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7 ways to protect your small business from inflation

By January 3, 2022No Comments

(This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index rose 6.8% from November 2020 to November 2021, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending June 1982. Although no one can be sure how high, most economists agree that inflation will continue to rise in 2022.

So if you know something is going to happen before it happens, doesn’t it make sense to make sure you’re ready? My smartest clients are already doing these seven things to navigate their businesses through 2022′s inflationary environment.

For as long as many of us can remember interest rates have been so low that whether or not we kept our cash in a regular or interest bearing checking account made little difference.

But that environment is changing. The Federal Reserve is likely to increase its federal funds rates (the rate at which commercial banks borrow and lend their excess reserves to each other overnight) as many as three times in 2022 and projected rates may rise to as much as 2.1% by the end of 2024.

That’s certainly nowhere near the levels we saw in the early 1980s but still significantly higher than we’ve seen in the past decade. Although this increases the cost of borrowing (see below), it will eventually mean higher payouts on interest-bearing assets. This will likely take some time to occur, but, as rates do start to increase, you should make it a practice to start sweeping extra cash into interest bearing certificates of deposit, money market and savings accounts and even some bond funds because the earnings will start to make a difference.

As I write this, mortgage rates are around 3% and interest rates on a typical bank loan are anywhere from 2.5% to 7%. But rates are going up in 2022. So now’s the time to lock in lower rates and convert your short term debt to something longer term.

Pay down your variable, high-interest credit card debt or shift the balance to cards that offer lower rates. Better yet, refinance this debt into a longer term loan with lower, fixed interest rates, even if that means a second loan on an asset like your house or business property.

If your business is eligible, consider a Section 7(a) fixed rate loan from a Small Business Administration (SBA) banker where you can borrow up to $5 million for working capital or to refinance existing business debt.

Avoid those across-the-board price increases and instead target your price increases on specific product lines where your margins are most affected and where customers are most likely to be amenable. Like many big brands, some of my clients are also practicing “shrinkflation” or delivering slightly less product or services for the same price.

If your suppliers are willing, then lock in on a longer term supply arrangement. If your landlord wants to keep you as a tenant talk about a longer term lease with agreed-on, fixed increases. The same goes with higher compensated employees: look to lock in your relationship with a contract.

These changes will help you get a better handle on your cash requirements by giving you more control on your significant fixed costs over the next few years so you can better budget and manage your cash.

Ever heard of buy low, sell high? My smartest clients aren’t sitting around waiting for prices to rise. For those that have access to capital and bank loans, they’re buying the core materials they need for their businesses now in anticipation of costs going up in 2022.

They’re also investing in property and equipment, which are assets that historically keep pace with rising costs in inflationary times. Need financing to do this? Check out those SBA loans I mentioned above.

Businesses in these inflationary times are doubling down on technology spending to get more work done with the same or even fewer people and keep their overhead under control.

They’re investing in robotics for their factories, self-service kiosks for their stores and restaurants, radio-frequency-identification and bar coding systems for inventory control and artificial intelligence-driven automation so that questions can be answered and workflow accomplished without human interaction.

Talk to your software and technology partners about what’s affordable for your business.

Like most small business owners, you’ve likely got money saved in various stock, bond and other asset accounts. Now’s the time to talk to your financial adviser.

Depending on your risk tolerance and income, it may make sense to shift some of your investments into commodities like gold and silver that historically do better in inflationary times — although these do come with more risk and may not always be your best option.

Increasing your holdings in large-cap equity funds may be a good option because the profits generated by well-managed companies (whose stock are owned by these funds) tend to keep up with rising costs.

Some of my clients have looked into TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities), which are issued and backed by the U.S. government like typical Treasury bonds, but come with protection against inflation.

Again, don’t do this on your own — talk to your financial adviser to come up with the right mix of investments based on the risks you’re willing to take.

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