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Finding the right funding for business growth

February 01, 2016 by Guest contributor

Finding the right funding for business growth{{}}Last year marked another landmark period for UK entrepreneurialism with more SMEs opening their doors for business. According to data from Companies House, 608,110 businesses were started in the UK in 2015, a new record and up from 526,447 in 2013.

This is further proof, if any were needed, that SMEs provide the backbone of the UK economy. But for each of these new businesses, the next big challenge on their exciting journey is deciding how and when to grow. Funding is the key issue: where is the money going to come from and how will it be spent?

Business funding and growth support

That is why we established The Business Funding Show. It is the first and only exhibition focused exclusively on business funding and growth support. It takes place on the 2nd and 3rd of February this year in Old Billingsgate, London. The show will bring together two key groups of people - entrepreneurs and business owners that are looking for funding and leading finance and service providers. This new event will feature expert advice from titans of UK business such as Richard Reed, serial entrepreneur and founder of Innocent Drinks, as well as other leading figures such as David Buttress (Just Eat) and Lord Bilimoria (Cobra Beer).

The funding market has changed beyond all recognition in recent times and the days of a visit to the local bank manager are long gone. New players are entering the market with flexible and exciting channels of borrowing and lending. Advances in Fintech, innovative methods of working and access to information are just some of the drivers behind this growth; but all of the players in the this space are coming to the market for the same ends - to provide SMEs with the best type of funding to grow their business.

Whether you want to expand overseas, consolidate in your market or build your team, the Business Funding Show is opening its doors to provide you with the help you need to take the next step to grow you business.

Ten types of funding for SMEs

But we know everybody can’t make it to London. So, for those that can’t, we’ve outlined the ten most common forms of funding below as a starter guide for those looking to take the next step on their business journey:

Business angels are wealthy entrepreneurs that are actively seeking to invest in enterprises based on dynamic business ideas. They’ll want something in return, which is normally a share of the business. However, you’ll not only benefit from their investment, you’ll also get to reap the rewards of their experience.

If you need serious investment (£500k plus) then venture capital financing is the answer. This option is best suited for those who are primed for rapid growth and need a cash injection to get moving. However, don’t expect to get a huge lump sum upfront. Generally speaking, VC funding comes in instalments to help manage growth effectively. You can also expect to give away a substantial portion of the business - but in return, you’ll get significant help to scale-up.

Crowdfunding is a recent phenomenon which involves asking many people to invest specific amounts of money in your business, usually in return for something. Do it well, and you’ll swiftly raise the money you need without spending too much in the process. However, it’s not as easy as it looks, and in today’s competitive market, you’ll need to make sure your business idea stands out.

Peer-to-peer lending. Most peer-to-peer lenders are private individuals investing in a range of different business ideas. Opportunities are listed on specialist websites and some operate on an auction basis, which means, after completing an initial assessment, you can select a lender based on a rate of interest and loan period. However, you’ll need a good financial history, and if you’re a new company, you might be considered "higher risk", which will mean higher interest rates.

Asset financing offers a way to secure a loan against your capital assets and get money quickly for your business. The downside is clear however - fail to pay it back in the specified timeframe and your assets are seized by way of payment. However, if you’re confident that you can fulfil the terms of the loan, it’s a relatively simple way to get funding.

With invoice finance you can raise cash against future invoice payments from your customers. This comes in handy if you need to cough up cash for suppliers before being paid by clients. However, this type of financing isn’t often available to those who sell direct to the general public. Likewise, if your clients don’t pay - you’ll have to shoulder the costs, plus interest.

A cash advance is the business equivalent of payday lending. This is a high-risk option and only suitable if you need the money fast and you know you can pay it back quickly. Otherwise, be warned, interest rates are eye-wateringly high.

If the banks have turned you down, but you have a sizeable pension fund, pension-led funding is a good way of getting your hands on a commercial loan. It’s a simple concept - you secure your loan against your pension. However, the loan can’t exceed 50% of your total pension fund.

Fancy getting some money without having to pay it back? Business grants are offered by governmental bodies and industry organisations. Every business wants to get their hands on these coveted grants, so competition is fierce and you’ll have to work hard to ensure your pitch stands out.

Accelerators and incubators are there to give you the benefit of their expertise, support and mentorship - and they’ll also be able to point you in the right direction for financial support within their network of investors. You’ll probably need to pay a fee or give them some equity to secure their help, but it may be advantageous in the long-run.

The Business Funding Show takes place on 2 and 3 February 2016 in Old Billingsgate, London. Tickets can be booked on the show website.

