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Roger Aust reveals his Top Tips

No plan is fool proof, but some planning can help. Roger Aust, managing director of Close Brothers Asset Finance, reveals his top business tips for a profitable and successful 2016

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This year saw a far more confident and buoyant print market says Roger Aust, a trend that was certainly experienced at this year’s Print Show

The nightmare before Christmas?

For some lucky companies the festive season is an opportunity to relax and take stock. The bulk of the year’s work is done and all that remains is to organise a decent Christmas party for staff to enjoy. But for many others it is less of an easy ride.

Retailers have to step up their game during November and December, as this is the time of year that makes or breaks their profit margins. Other companies experience a surge in activity around the same time too, printers being one of them.

Figures from the BPIF, published earlier this year, revealed a surge in activity among print businesses in Q4 2014 compared with the previous three month period. More than half the companies surveyed said their order books grew, with only 18 percent suffering a decline, and this is despite the fact there are less production days in December.

It is testament to the power of the festive season that the figures also showed that despite the rosy picture, only 27 percent thought the momentum would keep going into the new year.

Only 27 percent thought the momentum would keep going into the new year

In a statement accompanying the figures, BPIF research manager Kyle Jardine said activity had clearly improved:

“Things did seem to be quite busy in Q4, and this hasn’t always been the case in the years since the financial crisis. It’s good to see seasonal pick-up in Q4 starting to happen again.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests that this seasonal transformation is happening again in 2015, with demand for a vast variety of printed goods increasing rapidly. It sounds like a relentlessly positive story, but not everyone will be cheering—particularly those without the capacity to meet this increased demand.

“Investing in technology now, including back-end systems, will make some of the pain go away in 2016 and could prove a great investment for growth regardless of the time of year,” says Roger Aust. Pictured: Konica Minolta’s stand at The Print Show 2015, where it showcased hybrid wide-format inkjet technology from partner EFI

A nice problem, but a problem all the same Fluctuations in normal business activity have a disproportionate impact on smaller businesses, but large ones can suffer too—just look at the scenes on Black Friday last year (less so this time around) when even the biggest chain stores were overwhelmed with floods of crazed customers.

Fluctuations in normal business activity have a disproportionate impact on smaller businesses

Smaller firms struggle in particular because they lack the budgets and the headcount to quickly invest in changes to operations. A sudden increase or decrease in demand can be costly and it pays to be prepared.

So in the spirit of good will and giving, here are a few thoughts for businesses who want to insulate themselves from being overwhelmed.

1.  Get agile

SMEs do not have the clout of bigger rivals but they can change direction quicker. Adopting an agile business structure—which emphasises the ability to anticipate or respond to sudden market change—is an absolute must.

2.  Count on your employees

With seasonal trade varying greatly it might be a good idea to learn from the retailers and invest in temporary staff. These can help you scale up as demand increases, but will not be a burden on your cost base in the New Year. Happily, returning students make Christmas a good time in the calendar to find high-quality temps at short-notice, so help them out with a bit of pocket money.

3.  Invest in your tech

Print technology has come on leaps and bounds in the last ten years. The latest models are capable of faster, more accurate, and higher quality print runs at a lower cost base. Investing in technology now, including back-end systems, will make some of the pain go away in 2016 and could prove a great investment for growth regardless of the time of year.

A key area to focus on for 2016 is bolstering your cash flow and ensuring this element of your business is well protected

4.  Keep cash flow flowing

A mature approach to cash flow is always essential but even more so when your business is busy taking orders and processing multiple jobs. It is easy to focus too much on winning business and not enough on ensuring payment, for example.

To keep cash in the business, a good way to invest in growth is asset finance, which uses the value of the things you acquire to set against an advance. It is the fastest growing form of finance and its popularity is driven by its flexibility and light touch on cash flow. Close Brothers Asset Finance has expertise in the print sector and can assist if your business needs an upgrade to help it fulfil a growing order book.

5.  A website fit for purpose

More and more people want to order goods and services through company websites and this trend is visible in the huge increase in online transactions over the last few years. Your website should be equipped to take orders, of course, but it also needs to be able to deal with a sharp increase in traffic during busy months. Can it take the pace? If not, consider a better hosting provider.

So there you have it. A few simple ways to help ease the stress of the Christmas rush. If your business is struggling under the weight of increased volumes, and an equipment upgrade is the answer, Close Brothers Asset Finance can help. We offer flexible finance solutions tailored to suit your business needs and can give you a speedy decision to alleviate any disruption to the running of your business.

Roger Aust is managing director of Close Brothers Asset Finance print business. Find out more at www.closeasset.co.uk.

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