Chapter 3 Financial Statements Cash Flow And Taxes Answer Key 20 Small Business Survival Strategies

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20 Small Business Survival Strategies

How to survive tough economic times without laying off employees.

As a business owner or manager, over the past 18 months, you’ve faced lower profit margins and fewer customers lining up to buy your once “hot products or services.” The question of how to get through these seemingly tough times usually ends with answers like…”we need to lay off more workers” or “…let’s close the office in the suburbs”.

The problem with this approach is that…when the economy picks up, you’ll want to rehire those people you laid off in the first place. Unfortunately, you may discover that they’ve moved on to another job, gone back to school, or started their own business. Then you have found yourself in a situation where you now have to hire and train a new colleague or hire a more experienced worker who can “hit the ball”.

Laying off employees in times of economic crisis should be a “last resort”. Well, at least not until you’ve explored all other avenues by trying the strategies I’ve outlined below. I’ll even go a step further. If you’ve already implemented some (if not all) of these strategies or made them an integral part of your company’s operating culture, chances are you haven’t canceled your long-planned vacation to the Bahamas.

Additionally, while these key strategies can be adopted by businesses of any size, they are primarily aimed at small businesses. The definition of a small business will obviously vary by industry and, more importantly, may depend on the personal judgment of the business owner. Regardless, you can find out your business classification as defined by the Small Business Association (SBA) at http://www.sba.gov

Survival strategies

1. Schedule weekly budget meetings. The assumption is that you have a budget. You might be surprised at how many small businesses either (a) don’t take the time to prepare a proper budget or (b) don’t have a regular budget review process. Use the meeting to challenge managers and supervisors to find ways to cut costs in their departments (and reward them). Have managers call via conference calls if you have satellite offices in different parts of the country or around the world. Make sure they are prepared with arguments to justify their various departments’ budgets and cost-cutting plans.

2. Establish a profit committee/task force. It should be run by employees. Challenge them to contribute ideas, but more importantly, reward them for good ideas that actually come to fruition.

3. Revise your performance reviews. Are employee (especially senior management) goals aligned with company goals (ie, increase sales, reduce costs, improve customer service)? Are goals more than just rhetoric or feel-good words? Simply put, are the goals specific enough and… can you really “MEASURE” progress?

4. Review the “Traffic” ratios. Profits are quickly eaten up by useless inventory and late paying customers. Include these items as part of the budget review process. Work closely with your vendors to reduce case packs or simply get rid of items that aren’t selling! Offer to settle with delinquent customers or agree to pay outstanding receivables in installments. Getting something is better than nothing in tough economic times.

5. Rely on the leverage you have with your vendors. Partnerships should be more than just “talk”. Negotiate better terms, ie. try to increase the number of days to pay for your bills. Even taking an extra 5 days a month based on a business valued at $1 million a year can bring your business over $3,000 in extra interest after taxes. This is real money!

6. Change your payment cycle. If you are on a weekly payment cycle, consider switching to bi-weekly. If you pay bi-weekly, consider switching to semi-monthly (15th and 30th). Do a cost-benefit analysis to make sure it makes sense for your business. You can reduce payroll processing costs, which can be substantial, especially if you have a fairly large employee base.

7. Get on the “green” bandwagon early. Become more energy efficient. Who knows… you might even qualify for tax credits. Get employees in the habit of turning off the lights when they leave conference rooms. Sensors may need to be considered for rooms or areas that are rarely used. Shut down computers and turn off office equipment at the end of each day. According to the government’s ENERGY STAR program, 40% of the electricity used by home electronics is consumed when the products are turned off. I guess that goes for office equipment as well.

8. Meet with your banker. Make an appointment now. Not only will you build a critical relationship (which too many managers neglect), but you’ll be asking them for ideas. They benefit from seeing what works (or doesn’t) for other companies, so you can pick your brain. Best of all…it’s free advice! Talk about things like…putting extra money into money market accounts, CDs, etc. See if you can move your operating account to an interest-bearing checking account. While the interest earned may not be “earth-shattering,” it’s still money earned without doing anything differently. If there is a limit on the amount of checks that can be deposited into such an account, analyze the fees the bank can charge versus the interest that can be earned. Pay bills electronically and offer direct deposit to your employees to reduce potential check writing costs. Do you also have an overdrawn checking account balance? Work with your accountant to look at your cash flow to see if some of that idle cash can be earning interest elsewhere.