Copyright © 2016 Arina Osiannaya, director of the Business Funding Show.

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How to build a strong, powerful, strategic network

January 25, 2016 by Guest contributor

How to build a strong, powerful, strategic network{{}}How strong is your network? What return do you get for your networking effort?

Successful networking is about your ability to forge mutually beneficial, integrated alliances with the right partners.

This is especially true for SMEs, where one-on-one relationships and personal contacts continue to drive the bulk of word of mouth business. For some SMEs, it is also important to go beyond industry contacts and focus on regional partnerships. For example, tech firms in the West Midlands, where analysts are expecting strong growth well into 2016, will want to build stronger cross-industry relationships with partners locally to fuel their expansion.

Networking with a plan in place is essential if you are to make a positive first impression, connect with the right cross-industry experts and master the post-event follow up. Here is my advice on what to do before, during and after your next networking event.

1 Attend the right events

When it comes to high-priced industry conferences, do a bit of advance work. Talk to participants from previous years. Ask whether they feel the conference was worth the time and financial investment. How many new contacts did they make and how beneficial have these proved to be over the past year?

For local events, such as networking lunches and happy hours, aim for a balanced mix of sector events and those for the wider business community. SMEs need to balance industry contacts with a strong, diverse geographic network for maximum exposure and relationship building.

2 Practice your proposition

Master a one- or two-line proposition in advance that summarises who you are, your experience and what you currently do (or would like to do) as it relates to potential contacts you'll meet at the event.

Remember, you don't 'help' people; you 'work' with them (because the latter implies a fee). It's good to have something the clients will want (eg money, time, happiness, etc) and something they want to avoid (eg efforts, mistakes, pain, etc) embedded in what you say. For example: "I work with family businesses to help them unlock sustainable profits and avoid costly mistakes."

Practice responses for other typical icebreaker questions, such as "What brings you to this event?" and "How's business?" Ask questions, listen and be willing to move on if it's the right thing to do.

3 Identify your networking opportunities in advance

While there's value in meeting a wide variety of people at an event, too many brief contacts can mean you fail to make a memorable impression on anyone. Instead, identify whom you want to meet in advance and make it your mission to speak with these people.

4 Ask great questions

The better you get at asking questions, the better you'll get at making connections between the people you're speaking to and other contacts already in your network. Consider why the person you're speaking to should care about you, your business and this conversation. By asking great questions, you may even learn something surprising or unexpected (eg a new business challenge or need) and can tailor your conversation accordingly.

Aim to walk away from every conversation having allowed the other person to speak more than you did. They feel great about the interaction and you'll gain valuable insight into what they do, who they know and how they could best work with you in future business endeavours. One question that can support building a larger network is: "Knowing what you know about me now - who else should I meet?"

5 Master the follow-up

At the event, jot down a few notes about your conversation on the back of your contact's business card. Within 48 hours, follow up with a short, personalised email referencing one or more of these points. If you can make an introduction for them do so, and follow up on "You mentioned I should meet […], could you make an introduction for me?"

Finally, don't let your newly forged relationship get stuck online. It's tempting to think once you've connected with someone on LinkedIn your work is done, but it's just beginning! A person-to-person meeting is key to nurturing a new connection. Personal discussion can lead to faster, more productive dialogue than online correspondence, especially if you're trying to close a new business deal.

Copyright © William Buist, a business strategist, speaker and founder of the exclusive xTEN Club, an annual programme of strategic activities for small, exclusive groups of business owners. xTEN helps accelerate growth, harness opportunity, build your business and develop ideas. William is also author of two books: At your fingertips and The little book of mentoring.

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What you need to know about start-ups in 2016

January 19, 2016 by Sage One

What you need to know about start-ups in 2016{{}}The New Year often means a review of what we want out of life and whether the time has come to take a risk and start that business you've often dreamt of. The recent recession saw record numbers of entrepreneurial start-up launches and this trend shows little sign of slowing down. What are the key statistics you might want to look at before taking the plunge?

Strike in your thirties?

Statistically, if you think you have found the perfect concept and formulated a sound business plan, and are in your thirties, then your start-up is more likely to succeed. That's what figures from a range of sources including Companies House, The Telegraph and Barclays tell us.

Whatever lies behind this age bias, be it energy, financial resources or simply enough experience of success and failure, the stats seem to favour this stage of life. Don't be disheartened, though, if you're younger or older than this - there are plenty of examples of success outside this peak bracket too.

Experience really does count

Global figures published by Mashable indicate that the majority of the most successful new start-ups are launched by former CEOs and business founders. So, if your last concept didn't quite come to fruition or you have been burnt in the past, the figures indicate that you certainly shouldn't give up. Tenacity and an ability to learn from past mistakes could stand you in good stead.

