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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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”.
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.”
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.
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.
Online currency, you can use it to buy things such as domain names, electronics, food and professional services.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
This really depends what you need the money for:
Your business plan should set out the following:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
The business plan is going well, your idea seems to have feet but you face a major problem. You need money to get your new business off the ground.
Securing funding is one of the most common start-up problems. There are various ways to raise finance, which is a good thing, but many people are unaware of all of the options available to them or are unsure about how they work. Do your research to find out how you can raise the funds you need in a way that best suits your business. Here are the pros and cons of some key start-up funding options.
Banks and building societies
Venture capital trusts
Crowd funding and peer-to-peer lending
By Erin Walls of Ward Williams Chartered Accountants
Setting up a business in the current financial climate can be a challenge, particularly for those with minimal funds. However, the recession has opened doors for many entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of gaps in the market to try and offer something different, while competitors flounder. Here are a few tips intended to help you set up your business if money is tight.
1 Keep borrowings to a minimum
It’s much better for your business’s long-term prospects if you don’t have to borrow to get off the ground. Your new venture is meant to provide you with a new source of income, not become a millstone of debt around your neck. However, there may be instances where you need to take on the right kind of debt, with a realistic plan of paying it back through the success of your business.
2 Only buy essential equipment
Put aside any thoughts of a fancy office space or the latest hi-tech gadgets. You should only buy what you need to carry out your day-to-day business. Much can be achieved with basic internet and telephone connection, a reliable computer and essential software.
3 Work from home
Why waste money on rent if you don’t need premises? Many start-ups can now be successfully operated from the comfort of the owner’s home. If necessary, you could even operate from a virtual office, perhaps with a more attractive business address.
4 Online marketing
You might be able to market your business online without paying a single penny if you’re clever. With powerful social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook you can reach out to potential customers and network with customers and possibly suppliers using online forums.
5 Keep it in the ‘cloud’
The last thing you want as a new business is to lose sensitive business information that is crucial to the day-to-day running of your start-up. A loss of data may also affect levels of customer service and cause embarrassment that could tarnish your reputation before you’ve even started. Cloud computing is a relatively new concept that enables users to rent storage space on an external server to guard against data loss in the event of natural disasters or crime.
Having your own business is difficult but going through the investment route makes things a lot more difficult. Here are my eight tips for getting investment into a business.
1. Do your research
When looking for investment, you will need to do your research. If you haven’t looked into potential investment organisations, such as LBA (London Business Angels), I suggest you do immediately. There are also a lot of ways to help secure investment, such as going through the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, which is what I did.
2. Have a great business plan
You won’t find investment for your business if your business plan is flawed. It is worth spending time and money on getting your plan right before approaching investors. The last thing you want is to build negative awareness before even securing any investment.
3. Be transparent
When approaching Investors, you need to be transparent. There is no point going in there and avoiding difficult questions, they will see this as a weakness. If you don’t have the answer, tell them that, but also say you will be able to give them one. When answering negatively, give them a positive to work off, too.
4. Be realistic
Going back to the business plan, predicting your business worth at £1bn after two years isn’t going to appeal to investors. They will see this as overly optimistic and unrealistic. Give them numbers you can deliver.
5. Look at your team
One of the reasons why Gloople received investment is because we have a solid team. We have our whole team in-house and outside mentors who offer sound advice when needed. The investors need to see that your business has stability – which should include having a good accountant and lawyer.
6. Be prepared to negotiate
Going down the investment route, you need to be willing to change your outlook on your business. Take Dragons’ Den for instance; entrepreneurs go in looking for £150,000 but want to give away only 5% of their business. If they are lucky enough to get an offer, it, without a doubt it will be at a higher percentage than the business owner initially wanted to give away. This is an extreme case, because it is a TV programme, but you will have some hard decisions to make when negotiating with investors
You will find that some investors have a lot to say. You will need to sit there and listen. It is a great quality to have and will be looked at as an advantage when an investor feels their views are being taken onboard.
