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Weighing up the risks of alternative finance

August 18, 2015 by Guest contributor

Weighing up the risks of alternative finance {{}}

Alternative finance is fast becoming the go-to place for business loans, especially as there are so many options to choose from. A host of alternative lenders that provide invoice discounting, merchant cash advances, peer-to-peer lending, crowdfunding and online business loans have been popping up over the last few years offering their services to SMEs and investors, mainly because banks have turned these businesses away.

Since the recession, banks have become stricter with their lending and this has made it more difficult for small businesses to acquire much needed funding. Whether the finance is for company expansion, 'plugging a gap' or for future investment, alternative finance providers have been giving what businesses want: capital to grow.

While this type of lending can be a great solution, it's wise to look at all the risks - especially what might happen further down the line. The FCA recently revealed it was concerned with how certain crowdfunding websites presented information on risk, indicating there was an aspect of 'unrealism' and that perhaps lenders were being too optimistic in their wording.

If the borrower were to become insolvent, this could create a number of problems, not only for the directors and alternative lender or investor, but also for the insurer who underwrites the loan. The director of the insolvent company could also be personally liable for the business debt if they agreed to a personal guarantee with the alternative lender.

What is a personal guarantee?

A personal guarantee (PG) is where an individual has guaranteed personally the amount owed will be paid back. This sounds obvious, but in many cases company directors have made PGs with a lender believing that because they've borrowed the money for the company, the debt would disappear if the company went bust. Of course, this is not the case.

Risk for lenders and suppliers

When assessing a company for risk, you should bear in mind in that the company could have borrowed from multiple alternative lenders to pay back historic debts at high levels of interest. The issue is, of course, that traditional forms of company monitoring, such as payment trends, might be less effective if companies are just borrowing to pay suppliers. There is no register of personal guarantees and they do not appear on any credit check. In effect, lenders and suppliers will need to take the directors at their word.

A number of insolvent businesses we've seen have had at least three or four loans from alternative lenders. Is there a false sense of security due to the possible over-valuation of a personal guarantee?

Insurance

Many lenders have underwritten their debts with an insurance company. Do these insurance companies realise that personal guarantees are being given out left, right and centre? The risk is if some businesses turn sour, the costs of insuring their debts will increase.

In another twist, it is now possible for companies to insure their personal guarantee. This means the insurer could be insuring both the borrower and the lender. If there is a sudden shock to the economy, such factors may well amplify the consequences, as everyone realises that the risk is not spread across the system.

What does the future hold?

The government will always want to protect the investor in the peer-to-peer lending system because they are not deemed as sophisticated investors. From April this year, peer to peer lending became regulated by the FCA, which will offer some protection to both the investor and lender. However, anyone over the age of 18 is still free to gamble, resulting in a strong pool of available money.

It is important that business owners are aware of the risks and don't just use alternative finance as a sticking plaster over the real problem. The business may not be viable or the business structure could fundamentally need to change.

Copyright © 2015 Keith Steven, managing director of KSA Group. He has been rescuing and turning around businesses for more than 20 years, working with firms in every industry. He is author of the site www.companyrescue.co.uk.

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Investment advice for start-ups

April 29, 2015 by Guest contributor

Investment advice for start-ups{{}}Every business manager will know what a struggle money can be and one of the most difficult decisions can be how to get the funding needed to help your business grow. The banks aren't always an option and many people don't want to give up control of something they've worked hard for, but being the most obvious choices – what else is left?

When it came to starting Taxicode, co-founder Nigel and I decided the best option would be to fund it ourselves. This meant control of the business was not split between investors; big loans were not hanging over our heads; and while growth has been slower compared to our externally funded competitors, it has all felt much more ours and we've been able to act out our vision as we intended. This is not for everyone, of course, but as we had finances built up from previous business ventures, it worked for us. Several years on and we're generating decent turnover and achieved £2m in bookings last year.

Alternative funding options

Many of us will be familiar with the concept of crowdfunding by now. It allows members of the public to put money towards a project, usually receiving something back in return depending on the amount they've put forward. Technology, video games, community projects, events and films have all found funding this way. Crowdfunding also helps build audience engagement with your brand early on, something not necessarily true of other options.

Peer-to-peer and peer-to-business lending work in a similar way to crowdfunding, but for a loan rather than to raise equity. This means that larger sums of money can be raised in one go, instead of waiting for individuals to put the money forward.

Business managers can also make the most of the resources they already have. Invoice finance allows business to raise finance against any invoices they have waiting, drawing down the balance when customers pay, whilst pension-backed lending allows business owners to unlock the value of their own personal pension to finance the company.

These options can help to create a steadier cashflow for the business – while pension-backed lending is more suited to those that have already spent several years building up their finances, these options can be used throughout the business's life cycle to combat any financial struggles encountered.

Risk and reward

Whatever route you chose, there will inevitably always be risk, but business managers should not feel deterred just because traditional options don't appeal. There's something out there to suit everyone's needs.

Copyright © 2015 Jonathan Kettle, co-founder and director of nationwide online taxi-booking service Taxicode.

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Time to switch banks?

January 08, 2015 by Guest contributor

Time to switch banks?{{}}It isn’t just personal current account customers who can take advantage of the free Current Account Switch Service to swap between banks, because small businesses up and down the country can make the most of the service, too.

Launched by the banking industry in September 2014, the service ensures that existing payments such as direct debits or standing orders will be moved to the new account automatically, and any transactions that do go through to the old account will be redirected to the new one for 13 months, so payments won’t go missing.

The company making or taking the payment using the old account details will also get a message instructing them to update their records with the new account information. On top of that, the service is backed by a guarantee that means that if something should go wrong during a switch, any charges or interest will be refunded.

Until the service was brought in, changing from one account to another could be a lengthy process, typically taking between 18 and 30 days after the new account had been opened. That was a huge hurdle for cashflow-reliant small businesses, with worries about invoice payments ending up in the right account or suppliers not being paid according to terms, with the possibility of late payment charges being incurred.

But that time’s been reduced to seven working days from the day the switching process starts to when the switch takes place.

One of the drivers behind the Current Account Switch Service has been to increase competition between banks and make it much easier for small businesses to vote with their feet when it comes to picking the account that works best for them.

So, is it time for you to look at whether you’re getting a good deal with your business banking? Here are the things you should consider…

Do I need a business bank account at all?

If your business is a limited company you must have a business account. If you are a sole trader or partnership, you could use your personal current account, but that can make your finances messy. Keeping personal and business accounts separate is the better option.

Am I spending too much on bank charges?

Some banks charge a fee for business banking services, some don’t. Other costs are transaction-based, such as fees for cash withdrawals, cheques, Bacs transfers and overseas payments. Think about what you need to use and check the charges for each service. Some providers offer free banking, either for a set time or with limits on the number of transactions per month. Look at the penalties for exceeding those limits, and any charges that kick in when the free banking period ends.

What if I need an overdraft?

Costs can be quite high but will vary between banks. Check interest rates, set-up fees and the amount you can borrow this way.

And what about a business debit card?

Many business accounts come with these facilities, but ask to see if you’re eligible for a debit card – and a cheque book, if you need one – before changing to an account where you might not qualify.

What if I’m not happy with my new bank?

With the new Current Account Switch Service you can change your provider again, quickly and easily.

Will switching affect my business credit rating?

Not as long as you repay any outstanding overdraft with your old bank or building society. If there are any problems with payments as part of the switching process, your new bank or building society will put them right and make sure your credit rating is not affected.

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Ten more things you could have learned from our blog in 2014

December 15, 2014 by Mark Williams

10 more things you could have learned from our blog in 2014{{}}1 “It’s natural to see your competitors as the enemy. In reality, they’re not  (ignorance and blindness-to-change are what you should really be watching out for). We’ve found that building relationships with our competitors has been invaluable in terms of support and knowledge sharing, while being fun, too.”

From The benefits of making friends with your competitors by Cartridgesave.co.uk

2 “If you believe that your target market is struggling and has no money to spend, you’ll easily be able to prove that to be correct. If you were to say to yourself that your target market is making more focused buying decisions, you’ll take a different approach to your next sales conversation. Whatever is true doesn’t matter. It’s the attitude and energy you take to it that will make the difference.”