Don't race to go solo

Although the financial rewards of going alone may seem appealing, going solo can be hard work.

As well as sharing resources, having someone else to bounce ideas off and conceptualise plans gives you a fantastic alternative perspective. Even Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had business partners. If you are launching a start-up in 2016, don't let your ego get the better of you - two heads may well be better than one.

Choose your location carefully

Our final tip for anyone contemplating their own start-up in 2016 is to think about location very carefully. On straight numbers, the majority of successful businesses hail from London, Birmingham and Manchester.

However, if you want to make your start-up as successful as it can be, then you really need to be in front of your demographic wherever that is. Do your research and find out exactly where the largest proportion of your target audience is going to be and then make sure you have a physical or online presence that can reach that audience.

Blog provided by Sage One online accounting and payroll software.


Three ways successful people achieve their new year's goals

January 11, 2016 by Guest contributor

Three ways successful people achieve their new year's goals{{}}The results of Richard Wiseman's experiment are widely known; 88% of those who set New Year's resolutions fail to achieve them. The question is why? And what can we learn from those who actually achieve their goals?

1. Avoid cognitive overload

The brain cells in the prefrontal cortex govern will power. They are also responsible for keeping you focused, handling short-term memory, and solving abstract problems. When your prefrontal cortex gets overloaded, you simply do not have room to maintain your will power.

In addition, when you set yourself more than you can achieve this can impact your self-belief, which demotivates you. It is far more productive – and preferable – to set yourself up for a win so that you can celebrate that win and, with confidence, move up to achieve the next level.

2. Baby steps to habits, not resolutions

When people make a New Year's resolution, they usually choose something reasonably abstract. For example, quit smoking, lose weight or better manage stress.

To give yourself the best chance of achieving them, you need to understand the distinction between a resolution and a habit. A habit is when you perform a very specific behaviour and set a very specific goal associated with that behaviour.

So convert those abstract resolutions into habits you wish to create.

  • Quit smoking becomes: "Stop smoking that one cigarette you have every morning after breakfast."
  • Lose weight becomes: "Every evening after work, go for a 2-3 minute run or walk."
  • Manage stress becomes: "Meditate for 2-3 minutes every morning after you wake up."

The idea is to break down lofty goals into actions that only take a few minutes to achieve every day. By doing it regularly, those actions become habit that you continue easily.

When these actions become habit, less will power is required and you naturally avoid cognitive overload. You can then devote your cognitive load to creating the next small habit that furthers the ultimate goal.

3. Write it down

When you write down your goals, you become more committed to them.

Our clients meet every quarter at a strategic planning day; they fill out a goals template and we hold them accountable. This act of reviewing goals every quarter instills a habit that has resulted in significant achievements towards the ultimate goals of every participant.

This is not just "corporate fluff". In her TED talk, social psychologist Emily Balcetis shows that if you focus on the end goal, you literally feel like it is easier to achieve. Writing it down helps with that focus.

During a study at Dominican University a wide variety of participants were chosen and separated into five groups. The first group simply thought about their goals. Groups two-five progressively took greater action towards committing to those goals:

  • Group two wrote down their goals
  • Group three wrote down goals as well as commitments.
  • Group four wrote goals and commitments and shared those commitments with a friend.
  • Group five did all the above but also had to submit weekly progress reports.

Group one performed weakest, with a 43% success rate, compared to the average goal achievement of 64% of groups two-five.

Groups four and five achieved greater results than the other groups, with 64% and 76% achievement rates respectively.

This shows that not just writing goals, but also accountability can help in actually achieving your goals.

This study provides evidence for the effectiveness of three coaching tools: accountability, commitment and writing.

Every person and every business is ultimately different. However, these are three actions that have worked well for me personally and for many other successful people. So, if you have not tried them yet, it is worth giving them a shot because they work!

Copyright © Shweta Jhajharia 2016. Shweta is a multi-award-winning business coach and founder of The London Coaching Group.

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Need start-up funding? First get your business plan right

January 11, 2016 by Guest contributor

Need start-up funding? First get your business plan right{{}}Does your start-up need an injection of capital to get of the ground? If the answer is yes, you are ready to dive into the world of fundraising; but, understandably, this prospect may fill you with fear and evoke images of a blindfolded leap from a pretty high diving board.

The answer is to take the blindfold off and write a solid business plan, honestly covering all aspects of your business and serving to reassure investors or funders that taking a risk on your venture is a good decision.

