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Welcome To Post-JobKeeper World
My inbox is packed with post-JobKeeper survival articles from PR-seeking finance folk. Top tips for businesses that … haven’t been badly affected.
Here’s one from a senior figure in the accounting community:
“If you make your employer superannuation contributions quarterly, be aware that the next due date is April 28 and set aside money for that expense,” he advises.
GREAT ADVICE BRO. Set that money aside.
As if you have so much cash that you need a reminder not to splash the lot on, say, a new luxury office fitout.
His tip reminds me of this ancient Billy Connolly routine on a duchess who had contributed a venison recipe to a cookbook.
She noted it was ‘an ideal way to get rid of that leftover venison’.
Meanwhile business people in tourism, events, hospitality, the arts and entertainment are more focused on whether they can live on Aldi expired-date tofu blocks for the next six months.
I know lots of small companies that struggle to set aside super payments and tax during normal trading conditions.
Advice from well-meaning people who have drawn an executive salary throughout COVID-19 can fuck right off.
Even if your sector is going gangbusters right now, I wouldn’t be confident the good times are going to continue.
Major unemployment hikes are coming. When people around you lose their jobs, you cut back on spending. That fear is likely to ripple outward.
The April Hell-Choice Many Aren’t Aware Of
We all know JobKeeper subsidies are ending. That alone will make a lot of businesses unviable.
What’s less publicised is that the days of having (previously) full-time staff on three days a week or whatever are over.
The ‘JobKeeper enabling stand-down direction’ expired with JobKeeper.
Full-timers have to come back full time, even if there’s not much for them to do and no cash to pay them. If you have no clients, you’re left with not much choice other than to make staff redundant.
But making full-time staff redundant is also unaffordable.
Few businesses in our industry have the cash to pay out redundancy notice and entitlements.
These businesses are at a fork in the road. And they can’t afford to take either path. Choose your destiny: insolvency or insolvency.
If you’re in a deep hole right now, here are some thoughts. Not all of them will work for every business, but hopefully something will be relevant for you.
1. Get Your Non-Sales People Involved In Sales
Particularly if you’re a B2B business. The people who work at the coalface with your customers are often amazingly effective at sales. Customers know them, see them as genuine and usually want to help.
Get them to phone every client they ever worked with, and say ‘we really need any work we can get, got anything on?’
Tell your people not to think of it as sales, because that brings mental pressure and uncomfortableness that’s counter-productive. It’s just a conversation.
Phone not email. When the person who was so helpful to them on the last project asks for help, clients feel much worse rejecting them in real time conversation.
2. ATO Payment Plans
You probably have a tax bill mounting up. Call the Tax Office and tell them your situation. Ask for a payment plan, where you pay the outstanding amount off over a year or so.
They’ll almost certainly give you one, which will take some pressure off.
For those who were waiting in vain for further government support beyond a ridiculous airfare sale, this is as close as you’ll get to it: effectively a low-paperwork unsecured loan.
3. Negotiate With The Landlord
I wrote about this in peak shutdown last year (when I went back to get that link I realise it was literally today’s date last year, that went fast).
That story got a storm of indignation from landlords ‘who had worked hard’ to own a building and how dare I suggest their ROI should be a penny lower.
The picture is clearer now and some tenant sectors remain pretty cooked for the foreseeable future. Small retail. City cafes. Office space in general with the surge in remote work.
Landlords that lose one of these tenants now won’t find a new one easily.
Given the staff cost issues above, negotiating your rent is the biggest single opportunity to bring your fixed costs down.
Do it, you have nothing to lose. Unless your business hasn’t really been affected, in which case don’t be a opportunist Solomon Lew-style scoundrel. This sort of greed really makes it hard for those genuinely doing it tough.
We’ve had plenty of experience with these negotiations across the country. Tip: some of the managing agents were real dicks about passing on information, on the grounds that a better deal would also lower their fees. Others were helpful. It’s a lottery.
But be aware that ‘landlord says no’ might not be quite the case. Ask for responses in writing.
4. Will Going Into Administration Save You?
Administration (or ‘restructuring’) is a formal process where you appoint a professional – it must be a registered liquidator – to try to pull your business out of the swamp.
They negotiate with unsecured creditors to accept ten cents in the dollar or whatever, on the grounds that it’s better than zero.
You can only do it if you’ve paid all your staff’s entitlements up to to date.
ASIC has a good summary of how it works here.
Will it get you through? A third of businesses who go into administration end up creating a formal arrangement deed. Of those, 28% survive. So it’s about a 9% chance.
The average cost for the whole process is about $60K.
Be aware that if you survive, it’ll affect your ability to get credit in future.
We have clients who’ve paid us the 10c, and they’re COD forever. Suppliers have long memories for this kind of thing.
5. Be Realistic About Where You Sit In The Market
If you’re in an affected field, ask yourself honestly, are you in the top four or five suppliers in that area? If you are, it’s probably worth suffering through another hell-year to get to the other side.
If you’re not, be aware that the bigger, better-financed players will emerge stronger from all the chaos.
The smaller ones will keep struggling in the long-term.
Brutal, but that’s the reality.
6. What If It’s Over?
The government and economists are quite open about it: there will be job losses. Federal Treasury estimates 150,000 of them. Lots of businesses will die.
New industries will grow to take up the slack.
Maybe it’s time to bite the bullet, close it down and move to an area with a better future. Think: what’s an area where your skills can be an advantage?
As a rule, you under-value your skills because you assume everyone has them.
That is very far from the case. Example: events people meet deadlines and accommodate last-minute client whims under extreme stress. To the point where clients just expect it and take these miracles for granted, as normal operating procedure.
Miracles that if you asked them of anyone in, say, construction or trades, they’d just laugh and go on the lunch break that is their inviolable right.
I’ve written before about ex-hospitality people using those skills for a stellar career in sales. How can you apply your super-powers in an area where nobody else has them?
Sorry I don’t have any cheerier options than these. While the rest of the economy seems to cruise along just fine, it’s a harsh life in sectors left behind.
But that’s the post-JobKeeper reality, and hiding from reality is the worst option of all.
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