A solid financial base is essential when you are starting up a new business.
The right financing package will carry you through any temporary difficulties yet still allow you to make the most of growth opportunities when they arise.
This briefing focuses on four areas:
- Deciding how much money you need.
- Investment finance.
- Different forms of borrowing.
- Other sources of help.
1 How much do you need?
1.1 Draw up a budget based on your business plan.
- The budget shows your forecast sales, expenditure and, most importantly, cash position for each month.
- The forecasts must be realistic.
Inexperienced business people invariably make over-optimistic forecasts.
Sales turn out to be lower and later than expected, getting paid takes longer and costs are higher.
1.2 Identify how much financing you require and when you will need it.
1.3 Allow for some contingency funding. How much extra finance might you need?
1.4 Plan to arrange all your financing. Even if you don't need all the money at once, don't wait until your need for the extra finance becomes urgent.
2 Investment finance
It will be difficult to borrow money from a bank unless you can point to an adequate financial base of money invested in the business.
2.1 Some will usually be your own capital.
- You may have cash you have saved or investments you can sell.
- Taking a mortgage on personal property, then lending the money to the business, can pay off.
Mortgage rates are below business lending rates, there are no arrangement fees and some lenders will advance up to 95 per cent of a personal property's value.
Some mortgages have flexible repayment arrangements that can help reduce the risk of defaulting.
2.2 You may be relying on family and friends who are willing to invest in your business.
2.3 Your business may attract outside investors.
- You are unlikely to interest outside investors unless you can show a strong track record and a credible business plan.
- Investors - who purchase an equity stake in the business - will expect to be offered high potential returns to compensate for the risk they are taking on.
The British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (BVCA) offers useful free publications that contain advice on finding private investors and venture capital companies.
Another good source of information on venture capital funding is the British Business Angels Association (020 7089 2305).
- If you use a broker to find private investors you should expect to pay £50 to £350 in fees plus a percentage of any money raised.
- Government-backed regional venture capital funds will invest up to £500,000 in English companies. Check with your local regional development agency for details of their scheme.
- Most venture capital companies will not invest less than £1 million because of the high cost of investigating investment opportunities.
An outside investor whose personal investment in a business qualifies under the Enterprise Investment Scheme enjoys special tax treatment.
3 Bank finance
After your own family, the most likely source of borrowing is the bank.
3.1 Many businesses need overdraft finance from time to time. Overdrafts are useful for financing temporary - or fluctuating - cash shortages.
3.2 Loan finance is often the best way to finance a longer-term business need.
- Most loans are for a fixed period of one to ten years. Mortgages and some other loans may be for as long as 25 years.
- Repayments are agreed in advance.
Paying equal monthly instalments of capital plus interest is a common choice.
You may be able to arrange a repayment holiday to allow time for your cashflow to pick up before the first repayment is due.
- Loans are more suitable than overdrafts for longer-term finance. Both you and the bank make a commitment to the business, based on an understanding of your long-term plans and forecast cashflows.
Your bank can advise you on what information is required and how figures should be presented when seeking a loan.
3.3 Bank-finance costs can vary widely.
Valuing your business' assets
Banks will value your assets conservatively when you use them as security for borrowing.
A bank will usually lend only 50 to 60 per cent of the value of a business property.
- Short leaseholds offer little security.
Equipment will only be valued at its resale price - usually its price at auction.
- Specialised equipment that is difficult to sell and equipment which becomes obsolete quickly (such as a computer) will provide little security.
A bank may lend up to 60 per cent of the value of your trade debtors (see also 3.3).
- Small debts which are difficult to collect, old debts and any other doubtful debts will have no value.
4 Other finance
Trade credit (paying your suppliers after 30 to 60 days) and bank finance may be all that a small business needs. Suppliers keen to enter a new market may offer extended credit. But other options are worth considering, especially for vehicle finance.
4.1 Leasing is used to finance equipment you do not need to own.
4.2 Hire purchase (HP) is used to finance the purchase of equipment.
- You buy the equipment, but payments of capital and interest are spread over a fixed period - usually three to five years.
- You can claim capital allowances on the equipment, and the interest payments receive full tax relief.
4.3 Factoring provides you with finance against invoices that customers have not yet paid.
- You can receive up to 90 per cent (typically 80 per cent) of the face value of each invoice immediately and the balance (less charges) when the invoice is paid by the customer.
- It may be difficult to extricate yourself and switch to normal bank finance later on when this might be more appropriate.
4.4 Stock finance, where cash is raised against the value of stock held by a manufacturing company, may also be a possibility.
4.5 Leasing, HP and factoring can all enable a business to raise more money than would be possible through traditional bank finance, although the costs may often be higher.
- Comparing the cost of different forms of finance is complicated. Key factors are fees, the period of the finance, interest rates and the tax position.
Seek your accountant's advice.
Focus on your cashflow first, as this is most important. Only if your cashflow is healthy and robust should you try to save money by relying on overdraft finance.
5 Security for borrowings
For any borrowing you need to show that you can afford the capital and interest payments. In addition, a bank usually wants security to ensure the loan is repaid if things go wrong. There are a number of different possibilities:
5.1 A personal guarantee is a guarantee from an individual.
- If supported by a legal charge over your personal assets, these assets (including your house) can be at risk if the guarantee is called upon.
5.2 A guarantee from a third party, who will be liable to pay the debt if you default.
- Directors of limited companies are often asked to provide personal guarantees in case the company fails.
- Sole traders (and partners) are already personally liable for all business debts.
5.3 If your annual turnover is no more than £25 million, another source of security may be the Enterprise Finance Guarantee.
5.4 You may need to take out insurance that will pay out if you suffer an accident, sickness or death.
- This will also protect the bank if you are unable to work.
You should seriously consider how much you are prepared to risk on the business. Can you really afford to lose your home or savings?
6 Working with your bank
6.1 Before lending you any money the bank will want to see a viable business plan.
6.2 Once your business is operational, provide the bank with regular management information summarising sales, margins and costs.
- Draw up a table of figures comparing what you actually achieved with your budget and with the previous year.
- Add comments to explain any differences and mention key events you are expecting (eg an order you think you will win).
6.3 Warn the bank if you expect to run into any financial difficulties.
- Teach the bank to trust you, your data and your judgement. Avoid surprises.
7 Where to get help
There is a wide range of schemes providing help and finance for start-up and small businesses. The European Union, central and local government, Business Link, Enterprise Agencies, trade organisations and charities all offer assistance.
7.1 Check what is available before you start trading, or you may no longer be eligible.
- Areas such as exporting, technology and training are specially targeted for support.
- Some regions offer financial incentives to attract start-ups to particular areas.