By Jim Molis
The economy giveth. The economy taketh away.
Cyberauthorize.com was a thriving independent sales office of Credit Card Merchant Services with a small group of employees and a large book portfolio of customers after 10 years in business. Then the recession hit and Cyberauthorize suffered along with the businesses that it served.
Processing volumes plummeted and many of Cyberauthorize’s small-business customers closed due to revenue losses and new expensive business regulations. By the beginning of 2011, Cyberauthorize was a slowing business with only President Cathy Bracken and one office assistant.
New clients were hard to find because fewer people were starting businesses, but Cyberauthorize’s overhead expenses were fixed. Bracken’s business had credit card debt and the fairly high lines of credit that she had used to improve cash flow had been limited by the credit card issuers with little to no warning.
Needing a new financial plan and real guidance, Bracken applied for participation in the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center’s (JWBC) Financial MattersSM mentoring program in the late summer of 2011. The program came to be just what she needed.
Bracken’s Financial MattersSM mentors, a banker and a certified public accountant, helped her get organized. Now she always knows when money comes in, when it goes out, and where it is being spent. She also sets aside cash in the peak times of the year to help her through the slower months.
“It’s made my ability to pay down debt more comfortable,” Bracken said. “There’s very little fear now.”
Of all the financial issues she wrestled with, the business credit card debt seemed the most prohibitive to her initiating new ways of managing the business finances. Having a plan endorsed by her mentors was empowering. “It really frees up my mental space to run my business,” Bracken said.
Abiding by her debt repayment plan has been difficult at times, but Bracken is intent on accumulating a surplus of cash that she could use to self-finance future projects. Implementing initiatives from the marketing plan that she developed as a participant in the JWBC’s Marketing MattersSM mentoring program in 2012 tops the list.
“We would have had both the money and the means to apply what we learned in the marketing portion,” if it had not been for the need to pay off debt first, she said.
Marketing MattersSM taught Bracken new ways to identify and reach her target customers, including through social media. She had used traditional advertising in the past, but the costs became prohibitive as business tightened. “We have to do everything small,” she said.
Cyberauthorize is adding accounts again, though, and “is positioned for slow but steady growth,” Bracken said. Long-time customers also are processing more transactions.
As the economy recovers, Cyberauthorize is forging stronger ties with customers and bolstering its financial position by staying current with its bookkeeping and operating within its budget. “We’re looking forward to doing business easier and less expensive,” Bracken said.
And with business picking up and the lessons she has learned through JWBC’s Financial MattersSM and Marketing MattersSM, Bracken hopes to eventually add employees again. “In order to have a successful business, you can never stop learning about the things that make a business work.”
Jim Molis is Director of Marketing and Business Development for ROCG Hunter Consulting, an advisory firm for small businesses. He also is a former newspaper editor and reporter.