Fri 14 Oct 2022

The cost-of-living vs the cost of business – what steps can businesses take?

While businesses are paying higher prices for essential costs, they walk a tightrope between passing that cost onto customers and trying to absorb the costs. But at what price?


There are numerous examples of businesses landing in a pricing Catch-22.  It seems like every day there are stories about restaurants restricting their opening hours, increasing prices, or reducing portion size.  Another which caught the eye was Ofgem’s decision to require energy companies to reduce bills for consumers by bearing the true rising cost of energy on their own balance sheets.

Of course, the Ofgem decision came before any announcements of Government support, but it still shows the pressure businesses are under. Some will need to weigh helping consumers through the cost-of-living crisis with staying solvent.

Without resolute certainty of finances, business leaders cannot be certain of what costs the company can absorb and what may need to be passed to the customer. For a business walking this tightrope, liquidity will determine how thick or thin the tightrope might be. The key to getting to the other side may, therefore, sit within the finance team.

For directors in this position, the first step to take is to check that credit control is working properly. Recovering debts that are owed and taking a proactive approach to debt collection will ensure that a business has full access to its funds.

Since those who shout loudest tend to also be first to receive payment, prompt follow-ups with debtors can better ensure that the business will successfully recover what it is owed.

If payments are delayed, proactive follow-ups also encourage buyers to engage in honest conversations, particularly in instances where buyers are struggling to repay. At worst, businesses will receive advanced warning that a debt will remain unpaid. And at best, the conversation facilitates full recovery in a timeframe that works for both parties.

Whilst proactive debt recovery is one step businesses can take, another is to look at what is owed to others.

Being transparent with creditors will be one of the best avenues for securing support, particularly for businesses that may struggle to maintain payments due to inflationary pressures.

Much in the same way that it helps in debt recovery, when in the shoes of the business owing money, early conversations will help reach viable agreements with creditors and avoid damaging the commercial relationship.

When considering which creditors to engage with, it's critical that directors do not overlook HMRC.

During the pandemic, the Government noted that it would take a more “flexible” approach to recovering debts but stressed that only applied to businesses which proactively engaged with them. Of course, since then, we have started to see the impacts of that approach, as data emerges on the economic cost of coronavirus loan defaults. The Government may begin to take a less flexible approach this time around. Either way, it's clear that proactivity will do more favours.

After these two steps are taken, the result is a far clearer view of the true situation.  Leaders will be equipped with the information required to determine how to move forward.

For example, they can confidently assess any actions to take relating to consumer pricing, with the peace of mind that they have done everything possible to first find solutions from within to the rising cost of business.

An inescapable truth is that, for some businesses, the rising costs of business during a simultaneous cost of living crisis will mean that trading is no longer viable. If that time comes, this process will still help make directors certain of whether to start insolvency proceedings.

Regardless of outcome, it is crucial for businesses to look proactively at their affairs. Those that do are far likelier to reach the other side of this economic tightrope.

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