Do you have enough liquidity to weather a crisis?

Three steps to get your finances under control
Reece Tomlinson
Ships in a Storm off the Dutch Coast, Andreas Achenbach 1854

COVID-19 has provided a very clear lesson to many SMEs on the need of adequate liquidity on the balance sheet to weather various levels of business disruption. With the Omicron variant it’s possible we may be heading into a year filled with various levels of disruption, it is therefore necessary to determine the liquidity required for SMEs to weather the disruption.

The challenge, however, is understanding how much liquidity the SME needs, it becomes even more complex when the current level of liquidity available to the SME is below what is needed. This article aims to help figure out what level of liquidity is needed and how to bridge that gap.

What Does a Crisis Look Like for Businesses?

A crisis for businesses can take on many forms, but it often involves unexpected events or circumstances that threaten the normal operations, reputation, or bottom line of a company. It could be a natural disaster like a flood or a fire damaging physical assets, a cybersecurity breach compromising sensitive data, a product recall due to safety concerns, or even a public relations nightmare sparked by negative publicity or social media backlash. Again, look at COVID and the massive crisis that caused to basically every single industry worldwide.  

You need to look at what could realistically happen to your business and how you might be able to prevent a crisis. For example, if your business, such as a warehouse, is in an area that’s prone to flooding, then you might want to consider siphonic drainage to help prevent some of the flooding. If you’re stressed about the potential for bad PR, then you already have a go-to PR agency to help you. The same goes for cybersecurity too; go above and beyond to protect yourself. In general, some crises can be entirely avoided.

Step 1

In a business disruption event, it is likely that revenues are going to be impacted and non-variable costs (fixed costs) are going to remain steady for the immediate future until longer term cost-cutting can occur. Assuming this is the case, on a monthly basis it is necessary to calculate various levels of revenue and gross profit from revenue against fixed operating costs that the company will invariably need to incur. SMEs need to prepare a worst-case scenario revenue forecast as it pertains to revenue disruption. Next, multiply the monthly impact of operating at the forecasted levels of revenue by a disruption of 6 months. The formula, on a per month basis, is:

(Monthly Worst Case Scenario Revenue – Monthly Variable Costs – Monthly Fixed Costs) x 6 Months = Liquidity Required

If the outcome of this exercise is a negative figure, then it will represent the amount of liquidity the SME needs to have available in order to navigate significant business disruption. If the outcome is positive, then I encourage the SME to slash revenues by another 50% and observe the result.

It is important to note that for SMEs with inventory that can spoil to consider an additional cost that needs to be factored into this calculation - the cost of replacing spoiled inventory.

Step 2

After arriving at the liquidity required to weather the level of business disruption, it then becomes necessary to figure out whether the SME has this level of liquidity available. The simplest method of doing so is to determine how much cash is available for use. Next, deduct the current level of liquidity from the cash balance. The difference, if negative, makes up the liquidity shortfall the SME is going to need to bridge.

Step 3

If a liquidity shortfall exists, then the SME needs to identify ways of bridging this liquidity gap. There are a few ways of doing this, however the simplest is to identify what debt facilities the SME has available at its disposal. The company may have unused credit lines or draw down facilities they can access as a source of capital should it be required. If not, does the SME have the ability to access financing? If the SME can obtain new credit facilities, then it is prudent to do so, all SMEs should have a line of credit available even if they intend to never need it. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has already impacted a lot of SMEs and reduced their debt service capabilities, which inherently makes it more challenging to obtain new debt. And so, for SMEs in this position, a more creative solution to accessing liquidity is needed. Notwithstanding major cost cutting efforts, these types of solutions can include some, or all, of the following:

  1. Using payables as a cash flow bridge can be an effective way of reducing the cash spend of the SME. By extending the payment timelines of payables that the SME has accrued, the company can increase the amount of free cash flow available and thereby increase liquidity. Whilst this option can, from our experience, free up a lot of cash flow, it needs to be managed strategically and professionally to ensure the relationship with the suppliers, who provided credit to the SME, is not tarnished and/or the capacity of the SME to access additional goods is not materially impacted.
  1. Offering incentives for clients to pay receivables early can improve cash flow by ensuring cash comes to the SME quicker than it otherwise would have without an early payment incentive.
  1. Seeking a formal deferral of debt principal and interest payments from the SME’s lenders, would free up cash flow and increase liquidity available for the company to utilize in order to weather the disruption they may face.

Finally, any business disruption that does not have a clear and distinct potential recovery should warrant more drastic and strategic cost cutting efforts to ensure the long-term viability of the company.

Reece Tomlinson is founder and managing partner of RWT Growth and is an entrepreneur, a leader, a mentor, and successful strategic thinker having led numerous small businesses and startups in the UK, Europe and North America. RWT Growth focuses on helping organizations, leaders and entrepreneurs achieve their goals.

Written by
Reece Tomlinson
Written by
February 4, 2022