Practical tips for business leaders

BDO Business Wellbeing Index April 2024

Our Index shows that financial performance, economic and political factors, workload, and technology and systems are all areas where business leaders could do with additional support. Although business conditions are challenging right now, many of these problem areas are not new, and there are people and practical steps to help manage these effectively. Our BDO experts share some helpful tips below. Reach out to your adviser for more support.

Business tips

Control the bottom line: Key to the long-term success of any business is profitability. While it’s important to ensure that gross margin metrics are being maintained, the bottom-line is where the rubber really meets the road in terms of returns to shareholders and return on investment. Where the business landscape is changing rapidly, businesses leaders should be prepared to review their structure and adjust expenditure to maintain overall profitability.

Cash is king: While profitability is key to long-term success, in the short-term, cash flow management is at the forefront of a business's ability to navigate tough waters. 

Top cash flow management tips:

  • When budgeting, ensure you’re forecasting your cash flow requirements and think about the “what-ifs” to ensure you understand your potential financial position under different scenarios, and plan what you would do to mitigate risk or maximise opportunities in each.
  • Keep a close eye on your debtors to ensure that payments are made as expected. It’s also important to regularly review your terms of trade to ensure they're fit for the current environment.
  • Build a strong relationship with your bank and reach out ahead of time when it looks like a cashflow crunch is on the horizon.
  • Ensure you are aware of all upcoming payments, including tax. There are several options available to finance or spread tax payments - speak to your accountant or tax adviser to understand more.
  • Reach out to your advisers and key stakeholders - your bank, suppliers, and customers. Don't plan in isolation and make sure you are communicating and actively managing the situation.

Effective stock management: Many businesses end up with dead stock on balance sheets. They don't want to sell it at a reduced price as it will hurt their margin and they could make a loss - but how long should you hold on to stock for without cash coming in? What is it costing you in storage and insurance to hold the stock? It may be better to take the hit in the short term to utilise these funds more effectively.

Consider your cash flow. Questions to ask in the short term include whether you can afford to pay your bills and how much money is in your business bank account. In the long term, think about areas where you can predict fluctuations in cash flow. This type of analysis and planning should be done regularly with the cadence depending on what’s going on in your business and the wider economy. A close relationship with your bank can be key in getting through a cash flow crunch.

Think about the “what-ifs.” The business landscape can change rapidly, and it’s important that your business is able to adapt to meet the market. When forecasting, ensure you understand your potential financial position under a number of scenarios, and plan what you would do to mitigate risk or maximise opportunities in each.

Look at your financials holistically. You should be as familiar with your overall financial picture as you are with your products and services, market, and industry. Review every metric, from net profit and gross margin to expenses, cash flow, and sales. Look at how these combine to build an accurate picture of how your business is performing. 

Keep a close eye on debtors to collect cash within reasonable timeframes. Debtors may delay payments to manage their own cost pressures. Look at your terms of trade and, if feasible, consider providing incentives for prompt payment

Assess the impact of inflation on your business at a holistic level. Businesses are hit two-fold by the current economic climate, with sales generally being impacted by consumers facing increased costs of living along with the increased cost of doing businesses. The Reserve Bank’s mechanism of combatting inflation - increasing the OCR (Official Cash Rate) and in turn, interest rates - further impacts both consumers and businesses. It is important that business leaders understand that the environment they are operating in has changed significantly - and they should plan accordingly.

Think strategically. While understanding the current economic climate is the first step, it's essential that businesses form or refresh their strategic plan to ensure they are moving in the right direction. Consider what success looks like in the long-term and how you are going to get there - ensure that decisions are strategic, rather than reactive - and that will move you in the right direction toward your goal.

Consider your governance model. It's important that business have people with the right skill sets in place to form strategy, make decisions, and provide advice. Asking independent directors to join your board or alternatively, forming an advisory board are excellent methods to add knowledge and skills to your business governance framework. 

Manage risks. When dealing with uncertainty, including political and economic, it’s important to focus on what you can control. Ensure that you understand the risks your business faces, along with their likelihood and potential impact. From there you can take steps to mitigate these risks – or minimise their impact. 

Call on support. Business leaders have a lot on their plates. When times are tough, it’s essential to have the right people around you to lean on for support. Your support team should include not just those immediately involved in your business, but your wider network of peers and trusted advisers.

Consider outsourcing. At a time where many businesses are considering whether their current structure is fit-for-purpose, outsourcing of certain business functions may be considered a cost-effective tool to manage workload. External HR, IT, legal support or an out-sourced finance function can be used to tap into the right skill sets at the right time, potentially reducing employee headcount and minimising business risk. 

Be flexible. Many business leaders grapple with the challenge of balancing business and family life. Understand your non-negotiables - what are the most important tasks, events, and challenges? Focus on those and fit the less-important in around them. Flexibility is key in hitting the right balance.

Don’t get complacent when it comes to cyber security. Cyber crime is a leading risk factor for New Zealand businesses and it’s important to remain vigilant about the cyber risks that could impact your business. Conduct regular reviews and seek external assurance that your systems and procedures are fit for purpose.

Optimise your systems. During periods where there is less work, it can be a good time to look at your systems and technology and consider how these can be optimised. Consider whether they are the right systems to drive you forward – or are they holding you back?

AI is coming at us. Now is the time to consider its impacts on your business. When harnessed appropriately, AI may be a significant opportunity for growth, or driver of efficiency for your business moving forward. Now is the time to start the conversation with external specialists and internal team members to better understand how you can use AI in the future.

For further support on your business issues, reach out to your BDO adviser.

Wellbeing tips & support

View our wellbeing tips here.
For wellbeing support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your trusted contacts or one of the sources below. 

    BDO is proud to be the first Xero Global Partner. Xero provides Xero small businesses, their employees, and their families with access to the Xero Assistance Programme (XAP). XAP offers free, confidential access to face-to-face, telephone, live chat, and online counselling. Find out more here
  • 1737 is a free Government-run advice line for anyone who is feeling stressed or just needs someone to talk to. You can ring them for free or text 1737. Find out more here.
    Find targeted resources for New Zealand business owners, leaders, and entrepreneurs, at First Steps here
    For further support, for yourself or others, visit the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand website.
  • For further Agribusiness wellbeing suport, visit Rural Support Trust

The BDO Business Wellbeing Index shows that business financial concerns are the leading driver of negative wellbeing for business leaders in Aotearoa. Julie Cressey, General Manager at TELUS Health New Zealand, shares insights on how business leaders are feeling at the moment and what steps they can take to manage their wellbeing.