It is all about getting in the cash

We have had some gloomy forecasts about the British economy recently with the Bank of England downgrading its own for growth in the immediate future. It says that growth in 2011 will be less than 3% compared with the previous forecast of 3.5%. Many independent forecasters think that is still over-optimistic. At the same time Germany’s GDP has leaped in the last quarter, so that might help to pull the UK up, but there may be some disadvantage on this side of the water in that the UK is weak in manufacturing and we may expect a further climb in unemployment, so fewer people will be buying.

The cuts to Government spending will account for the further losses of jobs and not only in the public sector, but also in the private sector as the State buys less products and services. There is also a trend towards higher unemployment in the US, partly seasonal, and although the administration has tried spending more and cutting less. My kitchen-sink economics cannot tell you who is right, but despite the personal debt figures in the UK rising my instinct tells me that it is more natural for the Government to be cutting its coat according to its cloth, which is deeply ingrained in the British psyche from Victorian days.

I keep hearing that people do not have money to spend and there is talk all the time of cash-flow problems for small business owners. I read the other day an article telling us that employees do not apparently go out so often for a drink with their colleagues after work on a Friday night or indeed any night. Much as I would like to think that is because the population is becoming more responsible over the imbibing of alcohol I suspect it is because they simply have less money to spend on alcohol or anything else. Alcohol is anyway cheaper in the supermarkets and perhaps there is more drinking at home.

One in ten pubs has closed in the last five years. There are no doubt several reasons for this, including the duty on alcohol, the competition from the shops, the recession and the easy answer, the ban on smoking.

I think the ban on smoking has helped drive the adaptability of the other pubs who are doing their best to survive. The magazine, The Publican, has published a survey stating that 52% of pub sales are now of food though there seems to be some dispute over the method of calculation. Certainly pub food sales are much higher.

We have seen a rise in gastro-pubs and there is excellent value to be had. The stale cheese sandwich and the chicken-in-a-basket are thankfully long gone as is the smoky atmosphere. A good pub meal is something to look forward to, no one feels obliged to buy loads of alcohol any more, and Sunday lunch at a pub is a pleasurable experience without the anticipated terror of an enormous bill. We can estimate and budget the cost.

What does this mean for the rest of us? I think the lesson for us and certainly for me is that we must adapt to what our clients and customers want. We must be prepared to do things differently, to do new things and stop trying to sell the old products and services that people may no longer want. Above all we must think about maximising profit not by raising our prices en bloc but by delivering value that people will pay for because we are giving them what they want.

That’s what I think. What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

Why we should deal with the present to look after the future of our business

We are coming to the end of another year, and of course all the predictions for 2010 and beyond are already upon us. As with the social media “experts’” forecasts, most of these will be wrong or else they will be stating the blindingly obvious. We really do not know what will happen in six months’ time or on a micro-management scale, even tomorrow. However the pundits earn their living doing this sort of thing and I have no more faith in them than I do in Mystic Meg (sorry, Meg!).

We hear forecasts that the economy will improve at the beginning / middle / end of 2010 or by 2011. One of these might be right, but it is akin to saying during a period of rainy weather that the sun will come out soon. Of course it will, but if you have a leaky roof or are under threat of flooding you should be prepared and take necessary measures.

In terms of your business, you may have a damaging cash flow problem. It needs to be dealt with now before you get swept away. Tighter and more forceful credit control (I don’t mean sending the boys round) may be the answer, or perhaps talk to your bank or a proper hands-on business adviser about short term help.

Marketing people will tell you that you should do just as much marketing or even more than you did when times were better. That is absolutely true, and they will also tell you to keep testing new ways of marketing and know what works and what doesn’t so that you do not waste your valuable time and worse, your money. Depending on your business, it may be online marketing, off line activities or networking. Take advice if you are not sure.

Make sure that your business is efficient as it can be. Cut your overheads including utility bills, and if you do not know anyone who can help you do this, then ask me or any business adviser with whom you feel comfortable.

The point of this piece is not to lecture about specific issues. You have enough on your plate, as we all do, to have to put up with someone going through the basics.

Relying on the economy improving is akin to Mr. Micawber saying “something will turn up ”. He went to debtors’ prison. We have to look after ourselves and our businesses now. The economic sunshine will come out, but we need to be there to enjoy it when it does.

© Jon Stow 2009