How I managed a cash flow crisis with flexible staff

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Latitude Insights was founded by entrepreneur Dianne Gardiner in 2007, after realising the potential that social media presented the traditional market research community. Now, five years on, she’s hit $3 million in revenue and business is booming.

But it hasn’t all been easy. Last year, the company hit a period of substantial growth and experienced problems with cashflow. Gardiner had to ask staff to be a little bit more flexible in order to get through it all – something many businesses have a hard time dealing with.

So how’s Latitude Insights been going lately?

We’re in a completely different position than we were last year. It’s a combination of a focus last year on generating business through organic growth, and working with other clients and areas that we’ve seen work come through.

Your revenue was $1.5 million back in September – can you give an update?

I’d say we’ve seen 100% growth on that since then.

So you had a bit of a crisis in 2010. Can you describe what happened there?

We were three years into the business, and I’d say it was just one of those things that happens when you’re about to experience a big push of growth. There was a need to expand the focus of the business. To get new clients and look at areas beyond what we were looking at previously.

How quickly did you see a response?

It was actually pretty quick; in fact, within a few weeks or even days, we saw some reaction. We needed to just sit back and take a look at what we were doing and focus our energy on new areas. Within weeks of that we saw a response.

Now, some of that was based on work that we’d previously done and they were existing clients, but new work was also coming in as well.

Sounds like you just needed to take the business to a new level.             

It was a bit like that, yes. It was a serious point in the business where a refocus had to happen and we were putting more dedicated energy into some things.

But that put a strain on cash flow. How did you deal with that?

We had to talk to everyone, and we had to band together to get through what was going to be a slightly more difficult period and do that for the benefit of everyone.

We’d gone through a period of being a small, little company to taking on more staff, more office space and of course that’s all good, but it does create some issues by taking away the focus of what you’re doing on a day-to-day business.

Did you look at any other options, like getting more investor capital or loans?

At this point I’m the sole owner of the business, and so there were options we were drawing on. But there’s a point at which you think about how much you’re willing to do that until you make some different choices.

So you had to talk to the staff. How did that occur?

One of the things that made this easier was the fact I’m a flexible employer. I have a lot of part-time mothers here and we’ve always been very flexible in our nature. If they need time off, then they get it.

So I went to each of them and asked them if they were willing to be flexible, and we worked around each individual case as to what would work for them, how much they were willing to do, and so on.

It worked. And, in all honesty, we didn’t have to do it for very long either.

How long did this whole process last?

It lasted about a month. But we honestly didn’t know how long that was going to last, and although that was the aim for it all, and we were hopeful for a quick turnaround, we just didn’t know what was going to happen.

In some cases it had been that some people were working more than they had in the past, and then we were asking if they could do a bit less. Now, that’s reversed and we’re asking them to do more!

How do you even approach a topic like that with your staff?

You just need to be honest and ask for flexibility on their part. That’s how I approach it. I talk to everyone up front and then talk to them all individually.

I take in on board as a massive responsibility. Their working life is a very important part of life and you have to alleviate the concerns as best you can.

How do you feel now that’s all past you?

Very grateful for my employees’ flexibility: We’re a team and we always strive to act as a team. You need to be flexible, so that when you ask for some flexibility, your employees act both ways.

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