Tag Archives: small business

The Procurement Tipping Point

At what point should a growing business bite the bullet and professionalise procurement? New research from Wax Digital has found that the right time is surprisingly early in a businesses’ growth, but it’s usually done on the back foot. 

As professionals in the sector we tend to think that procurement is the sole domain of large organisations spending millions of pounds on thousands of suppliers. However, new research has found that many smaller and more formative businesses also turn to procurement.

We recently surveyed 260 UK business and procurement experts and asked them at what point organisations needed to professionalise procurement to get a firmer grip on spend, suppliers, sourcing and so on. We were surprised by how many thought the ‘tipping point’ for procurement was relatively early on in a business’ growth. The results were as follows:

  • 75% said procurement was required once a company reaches £50M turnover
  • 77% claimed to need procurement by the time a business has 100 supplier contracts
  • 72% said once 500 invoices per month are being processed, procurement was essential.

Clearly, it seems that many smaller organisations are adopting procurement, so why is this? When asked why they introduced procurement, 68% said that it was due to rising costs, while 45% said that it was due to inefficient and labour intensive processes. Being a successful, up-and-coming business means experiencing rapid growth and significant change in these areas – more so than a larger, more established business.

For example, an organisation may be undergoing a merger or be highly acquisitive, bringing in more complex supplier portfolios or increasing spend overnight. These types of events can force a business to rethink processes like procurement. The very foundations of the organisation could adjust dramatically, and existing resources may simply not be adequate enough to support it.

Quick, someone build us a procurement function

Another interesting discovery in our research was that procurement is often introduced ‘on the back foot’ as opposed to being part of a pre-planned vision. We found that procurement is implemented as a reaction to a negative situation 48% of the time, compared to 31% of the time when it’s rolled out as a proactive and positive step forward. So few businesses planning ahead with procurement suggests that it’s (wrongly) an afterthought for many. Many businesses are ‘reactively’ using procurement, suggesting that they are already experiencing issues such as a lack of spend control or inefficient processes. But pre-planning with procurement could help businesses evolve more efficiently to try and reduce these problems.

That said, rolling out procurement isn’t always plain sailing, and smaller businesses with limited resources may particularly struggle to establish this new function successfully. Gaining senior management buy-in is the most common barrier to adopting formal purchasing processes, cited by 35%. Managing cultural change and a lack of internal knowledge followed, scoring 27% and 19% respectively. Given that they work for a smaller business – perhaps with a less rigid structure – the need for a procurement function might simply not occur to some SME employees, and it may take some time to win the support of colleagues. Those in the business being hindered by the lack of procurement shouldn’t be afraid to make a case for it to senior management.

Make sure the time is right

No two businesses are the same and each will feel the need for procurement at different stages. It’s not right to see procurement as something that should only be introduced when you reach a specific size or stage in the business cycle. Instead, consider when the businesses is feeling a strain that formalised procurement could help with.

It’s time for the procurement community to help strip its perception as a function for the larger business. This way more businesses can realise its effects.

Contributed by Paul Ellis, Managing Director at Wax Digital.

Financial Troubles Spell Tough Times for Small Businesses

The start of 2017 looks set to be a tough period for small businesses. With increasing number of businesses being wound up, it appears the high street’s suffering is far from over.

insolvency small businesses

The past twelve months have been hard for small businesses, and it doesn’t look as though 2017 will offer much respite. Changing consumer trends, and economic and political factors, are already taking their toll on the UK’s High Street.

Over 760 businesses ceased trading in December 2016, with a further 1093 small businesses scheduled to be wound up this month. And, according to a survey of the latest insolvency notices published in The Gazette, some industries are being harder hit than others.

Small Business Suffering

Between the companies wound up in December and January, as well as those which failed in the third quarter of 2016, it brings the total number up to nearly 5,500 failed businesses.

With the official figures for the final quarter of 2016 due for publication in January 2017, cause and effect is yet to be confirmed. But it is certain that wherever a business is unable to weather restrictions in cash flow, insolvency looms.

The research was carried out on behalf of London insolvency practitioners Hudson Weir. It reveals that some industries are being hit harder when it comes to failing businesses. The study revealed that 14.5 per cent of these companies were operating in the retail and food and drink sectors.

However, it’s in the construction industry where the impact is felt most acutely. According to data collected during the second quarter of 2016, 2450 construction companies ceased trading. Next most affected was the wholesale, retail and repair of vehicles sector, with 2065 company insolvencies.

And it’s not only small businesses suffering from lower trading towards the end of 2016. Retail giant, Next, has issued a warning over trading for 2017. The company saw a drop of 3.5 per cent in the run up to Christmas, and anticipates a similarly gloomy picture for 2017.

Brexit or Cash Flow to Blame

The reasons for company insolvency can be complex, ranging from unrealistic planning through fraud and unforeseen loss of market share. But the root cause of is it frequently simple: inadequate cash flow.

Financial trouble tends to strike early in the business life cycle. Only 41.4 per cent of the UK businesses started in 2010 survived to their fifth birthday.

But how much of an impact has the Brexit vote and uncertainty had on insolvencies? Although the UK economy seems to be surviving the immediate post-referendum period, vulnerable business sectors – like construction – have experienced contraction.

Restaurants, cafes and other food outlets are heavily represented in the latest insolvency reports, too, a trend which could reflect the recent well-publicised rise in food prices. Even large companies such as catering giant Compass have been affected by the consequences of a weaker pound.

Hasib Howlader, a chartered accountant at Hudson Weir Ltd, commented on the survey results.

“Brexit is unlikely to bring good news for small businesses, and it seems now it’s just a question of how bad it’s going to be. With more than 40 per cent of small businesses struggling to survive beyond five years even in a pre-Brexit climate, it’s now more important than ever for them to be looking for warning signs that their business may be unhealthy.

“If cash flow is a problem, and you can no longer pay your bills as they fall due, the earlier you speak to an insolvency practitioner the better.”

Mitigating the Effects

Even though businesses are at the mercy of circumstance, it’s possible to mitigate the effect of uncertain situations like Brexit. Hudson Weir recommends that business owners:

  • Get to know the normal patterns in cash flow data

When a business keeps good records of its cash flow over a period of years, it’s possible to identify seasonal and other trends, and plan for them.

  • Look to the future

The logical next step after record-keeping is making a cash flow forecast. A clear-eyed view of incomings and outgoings six months to a year in advance helps manage business expectations.

  • Keep up to date with invoicing and payments

Each invoice should be accompanied by clear payment terms, and it’s well worth enforcing these. It’s also worth getting to know customer payment habits, since any unusual delays can be early indicators of financial trouble.

  • Make long payment terms the exception, not the rule

30- and 60-day terms make cash flow management more complicated.

  • Focus on managing cash flow

This is something even highly profitable business should do, as out-of-control cash flow undermines profitability and jeopardises future prospects.

How Procurement Can Support SMEs in Tendering

SMEs can provide formidable USPs to procurement. But procurement first needs to take steps to support them in the tender process.

smes

99 per cent of all businesses within the UK are small and medium enterprises (SMEs) – those companies which are made up of 250 employees or less.

At the end of 2015, the total number of companies this size in the UK stood at 5.4 million.

Recently, within public sector procurement, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of contracts awarded to SMEs. Given that SMEs have long since made up the majority figure of all businesses within the UK, it is interesting to see that only now are they being brought to the forefront of the bid and tender process.

Wave of Change

A recent study has shown that nearly three quarters of public sector procurement contracts have been awarded to smaller organisations. This is in contrast to a few years ago, where just over half of contracts were awarded to SMEs.

Historically, larger businesses have been able to gain competitive advantage on SMEs in the contract bidding wars. They have been able to provide extensive financial data, as well as time and money, to work through the complex tender processes.

However, the wave of change has arrived. Public sector organisations are helping make that tender process a lot easier in a bid to support local businesses. With less red tape, SMEs are able to provide an enhanced USP to procurement. This includes access to local products/services, innovation, ethical trading and overall a more competitive offering.

Simplifying the Procurement Process

Leading the way, some organisations have already begun by standardising tender documentation. They require less financial information about the company, and are setting up electronic portals to help make the process as efficient as possible.

All of this is in aid of simplifying that bid process for SMEs to encourage them to apply and succeed in winning contracts.

For procurement professionals, this simplification of the tender process not only supports local SMEs, but also helps to cut out inefficiencies in day-to-day procurement jobs.

When it comes to reviewing bids now, procure have less financial data to wade through, and a more comprehensive tender document to look over. Plus, taking advantage of technology is also helping save time and money.

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