Not everyone understands the delicate relationship between the business plan and fundraising. That's why we conducted a survey of our own clients - those who had successfully reached the business start-up stage - to learn about their real-world fundraising experience.

The survey asked a series of questions concerning the process of fundraising, the importance of the business plan, the length of time it took to find investors, the type of investors that eventually funded the business and the amount funded.

The truth about fundraising

The findings revealed that the average duration of the fundraising process was three to nine months and that the average amount of investment was £50,000 to £80,000. Investors included venture capitalists, angel investors, private investors, and financial institutions. All of the 500 start-up owners that we polled agreed that their business plan had been critical in attracting investors.

Our research showed that investors support businesses of all types and sizes. For instance, a small café business in London, employing five people, raised £60,000 from angel investors; while a manufacturing plant located in Manchester and employing 15 people raised well over £600,000 from venture capitalists and banks. The average start-up investment for online businesses was £50,000 but there were also a number of micro-businesses that were able to launch with investments as low as £20,000.

The importance of a business plan

What the survey respondents had in common was a sound and well put-together business plan. Investors need the business plan to evaluate the business mission, marketing and sales, operations, financial feasibility and other factors. The business plan gives investors the information they need to determine when they can expect to recover their investment and the likely return on their money. It should be in-depth, accurate, customised and focused to be successful.

Any entrepreneur who is uncertain about business plan development for fundraising should not hesitate to seek out the services of experienced business consultants. Your funding could depend on it.

Sponsored post: copyright © 2016 Alex Silensky, ceo of OGS Capital, which specialises in business plan development, feasibility studies and market research.

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How reverse mentorship can benefit your business

January 04, 2016 by Guest contributor

How reverse mentorship can benefit your business{{}}As a small business, the chances are your budget for training is small - perhaps even non-existent. But that doesn’t mean you can’t offer a wide range of development in-house.

By setting up a reverse mentoring programme both younger, less-experienced staff and older, more-experienced staff can benefit.

Reverse mentoring flips the traditional mentor-protégé model on its head, because younger professionals “mentor” their older colleagues. By injecting fresh ideas and a new perspective, reverse mentoring counteracts the inaccurate assumptions, inane biases and business blind spots that come from being in an industry, or a role, for too long.

First popularised by former GE CEO Jack Welch, reverse mentoring acknowledges that everyone within an organisation brings something to the table. By pairing a younger, less-experienced professional with an older executive, reverse mentoring helps young professionals gain confidence and strengthen their leadership skills, while helping older executives stay up-to-date on the latest business technologies, which can strengthen a business’s competitive edge.

Reverse mentoring is also beneficial for fostering positive attitudes and managing generational diversity. There are clear differences in how employees from each generation work and reverse mentoring reduces these generational tensions by allowing discussion and the sharing of insights in a non-confrontational setting. Of course, as an added bonus, executives can better identify, evaluate and cultivate new talent.

Key reverse mentorship benefits include:

  • Reducing intra-generational tensions.
  • Encouraging frank discussion on current issues.
  • Driving workplace innovation.
  • Getting up-to-date on new technologies.
  • Enhancing leadership, conflict management and coaching skills.

How to start a reverse mentoring programme

Successful reverse mentoring programmes are founded on a mutual willingness to set aside preconceptions and start afresh.

The goal for both mentor and protégé is to push one another outside their comfort zones to try new ways of working, thinking and being.

1 Play matchmaker

Consider which elements in the individual’s background could create a common bond. For example, are they both alumni of the same university? Do they share a passion for cycling? Do they volunteer with the same charity? While these commonalities may seem superficial, they can help foster a shared sense of identity and commitment to the mentorship. 

2 Keep the relationship casual

Traditional mentor-protégé relationships typically have a clear, structured objective with regular monthly meetings. While it is still important to meet consistently, this relationship can be more casual. I recommend committing to the time needed, but not fixing when that time is used.

3 Set an initial goal

The first few meetings can be a bit awkward if neither party are sure what to discuss - so set an initial goal. What starts as a basic tutorial can then blossom into a relationship of respect. Once an open dialogue is established, it will be easier for both mentor and mentee to seek one another out for natural conversations.

When each party commits to giving and receiving constructive insight, both will develop valuable leadership skills, gain behavioural insights and build strong intra-generational relationships that are key to workplace success.

Copyright © 2015 William Buist, business strategist, speaker and founder of the exclusive xTEN Club - an annual programme of strategic activities for small, exclusive groups of business owners. xTEN helps accelerate growth, harness opportunity, build your business and develop ideas. William is also author of two books: At your fingertips and The little book of mentoring.  

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