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2009 Success & Survival Guide

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Our customers, blog readers and accounting partners share their advice for succeeding and surviving in 2009.
We also include tips on how Xero can help.

Sell sell sell

Above all else, be visible. When others are cutting back, it’s a great time to get noticed. But as we know every penny counts, so look for opportunities to promote yourself through media and events for example. Be newsworthy: to your customers, your employees and your community. Remember to think outside the square and involve your employees. Endeavour to stand out in the silence.

GAYLENE HUGHES
Action Coach

If you stop marketing even your most loyal customers will forget about you. Be brave and keep moving; animals caught in the headlights end up as roadkill.

MARK CAMERON
Working Three

Market hard and very aggressively. Get on the phone and get all your managers involved with your sales and marketing – this is where your business succeeds or fails.

ALAN PLATT
Progressive Business Solutions

Be inventive. Offer new products/services or create new packages from existing products/services. Having something new to offer is a good excuse to get in front of people and generate some buzz.

WALTER BURNS

Get paid

You catch more wasps with honey: Build relationships with customers. If they like you, they are more likely to pay you on time. If they are slow to pay, be friendly but don’t stop calling them. You need a clear escalation policy. Have a strict system and stick to it. If your debtors know you are firm and organised they will pay you first. Never apologise for demanding payment. It’s your money. Invoice out work promptly. Don’t post them – email them.

SUE BAKER
Clarity Business Financials

Incentivize prepayment, payment on-time or early payments. Remember: It’s an early payment discount, not a late payment penalty! If you “penalize” late-payments, things get messy, customers don’t feel like they’re being treated well, and will likely look elsewhere. Give them a reason to want to pay you (discount – maybe only 2-3%) and you’ll have more money upfront, less cashflow issues, and less time mucking around chasing debtors!

JOSIAH
Octavarium

Send a statement via email and give customers a phone call 5mins later to ensure they get it. The personal touch reminds them they need to get you paid, and makes you stand out from the rest of the pile of invoices.

JACK PIVAC
Delphinus

Do not be afraid of losing clients. Deal only with clients that are willing to pay a fair price. Be firm in debt collection policy. If you have slow payers (with no legitimate reason) cull them, as they are not worth dealing with. Remember that you have to survive in business also.

KEN MATHESON
TSBAC

Stay on target

Break-even every week. When cash is tight and there’s less certainty, you want to hit the sack Friday night knowing that you’re level or above for the week, don’t wait for a month to find that you’re behind.

TIM NORTON
Made from New Zealand

Record everything, good sales and bad, if you can analyze where you failed or why you lost jobs you can adapt to what the market and your customers are telling you. Set realistic sales goals, collaborate on them before setting them in concrete, micro measure everything weekly. If you can’t measure it, don’t do it.

GRAHAM BLOXHAM
Salesworks

Shorten the cycle – chart how long it takes from your first incurring costs to finally clearing payment from your customer.

SUE BAKER
Clarity Business Financials

Compare actuals against budgets regularly & if you know you’re going to be short, arrange financing in advance. Talk to your bank regularly – keep them in the loop.

GAYLENE HUGHES
Action Coach

Stay in touch

Embrace advice – get yourself an advisory board. NZTE will help fund them and they’re absolutely one of the most valuable things you can do.

BEN KEPES
Diversity

Keep your advisors (including Bank Manager) in the know. Their help will be invaluable at times like this.

IAN BUCKLAND
Business Results Group

Focus on customer loyalty & retention. Relationships are a priority always and you need the goodwill of customers & suppliers. Focus on “super-serving” your loyal core customers. Love them to bits & reward them for their continuing support.

GAYLENE HUGHES
Action Coach

Adapt quicker by listening more closely to your customers. Listening serves many purposes – it gives you a good reason to get in touch with many people, you learn a lot, and you demonstrate that you’re taking care of your customers. Help your customers succeed. Their success is your success.

