No small business owner sets out to go bankrupt, but it happens. The important thing to remember is that you do have options. So, make sure you understand your situation, consult experts, and take your next steps carefully.
Three types of bankruptcy
Depending on your specific situation, you may have a variety of options open to you. Here's a brief primer on the different types of bankruptcies:
- Chapter 7 liquidates assets and distributes proceeds to creditors before dissolving the business.
- Chapter 11 is often recommended when the company needs to reorganize, rather than dissolve. This option protects business assets while the firm makes necessary changes.
- Chapter 13, the option available to consumers, can also be used by sole proprietors. Owners get protection from debts while they reorganize and establish a repayment plan.
As of February 20, 2020, the Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019 makes the Chapter 11 process for small businesses faster and less expensive.
Avoid business bankruptcy
With proper budgeting and financial management, it's possible for a business to avoid bankruptcy altogether. Many new business owners mistakenly believe that they need all the trappings of a large company before they can be taken seriously. They rent office space, hire staff, and spend money on advertising.
This is a big mistake, says Eric Carrell, co-owner of Silent PC Review for two decades. "We never wanted to bite off more than we could chew in terms of overhead and leave ourselves in a position where we couldn't pay bills if we had an off month," he says. "We nixed the office, hired cheap labor, and made sure our margins were cushy."
Why you need a 12-month cash-flow projection
"Businesses go bankrupt from a lack of cash, not a lack of profits," says Rob Stephens, founder of CFO Perspective.
Project both income and expenses month by month on an ongoing basis, but don't stop there. Each month, compare projections to actual numbers and make any necessary changes.
In addition, when creating your income projection, be sure to enter the estimated income according to when it will be paid, not when you plan to bill it. "For example, if you have a contract that's completed in January, and it takes 60 days to get paid, don't budget the sales in January. Budget them in March," says Brian Cairns, CEO of ProStrategix Consulting.
"Cash-flow management is about making sure you will have cash available when you need it by receiving cash receipts sooner or pushing payments out later," Stephens says. "Giving yourself more time to plan for potential times of low cash means giving yourself more options to avoid a cash crunch."
You probably have access to helpful budgeting tools at your fingertips in your accounting software, perhaps without even realizing it. A quick click around toolbars and menus of most programs will reveal sophisticated budgeting tools that can save time and headaches.
"These tools can give you budgeting ideas with your operating figures right in front of you," says Darryl Smith, founding partner of Florida Car Accident Lawyer Team.
Cut expenses and put savings in an emergency fund
If you haven't been thrifty about expenses yet, now's the time to start. Rather than putting money saved back into the business, though, stash 10 percent in a savings account.
"This can be your emergency fund that will always keep growing and potentially save you if something unexpected happens," says Luka Arezina, co-founder of DataProt.
Tap into your bank's wisdom
Small-business bankers want to help, says Lorraine Romano, head of business banking at Affinity Federal Credit Union. They can offer advice and valuable insight that leverages their experience with similar businesses in your area.
"These additional services aren't on the financial institution's website, and you won't find them in any brochure in the lobby," Romano says. "Nevertheless, they can be among some of the most powerful and important services your financial institution provides." Bankers are also good referral sources when you need an accountant or attorney.
If your business is struggling with debt, consult with an attorney to explore options. Bankruptcy isn't the only answer, but if you're considering it, you'll want professional guidance.
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