9. Cut your travel budget (if you still have it). Phone and/or video conferencing will save you tons of money. Also, are the seminars and conferences you attend every year really worth it? Perhaps attending 2 instead of 4 will reap the same benefits.

10. Renegotiate contracts. Engage service providers (telephone, software, etc.) and consultants to discuss current contracts and reduce fees. Look at your leases (office equipment, rent, etc.). Are you taking full advantage of any “hidden deals” and/or discounts? Have you been paying attention to your bills to avoid “overcharges”? Take advantage of the economic crisis. No one wants to lose a customer at this point. Where appropriate, engage other vendors to bid for your business. Warning: don’t hire them just because they’re cheap!

11. Tax strategies. If you invest heavily in equipment and have high business equipment taxes, research countries with business-friendly tax codes. There are benefits to establishing an “equipment holding company” in a low-tax country. Business losses and write-offs can also make your business eligible for various tax credits and deductions. Talk to a good tax attorney about how to maximize these and other tax breaks for your business.

12. Budget for “reserves”. In other words, have an account for “contingencies” or “miscellaneous” as a line item in your budget. A good starting point would be to set aside 5-10% of your total expenses for contingencies. Remember, if you could predict the future, we’d all be millionaires. Including a “reserves” account as an “expenses” item is simply good business policy.

13. Look at your health insurance benefits. If you haven’t spoken to your insurance agent in a while, now would be a good time. You should review your policy every six months anyway. A slight change in your workforce can have a significant impact on the employer (and the employee). Is your contract up for renewal? Can you cancel the contract without any costs? You may be able to find a good deal there without sacrificing coverage.

14. Carry out annual audits of accounts. Carefully review the invoices received from your vendors. If you don’t have a good system in place to track invoices before they are paid, you may be surprised at the number of duplicate or incorrect payments that can occur. An extra “0” added to a $1,000 invoice results in a $10,000 payment and a $9,000 error. Encourage your employees when they discover these mistakes. For example, if they get money, split it with them. It’s a win-win deal!

15. Go after abandoned customers. If the competitor has closed his door, it should mean “HAPPINESS”. A client may be downsizing, but when things improve or they find a new job, they will come back. You’ll want to make sure you’re in a good position to fill the gap left by your competitor.

16. Explore new sales markets. Strange as it may seem, an economic downturn is a good time to look for opportunities in new markets. Territories that were once avoided (especially overseas) now deserve a second or third look. Again, get ideas from your employees.

17. Stay involved in your community. Don’t limit your sponsorship of community events and charitable donations. The money spent on uniforms for a Little League Baseball team is a “big deal.” People remember these things. These people are potential customers or good referral sources. It’s actually worth a lot more than the tons of money you spent on a sign at your local Major League Baseball stadium. You know…the one no one notices!

18. Do you tweet? Do you have a presence on social networking sites? Yes, I mean Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. Are your employees set up on LinkedIn? Even if you’re a mom and dad type of business, consider paying one of your tech-savvy employees an extra 15 or 20 cents a week to post updates and monitor these sites for you if you don’t have the “know-how” .

19. Part-Time Contractors and Independent Contractors. Before considering layoffs, explore the possibility of reducing hours or changing the employee’s status to “Independent Contractor.” Employees will still appreciate the income, and you’ll save on payroll taxes and/or health insurance contributions you were required to pay.

20. Finally…be fair to employees. Don’t tell them everything is great today and then start forgiving tomorrow. On the other hand, if things are really tough, tell them so. If you build an honest relationship and take the time to let them know how much you appreciate their efforts, they will “stick up” for you when times are tough. If you have to let them go, they will understand, even if it hurts. If you have implemented the other 19 strategies mentioned above and made them an integral part of your company’s culture, it is likely that your employees will be the ones who will save your company from the collapse of the economic crisis.

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