mine has been very sympathetic to the plight of its small business customers. The people I’ve spoken to also believe that we will move beyond this crisis in months, not years, and that the economy will indeed bounce back. I am getting them to re-commit to my credit lines and I am already asking what’s needed to get more. I am also discussing potential deferrals of payments or extensions of terms. So far, the response has been encouraging. As I write this, our credit and financial system is sound. And unlike the 2009 recession, capital is still readily available. I am evaluating all financing and credit resources, while keeping my options open and doing my best to not spend.

  1. I am talking to my vendors and customers.

For my vendors who are large companies with more resources to absorb a slowdown, I am asking for payment extensions. Big companies, like the banks I mentioned above, are also sympathetic to the plight of small businesses and are willing to bend some terms and rules to help see us through this challenge. I am not pushing my smaller vendors and contractors yet. On the customer side, I am stepping up our procedures to get our invoices out the door as fast possible. I’ve asked my bookkeeper to stay on top of any slow paying accounts with email and phone reminders. I am also considering offering discounts for early payments and pushing for credit card payments. Yes, these cost a little more, but the goal here is to get cash in the bank to see my business through this challenge.

  1. I am doing a full financial review.

Just this morning, I printed out our year to date general ledger. I consider this general ledger to be the diary of my business because it shows every transaction recorded. When things are busy and the economy is strong, like it was just a few weeks ago, I sometimes tend to get careless in my oversight of expenses. Not anymore. I am going through each account. I am cancelling unnecessary recurring charges. I am questioning why we’re spending money. I am planning on putting some contractors and projects on hold. Again, my intention is to resume as usual once things get back to normal. And again, I really do believe things will get back to normal in a few months. But in the meantime, cash is king and I am going to be very strict in how I spend for the near term.

Here is what I’m NOT doing. I am not laying people off, because unemployment has been tight and when things get back to normal, I am going to need them. Plus, it’s just not right. I’m also not skimping on sales and marketing investments, because those things – like advertising, website development and customer relationship management software – are the things business people need if demand falls off.

Finally, I am not panicking. I am lucky that I have some cash in the bank because the last few years have been good economically. Because of that, I can make better decisions. If that’s not your situation, then I hope that not only will your business survive this crisis, but that you also take away this lesson: keeping enough cash is critical to survive any downturn.

By Gene Marks THE HARTFORD  SMALLBIZ AHEAD

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