8. Risk over reward
An investor will be putting their hard-earned cash into your business, which is a huge risk. Make sure this risk is worth the reward. They will need to be able to see that their investment is being used to benefit the business.
I hope my eight tips will help you find investment for your business. I would love to hear about any investment success you may have had.
With business leaders adopting clever business strategies, facing up to the recession has created unexpected opportunities for organisations. A focus on international trade, reshaping culture, outlook and getting innovative about financing has led to companies creating more efficient ways of working.
Research from HSBC Commercial Banking has found businesses with smart finance strategies are both more likely to be predicting growth over the next two years and projecting a growth in exporting- with access to finance, such as using trade and invoice finance being central.
Steve Box, HSBC Head of Trade and Receivables Finance Europe, participated in a webTV show where he answered questions about smarter ways of financing your business. Key topics covered include: How to form formal and informal alliances; maximising cashflow and how to free up working capital and investing assets for growth.
At a time when money is tight and resources are dwindling, it might be difficult for start-ups and small businesses to locate the funds they need to thrive and expand. It’s a disheartening situation for those that want to get and keep their businesses on the right track. But even in such times, there are still many institutions, organisations and individuals willing to finance small businesses, from banks to businesses, government bodies and the EU. Impossible? Not quite!
1. There are grants and funding opportunities out there
There might be grants you could qualify for that you never even knew about. Although you might think that having a small shop in a rural area would not be significant enough to secure grant funding, you could be an excellent candidate for a regeneration grant – the opportunities are out there, you just have to find them! For example, have you considered that funding programmes like the ‘Rural Shop Improvement Scheme’ exist? You might not know about the many grants and funding opportunities you could apply for, but dedicated funding websites provide a free searchable database of small business funding opportunities.
2. Don’t be afraid to apply
Although you might have heard that grants are difficult to secure, they are worth trying for. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you are passionate about your business and think you have a great reason to secure grant funding, you only need to translate your enthusiasm onto paper. Effort is required, but it might be more than worth it. Moreover, there are resources out there to help you write your grant funding applications, and review them. Free resources exist online to help you with your grant applications, like j4bGrants 10 Steps to Successful Grant Applications. There are also special services whereby funding professionals will take a critical look at your proposal and help you write the best possible application you could submit.
3. Stay positive
The fact that so many funding opportunities exist in the midst of a recession means you have as good a chance as any other business of getting the boost you need. Grant funding could provide you with amazing benefits, whether you are an established business or just starting out.
Searching for grants might be time-intensive, but luckily free resources exist to help busy business owners locate funding quicker and more effectively. j4bGrants.co.uk has been re-launched with a new-look website featuring thousands of opportunities for business funding. The site is completely free following registration, and allows you to search by business type, size or location, providing access to information that is constantly updated by a team of researchers who do the time-intensive searching for you. The opportunities are out there – you just have to find them!
Recession continues to provide the backdrop for the UK economy, directly impacting the financial health of small businesses. Research shows that small businesses are more in debt now than at any time since the late 1990s. Those with a turnover of up to £1 million now owe around £1.60 for every £1 of turnover, compared with £1.17 debt per £1 of turnover ten years ago. Furthermore, the most recent figures from the Bank of England show that in the three months to May 2012, the total lending stock shrank by £3bn.
The credit crunch and recession has made securing finance tougher for small businesses, but that doesn’t mean that raising money is impossible. Banks, investors and business angels are always open to the suggestion of backing well-run businesses with a strong sense of direction and good management team.
How to prepare for funding success:
Funding options to consider:
The overall message to take away is this: whether you’re looking to acquire additional capital or fund the launch of a new company, do not give up! Achieving investment requires a little creativity and a lot of perseverance and determination, so set realistic goals and be prepared to explore several options.
BCSG creates, distributes and supports value adding products and services to small businesses through financial institutions.