From Are your beliefs holding your business back? by Sarah Lane.

3 “Look at companies such as Comet, Blockbusters and Jessops. I'm sure their business plans didn't include going into administration! Had they had a Success Plan, perhaps their futures may have been different.”

From Are start-up business plans a total waste of time? by Mark Williams.

4 “To run a successful team, a leader needs to be creative, logical, passionate and able to be compelling and articulate. However, you also need to recognise that you can’t do everything on your own, so you must get the right people around you.”

From Four common characteristics successful businesses share

5 “I like to think that I am an ethical consumer. I shop locally (on foot or by public transport), I purchase Fairtrade goods and my mortgage and savings are with an ethical bank. I am not alone. Research has shown that demand for ethical goods and services grew 12% during the recent economic crisis, against mainstream growth of just 0.2%.”

From New research on SME and microbusiness ethical behaviour by Fiona Prior

6 “Remember: the ‘bitterness of low quality lasts longer than the sweetness of low price’. If you put up your prices, you will always lose some customers, but only those who have bought solely on price.”

From Should your business increase its prices? by Robert Moore.

7 “Entrepreneurs see things differently. They’re happy to stick to their guns when everyone else tells them they’re wrong. They’re prepared to go it alone. Often they can spot a gap in the market that others don’t see. They’re also prepared to put in a lot of extremely hard work and cope with failure, however hard that might be.”

From Are entrepreneurs born or made? by Marc Duke.

8 “Most businesses hit a ceiling because the way they began means further improvement and growth is too complex for them to handle and pursue. The business becomes trapped in the ‘Hindu Rate of Growth’ – around 3% each year – just enough to keep pace with inflation. To break through this ceiling, new systems need to be employed. What allowed many entrepreneurs to run a successful small business simply cannot support larger, more complex teams and issues.”

From Three reasons why you don't have a million pound business by Shweta Jhajharia.

9 “With just a £20,000 loan to start his first business, Sir Philip Green went on to take over the Arcadia Group and is now worth a staggering £3.88bn. Similarly, Mike Ashley used a £10,000 loan to start Sports Direct and is now worth £3.75bn, while Sir Richard Branson’s startup capital was a mere £300, which he used to start building an empire now worth £3.6bn.”

From 10 top UK entrepreneurs who started with less than £25k

10 “A new report commissioned by the Information Economy Council argues that resources should be focused on helping ‘scale-ups’, because this could ‘contribute a million new jobs and an additional £1 trillion to UK economic growth by 2034.’”

From Should the focus be on ‘scale-ups’ rather than start-ups? by Mark Williams.

  • Thank you to our site sponsors for their support in 2014. Many thanks also to the experts who shared their knowledge to ensure this blog remains a popular source of information, advice and inspiration. A massive ‘Thank You’ to all our readers, of course. Whether you were thinking of starting up and wanted inspiration or started your own business in 2014 and needed advice, we hope you found what you were looking for. Happy Christmas – here's to a fantastic 2015…

Further reading

Ten things you could have learned from our blog in 2014

IT Donut: best of 2014

Ten things we learned from the Marketing Donut in 2014

Ten things you could have learned from the Tax Donut in 2014

Ten things you could have learned from the Law Donut blog in 2014

Ten things you could have learned from our blog in 2014

December 10, 2014 by Mark Williams

10 things you could have learned from our blog in 201410 things you could have learned from our blog in 2014{{}}1 “Devise a simple ‘unexpected circumstances’ plan. Detail who does what, when and where, should things go awry. Prepare a temporary office in advance if there’s a risk you can’t get to your usual one. Make sure employees can work from home if necessary. Send your people home early if conditions worsen and be flexible if travelling is dangerous.”

From What to do if your business is affected by bad weather by Hannah Tonge.

2 “Sell something people want; make sure the difference between what you buy it for and what you sell it for is big enough; find a way to get people to buy from you. And, of course, make sure you collect all the money you are owed.”

From How to keep your business's head above water by Robert Craven.

3 “A well-engaged workforce will deliver increased productivity and performance. Remember that even the smallest gesture can make a big impact, such as enabling staff to leave early once targets have been met or even treating them to lunch. It’s up to you to motivate your workforce and prevent a dip in staff morale.”

From Top tips for boosting staff morale this winter by Helen Pedder.

4 “The right time for growth is when your business is in the middle of a successful period, with a few strong months just gone and a couple more forecast to follow. Be aware that expansion will eventually require additional resources, including labour, equipment, finances and more micro-management.”

From Why it pays to fund your own new business by John Bee. 

5 “Don’t be afraid of mistakes. They’re a fact of life and with a bit of thought they can be easily managed. Accept that making mistakes need not be a bad thing. After all, in the words of legendary US basketball player and coach John Wooden: ‘If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.’”

From What's the best way to handle your employees' mistakes? by Heather Foley.

6 “New businesses are a prime target for predatory salespeople. If you’re in the online space you can expect companies that host business directories, sell email data, run pay-per-click ad campaigns, etc, to contact you. Most of them will press really hard and rattle off impressive-sounding numbers, but these direct sales services rarely convert to sales.”

From Five key insights gained by a six-month-old online start-up by Pete McAllister.

7 “Over-thinking something often means that the ideas you come up with are forced and unrealistic. Watching an unchallenging film or TV show can allow your mind to switch down a gear and come up with something much less forced.”

From How to reach your 'light-bulb' moment by Paul Lees.

8 “Effective marketing is about taking someone on a journey from hearing about you to buying from you, and from there, to buying more and telling the world about you. Taking the time to understand how your buyers do this will always be a good investment.”

From The fundamentals of marketing explained for start-ups by Bryony Thomas.

9 “One in eight UK employees works more than 48 hours per week, while 54% of Britain's workforce regularly works through their lunch break. People who work long and unsociable hours could be doing themselves serious harm. Studies have shown that working 11 hours a day compared to eight increases your chances of developing heart disease by 67%.”

From Has Britain become a nation of workaholics? by Helen Pedder.

10 “Factually, right now, about 60% of the people in your sector are only doing OK and 20% are struggling. This means that by stepping up and standing out, you could be in the 15% that are doing very well and if you really excel – you could be in the 5% that are exceptionally successful.”

From How to be an exceptionally successful business by Anne Mulliner.

Thank you to our site sponsors for their support in 2014. Many thanks also to the experts who shared their knowledge to ensure this blog remains a popular source of information, advice and inspiration. A massive ‘Thank You’ to all our readers, of course. Whether you were thinking of starting up and wanted inspiration or started your own business in 2014 and needed advice, we hope you found what you were looking for. Happy Christmas – here's to a fantastic 2015…

Further reading

Ten more things you could have learned from our blogs in 2014

IT Donut: best of 2014

Ten things we learned from the Marketing Donut in 2014

Ten things you could have learned from the Tax Donut in 2014

Ten things you could have learned from the Law Donut blog in 2014

 

30-second guide to guarantor loans for business

November 20, 2014 by Guest contributor

30-second guide to guarantor loans for business{{}}Guarantor loans are a type of unsecured loan and they can enable you to borrow from £500 to £10,000. They are a relatively recent innovation in the UK unsecured loan market, with the first lender appearing in 2004.

They differ from normal unsecured loans in that they do not require someone to be credit scored before they’re considered for a loan. With traditional unsecured loans, a lender will make a decision as to whether to offer a loan based on the applicant’s credit history and their current credit score.

Not so with a guarantor loan. The lender says if the applicant can offer someone to guarantee the loan, then the so-called guarantor clearly believes that the borrower will repay the loan.

Why would you consider a guarantor loan?

A recent study by UHY Hacker Young accountants found that bank lending in the UK is still stalling, down 2.2% in real terms last year, with smaller businesses being hit hardest, as funding problems continue despite the recovery.

Demand for loans is increasing, but the banks are generally not granting new requests unless they are from existing customers with a good track record and security. Many smaller businesses that have struggled through the recession but are now on a more stable footing are still being left out in the cold.

Who could act as your guarantor?

