Monthly Archives: April 2016

Small Business Performance

In other words, if you do not have a plan for where you want your business to get to, performance measurement does not matter much!

Management dashboard

Small businesses come in various guises and hence it is difficult to generalise when it comes to individual performance management. Metrics (also called Key Performance Indicators or KPI’s) can range from Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses focusing on Lifetime Value (LTV) and churn rates, to hotels measuring occupancy levels and average room yields. However the old adage holds, ‘What gets measured gets managed’, so it is important to have some metrics in place. A good starting point would be to try and understand what are the typical metrics that define success in your particular industry. After that, it’s a case of adding some additional metrics to the mix to ensure that all bases are covered. The following represent a list of some of the more common elements that can make up a “management dashboard” which combine to help you manage performance. Of course, some may argue that profitability should be the main bellwether as to the performance of a small business. While there is merit in this view, it is better to use a combination of metrics which all support the primary goal of trading profitably while growing year on year. This way you have early warning systems in place, as an assessment of profitability based on financial statements can take some time given the reporting time lag.

It all starts with a plan

Creating a simple business plan is vital for all small businesses regardless of whether the business is looking to raise money or not. Planning is essentially about having the foresight to plot and manage your own future, in stark contrast to reacting to accounting data with its emphasis on past performance. While business plans have many purposes, they are not often associated with performance measurement, despite the fact they are a very useful tool with which to measure performance. By committing your thoughts to a business plan you can ensure that you (or your team) know what the priorities are, what activities need to be done, who needs to do them and by when. A business plan brings a lot of transparency to the business with accountability in the form of names, actions and dates.

Cash-flow management

Careful management of cash flow is a fundamental requirement for all businesses. The reason is quite simple–many businesses fail, not because they are unprofitable, but because they ultimately become insolvent (i.e., are unable to pay their debts as they fall due). If you are a “cash-only” business, you can bank the income immediately. However, if you sell on credit, you receive the cash in the future and hence may need to pay some of your own expenses before that income hits your account. This will put a further strain on the company’s solvency and hence a well structured business plan will help you manage funding requirements in advance.

Pro forma profit and loss

A profit and loss forecast is an integral element of any business plan alongside a pro forma sales forecast and cash flow forecast. These statements are forecast in advance (broken down by month) and represent a reference point for actual data as it emerges. By forcing you to forecast and to document all expected revenues and costs, the process helps you produce a report detailing the likely trading performance for the year ahead. If you are an established small business, this data is easier to arrive at as you can use past performance data as a reference point. While brand new businesses’ lack of trading history makes this process more difficult, it also makes it more valuable – you need some references to know whether your new business is on track. Once you commence trading and have actual real data, it is then easy to undertake some variance analysis (between the forecast data and the actual data) to assess whether or not you and your business are on track. With actual data it is possible to take remedial action before waiting for a full year of historic transactions to emerge, at which point it may be too late. For example, if sales in month one are significantly below the planned level you can make an early decision regarding what actions need to be taken as a matter of urgency (i.e. perhaps bringing costs into line, increasing marketing activities, pivoting the business, etc.)

Google Analytics

If you are running a website it is essential that you are running an analytics package in the background (Google Analytics is one of the more popular free ones). This enables you to gain a real insight into customer behaviour on your website. If you are an ecommerce site, you’ll be able to analyse details like the eCommerce Conversion Rate (ECR) and aim to improve this rate over time. Given that your revenue is essentially a factor of two elements (ECR * Number of visitors), improvements in these two will help you drive business performance improvements.

Plan is a living document

images-42As you review implementation results with the people responsible, you will often find the need to set new goals and make course corrections. Keep track of the original business plan and manage changes carefully. Although changes should be made only with good reason, don’t be afraid to update your plan and keep it alive. Business Plan Pro Premier has Planned, Actual and Variance tables, complete with linked formulas, to facilitate active cash flow analysis.

Prescription for live planning

After your plan starts, save a copy of your plan in Business Plan Pro and then type actual results into the sales forecast, profit and loss, and milestones Actual tables. Then watch what the variance views tell you.

Note when actual results indicate you need to make changes.

Stay in the Business Plan Pro Actual mode and make adjustments to future months of your Actual cash plan. After all, it is already more accurate than the original plan, because it has actual results for the months already completed.

As each month closes, type actual results over your revised plan numbers into the Actual area.

