As anyone who has ever started their own business will attest, there is a huge financial risk involved. Typically, small business owners invest their own money, or they will seek a bank or SBA loan to provide start-up capital for the business. On the other side of the risk involved, are the substantial rewards that many entrepreneurs seek when starting a new business. They get to be in control of their work environment, set their own work/life balance and reap the financial rewards that often come from being able to manage their own company.
But what are small business owners supposed to do when revenues are down, and their expenses are going up from having to change their operations in the middle of a worldwide pandemic? The key to survival during these difficult economic times, is being able to identify the signs of financial distress and to determine whether the company can manage its business without having to file bankruptcy.
CASH FLOW or LIQUIDITY
Obviously, if the company runs out of cash, then it will be difficult to continue to operate. So, it is imperative for business owners to monitor their income statement to ensure that the company is operating in a positive cash position each month. If cash flow is negative for a sustained period, it usually means that the owners or shareholders will have to invest more of their money or borrow on a line of credit to keep operating.
If a company is liquid, it has enough assets in cash to make payroll and pay immediate bills. If a company is unsure if it will have enough cash to operate 30 days out, then that is one of the distress signals that may lead the owners to consider alternative measures to generate cash, such as liquidating inventory or factoring receivables.
DECLINE IN REVENUES
Poor sales growth could indicate a lack of consumer acceptance of the company’s product or services. If sales are slow, then the company may be forced to sell its product or service at a loss to sustain its business. Reviewing a profit and loss statement each month will show sales revenues and enable a company to chart whether sales are growing or declining.
POOR PROFIT MARGIN
Poor profits are usually the first sign that the business is not doing well. If the profit margin is low or declining each month, then that means the business expenses are too high or the company’s sales are poor. When a business struggles to earn profit, business owners will often have to ask themselves whether it is worth continuing to funnel more of their own money into the business just to make ends meet. If a company is forced to raise money externally, it will raise its business risk and lower its creditworthiness with creditors, suppliers, investors, and banks, eventually limiting access to outside funding.
DEFAULTING ON PAYMENTS OR EXTENDING PAYMENTS
If a business is delinquent on payments or has to continually ask for more time to make payments, it hurts the company’s reputation and suppliers, or other critical vendors could force the company to change its payment terms to cash-on-delivery (COD). Trying to do business on COD will put extra pressure on the company’s cash flow.
Also, if the company is having to extend longer payment terms to its customers for its receivables, the business will likely start to feel the cash crunch as well. Customers who are paying slowly should be notified immediately, particularly when the company depends significantly upon one or two major customers. In this situation, the risk of financial distress becomes even greater.
ADVERSE COMMUNICATION FROM BANK OR LENDER
Falling behind on payments with a secured lender or bank will usually result in diminishing the relationship and good will that the company developed when the loan was initiated. The lender may ask for additional security or personal guarantees of related third parties when the company seeks additional funding. Keeping open lines of communication is paramount to furthering the company’s banking relationship and enhancing its opportunities for additional financing during times of financial distress. If the secured lender sends a notice of default, it usually means that communication has eroded, and the company will have to look for other avenues to bring the lender current.
Changes in senior management and in employee turnover tend to be an early warning sign that a business is in trouble. Each industry will have specific challenges, so business owners will need to monitor employee turnover to determine if the layoffs are tied to financial cutbacks or some other strategic reason. The bottom line is that businesses in financial distress are rarely happy, which means employee moral may be low and upper management may be on edge and stressed about job performance.
If a significant division of the company decides to leave or join a competitor, the company will need to reassess its profitability and whether it can sustain the loss of key employees or find others who can step into their roles within the company. Either way, employee turnover is a signal of financial distress.
CHANGES IN THE MARKET
Small businesses need to be watching for any downturn in the economy. It is not always as easy to see as a worldwide pandemic. But, losing a critical customer or a principal supplier can adversely affect company sales. Any of these factors combined with the appearance of a strong competitor or an unexpected shift in consumer spending habits could put serious pressure on a company’s revenues and profitability.
One of the key measures of a company’s viability is its solvency. A business is solvent if it has enough assets to cover its liabilities. Solvency is measured with a business ratio called the “current ratio’ that compares current assets (receivables, supplies and inventory) to current liabilities (taxes, payroll and monthly debt service). The “current ratio” is supposed to be 2:1, meaning the value of a company’s current assets should be twice as much as its current liabilities. If a company can maintain this ratio, it can handle emergencies and pay its bills over a short period of time. Failure to maintain this ratio will likely lead a company into financial distress.
While it may seem obvious to measure financial distress by a lack of cash to operate the business, many warning signs are present well before a company is forced to shut its doors. Once a company finds itself in financial distress, it should develop a proper course of action to address the issues at hand.
If you are struggling to pay your debts and concerned about the future welfare for you and your family, it is important that you seek the advice of a bankruptcy lawyer to ensure that your assets are protected and the debts you seek to eliminate are dischargeable. Our attorneys have been assisting consumers and business owners with bankruptcy matters for over 25 years. If you are considering filing for bankruptcy, please consider contacting the Nomberg Law Firm. Our office number is 205-395-0532.
Steven D. Altmann has been a lawyer for more than 25 years. Steve has earned an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell’s peer-review rating and was recently named a Super Lawyer and Top Attorney by Birmingham Magazine in the area of Bankruptcy Law.
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