indicatorAdvice for Alberta businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19: Opportunities to drive cash flow

By ATB Financial 30 November 2020 5 min read

For many small business owners, today’s economic challenges may cause them to go into protective safety mode, act defensively and hope to survive until everything has passed.

With revenues either completely cut off or shorted significantly, the last thing most entrepreneurs are considering is spending time or money on marketing or advertising.

While it’s understandable to want to ride out the turbulence, staying silent and out of the public eye during the COVID-19 crisis could put your business at risk of being forgotten or left behind.

Communication builds revenue opportunity

Sandi MacGregor, Entrepreneur Strategist with ATB at the Entrepreneur Centre in Calgary, says communication and personal connections are extremely important initiatives, particularly at this time.

“Depending on what your client book looks like, maybe you're connecting with them on social media. We’re seeing Instagram Stories and Facebook groups being a great opportunity to keep in touch with your customers about the changes you’re making to your business to continue to serve them,” says MacGregor.

“I’ve seen a lot of people just spending a whole day reaching out to their customers one at the time on the phone, trying to connect, reminding them that they’re still here. Sort of reminder advertising you’re doing with a personal connection.”

Letting your customers tell your story

The longer businesses fail to communicate with their customers and clients, the more likely it is that they lose their visibility and their audience. But there’s so much opportunity now to ensure that doesn’t happen. There is a lot of goodwill out there in the marketing space. If your business is doing something great and giving back to the community, those positively impacted by your community engagement may spread the word on your behalf in much more meaningful ways than you could yourself.

“If you share your story, your audience will pick that up, they will share and they will commend you, and you can get so much free marketing out of that,” says MacGregor.

“It’s all playing into the good news stories people are looking for—we’re all so hungry for.”

Shift your mindset to mitigate cash flow loss

Meghan Dear, one of the ATB X Managers on the Business Everyday Advice Team, which creates entrepreneur-led programming for small businesses in Alberta, says a lot of mitigation of loss now includes some longer term changes about how companies think about cash and its operation.

Can companies renegotiate their debt? Can it be converted to equity? Can they get a lower rate? Can they sell their equity?

“Convert debt to equity. If you or any of your shareholders are confident in your company’s ability to recover, consider converting debt to equity. With reduced revenue, your stock value may be at an optimal price to exchange debt for,” says Dear.

“Now is the chance to think about the long term. If it’s not working for you, then change it. Look at your contracts. If the economic downturn has shown that you’re not prepared for an event like this from a cash flow and risk perspective, perhaps it’s time to consider incorporating so that you can better carry those losses should there be a disruption in the future.”

Identifying cash flow opportunity

“From the optimization perspective it’s about thinking longer term, and also, maybe there’s a piece around being opportunistic. If you can think longer term, think about how you can strategically start negotiating and getting into a better position for anything that’s been a pain in the butt in the past,” says Dear.

One of the key things many businesses have learned throughout this crisis is how vitally important having an effective online presence is in this day and age. As more and more people become accustomed to buying products digitally—from clothes to food—those entrepreneurs who have embraced the online trend will continue to find opportunity while those who haven’t may struggle to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

“It’s so important,” says Dear. “For any company that could have had an online presence and didn’t, they’re trying to figure out how to do it now. And they’re doing it in 30 days flat.

“What’s going to happen in the next six months is that every business that’s surviving this and has pivoted themselves into that online format is going to have new sales channels. It will set them up for more future success, more distribution of risk, more customers, hopefully. There’s a lot of opportunities that come with this sort of heavy-handed crisis that’s changing the way people are doing their business.”

For example, grocers have known for years that they need to move into the online space but the numbers behind it have been tough. But now we have a huge convergence of a new audience and it’s not going to go away. People are going to become habitual online orderers for all sorts of things.

“There’s an interesting outcome to this that could be very positive in the coming years in terms of how businesses can reduce their overheads and also serve a larger audience,” says Dear.

Shifting operational design to enable cash inflow

Another consideration is the employee structure going forward. There may be some tough choices companies will have to make. How many people remain full time? How many flip over to contract work?

Another opportunity may lie behind reassessing the instruments, mechanisms or machinery you use to drive business. For example, do you own equipment that actually makes more sense to lease?

“Do you need everything all the time or can you operate in a more nimble, flexible model where you’re adapting to current consumer needs?” asks MacGregor. “Take the time now to build all those systems and processes to be able to change and adapt quickly.

There are also federal and provincial programs available which can help sustain your business, and mitigate the impact of mandated shutdowns, decreased sales and disappearing revenues.

During what the world has so aptly identified as unprecedented times, it’s understandable to feel disheartened by hits to your revenue stream. Still, it’s important to remember that even during a crisis, opportunity may be knocking.

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