Guarantor lending is about “trust” and so it’s a good idea to use your social network to find your guarantor. It’s crucial that you look for someone you know well and who trusts you.

By offering themselves as your guarantor they are potentially exposing themselves to the risk of you not repaying the loan, in which case, the lender can require the guarantor to repay it. Whoever you want to act as a guarantor will also need to meet certain financial criteria. Consider family members, relations, close friends, work colleagues and business mentors.

What are the criteria for obtaining a guarantor loan?

These vary by lender, but in general:

  • You must be aged 18 or over.
  • You must be a UK resident.
  • You cannot be currently bankrupt of on an IVA (individual voluntary arrangement).
  • You must have a UK bank account
  • You will need to provide a guarantor

Are you guaranteed to get a guarantor loan?

No. Even though lenders want to lend and even if you satisfy the criteria above, lenders are – quite rightly – required to abide by a responsible lending policy.

Copyright © 2014 David Silverman. David Silverman is managing director of www.CompareGuarantorLoans.com.

Further reading

Should SMEs look to alternative crowdfunding?

September 16, 2014 by Guest contributor

Should SMEs look to alternative crowdfunding?{{}}

2014 has been heralded as the year for crowdfunding. There are literally hundreds of platforms for people to choose from, but with share-based crowdfunding on the rise, consumers and small businesses are faced with a difficult choice.

Traditional crowdfunding platforms have huge user bases, tailored for product-based start-ups, which means that if you are lucky enough to make it onto the ‘Popular’ feed, your business idea will be viewed by millions. If, on the other hand, you don’t instantly capture the imagination of would-be investors, your chances of getting funded through these types of crowdfunding sites tends to decrease significantly.

While traditional crowdfunding platforms with product-based models might be good for getting consumer-focused propositions backed, they are less effective when it comes to B2B companies, which may have products and services that are less appealing to the traditional crowdfunding investor.

Don’t give your money away

The biggest issue with well-established crowdfunding sites is the high commission demanded – typically between 5% and 10%. Bootstrapped start-ups need all the financial help they can get and this is one of the many reasons we and other small businesses are increasingly choosing to go it alone with DIY crowdfunding.

Know your investors

One of the greatest benefits of DIY crowdfunding is the information businesses receive about their backers. Where traditional crowdfunding focuses on getting the money through the door, you won’t know necessarily why or where your product adds value to those people.

By setting up your own crowdfunding site or even by looking for VC funding, that market research data is more readily accessible. Moreover, it enables the business to constantly better itself and innovate based on feedback from the customer, business or angel.

When success also means disaster

One of the biggest problems with most crowdfunding platforms that have recently been damaging start-up businesses is being over-funded. Although some of the most recently built sites such as CrowdCube are able to trade in shares, traditional product-based crowdfunding platforms do not. This means that businesses opt to give something else away in return for investment – usually the product itself.

This isn’t often an issue for most businesses because the funding provides the opportunity to scale production. However, when campaigns are grossly over-funded, this can cause problems with meeting the demand for products in exchange for funding, rather than focusing on ‘paying’ clients.

Examples of this can be found all over traditional crowdfunding platforms and can cause massive delays for the business. While some may view this as a justifiable sacrifice, there are risks involved with this that can impact on the successfulness of the business’ future. You can spend so long fulfilling those owed orders that you’ll never have time to fulfil any new ones.

If not broken, breaking?

The huge user bases of popular crowdfunding platforms still make them a very attractive option. That said, as fewer start-ups are willing to give up such a large percentage of their funding in commission it isn’t difficult to see a future in which start-ups primarily use their own platforms for serious funding.

In-house developers within tech start-ups make creating self-funding platforms a realistic proposition, particularly if it provides flexibility and information as well as funding. These DIY crowdfunding platforms also provide the consumer with a much more interesting investment opportunity: not only being able to buy the product, but also buy shares in it.

Perhaps the product-based crowdfunding model isn’t broken just yet, but with more and more small businesses creating self-funding platforms, to crowdsource more serious investment, it can certainly be argued that the writing may be on the wall – especially in the B2B space.

Copyright © 2014 Tim Fouracre. Tim Fouracre is CEO of Clear Books. Clear Books is currently raising £3.3M, which will be the largest ever B2B crowdfund in the UK.

Further reading

How long can you bootstrap a start-up before real investment is required?

August 18, 2014 by Guest contributor

How long can you bootstrap a start-up before real investment is required?{{}}Battle lines have been drawn in the entrepreneurial world, with venture capital squaring up to its penny-pinching cousin, bootstrapping.

Before budding entrepreneurs can reach the dizzying highs of business triumph, they must first launch their idea off the ground, and this requires finance. Venture capital (AKA private equity) is hard to obtain, competition is immense and investors can be reluctant to hand over their capital without evidence that the business can work and eventually bring a return. Most start-ups must go through a phase of bootstrapping before they can prove to investors that they are a good bet. The question is – can bootstrapping successfully continue indefinitely?

Bootstrapping means entrepreneurs going it alone, by whatever means possible. This can involve tapping into savings and accumulating private debt, including loans and borrowing on credit cards. It is clear that if bootstrapping goes wrong, it can go terribly wrong for the individuals involved.

However, there are also many positives associated with bootstrapping. Bootstrapping does not mean sacrificing equity, and it allows entrepreneurs to keep control of their business. This can seem undeniably appealing; the dream of starting your own business is, after all, about freedom. Bootstrapping allows business owners to call the shots (and, perhaps, make their own mistakes).

Investing personal finances arguably promotes caution, and a real consideration regarding where money is being spent. When their livelihood and savings are on the line, people tend to think through every business decision with precision. Lastly, when you bootstrap there is only one possible source of income, and that is your customer. Pleasing the customer is an essential element of business that many failed start-ups somehow seem to have missed, and bootstrapping can help prevent this. Yet, for many businesses, a point is reached when the credit cards are ‘maxed’, when customer revenue cannot come in fast enough and at that time growth crawls. Bankruptcy is a real possibility and driving the business forward seems unfeasible. 

It is hard to obtain venture capital backing, but it is also hard to grow your business at a sufficient rate without it. Focussing on building the product is not enough, marketing and sales must be grown if the business is to succeed. The fact of the matter is it takes money to be noticed.

Hiring is affected, too. When candidates look for a job with a start-up, they need to know that the business they might join is financially secure, with viable plans for growth. Investors can provide credibility and reassurance. Joining a start-up can feel like a risk to many, and if the business is stagnant and relying on personal investment to stay afloat, it may not seem like a risk worth taking. For business to attract the best, they need to not only be ambitious, but also have the finances to back up their ambition.

It is all about the rate of success. If your business survives bootstrapping financially, it still faces the hurdles of sustained growth and marketing without an influx of investment. When it comes to starting your business, bootstrapping is for the beginning – otherwise it can be the end.

Copyright (c) BlueGlue 2014

Further reading

Should your business increase its prices?

August 07, 2014 by Guest contributor

Should your business increase its prices?{{}}It is only natural to try to compete on price. But what you’re telling customers is “buy from me because I’m cheaper”, when what you should really be saying is “buy from me because my product meets your needs at an affordable price”.

Where does this tendency come from? Price is very rarely the primary motivator. What tends to happen is once someone has decided to buy from you they just want to pay a bit less. It makes them feel like they got a bargain. How often have you thought to yourself: "I will only buy this product if it is at this price"? Maybe at an auction, but you wouldn’t think this way when making daily purchasing decisions.  

There have been many studies showing that a small proportion of customers buy on price and the rest for a multitude of other factors. If price was the primary motivator there would be no luxury items. Luxury items sell for high prices because they are seen as exclusive, high quality and, of course, they make the buyer feel good about themselves.

The key is to make sure that your product is unique. So why is it that some sales people are against raising prices?

1 “They go against industry prices”

Some will say: "Nobody in this market will pay that sort of price!" Alas, if the product is worth it, customers will. Many successful entrepreneurs have created extra value or new products in their industry for their customers and have charged a higher price.

