September is such a pretty time of the year in Minnesota.

The colors are spectacular, the farmers are bringing in crops, and we can still be outside and comfortable. For me, as a small business owner, September was the time to start the planning cycle for our next fiscal year. I liked the planning process working with the team, brainstorming, always growth oriented, getting the plan written and the financials projected then implementing and follow up to make it happen.

Doing our business planning wasn’t always a slam dunk. We lived through the “Carter“ years, economic downturns, union negotiations. And election years with those uncertainties. But make plans we did and found when times were tough, the better the plan the better our chances of surviving and growing. We were not always right and learned to believe our month end financial results and take quick corrective action.

I believe fiscal 2022 is going to be the most challenging year that small business leaders have ever faced. Our society is in disarray, The pandemic is still with us and there are more restrictions being placed on how we run our business. We still must run our businesses and more than ever, strong confident business leadership is needed.

Some thoughts on steps I’d take facing next year’s business environment.

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  • Get more involved in the direct leadership of your company. I’d share my concerns with employees and have regular meetings with them. My initial meeting would sum up the action plan you’ve developed with your leadership team to strengthen the business. Subsequent meetings would discuss successes.

  • Cash is king. Dupont shared a template years ago that computed return on assets multiplying asset turnover (sales divided by assets) by operating income (profit divided by sales). Note that sales are in both formulas, and we always went after profitable sales growth. We found that our management team tended to focus on the income statement and not so much on the balance sheet. There is money to be found and saved by spending some time on your investment in assets. We computed inventory turnover (cost of goods sold divided by dollars in inventory). We also aged our accounts receivables and if they went 35 days, special attention was made to get those receivables paid. What would happen to your cash balance if you turned inventory twice as fast as you’re doing now, and your receivables are current?

  • Just-in-time delivery. We’ve talked before about how the Japanese developed the practice of just-In-time delivery after the war. They had to because the country was destroyed and cash poor. They became a world class economic power. Why not develop a similar program with your vendors? It is not just for increasing inventory turnover. We delivered to a major customer three times a day. The product never went into inventory, it went next to the production line and was used up within three hours. It was handled by fork truck once. That was a benefit we provided to several customers that the competition wouldn’t provide. We would also write off inventory on the books for 90 days and let the plant use it wherever possible. Why not challenge your vendors to reduce your cost of product by 5%?

  • What would it take to reduce your customer’s cost by 5%? Note the question wasn’t reducing your price by 5%. Do you have the relationship with your customers that you can work with their team to reduce cost? Do you know where their pain points are? Working with their technical people, can you make design changes to reduce cost and create more profit for you? We used to do a survey every two years with key people at our customers to see how we are doing and what we could do better.

  • Why not give your team the challenge to increase profit by 5% in all divisions of the company? We kept a chart on profit improvement that the employees followed. Rarely did these programs threaten layoffs.

Looking at the bullets above it all looks so easy. It’s not. Three items are critical. First you must take charge and make it understood by the staff that the company will survive and grow. The employees will watch you very closely. Stay positive and non-blaming. Secondly, communications with the staff are frequent, open and data based. And, finally, and most critical, a solid written business plan needs to be written, shared with your people, and made to happen. Perhaps Admiral Farragut said it all at the Battle of New Orleans — damn the torpedoes full speed ahead. The company must survive.

SCORE is here to help. Dick Jordan, certified SCORE mentor, can be reached at 218-251-4413 or richard.jordan@scorevolunteer.org

As a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE - which offers free business mentoring and education -- notes the organization has helped more than 11 million entrepreneurs through mentoring, workshops and educational resources since 1964. The nonprofit SCORE was previously known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives.