There may only be 16 shopping days left until Christmas, but there’s still plenty of time for business owners to ensure the holiday passes with minimum disruption to their enterprise. With many companies shutting down for two weeks over the festive season, businesses can struggle financially until well into the new year if they’re not properly organised. We talked recently about getting inventory, seasonal hiring, and festive marketing right for the busy month of December. But there are other practical considerations to take into account to make sure the coming weeks are stress-free, and work gets back to normal quickly once the decorations are back in their box.
Get your invoices in order
One area that some businesses may overlook in the chaos ahead is processing payments. Because many SMEs shut up shop between Christmas and New Year, invoices can go unopened and unpaid until everyone gets back into the office in early January. And, don’t forget, the start of the year can also see slow trading in many sectors, so add sluggish cashflow to unpaid invoices, and your firm could face real problems.
- If you have invoices that should be raised between December 20 and mid-January, consider bringing them forward, and dispatching them well before the festive break.
- Explain to customers that you’re reducing your payment cycle temporarily over the holiday, and that things will return to normal in January.
- Consider offering customers a discount if they pay early.
- Think about the plans of finance staff. Check that key signatories aren’t set to be away and, if they are, get their name on any documents before they leave.
Equally, make sure you’ve covered your own outstanding bills before you shut up shop to keep in good odour with your suppliers. Perhaps you could organise longer payment terms for this brief period to keep more money in your business. Make enquiries, too, about suppliers’ opening hours over the Christmas period, and whether any important points of contact, such as the finance department, will be off. Forewarned is forearmed.
Calculate your cashflow
So, you’ve sorted out your payments, and have a good idea when to expect cash owed to arrive in your company account. But you also need to think about your regular outgoings, your current bank balance, and whether you’ll have enough to tide you over until your next tranche of money arrives. Complete a cashflow assessment, and if it reveals a likely shortfall, have a think about how you may bridge the gap.
- Investigate your business financing options, and decide whether extending your bank overdraft could be enough to tide you over until funds are freed up in January.
- Is a short-term loan a better – and faster – solution? These types of funds can be arranged quickly if you think you may struggle in the near future, and you don’t always need to offer security against these types of borrowing.
- Talk to your bank to arrange a repayment holiday on any loans, if possible. They may be prepared to give your firm a little breathing space over this quiet time.
It’s in the post
If your business relies on the postal service to deliver letters, invoices, and parcels, you need to be aware of the latest postage dates to get things to where they’re going before the Christmas shutdown. Royal Mail still handles more parcels in Britain than any other delivery company, and it advises that, within the UK:
- The deadline for second class post is Thursday, December 18.
- First class letters and parcels must be sent by Saturday, December 20.
- Royal Mail guaranteed Special Delivery items can be dispatched up until the last minute on Tuesday, December 23.
Companies that need to send items overseas need to get moving. Royal Mail deliveries to Canada and Poland can be posted until today, December 9. And Christmas post to the US can be sent until December 12, while the deadline for most of Western Europe is Saturday, December 13.
If your business is still operating over the coming weeks, think about when post is coming in, too. Royal Mail will be making regular deliveries on all the usual days except Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day – and January 2nd in Scotland, where that date is a public holiday.
Growing numbers of SMEs are turning their backs on Royal Mail and are looking to alternative postal options, with Whistl, formerly known as TNT Post, being the biggest rival. It already delivers more than a quarter of the UK’s mail, though it’s currently mostly focussed on cities. Whichever delivery company you use, check with their office to be sure of Christmas timings and service.
Staff holiday and cover
Chances are your employees put in requests for Christmas time off months ago. You may even be closing the business altogether – about half of small firms will take the entire festive break off, according to recent research from Lloyds Banking Group. Construction, manufacturing, and professional services companies are the most likely to shut up shop, while catering and retail businesses tend to opt to stay open at this time of year. If you’re one of the ones that’s continuing trading while others enjoy the festive fun, you’ll need to think about how you cover operations, and who does what among your skeleton staff. Make sure everyone who’s coming in knows exactly what they’re working on, and get them to shadow a colleague in the coming weeks if they’re taking on extra responsibilities.
Check you have contact details for everyone in your team, just in case an emergency occurs, and you need to reach someone taking time off. Inform suppliers and customers of their points of contact during the holiday season. And, don’t forget, the boss needs time off, too. If this really is a quiet time in your industry, take advantage of the fact to have some valued, guilt-free holiday.
Use tax breaks to fund Christmas fun
Once you’ve dealt with the serious matters of running your enterprise, you can spare a thought for the fun that Christmas should bring. You may not realise the taxman has a Santa Claus-like generosity at this time of year, offering employers the chance to host a tax-free staff party once a year, spending up to £150 per person. HMRC gives more details on this tax break, but the range of items that can be claimed up to the £150 limit extends beyond food and drink, and could include accommodation and transport home for employees if the company pays these costs, plus entertaining workers’ partners. But the Institute for Chartered Accountants for England and Wales points out that the goodwill doesn’t extend to freelancers, contractors or suppliers.
Once you’ve run through your checklist, you can enjoy the festivities knowing that all will be well in your business as you embark on 2015. And now you might even have time to think about those remaining shopping days, and getting your Christmas presents in order, too.