A classic example is the Dyson vacuum. When the first Dyson came out in the mid-1990s it sold for £400. In today's money that is £600 at least. Yet they were snapped up and made Dyson a fortune. Why did it sell? It was different and made people feel good about themselves. A boring household appliance has been turned into something a bit cool, trendy and exclusive - a bit like Apple did with the home computer.

2 “I can’t sell expensive products”

So many sales people complain that the service or product they are selling is too expensive, but they forget that others in their team are not having any problems.

3 “It’s wrong to charge a high price”

Remember the “bitterness of low quality lasts longer than the sweetness of low price”. If you put up your prices, you will always lose some customers, but only those who have bought solely on price. So what? Isn’t it better to have a higher proportion of customers who actually value your products or your services and are prepared to pay for them? Obviously, charging more money brings in more capital, which enables you to invest more into your business. It can also allow you to cut costs as in some ways fewer customers paying more are likely to use up less of your time complaining!

How do you raise prices? 

It’s probably best that you do not set your own prices. The best person for the job is your customer. Ask them what they like and don't like about your products or services. Listen to what they say and focus on improving the negatives. Test everything and raise your prices by a minimum of 5% and perhaps a maximum of 20% on your existing offerings.

If you raise prices, make sure you have a plan. Try a few customers and see what their reaction is. Give them plenty of warning, because no one likes a surprise increase. If you lose too many, keep monitoring and adjust if necessary. Can you start charging for products or services that have previously been free?  Almost always free stuff isn’t as great as paid-for services and customers often expect this.

Where have I seen this before?

When I was selling information about businesses for sale, the yearly subscription was £165. This had not changed in many years. Our sales were good, but we decided to put up the price to £195 and this made no difference to our monthly figures of c.100 new subscriptions a month. In fact – it went up.

Three months later we put the price up to £225 a subscription. Sales levelled off, but our margin was up significantly. Our closest competitor was offering a similar and in our view inferior product at £99 a month. When the Credit Crunch hit, we lowered it back down to £195, but never back to £165. It turns out that my co-director just felt uncomfortable charging more than £200! People deemed the product to be worth it and in the end, it helped us to drive more innovation like e-books, additional products and a better website experience.

One computer consultant I’ve hired in the past was charging £35 per hour. I knew this was far too low but didn’t let on, of course. They decided to later raise the price to £45 per hour but this made no difference to me. I am actually happier because I am confident they will deliver an even better service.

Copyright © 2014 Robert Moore of KSA Group and www.companyrescue.co.uk

Further reading

Do small firms really need bank finance as much as we're led to believe?

June 16, 2014 by Guest contributor

Do small firms really need bank finance as much as we're led to believe?/English money{{}}I have a Room 101 nomination. It’s media headlines and political comment telling us that 'businesses are unable to access funding from banks, we have to get the banks lending again, we need to make alternative funding available'.

This has been so noisy since the 2008 sub-prime bubble burst that I’m convinced it’s merely a default utterance when political parties sense that 'business' hasn't been in the headlines of late. The tone sounds so desperate at times as to imply an imminent hiatus if this matter isn't addressed. I’m not convinced that the need for bank funding is as important as we’re led to believe.

We accept as fact that since 2008 the banks have reined in their lending, as a response to previous over-lending. A good entrepreneur will secure investment from other sources, because they will perceive the banks’ reluctance to lend merely as a challenge to overcome. Other sources of funding may even be more appropriate, because some can bring additional commitment and proven commercial expertise.

Interestingly, among my local business community there is no issue around borrowing from banks, it's a message that you mainly hear in the media and from politicians – but why?

Historically we’ve been programmed to approach banks for finance. 2008 caused a paradigm shift and while those of us running our own businesses on the frontline are comfortable with this, the banks and politicians haven't caught up yet. There are two reasons – ego and economics. The banks and the City have always been thought of as the 'big boys' to whom us small firms should turn for support. They’re used to being in control – to dominating us.

However, 2008 showed that they aren't that great at managing their own businesses. Their validity to dominate has been undermined, but their ego has not been humbled yet. I’m not an economics expert, but I’d guess that the banks and the State are used to profiting from failing SMEs. Finding money from elsewhere takes away income from the 'big boys'. These are the real reasons for SMEs needing financing from the 'big boys' being in the headlines, it is their income streams that are being affected.

Our UK DNA as a nation of shopkeepers has prevailed and revealed its talent for resourcefulness and diversification. We don't need the 'big boys'. Question is – how long will it take them to adjust to their new relationship with us? Maybe we'll start asking for their investment once more when they’ve grown up and proved that they can run their businesses as well as they have expected us to run ours in the past.

Blog provided by Samantha Acton, who founded Domestic Angels in 2002, which provides home cleaning services across the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch areas.

Further reading

Why don't more people from ethnic minority backgrounds start businesses?

May 27, 2014 by Mark Williams

Why don’t more people from ethnic minority backgrounds start businesses?/ Young African Businessman{{}}The recent publication of A Portrait of Modern Britain had some commentators questioning the motivation of its publishers – right-wing think tank Policy Exchange, which was founded by current Tory ministers Michael Gove, Nick Boles and Francis Maude.

Policy Exchange called for all political parties to better understand and recognise the “clear and striking differences” between ethnic minorities and stop “lumping them together” or risk appealing to none.

One of the study’s headline claims was that the five largest “distinct Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities” (ie Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Black Africans and Black Caribbeans) will double in size from 14% of the UK population (eight million people) to 20-30% by 2050.

Low start-up rate

According to A Portrait of Modern Britain: “Ethnic minority businesses [ie where at least half the management team is from an ethnic minority group – about 7% of UK SMEs] are already highly successful and contribute £25bn to the UK economy. There are higher aspirations to start-up amongst ethnic minority groups, especially Black African (35%) and Black Caribbean (18%) groups (compared with 10% for White British), but ‘conversion’ remains very low.”

So what do we know about UK BME businesses? According to Black Women Mean Business

  • 8% of SMEs that employ staff are owned/led by people from a BME background.
  • London accounts for 46% of all BME-led small businesses.
  • Retail is the sector in which most (35%) BME-led businesses operate.
  • BME businesses tend to be younger; 3% of BME-led SMEs are less than a year old (compared to 1% of all SMEs); just 24% of BME-led SMEs are more than 20 years old (compared to 40% of all SMEs).
  • BME businesses are likely to have a lower turnover than other SMEs.
  • More than half (58%) of BME SME employers are family-led businesses (compared to 62% of all SMEs).

Access to finance

So, why is the UK BME start-up rate so low? Last year, The Ethnic Minority Businesses and Access to Finance report, which was commissioned by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, concluded that “although the banking industry was working hard to ensure ethnic minority businesses have access to finance, there is more to be done to help under-represented groups”.

Clegg said that while there was no evidence that the challenges ethnic minority businesses face are due to racial discrimination, they still encounter problems accessing loans. “We know that 35% of individuals from Black African origin say they want to start a business, but only 6% actually do. Are they having problems accessing loans?” questioned Clegg. His friend, the Prime Minister, certainly seems to think so. Or at least he did in 2010 when he said black entrepreneurs were “four-times more likely to be denied a bank loan than white entrepreneurs”.

Unfair treatment

Race equality think tank Runnymede Trust welcomed the government’s review of access to finance for BME entrepreneurs and the UK banks agreeing to fund independent research into the experiences of BME businesses when seeking finance.

Dr Omar Khan, Runnymede Trust Head of Policy Research, commented: “Black and Asian businesses have long felt that they’re not treated fairly by lenders. We hope that government also engages in further initiatives to better understand why racial inequalities persist, not only to improve the lives of ethnic minorities, but also to grow the UK economy.”

Writing for The Voice in October last year, in an article called Want To Beat Racism? Start A Business, journalist Nels Abbey pondered possible reasons why more black people in the UK aren’t starting up. “In each of the home countries that black Britain’s lineage comes from, entrepreneurship is the norm,” he observed. “[Yet] for some strange reason, when black people arrive on these shores we seem to lose that entrepreneurial zeal and ingenuity. Not all of us. Just most of us.”