Walter Burns

If you run a seasonal business make a note to call your old customers back in a year’s time to see how they are going and if they need anything else done. Most of your customers will forget who they used the previous year and will then try and find another even if they were happy with the job you did. Pre-empt that search by getting in touch and putting yourself to the top of their mind again.

GLEN BARNES
Devour

Spend wisely

In the boom times prices were at a premium. Now there are plenty of opportunities to negotiate better deals with suppliers, new hires, partners and banks.

WALTER BURNS

Prioritize your payments:

SUE BAKER
Clarity Business Financials

  1. Individuals/one-man bands. Don’t mess them around. Their livelihoods are at stake.
  2. Critical suppliers. You need these people.
  3. Local suppliers. Look after your local firms.
  4. National/international firms.

In tight economic times, consider hiring things in from time to time instead of buying them. This not only reduces the demand on capital and makes the hire a tax deductible expense, but it also removes the hassles & costs of storage, maintenance, and insurance.

PETER TORR SMITH
Hire Things

Lease your computer equipment; don’t buy it! Your working capital, and cashflow is important. You can lease any computer equipment, including servers, laptops, desktops and cell phones.

JAMIE NELSON
GETITHERE

Stay positive

Remember sometimes the best opportunities are available in tough times so don’t stop looking out for them.

CAMPBELL YULE

Perception equals reality. To most people out there in the increasingly brand-conscious market, your brand needs to stand out.

CHRIS YOUNG
C7 Design

Your competition is also having a rough time. Take advantage of that. Use their weakness to lure away their customers with something better.

WALTER BURNS

Stay Sober and Positive – There are plenty of opportunities in a recession, it’s a time of change, but they’re only available to those who keep their head clear and up.

TIM NORTON
Made from New Zealand

How can Xero help?

Finger on the pulse

Keep your advisors in the know – invite them as a user. Ask your accountant or financial advisor to help you identify some key financial metrics for your business. Keep an eye on crucial income and expenses by adding accounts to your Dashboard watchlist.

Review the Executive Summary report in Xero weekly. The report summarizes key metrics: your cashflow, income, expenses, debtors and creditors, and compares them to the previous month, displaying a good/bad indicator based on the variance.

Finger on the pulse

Your financial advisor will also be able to help you monitor other metrics like your profit margin, your average debtor & creditor days, and your working capital levels – all of which are included in the Executive Summary report with good/bad indicators compared to the previous month.

Chase overdue debtors

Review the Aged Receivables report in Xero at least weekly, perhaps daily. Sort the items by due date to show which customers need to be chased most aggressively. Send your customers a statement on a regular basis, at least monthly.

Budget vs Actuals

Setting up a budget in Xero is a really easy way to stay on top of your expenses. The Budget Variance report shows your performance for the current month and year-to-date.

Watching your year-to-date budget vs actuals helps you quickly see which expenses are creeping up – these are highlighted with red arrows – and the percentage that you are over-spending.

Identify your best customers

You can track your customers’ sales patterns using the Income by Contact report in Xero. This shows the income you’ve received from each customer by month over the past 12 months.

Identify your best customers

You can export this report to Excel and use the heat-map feature in Excel to quickly spot any trends. You can also sort the report in Excel to find your top customers over the last 12 months, or for this time last year.

Track your money

Tracking in Xero allows you to track every income and expense item by your business cost centers, in addition to your account categories. Tracking lets you itemize your Profit & Loss report so it’s more relevant to the business, not just the tax man.

Some example tracking categories are:

* Salesperson (to track where your sales are coming from)
* Region (to track which region is most profitable for you)
* Shop/office (to track and compare expenses if you have multiple locations)
* Country (if you import/export and want to track variations over time for a single country)
* Type of service (to track which of the services you perform are most profitable)

Make the most of payment terms

When you enter your payable invoices, make sure you also enter the due date. That way, your Aged Payables report is accurate and you can make the most of the payment terms offered by your suppliers.

Send invoices Xero-to-Xero

Send invoices directly to customers using the Xero Network, so your invoices automatically appear in your customers Accounts Payable.