By LuAnn Nigara and Vita Vygovska
Given the current situation and the ever-evolving information we are receiving, it is understandable that most of us are feeling anxious about the future of our businesses. We feel it too. The uncertainly alone is unbearable, let alone all the other grim news.
We are partnering on this article to give you practical, experience-based tactics we are employing in our businesses—LuAnn, based on what she’s learned over time, and Vita, from the perspective of a newer business owner (who also receives coaching from LuAnn).
LuAnn: I’ve seen my fair share of recessions and crises. I’ve made some mistakes—some big ones—but I’ve also learned several lessons that allow me to confidently say that Window Works will weather this storm.
My biggest, overarching advice to you is this: Don’t overreact, but don’t not act. While it sounds like simple advice, a common reaction to a crisis is to find yourself in turmoil and become so overwhelmed by emotion that you are unable to take any action or make any decisions. That is not going to bring you any comfort, nor is it productive for your business.
You need to take action and make decisions that are going to allow you to lead your business through the crisis. As a business owner, you have a lot of people depending on you. They need your leadership now more than ever.
As soon as we realized where this was going, we knew we needed a plan, and that we needed to take quick and decisive action. Here are specific actions and recommendations:
Know Your Cash Flow
LuAnn: Focus on your cash flow. Literally every aspect of your business and how you move forward into the unknown will depend on your current cash flow.
Vita: I love my spreadsheets, so for Vitalia, Inc., I turned to my tried-and-true tool (but you can do it manually too). We look at cash on hand + forecasted revenue – forecasted expenses. Forecasted expenses = actual expenses you’ve already incurred + your best guesstimate of additional expenses you’ll incur. Do this on the monthly basis or, better yet, weekly. This exercise (brutal as it may be) will show you how long your existing cash reserve will last you, thus giving you a much-needed kick to take action.
Maximize Your Revenue
LuAnn: Move forward with closing sales you were working on before the crisis broke. Not everyone will be financially affected by this. Don’t be afraid to be the one to close on these sales and opportunities.
Vita: Even though this was tough advice to hear, I took it to heart. Not everyone is struggling financially. It’s also helped me to know that I can close sales using my authentic voice. For Vitalia, Inc., I personally reached out with an individual email or phone call to each and every one of our customers. I titled it “Touching base” and started by saying, “I’ve been thinking about you.” I continued with, “We are here for you to provide advice, support, estimates, samples and whatever other help you need.” I closed by sharing my personal feeling that “we will get through this and will be stronger and wiser on the other side.”
Collect Accounts Receivable
LuAnn: Now is the time to collect on the monies due to you. Review all outstanding balances and move to collect on them as soon as possible. Yes, you should absolutely do so in a manner that is tactful and respectful to individuals and their situations, but do understand that you must be firm in collecting what is owed to you for the well-being of your business and your family.
Vita: I really listened to what LuAnn was saying. Do it in my own authentic voice, but don’t not do it. We reached out with the following message (email or phone call): “Thank you for letting us provide value to your home. We hope you’re enjoying your window treatments, especially now that we are bound to our homes. Your final balance for this project is $X. Kindly remit it at your earliest convenience. Our acceptable terms are ___. Please stay healthy and safe. We can’t wait to see you in person soon.” Kind and empathetic, but unapologetic and firm.
LuAnn: You should be looking at your expenses with a very critical eye. Take every step to eliminate unnecessary expenses, no matter how small or trivial they may seem. Many small expense cuts can add up to significant amounts that will make the difference in being able to make payroll down the road … or not.
Vita: For Vitalia, Inc., I honestly didn’t think this would be applicable. I mean, c’mon, I run a pretty tight ship. But I went through our 2019 and 2020 year-to-date P&L with a very fine-tooth comb. I discovered that there was an app that renewed back in August 2019 that we no longer used. Canceled. Another discovery was that we had several URLs parked with hopes of using them some day. Canceled. I bet if you went through the same exercise, you would find some things to cut back too.
LuAnn: There may come a time when you need to institute a pay cut. Payroll is the number one expense of most businesses, mine included. Making a temporary pay cut can help keep your employees on the payroll, if partially, and keep your business afloat.
Vita: Although the hours have been reduced, I am doing everything I can to keep my people busy with projects that would not have seen the light of day otherwise. Standard procedures manual—yes, let’s dust it off and update. Product presentations (to have ready at appointments)—yes! Pricing comparisons and analyses—give me five, please!
LuAnn: You should continue to conduct as much business as possible by utilizing all the opportunities and technology that make working remotely possible. You may not be able to complete any installs at this time, but that does not mean your only option is to remain idle.
Vita: At Vitalia, Inc., we are employing all virtual means of communication and still providing support to our design clients. Jill Rodgers of High Country Drapery Design is offering semi-custom window treatment services from the predetermined selection of fabrics, trims and hardware. This cuts down on measuring trips and keeps her employees working and her customers happy. Hundreds of interior designers are starting, revamping or speeding up the release of virtual design services.
Focus on Marketing
LuAnn: Do not cut back on your marketing. This is one expense that you should continue to invest in as much as your budget allows. Be smart about how and where you are investing and how much. Do not go into debt by any means. But you need to continue to reach your current and potential clients to let them know you are still here and can be relied upon.
Vita: As a marketing major in college with 10 years of marketing experience for a major corporation, and someone who built my business on grassroots bootstrap marketing principles, I could not agree more! Here are some specific tactics we are employing at Vitalia, Inc.
Instagram. I am continuing to invest resources (time, energy, money and mental bandwidth) into Instagram—the place where my target market hangs out.
Virtual Lunch ‘n Learns. Education is something that often gets put on the back-burner during busy times. Now that we have the time, I want to be that educational resource for my customers.
Staying in touch. We are picking up the phone and having voice-to-voice conversations. We are texting, emailing, DM’ing, PM’ing, Voxer-ing—employing every communication vehicle known to us to just say “hello.”
Economic downturns are inevitable; they are a fact of life. It is absolutely critical that you build and grow your business with that in mind. If you’re capable and prepared to launch a downturn plan of action as soon as a recession becomes clear, you, too, will be able to steer your business through to successfully endure what is to come.
Remember: Crises and recessions are temporary, but your business can be built and managed with staying power. Decide to be excellent!
LuAnn Nigara is an award-winning window treatment specialist and co-owner of Window Works in Livingston, NJ. Her highly successful podcast “A Well-Designed Business” debuted in February 2016. She has since recorded more than 400 episodes.
Vitalia Vygovska (Vita for short), CWFP, MBA, is an award-winning window treatment specialist, author, speaker, mom, wife and ballroom dance enthusiast. Her company, Vitalia, Inc., has provided all-encompassing fabrication, measurement, installation and project management services for interior designers for more than a decade.