Black power

He puts this down to (perhaps) “a lack of confidence in our abilities in the face of more established business people”, as well as “actual and perceived racism maybe” and the “legacy of colonial structures”. Other possible reasons were “lack of resources, red tape, comfort, laziness even. Or maybe just a desire not to challenge the social order”.

Abbey concluded: “A single successful black business is worth more than any number of anti-racism demonstrations. A successful and respected business is a symbol of power and self-determination. You have to respect it, regardless of who runs it. Everyone loves a winner, no matter their colour.”

Blog written by Mark Williams, editor of the Start Up Donut.

Further reading 

How to start accepting Bitcoin donations

February 19, 2014 by Guest contributor

How to start accepting Bitcoin donations /Bit coin - virtual money{{}}Does your business have a blog, website or video channel? If so, you could start asking people who visit your site to start donating Bitcoins.

What is a Bitcoin?

Online currency, you can use it to buy things such as domain names, electronics, food and professional services.

What is it worth?

The value changes a lot. In January 2013 it was only worth about £10, but by late November it had reached a high of £750.

How can I get some?

There are many ways. You could start donating your computer power to help run the network (a process called ‘mining’) or you could sign up to an exchange such as MtGox.com and buy some with pounds. Unfortunately, both of these options can take time and effort and you might end up losing money. A safer and simpler bet is to start taking Bitcoin donations.

Why should I bother?

The Bitcoin community is very generous. Bitcoin users know that the more people who own Bitcoin, the more plausible it becomes as an idea. Also, because it’s really easy to donate, you might be pleasantly surprised by how much you could earn.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to start…

1 Get a Bitcoin wallet

You’ll need a wallet to receive, send and store Bitcoins. There are three types of wallet: software, mobile and web. The Bitcoin website features a useful guide and a list of downloads to help you get started. For maximum security, we recommend that you choose one that doesn’t use a third party. To avoid cyber theft, you should always encrypt your wallet with a strong password. We recommend one at least eight characters long, using a combination of numbers, symbols and upper/lowercase letters.

2 Note down your wallet address

Once you’ve set up your wallet you’ll be given a wallet address. You’ll need this so people know where to send donations. It will be a string of between 27 and 34 numbers and lower/uppercase letters beginning with a 1 or 3.

3 Spread the word

Accepting donations is as easy as posting your Bitcoin address on your blog/website. You may want to provide or link to some info about Bitcoin too in case users without any Bitcoins also want to donate. When you have a donor, your wallet will message you a notification telling you how much has been sent. Your Bitcoins are then free to save or spend as you wish.

Blog contributed by Nick Chowdrey, finance and accounting writer for Crunch, online accountancy firm for freelancers and small businesses.

Posted in Financing a business | Tagged IT, Finance | 0 comments

How to keep your business's head above water

January 13, 2014 by Robert Craven

How to keep your business’s head above water /drowning businessman{{}}I ask every audience I talk in front of one key question: “What’s the most important thing to measure if you want to find out how well your business is doing?”

And, without fail, people always come back to me with the wrong answer! They call out ‘sales’ or ‘turnover’ or ‘profit’, but they hardly ever mention the right and probably only answer that really matters – ‘cash’.

In reality, it’s impossible to carrying on trading if you run out of cash.

In the current economic chaos there are plenty of casualties, the weak and vulnerable businesses will go bust. More worrying is the profitable businesses that go to the wall because they run out of cash.

So, how do you keep your head above water? In basic terms, sell something people want; make sure the difference between what you buy it for and what you sell it for is big enough; find a way to get people to buy from you, take massive action. And, of course, make sure you collect all the money you are owed: 

  1. Measure cashflow like a hawk.
  2. Do your cashflow projections.
  3. Have clear credit terms.
  4. Check all new clients’ credit records.
  5. Have a rigorous process for invoicing, following-up and collection.
  6. Hold on to your cash as long as you can.
  7. Get yourself a decent accountant.

As a self-confessed serial entrepreneur I hate the detail and intricacy of putting cash-flow processes in place, but you can’t afford not to.

Blog supplied by Robert Craven of the Directors’ Centre, who shows MDs and business owners how to grow their sales and profits. His latest book is Grow Your Service Firm.

 Further reading

Things you should consider if you want to start exporting

January 08, 2014 by Guest contributor

Things you should consider if you want to start exporting/container ship berthing port{{}}For many businesses planning for growth, exporting can seem a highly attractive, but sometimes daunting, opportunity.

According to the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, approximately one in five of the UK’s 4.9m SMEs already exports and the Confederation of British Industry says you’re 11% more likely to survive if you export. So, it seems natural for many SMEs to start trading internationally, especially since many have suffered from stagnation or declining domestic sales in recent years.

But there is a degree of risk. Among the cultural, legal and bureaucratic barriers sits the challenge of financing new oversee sales and ensuring that your cashflow remains healthy.

Beware the cashflow void

Standard considerations when you’re an exporter include taking a localised approach, adapting your pricing strategies, perhaps establishing a local agent partnership and seeking support from a foreign trade advisory service, such as the UKTI.

But SMEs are faced with numerous challenges and difficult choices, and you may need to make some adjustments and allowances.

Recent data from the Economia Exports Survey suggests that SMEs that are new to international trade (as well as experienced exporters moving into new markets) cite a number of success factors, including having the necessary finance (34%), the ability to manage payment risk (26%) and solid management and leadership skills (28%). Concerns associated with exporting include the cost (36%), not getting paid (29%) and risk control (29%).

The international market is highly competitive and credit terms offered to prospective new customers can be the difference between winning or losing a deal – especially when it comes to larger clients. When you are at the mercy of their terms, foreign exchange fluctuations and cashflow management can be an issue. Not only might you have to manage extended credit terms, but high-value material costs may also need to be paid up front, while goods will now take longer to be shipped to the customer. The result is a cashflow void, and small businesses need to have cash management strategies in place to lessen the negative impact this might have on them.

Financial flexibility and security

Short-term finance is sometimes necessary to bridge the gap between supply of the product or service and payment receipt. Traditionally, financial securities such as International Documentary Collections and Documentary Credits have offered exporters peace of mind, however, it is estimated that as many as 80% of exporters have moved away from these somewhat burdensome trade finance products. Instead, they are conducting international trade on the more cost- and time-efficient open account basis.

For small businesses trading with an overseas customer for the first time, trade finance might not offer much help if less than favourable terms have already been agreed. Similarly, an open account may be a risky option early on in the relationship.

To overcome the financial challenges of operating in foreign markets, invoice trading has emerged as a new form of trade finance and it allows invoices in foreign currencies to be traded. This means that businesses can remove the ‘cashflow squeeze’ that can occur in contract delivery.

Short-term working capital

The result is a flexible and competitive way to raise short-term working capital without having to sign lengthy contracts. SMEs can obtain up to 90% of their international invoices upfront from investors who understand the commercial realities of international trade and bid between themselves to provide the lowest cost finance. 

When essential cash is needed to finance paying upfront for materials and maintain a healthy operation until the end customer pays, invoice trading can provide a valuable lifeline.

Ultimately, the success of a business may be the result of taking a risk. In the context of international export, that risk may be the acceptance of a new, large customer. The right short-term finance and cashflow products in the form of selective international invoice sale and repurchasing can provide one of the building blocks for export success.

Blog supplied by Beth Nicholas on behalf of Platform Black, provider of complementary and alternative finance solutions including invoice trading, supply chain finance and channel finance.

Further reading

Deborah Meaden on how to fund a new business

December 19, 2013 by Guest contributor

What advice would I give to someone starting out in business who may be worried about funding? Today, I think people in need of funding and hoping to start a new business tend to approach the banks automatically, by default. Then, if they’re declined, the big question is – ‘What next?’

To those people, I would say that I think it’s never been a better, more exciting time to explore different avenues.

The difficulty with the banks and getting loans through conventional methods has meant other opportunities have had to appear through necessity. There are plenty of different models and lots of people actually looking to invest in new businesses – look at crowd funding, for example.

It can be worth considering friends and family, too, and approach them for investment, although you’ve got be careful that you’re very clear on the terms early on.

