Welcome to our new grim reality in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic; the days of “wine and roses” and never-ending increases in business success and stock market price increases are officially over. Sure, you are now feeling the impact of the “baseball bat” smashing through your “glass house.” But continuing with the baseball analogy, we are still in the “early innings” towards recovering to any sort of normalcy.
So, what do you do now, to help “batten down the hatches” to make sure your business survives this tumultuous blow? Lucky for you, I lived through something very similar in the wake of the September 11th crisis in 2001. And below, I share my suggestions on the immediate steps you need to be taking with your business right now.
Your future revenues will materially vary based on your business and how badly it is impacted by the Coronavirus quarantines and other impacts. As example, if you are in the travel industry dependent on tourism, assume the worst. You may not have any material revenues in the next six months, at least (about the same length of time my iExplore business was impacted by September 11th). That includes businesses that are specifically tied to an effected industry (e.g., selling furniture to restaurants). On the flip side, if you are in the hand sanitizer or home-based entertainment business (like Netflix), you are probably going to see a big upside in your revenues, with more people needed those types of products or services during this time. With most other businesses ending up somewhere in the middle. For example, as the stock market crashes, people have less wealth or people lose jobs, and then they spend less on just about everything. So, the more “discretionary” your product, the more you are at risk, as compared to “must-have” products.
So, to be safe, if you are in one of the hardest-hit industries (which I will continue to focus on in this article), be conservative and ask yourself what you need to do to if absolutely zero revenues comes in for an extended period of time (e.g., six months). That would be a crippling blow to most any business. You most likely aren’t sitting on excess cash that can fund six months worth of operating expenses, and raising capital from outside lenders or investors will be close to impossible unless the government steps in with a big bailout package. So, you are going to have to get creative here, which typically means cutting expenses down to the bare minimum, “keep the lights on” levels.
Effective immediately, there is no time to wait, you need to “right-size” your expenses to a level that will get you through to the other side. That could mean cutting all marketing efforts, at least for a period of time, as your return on marketing spend will be a fraction of its former levels, which will put further negative pressure on revenues. And, more likely it means cutting way back on your payroll, either by reducing positions or paring back on salaries. This will be a big blow to your company culture and morale, so there has to be a clear message to your surviving staff that “cuts have ended” and they are safe and we need to keep them focused on the future.
Lowering payroll costs
There are other creative solutions for dealing with payroll. Perhaps you move your sales team from salaried to commission-only. That keeps them with the business, but in a structure that they get paid only if revenues from their efforts are coming in to afford their costs. Or, pay your team with equity instead of cash. Tell them salaries will stop for this month, and instead they will get extra shares in the business to offset the difference. Or, tell them we don’t have cash to pay you now, but we will do our best to pay you back in the future, creating a long term debt which will repaid whenever the company can afford that. But this last path could be creating an ever-growing noose around your neck, and may never get repaid and opening yourself up to legal liability down the road. Only do that, if you think it is a short-term plug to a known repayment plan (e.g., some known financing in the works).
Bootstrap financing options
Guess what, your profitable established business, may have just returned to unfunded startup land. So, you are going to have to be creative in figuring out ways to fund your business in a world where investment and bank capital will be scarce. This could be anything from friends and family, to credit cards or home equity loans, to name a few.
Keep the faith—stay positive minded
No matter how bad it gets, perseverance will successfully get you through the end of the dark tunnel you now find yourself. If you look at this situation from a negative, “glass half-empty” mindset, your business is doomed to fail. So, you might as well shutter the business and stop the bleeding right now. If you look at this situation from a positive, “glass-half-full” mindset, that positivity will infuse itself into the culture of the business, the team will rally around you and you will survive with flying colors. That said, always be honest with your team. Don’t cherry coat reality, and keep it realistic, as your team is not stupid to the world that is going on around them.
So, as you can tell, I am pretty bearish on the next few months, for most all businesses. As is the public stock market with stocks down around 30% in the last few weeks. So, take the hint: it’s time to strap on your mud boots, as it is going to be quite the long and arduous slog getting through this very difficult period. And, if there is one most important nugget to leave you with—the longer it takes you embrace this grim reality and make the tough decisions or immediately cut expenses, the shorter the runway you are leaving yourself on the backend. Don’t wait too much longer, as you don’t want to deplete whatever minimal cash reserves you are currently sitting on. I am not being an alarmist, as that is not my style; I am simply being a realistic based on past first-hand experience. Good luck to us all!
George Deeb is an entrepreneurial CEO, growth expert at Red Rocket Ventures, and author of “101 Startup Lessons—An Entrepreneur’s Handbook”.