Business failures: They don’t have to happen
About half of all new businesses started in the U.S. will be out of business within five years. Or in other words, the long-term success rate for U.S. businesses is only about 50 percent.
But how often do business failures go unnoticed? The fact is, most business failures are noticed, but they’re ignored. It’s kind of like the hidden camera TV shows where bystanders witness something uncomfortable, like an old guy who ran out of gas and is trying to push his car, but nobody actually gives him a hand.
Look For the Signs
When a business is suffering, the signs are usually there. Even though sales may be steady and the business owner optimistic, it’s a little like a train wreck for outside observers who know what to look for: You know it’s going to happen, but you can’t stand to look.
These businesses often have operating lines of credit and operating accounts, but frequent overdrafts, or they have a line of credit that has turned into an evergreen loan. If you’re wondering why they don’t pay their bills on time, it’s simple: They have no cash flow.
Surprisingly, these businesses sometimes struggle for years with no real direction from the person who could be their savior: their banker. Nobody tells them anything, and the banker who “wined and dined” them to get their business when times were good is now looking for a way to exit the credit, leaving the business owner confused and wondering what happened to the “red carpet” treatment.
As authorities in the business community, bankers, accountants and business attorneys should be the ones to spot the early stages of business trouble. Who else is as close to a business’ financial condition? The best way to spot potential business failures is to look for early signs of financial trouble, such as late or inaccurate financial statements, evergreen lines of credit, increasing A/P, and slow-paying A/R (e.g., an increasing amount of A/R that’s over 90 days).
The Snowball Effect
The typical routine of watching and waiting for a business to fail is a detriment and disservice to the customer. Think about a snowball that keeps picking up speed and girth as it rolls downhill. As the business failure picks up speed, it eventually becomes too much for the business owner who doesn’t possess the skills necessary to get the situation under control.
Remember that most business owners go into business with a trade skill, not an accounting degree. They may not know how to forecast, or even know what breakeven means, which leaves them not really understanding why they are losing money or having negative cash flow. The fact is, the average business owner doesn’t have the knowledge or training to understand what is going wrong.