Which investment am I most proud of? I find it really difficult to pick a favourite investment. When I’m visiting a business or I have to be especially focused on one in particular it has 100% of my attention. It becomes all that I can think of, all that I can see and it becomes the one that I love the most. But when I walk out the door or shift my focus to another investment, that becomes the one I absolutely want to do.

I’ve got a portfolio of 19 businesses that I’m currently invested in. It’s been known to flux up to a maximum of 30 and down to ten.

There is one that I’m very pleased I got involved in and it was a cloth mill called Fox Brothers, which started in 1772. It was the last cloth mill left in the South West and it was dead – absolutely on its knees. I didn’t know that when I invested.

I’m pleased to say that now it’s doing well and I’m really proud to have been involved. I like to think that if I hadn’t found it, and it hadn’t found me, it would have died and a part of our heritage would’ve been lost.

This exclusive insight was taken from an interview conducted by cityindex.co.uk when Deborah recently participated in the city index celebrity trader challenge. Find out more about Deborah and her views by visiting her website.

Further reading

Four cashflow tips for seasonal businesses

December 12, 2013 by Guest contributor

Four cashflow tips for seasonal businesses{{}}As the high streets prepare for a shopper-invasion and the countdown to festivities begins, businesses that traditionally feel the financial impact of the peaks and troughs of seasonal trading are once again preparing their strategies to manage cashflow.

Research published earlier this year by Santander Corporate & Commercial suggests that 61% of UK small and medium-sized businesses are impacted by seasonality – with 37% suffering as a result.

But the truth of seasonality is that it doesn’t always fall at Christmas, nor is it industry specific. For businesses across the country, delayed receipt of revenue and seasonal fluctuations in demand can lead to serious cashflow problems that existing finance arrangements cannot accommodate. Even for the most hardy business management team, a significant slowdown in business or revenue can make for a tough time.

Management strategies that have been agreed in advance can help to soften the blow when a seasonal dip is on the horizon. Here are four ways to stay on top of cashflow when things get tight:

1 Invoice smarter

One of the biggest issues facing businesses today is that of late payment. According to the Forum of Private Business, more than one million UK SMEs currently face difficulties with late payment – about 20% of the UK’s business population. The total amount of late payments across the UK now stands at just below £37bn.

Of course, you want to keep the customer on side and encourage future business, so a slick invoicing and payment processing operation can keep relationships harmonious and reduce the chances of late payment. Make sure invoices are sent out promptly, chase due and overdue payments regularly. Consider introducing an incentive scheme where discounts are given for early payment. Interest charges and financial penalties can be applied for late payments.

2 Project and plan

Cashflow forecasting, as part of the wider financial planning process, is essential for all businesses – not least seasonal ones. Healthy and detailed insight into anticipated fixed and variable business costs, set against data gleaned from your sales forecast, can help predict the future cash needs of your business and allow you to put financial back-up plans in place.

Not only will this process keep you aware of your business’s cash position at all times, it will allow you to creatively map and move around payments and budget allocation during leaner months.

3 Make your suppliers work harder

While you need to manage and improve cash inflow, there are creative ways of managing cash outflow, too.  

When entering into a new supplier agreement or looking back on existing ones that can be improved, make your suppliers go the extra mile. Negotiate favourable payment terms, work to drive down the price, arrange purchases on a sale or return basis, or settle on a bulk discount agreement. If you can, work to spread out recurring expense payments throughout the year so that they fall outside of your slowdown period.

Many vendors and suppliers are flexible, since it is in their interests to retain your business and put an affordable and sustainable agreement in place that will also prevent them receiving late payment from you.

4 Short-term finance for long-term effect

Seasonal trends are beyond our control. One-in-20 UK businesses closes their business during seasonal periods to reduce costs; 6% of UK businesses admit to relying on credit cards to manage seasonal fluctuations in supply and demand; 4% use business loans; while 17% either increase or decrease staff numbers.

For stability during seasonal slowdowns or growth management during speed-ups, short-term cashflow facilities can be an invaluable lifeline. These funds offer a precious injection to pay off creditors, pay staff and maintain an overall healthy operation.

In the £250-500k annual revenue category of businesses surveyed by Santander Corporate & Commercial earlier this year, 30% of those that suffered from seasonal fluctuation said invoice or supply chain finance was used to ride out seasonal downtime.

Invoice finance has now evolved through crowd-funding into invoice trading, a facility that creates a market between businesses and investors to give flexibility to businesses in need of short-term working capital finance, without the need for long-term contracts or a whole of ledger commitment.

Blog supplied by Beth Nicholas, writing on behalf of Platform Black, provider of complementary and alternative finance solutions.

Further reading

Cashflow management

The golden rules of starting and running a seasonal business

How I run my seasonal business

 

 

Mobile Chip & PIN payments: the secret to boosting your sales?

December 04, 2013 by Guest contributor

Mobile Chip & PIN payments: the secret to boosting your sales?/male showing credit card{{}}Mobile Chip & PIN payments are becoming more popular around the UK. This is mainly due to the fact that they are an inexpensive and modern way to increase profit.

For a while now, small-business owners have been unable to accept card payments due to problems with traditional card readers. This is due to the fact that they involve lengthy and expensive contracts, monthly fees and equipment that is bulky and hard to transport. Mobile Chip & PIN payments solve this problem by providing a non-contract service, with no monthly fees and a sleek modern design that fits with any business image.

There is no doubt that there are benefits to employing mobile rather than traditional Chip & PIN technologies, however, you may be asking yourself why it is necessary to even take cards?

One reason is that accepting cards gives your customers the option to pay by a variety of means. This might sound like a non-issue, however, one of the biggest reasons that merchants loose business is interrupting “customer flow”. Specifically in the situation where a customer wishes to buy a product, but has no cash on them, if the customer cannot pay by card they simply have no option but to leave. In this case, the merchant has not only lost out on a sale, buhas also lost a customer whose opinion is valuable to your business.

This brings us to the second benefit of accepting card payments – customer satisfaction. Most businesses strive towards providing excellent customer service, after all, for small businesses referrals are often the best advertisements of all. Disappointing the customer by not offering a convenient way to pay may come back to haunt you by damaging your reputation.

However, the direct benefits do not stop at the customer. Taking card payments means that your business does not have to run the risk of having large amounts of cash stored, it also saves on daily trips to the bank to deposit the money. Perhaps the biggest advantage to a small business owner, though, is that is allows for more efficient accounting. By accepting more cards and less cash, it means that your transactions are easier to keep track of, which is vital for financial planning.

Mobile Chip & PIN payments are secure, with all reputable companies required to pass rigorous security checks and verifications. They are also convenient for both customer and merchant, and are a great tool to increase profit. So why not find out more?

Blog supplied by mobile card payment solution provider payleven.

What are your key options after you've spent your initial start-up budget?

November 28, 2013 by Guest contributor

What are your key options after you've spent your initial start-up budget?/person with an empty wallet{{}}One of the earliest challenges faced by all start-ups concerns finance. No matter how great an idea you’ve had and no matter how well thought-out your business plan is, you’ll need to have enough funding to get your fledgling venture off of the ground.

Maybe you’ve pursued crowdfunding, borrowed money from friends and relatives, perhaps even turned to a high street bank for a business loan, or approached alternative finance providers for help. Whatever route you’ve chosen, before long you and your business will have to face the same daunting question – what to do when this money has run out?

You’ll hopefully be self-sufficient

Start-up funding is intended to give businesses a chance to get off the ground, of course. In the very earliest stages of a business’s life it’s almost guaranteed to be operating at a loss, and those expenses will need to be covered somehow.

You might need to invest in premises, staff, equipment and more besides, so start-up finance is a necessary step in order to see your business through those hard, frightening and exciting early months.

If all goes to plan, start-up funding should act as a stepping stone to help your business to become self-sufficient before the cash runs out completely. Very few start-ups operate at a profit for the first few years, but if you’ve played your cards right, you’ll be breaking even before your start-up funds are all spent.

You can actively pursue growth

It’s possible to pursue growth during the period when many fledgling firms find it difficult to compete, even when a challenging economy makes business opportunities difficult to come by.

