How Do Small Businesses Weather a Credit Crisis?

The credit crisis has eased since its height in late 2009/early 2010 but banks and other entities are still reluctant to lend freely to small and medium businesses. Therefore, how are small and medium businesses practicing cash management and maintaining cash flow in a time when traditional access to credit and financing is still restricted? What does this or any other local, regional, or national credit crunch mean for your business?

It is now more important than ever to keep an eye on working capital for business needs, otherwise known as operational cash flow. If your cash levels drop to a dangerous level and remain there, your business will enter a stage no business owner or executive manager wants to see known as “financial distress”. Below are some recommendations for now and the future:

1. Build a strong relationship with your banker (VP level or above). Those businesses that have built and now maintain strong relationships with their respective bankers or other financing entity initially encountered few, if any problems, at the beginning of the credit crunch. However, as banks encountered more difficulties with access to capital and their own cash flow, a number of these business customers have also experienced some issues with their bank. Yet, it is in times like these that a strong relationship and a good communication program eliminates surprises and helps enable companies to weather their internal ups and downs or their respective lender’s tightening standards.

2. Focus on great service. In general, business-to-business (B2B) companies outside of industries directly impacted by the most recent financial meltdown (i.e., those that do not serve mortgage brokers or residential builders) are experiencing less pain that business-to-consumer (B2C). Consumers have been spending less but companies are still spending although how much they spend and where is shifting. Companies that traditionally focus on providing great service for good value are doing better than those that focus on being the low cost provider to the exclusion of anything else. Actually, many of those that solely focused on being the low cost provider are no longer in business.

3. Concentrate your efforts on fiscal and operations management. Businesses can weather a downturn if they focus on tightening up their fiscal and other operations, practicing strong cash management, strengthening ties to and seeking out various financing sources, and providing strong customer service and support. All of this will ensure the company has sufficient cash flow and enough working capital for its business.

The key to weathering a financial meltdown or credit crisis for any small or medium business is to focus on maintaining or building cash flow. Of course, if you can foresee a credit tightening when you are mapping your company’s strategy for the next one to three years, you can pursue term loans, equity investors, or other sources of capital before you need it like Ford did. However, if you, like most, did not have this gift of foresight, the options presented here will help now and in the future.