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Make your own Brexit plan

Note: this is a blog about business planning – I have not intended to express any political views here and while I welcome feedback I do not want to start a political debate!

In any other sphere (except possibly wartime) the idea that what feels like the prosperity of the whole country was hanging in the balance the way it seems to be at present would be unbelievable. But still, here we are: less than 100 days to go and no concrete information to make decisions on, no way to realistically plan for 2019, right?

Well not quite. We know that the world will not stop spinning (*actually I’m just guessing on this) and although there will be political, social and economic upheaval we know that the businesses who have prepared will be the best placed to survive, and even indeed thrive.

The government announced in December that they would be writing to 140,000 businesses to help them plan for no-deal, but there are literally millions of businesses in the UK so this suggests that if you are not involved in directly importing or exporting goods then HMRC isn’t interested in communicating with you.

So if you’re an SME with a predominantly UK customer base how can you plan for whatever Brexit comes along?

No forecast ever perfectly predicts sales/ margins/ cashflow even on a relatively short timescale so the most important feature is to set out what you think the future will look like and identify the opportunities and threats that may arise. As a result you are better prepared to respond to whatever real twists and turns appear along the way.

Where are the risks in your business?

How might import tariffs affect your suppliers? Will that affect your profitability or lead times? Do you have other options that may not have seemed competitive before?

What about your customers – do they export your products? Will their business be affected by import or export duty on other items? How might this will affect you?

Even if this does not affect your profitability is there a chance that Brexit may cause them to slow down their payments? I think the answer to this generally has to be yes, because it is a natural response to uncertainty.

What about opportunities?

When it comes to marketing, are there opportunities to challenge bigger rivals who may be more affected by the effect of whatever Brexit deal comes about?

Can you make more of advertising how UK based your supply chain is?

Perhaps there are other opportunities – home grown food producers will be hoping that they can replace a lot of items which are currently imported. However when considering risks it always pays to think the other way around as well: will your market suddenly become more attractive to overseas suppliers, especially as a result of currency fluctuations.

The effect of all of this planning is that while you still won’t know what the future will hold you can make the best possible decisions for your business rather than following the crowd or being forced into making hurried reactions to situations that you are not prepared for.

More than anything else I firmly believe that spending time now considering the implications Brexit could have on your business will ensure you are best prepared for whatever comes.

What’s the difference…?

Recently I was at a networking lunch where I was asked why a business would use my services instead of relying on their usual accountant.

It’s clear from the number of accountants who have introduced me to their clients that I’m not their competition. I don’t replace the services that a traditional accountant offers; I work alongside them to improve the information they have to work with and help their clients understand the figures.

The first thing to recognise is that a large number of businesses don’t need my help.

A lot of businesses follow quite a simple model; they buy in goods, add a set margin and sell on. (Simple doesn’t mean easy; it’s just not difficult to understand) There’s a few accounting jobs there that have to be got right but so long as the margin is right, and costs are kept under control the business will run successfully using the standard accounting reports.

The same applies to established businesses who understand what makes them profits. If doing what they’ve always done works for them, then they don’t need my help. (I’m happy to work with them, but they probably don’t feel the need.)

So which businesses does that leave?

I specialise in helping food manufacturing businesses where working out the cost of the product is more complicated and where making one key product creates a number of other products which are often less profitable or harder to sell.

In these sorts of cases the answers that business owners need doesn’t come from analysing the year end accounts differently, or from producing the accounts more often. The figures required come from changing what you measure in order to get information that shines a light on what’s happening inside the business.

– Does it matter how much the total gross margin is if you make a huge profit on one product, but lose most of it on the others? Questions that management accountants answer

– Would you be able to sell more units at a slightly lower price and actually increase your bottom line?

– What will happen to profit if you increase sales by gaining a new customer but need to employ more people and change your delivery method?

It’s all too easy to allow customer demand to dictate how a business grows, but if you have the right information you can make sure that the business is developing in the way that the owners and management want it to.

It’s when they want that kind of information, plus my experience of working in business, managing finance teams and understanding the accounting information that businesses come to me.