Building momentum can be difficult at this stage, but if you’ve got the right people around you and have built a team of committed, hardworking individuals, it’s eminently possible to get moving in the right direction once more. Sometimes, however, it’s necessary to pursue another form of business finance if you are to move from stagnation to expansion once more.

You may need more financial assistance

The business world is built on finance, and until a business has reached the stage where it is sufficiently profitable to sustain itself and grow, it must rely on the assistance of small-business finance facilities instead.

Invoice finance providers offer facilities that can fund growth, based on your business’s internal sales ledger. Alternative lending options such as invoice finance and discounting are more flexible and thus more suitable for growing companies than traditional bank loans, so if you’re looking to move your business forwards without incurring additional debts, you’re likely to benefit significantly.

You could also look at peer-to-peer lending (ie the lending of money to unrelated individuals without going through a traditional financial intermediary), crowdfunding (ie the collective cooperation, attention and funding by people who pool their money and resources together to support other businesses or organisations) or possibly an overdraft.

The period immediately following your business’ first few months can be intimidating and confusing, and it may seem as though the last thing you want to do after your small business funding has all been spent is pursue yet more finance. Sometimes, however, it’s necessary to take the bull by the horns and actively pursue growth in order to spare your business from years spent merely treading water and making ends meet.

Blog provided by David Richards of Gener8 Finance Ltd.

Crowdfunding for business - a fad or the future?

November 11, 2013 by Guest contributor

Crowdfunding for business – a fad or the future?/Crowd, Funding road signs{{}}Financing a business has traditionally meant asking a few people for large sums of money. Crowdfunding – one of the most talked-about funding channels in recent years – turns this idea on its head by enabling businesses to use the Internet to ask a multitude of potential funders for defined, comparatively small amounts of money.

The question of how to fund and share profit more creatively was hotly debated at this year’s Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network 2013 event. Speaking at a pre-conference workshop on accessing capital, Springboard Enterprises president Amy Millman stressed the importance of getting the right source of credit, suggesting that crowdsourcing can provide an innovative means of becoming a more social, community brand in opening a company up to a broader and younger pool of shareholders.

And with funding options drastically reduced in the wake of the global banking crisis, small businesses are jumping at the chance to get their finance from ordinary people: the crowd. But with little regulation, is this young credit market really a safe and viable option for businesses looking to meet their growth ambitions?

Crowdfunding essentially means asking a crowd of people for a fixed amount of money for a business venture or specific project in exchange for a reward. As a relatively new market, the credibility and stability of crowdfunding needs strengthening – something increased regulation will help bring about.

Currently, just a limited number of platforms are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, meaning many crowdfunding companies are handling transactions without adequate protection – even if the UK Crowdfunding Association has a practice code in place to protect those involved. Few sites can ensure an investor won’t lose money in the event of the platform collapsing.

Ensuring potential investors have as much information as possible about a start-up is essential for informed decisions. That’s why any business looking for funding via these channels must be totally clear about why they need the investment, how it will be used, and how much they need to reach their growth and profit targets.

Unlike traditional pitching, potential investors are unlikely to have met the start-up, so must be made to feel part of the success story. A company needs to tie-in their crowdsourcing outreach with a social and media engagement strategy. Of course, the nature of both social media and crowdfunding means that entrepreneurs must be ready to receive feedback – both the good and bad – in a very public domain.  

Ultimately, any business looking to raise funding through crowdfunding must do their due diligence before diving into these still largely untested waters. Not all crowdfunding platforms will be appropriate for the business or project in hand, so research is essential.

And it’s not for the faint-of-heart. It can be a lot of work to kick-start and maintain the momentum that will see a project through to its desired end. But crowdfunding can also provide a start-up with unique exposure and feedback from those who matter most – your target audience of ‘ordinary’ people.

Blog supplied by Sarah Shields, executive director and GM, consumer, small and medium enterprise, Dell UK.

Further reading

Small firms have a "remote relationship" with their bank

October 09, 2013 by Mark Williams

Small firms have a 'remote relationship' with their bank /bank of England and red bus{{}}A new report by “workforce management and SME support specialist” Optionis, based on a survey of more than 500 small-business owners, contractors and freelancers, suggests that only one-in-five small firms has received help and advice from their bank, with only one-in-ten regularly receiving “useful information about relevant products and services”.

When it comes to supporting growth, the research also found that respondents viewed receiving high quality advice from their bank as more important than finance, which is commonly held up as the area where banks fail to support UK SMEs. Indeed, high quality advice came second only to online banking in respondents’ list of banking priorities.

The research was carried out as part of Optionis’ Get on and Grow report, which set out to shed light on how banks could help support growth among the nation’s small firms. “Banks need to raise their game when it comes to supporting growth among emerging entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses,” said Optionis managing director Derek Kelly.

He continued: “Emerging entrepreneurs and small business owners seem to be having an increasingly remote relationship with their bank. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the popularity of online banking. However, banks need to work harder to find ways to offer advice and support to [small business] customers, particularly on issues such as cashflow that are crucial to businesses survival.”

Respondents to the Optionis survey rated the current service they receive from their bank at a disappointing average of 4.6 out of 10. Bank charges were also criticised, with “fair charges” named as the third-highest priority for businesses, yet the current perception of fairness was a meagre 4.8 out of 10.

According to Optionis, the Get on and Grow report “tracks important indicators of growth relating to small enterprises in the UK. It tracks more than “7,000 freelancers, contractors and small businesses each month, looking at financial growth, entrepreneurial mobility, regional trends and gender variations”. The full report can be read here.

In July, the Bank of England announced that lending to small businesses in the UK had increased by £238m between May and June – the biggest monthly rise since statistics were first produced in 2011. The increase meant that UK SMEs borrowed £170.4bn in the year to June, however, compared with the previous year, lending had fallen by 3.3%. According to the BBC, UK businesses were borrowing “3.7% less than a year ago, and 1.3% less than in June.

In response, a spokesman for the BBA (“the voice of banking & financial services”) said: “In the current economic climate many businesses are building up their cash reserves and using this to fund activity rather than take on additional borrowing. Our own figures for small and medium-sized businesses show some £125.9bn is currently held in current and deposit accounts. 

“Banks are currently offering some of the lowest interest rates in history and there should be no doubt that now is a good time for businesses to go and see their bank if they want to borrow. If you run a business with a good business plan and want funding, our message is apply to your bank.”

Posted in Financing a business | Tagged Finance | 1 comment

What to do before you seek finance

September 04, 2013 by Guest contributor

What to do before you seek finance/accounting{{}}What key points should business owners think about when prepping their accounts?

Accounts should be both a factual document – prepared in accordance with the relevant legislation (eg if a company, then the relevant Companies Acts) – and a sales document. If the accounts show a poor result due to the loss of a key customer, say so, but explain how this is being overcome.

What do finance providers look for when deciding whether to provide funding?

Finance providers need to understand firstly why you need the money, how it is going to be spent, what contribution you and the company are making and most importantly how they will be paid back and over what period.

What do you think is the best form of finance and why?

This really depends what you need the money for:

  • If it is to buy a piece of equipment that is going to be used in the business then consider a medium term loan/hire purchase.
  • If it is to fund a growing business, to buy stock, fund trade creditors, etc, an overdraft or even invoice discounting or factoring might be the most suitable option.
  • If it is to develop a building project, then project finance that can be drawn down at key stages of the project should be considered.
  • If you are undercapitalised, maybe a medium-term investor.

What should your business plan include when seeking finance?

Your business plan should set out the following:

  • What the company does.
  • Who owns the company and what are their expectations.
  • Who runs the company and what is their experience and loyalty.
  • Who are the company’s main competitors – why are you better/how will you become better/get a larger share of the market.
  • What are the historical financial results of the company.
  • What are the projected financial results of the company.
  • How are you going to get there (ie if by more sales -  how are you going to get these extra sales?).
  • What could go wrong and what would be the effect if it did and how are you planning to minimise this risk?

You must do this yourself – it is a hard soul-searching exercise but by the end of it you will know your business in more detail and, in particular, you’ll understand its strengths, weaknesses and their trigger points.

Blog supplied by Carol Cheesman, Principal of London-based Cheesmans Accountants.