The starting sales plan
The example begins in this first illustration with the sales forecast imported from a finished business plan, developed in Business Plan Pro.

As you look at the variance for the sales forecast for the first three months, you should see several important trends:

Unit sales of systems are disappointing, well below expectations.

The average revenue for systems sales is also disappointing.

Unit sales for service are disappointing, but dollar sales are way up.

Sales are well above expectations for software and training.

Adjusting the sales plan
One of the main advantages of creating a plan on a computer is how easily you can change it. Month by month, as you record your actual results, you can make changes to your plan in the future months of the actual tables, preserve the plan tables, and be able to see the plan vs. actual variance.

In this example, if the company knows by March that sales will be different than planned in April, they should estimate the revised forecast, as a correction to future results. When the actual results are available, they can then replace the revised plan numbers with actual results. The actual results area can then become a plan area for course corrections.

Compare the difference in the February and March columns in Illustration 1: Beginning Sales Plan (the original plan) above, and Illustration 4: Adjusted Sales Plan in Actual Table, (the actual results area).

Known More About Business Models

This is the second of a three-part series. Read Part I and Part III.

The following are some examples of business models that are used by various businesses. The list is by no means exhaustive and is designed to give you a feel for some of the models that exist (business models evolve constantly).

In many instances, the names can vary as they are not typically universally defined.

The Add-On model

In this instance, the core offering is priced competitively but there are numerous extras that drive the final price up so the consumer is not getting the deal they initially assumed. If you have recently tried to buy an airline ticket or car insurance, you will have spotted that the number of extras you are offered can almost reach double figures!

The Advertising model

The advertising model became popular with the growth of radio and TV where the TV stations earned revenue indirectly from people looking to promote services to the audience they attracted, rather than via consumers paying radio and TV stations for the consumption of their TV programmes.

Some Internet businesses derive revenue predominantly as a result of being able to offer advertisers access to highly targeted consumer niches (often in the absence of revenue from selling their goods or services).  So if your website is about a narrowly defined topic, it is likely to attract a highly defined niche audience who could be offered complimentary products or services with a higher probability of success than blanket mass market advertising.

However, this business model is increasingly difficult to justify if it is your main revenue stream. For a start, the landscape is extremely competitive and advertisers are spoilt for choice. Building brand awareness and translating that into site visits is a very difficult and costly challenge. Successes such as Facebook are very much the exception to the norm.

If this model is being considered for your startup, it is worth noting that nowadays most savvy investors ignore ‘vanity metrics’ such as Page Impressions/Visitor numbers and want to understand whether the underlying business proposition is profitable. Examples such as YouTube illustrate how hard it can be to monetise free content even when you have significant visitor numbers. In short, this model is in decline for most businesses.

The Affiliate model

An affiliate is simply someone who helps sell a product in return for commission. However they may never actually take ownership of the product (or even handle it). They simply get rewarded for referring customers to a retailer when they make a sale.  Again this business model has been a huge success given the ease with which the Internet facilitates it.

The Auction model

The auction model is synonymous with eBay, these days, but of course auctions have existed for hundreds and hundreds of years.  The tulip market in Amsterdam is one of the more famous examples. There are numerous different types of auction, from English, to Dutch, Vickrey, Sealed Bid, etc., and they all share certain characteristics: the price of the good is not fixed; each individual assesses the value of the good independently; final value is determined via competitive bids. This business model has become very popular in recent years as the Internet has helped to broaden its appeal.

The Bait and Hook model

This is essentially the razor blade analogy listed above, where disproportionate amounts of the value are captured on components, refills and the like. Anyone who regularly buys ink cartridges for printers will recognise this model where customer lock in and switching costs result in monopolistic pricing on the component side. The mobile phone business also grew rapidly on the back of this model as handsets were often supplied free of charge when you signed up for a contract. Nowadays with SMART phones, such is the level of demand for some that consumers have to pay hundreds of pounds for the phone and in many instances minimum contracts are 18 months.

The Direct Sales model

While direct selling was initially the primary ‘route to market’, production efficiencies coupled with improvements in transportation meant producers could reach a much bigger market and this resulted in the pre-eminence of the retail distribution model for many years.  However the emergence of the Internet as a distribution channel meant that producers could disintermediate costly resellers and sell direct to customers themselves, in effect going the full circle. The PC manufacturer Dell is a great example of a company who is very focused on the direct sales business model.