Posted in Financing a business | Tagged Finance | 0 comments

Peer-to-peer lending: a funding solution for your business

July 18, 2013 by Mark Shaw

Peer-to-peer lending: a funding solution for your business/twenty pound notes{{}}With many UK start-ups finding it difficult to fund a new business, there is an alternative lending option that is currently gaining a lot of press coverage in the press for all the right reasons.

Peer-to-peer lending is a relatively new form of finance (it was established in 2005) and (as of summer 2012) peer-to-peer lenders have since collectively lent £300m.

Peer-to-peer lending is as it sounds, lending money to ‘peers’, without having to go through traditional financial intermediaries such as banks or other institutions. Peer-to-Peer lenders are everyday people who have money they wish to lend out in return for a competitive rate of interest (usually between 6-12% pa).

Currently, these are unsecured personal loans that aren’t subject to regulation, but this will all change in April 2014, after which the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will regulate the peer-to-peer industry.

New small businesses are still finding it tough to get a traditional bank loan, as many UK banks are unwilling to underwrite an unproven, new business with no established credit.

This leaves many start-ups in a conundrum, but there are several alternative business funding options worth exploring. However, before making any financing decisions you need to carry out sufficient research so you can carefully weigh up the pros and cons of each option. Choosing a source could be one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make as a new business owner.

How to get a peer-to-peer loan

New business owners pitch their ideas online via peer-to-peer lending company websites to individuals interested in lending to small businesses. The peer-to-peer lending platforms make the process of introducing lenders and borrowers very simple and the platforms are often exclusively web-based. They take much of the administration away that borrowers experience with their high street bank.

As a borrower, you register with a company and you are then put into a category based on your credit score. When grouped, the lender can decide where they want to invest their money based on the risk and return. As with any loan there is a risk, however, the rate of an unsuccessful loan is far lower with peer-to-peer loans than applying for a bank loan.

One peer-to-peer lending platform that has grown significantly since it started in February 2013 is Cornwall-based Folk2Folk. It has introduced £11m of secured loans largely to the business community, starting from £25,000 and up to £1m, at interest rates typically of 7-9%.

Loans introduced so far have gone towards projects such as house building, commercial leisure facilities and property acquisitions, together with various renewable energy projects.

If you plan to start a business but lack funds, peer-to-peer lending might just provide the start-up funding you require. 

The importance of finance when starting up

April 18, 2013 by Guest contributor

The importance of finance when starting up/one pound coins{{}}All businesses are different, whether it is size, sector, location, or speciality – there is always an element that sets one apart from the other. 

But there is one thing that is common to every business in every country and sector around the world – finance. It determines the income coming in and the expenditure going out, inputs and outputs, the size of an organisation, and more importantly if it will be financially successful and sustainable.

Before making the decision to branch out and step into the unknown, it’s important to understand the role the finance functions play in the world of business. It forms the basis of effective business management and will ultimately affect the bottom line.

Five Top Tips

1 Be realistic

Many businesses that succeed don’t make a profit for the first couple of years. If you are hoping to get rich quick, you may need to think again.

2 Expand your knowledge

Consider a short course on the fundamentals of finance. Training will be one of the best investments you’ll make and you’ll find yourself using your new skills and knowledge on a daily basis.

3 Be aware

Tax legislation changes at a never-ending pace and it’s important for new businesses to keep up. For example, the new reporting system for PAYE (RTI) introduced in April this year will affect the way employers submit tax information. These are the types of issues you’ll need to be aware of.

4 Have a plan

Implement an accounting system and make sure it works. The law requires all businesses to have proper accounting records. By doing this you’ll manage your business better and help stimulate business growth. Startups that don’t do this put themselves at a serious disadvantage.

5 Talk to an expert

Train up and read as much as you can but at the end of the day – don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional accountant.

Tom Kelman has been director of finance and corporate resources at AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) since July 2005. He has worked in finance for more than 28 years, covering both accountancy practice and industry and commerce.

 

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Could vehicle leasing provide the best solution for your business?

February 28, 2013 by Guest contributor

Could vehicle leasing provide the best solution for your business?/businesswoman receiving car keys{{}}There is no shortage of start-up business advice out there that is anti-travel. We’re told to work online and use technology to bridge all kinds of gaps in our operation.

While this is sound advice for keeping costs down, there are still limits to what many businesses can achieve without travelling anywhere. If you cannot travel, you may be unable to deliver your product or meet your customers and suppliers, to build relationships and grow.

Transport is an inevitable expense for many businesses, but if you want or need to use a vehicle (or vehicles), you’re going to have to spend a lot of money up front, and factor in the depreciation of the asset into your ongoing operation.

This inevitably involves compromise: you’ll opt for the cheapest van you can run or scale back your aspirations elsewhere to afford a nicer car.

Lease is more

Getting a loan to pay for your vehicle is risky. You might stand to lose more than the car if you fail in your repayments. Unless your business has the cash in its account, you may be looking at dealer finance, and paying absurd total repayable amounts in the long term, with a large deposit and monthly payment in the short term. Thankfully, there is an alternative.

Vehicle leasing allows you to pay only for the years you use. Take out a two, three or four-year lease on a brand new vehicle and you’ll pay a low deposit with low monthly payments to follow. You might even get road tax and breakdown recovery as part of the package. Lower monthly costs will obviously appeal to start-ups, allowing them to afford to run new vehicles that take up less space on the balance sheet – vehicles that cost less in terms of liability and risk.

Leasing does mean that you won’t own the car or van that you drive, of course, but many businesses may find that this is a positive. Leasing companies are left to worry about the vehicle’s depreciation, so it never becomes a factor in the valuation of your business. You can even opt for plans that give you the option of purchasing the vehicle at the end of your lease period. Otherwise, as a more mature business you will be free to continue saving with leasing, or to purchase a new vehicle outright, if that fits your financial plan.

Stephanie Wood of Nationwide Vehicle Contracts

Could bridging loans offer your business a funding solution?

February 11, 2013 by Jonathan Dempster

Could bridging loans offer your business a funding solution?/bridge{{}}As more bridging loan lenders enter the market, the cost of borrowing short-term capital has fallen dramatically. This has allowed firms to borrow to buy stock, ease cashflow, expand and a host of other things.

Put simply, a bridging loan is a way to give individuals access to credit easily and quickly, by using assets such as personal or commercial property to release equity.

Primarily used in the property market, bridging finance can prevent buyer chains collapsing when other financial arrangements were in place. In the literal sense, it allows you to bridge the gap between shortages in capital. The majority of bridging financiers function solely online, allowing clients based anywhere to find them easily, making the market open and competitive.

The speed at which cash can arrive in your account is the greatest advantage of bridging loans, often being a very personal service that takes a matter of days. They will also be sure that bridging finance is the best option for you, because lenders want to be sure they will get their money back!

You can expect to pay an arranging fee, which covers all of the checks the financer has to make, such as application, legal and valuation costs. Lenders will offer varying rates of interest dependant on your circumstances (usually between 1 and 2% per month). However, if you have a lot of value in your assets and are not classed as high risk, you could see interest rates as low as 0.5% a month.

A good bridging lender will find out exactly what you are spending the capital on. They will then assess the resource that you are borrowing against and send an independent surveyor to value the asset. This will make up the loan to value (LTV) ratio that you receive, which can be anywhere between 40 and 80%.

Bridging finance is for short periods of time and can become an expensive option if you do not replace the bridge with a long-term financial option. This could be selling other assets, streamlining your business or refinancing with another loan.

If your business needs to raise money quickly to buy stock to meet a surge in demand, a bridging loan may be a perfect way to quickly get the money you need. However, if you are experiencing cashflow problems due to a high wage bill, unless you put a restructure in place, allowing funds to be available within months, a bank overdraft or other financing means may be more beneficial for you.

Overall bridging loans may not be for every business need, especially if you do not know how you can pay back the loan. However, in times of cashflow crisis, where you have assets with equity, they can offer you the breathing space to put longer-term financial options in place. 

Written by Jonathan Dempster of bridging loan specialist Balmoral Bridging

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