Ease your Cash Flow: Invoice Finance

There are several benefits that can be gained when a company decides to invoice finance. A business that deals in the sale of products or services to other businesses will receive the advantage of improved cash flow by using an invoice finance service.

Basically, to invoice finance means to sell or assign your outstanding invoices to an invoice finance company. This company in most cases will give you instant access to a percentage of the total amount of the unpaid invoices assigned to them, commonly from 70-90% of the value of approved invoices. In many cases they may also take responsibility for invoicing, chasing and collecting owed invoices as well as accept a percentage of the loss on unpaid invoices.

Having access to these funds greatly increase the cash flow within your company. Cash on hand for increased production, savings by way of discounts on company expenses, decrease or even elimination of business expenses, and improved opportunities for business loans.

By using an invoice finance service there is no waiting 30-45 days for people who pay on time, and even longer for late payments on invoices. That cash on hand can be more readily available for production, creating an immediate availability for more sales.

Another area the right business can gain greater cash flow from using invoice finance is in taking advantage of discounted payments of business expenses. Many companies offer discounts of as much as 10% if their invoices are paid on receipt or within a certain period of time.

With invoice finance you have cash on hand to pay your bills sooner, rather than having to wait until your customer pays you for your product or service. Increased cash flow also increases your companies purchase power, making it possible to negotiate better terms or discounts from suppliers. The savings in these two areas alone will in most cases outweigh the fee from the invoice finance service.

There are other business expenses that can be cut back or even eliminated when using invoice finance, for example: administration costs, stationery, and office equipment. When adding the expense of employing an accounting clerk, not only their salary but also company benefits, it’s easy to see some great advantages to using an invoice finance service.

Invoice finance can be particularly helpful to a business in the start-up phase. Most lending institutions have strict rules on lending to ‘new businesses’. A bank or lender will only consider a small portion of outstanding (unpaid) invoices owed, often only 40% of the total amount of outstanding invoices, when administering a business loan. By invoice financing your ledger shows cash on hand in place of a large amount tied up in outstanding invoices.

There are some disadvantages to using an invoice finance service. The goods or service your company supplies can have a huge effect on whether your company should use invoice finance. Businesses providing recurring services or product orders are good candidates, while invoices for one-time orders might find it difficult to obtain this type of funding.

These companies prefer to know the debtor and their track record in paying debts before accepting invoices owed by that debtor. Another disadvantage would be if the mark-up sale price of the goods or service provided were less than the amount of the invoice finance fee.

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Working Capital Financing – Commercial Financing Solutions

Working Capital Financing is forever a major challenge for small and medium sized business in Canada. And that is certainly not to say that larger corporations don’t have that challenge, it’s simply a case of having more assets and resources to deal with the same challenge.

As a business owner or financial manager the level of funding that you need, and the method in which you achieve that financing is really what drives the solution to your challenge. It is important, in understanding your cash flow needs and solutions, to determine if your working capital financing is required due to the capital intensive nature of your business – or if you in fact simply need to ‘ monetize’, or ‘cash flow ‘ your assets in an effort to generate more working capital and faster turnover of those funds.

Your focus on cash and business financing becomes even greater if your sales and profits are increasing. However, at the same time the ability to obtain business credit in Canada remains a challenge.

Bank financing has become more difficult to acquire, and many firms are looking at non traditional or alternative sources of financing to secure the funds they need for working capital.

Another hard reality of working capital financing is that most small and mediums sized business are searching for more cash flow on an unsecured basis. This type of financing is very difficult to achieve in the Canadian marketplace, certainly in the Chartered bank environment.

So what are the sources of financial capital that Canadian business owners and financial managers can investigate and potentially utilize? Let’s cover off some of the basic options – These include:

Personal savings (not high on a business owner’s priority list!)

Business Credit Cards

Factoring

Government Working Capital Term Loans – Financing Business Loan (These are cash term loans with fixed payments and rates)

Factoring financing

Asset Based lines of credit

When you are looking for working capital financing one of the key areas you can start with is your own key financial metrics. You don’t need to be a seasoned financial analyst to determine at what rate your receivables are turning over. The bottom line if you haven’t realized it yet (we are sure you have) is that receivables and inventory ‘ eat ‘ cash.

One key point needs to be made here, if your sales are growing at 15% and your receivables are growing at 15% that’s not a bad thing. (To calculate simply measure the ratio of these two data points) However, if your sales are growing at 15% and receivables are growing at 30% your cash flow and working capital is being consumed by the investment you have made in A/R and inventory that is not turning over. Collections and inventory turnover are a key aspect of working capital financing.

Commercial financing from a bank is the optimal solution for small and medium sized business – as have noted that is difficult to achieve. Funding a business can be complex and we urge clients to seek the advice and guidance of a respected, trusted and experienced commercial financing expert to ensure they pick the right tools to solve working capital challenges.

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Equity Financing: The Accountants’ Perspective

Growing up it has always been said that one can raise capital or finance business with either its personal savings, gifts or loans from family and friends and this idea continue to persist in modern business but probably in different forms or terminologies.

It is a known fact that, for businesses to expand, it’s prudent that business owners tap financial resources and a variety of financial resources can be utilized, generally broken into two categories, debt and equity.

Equity financing, simply put is raising capital through the sale of shares in an enterprise i.e. the sale of an ownership interest to raise funds for business purposes with the purchasers of the shares being referred as shareholders. In addition to voting rights, shareholders benefit from share ownership in the form of dividends and (hopefully) eventually selling the shares at a profit.

Debt financing on the other hand occurs when a firm raises money for working capital or capital expenditures by selling bonds, bills or notes to individuals and/or institutional investors. In return for lending the money, the individuals or institutions become creditors and receive a promise the principal and interest on the debt will be repaid, later.

Most companies use a combination of debt and equity financing, but the Accountant shares a perspective which can be considered as distinct advantages of equity financing over debt financing. Principal among them are the fact that equity financing carries no repayment obligation and that it provides extra working capital that can be used to grow a company’s business.

Why opt for equity financing?
• Interest is considered a fixed cost which has the potential to raise a company’s break-even point and as such high interest during difficult financial periods can increase the risk of insolvency. Too highly leveraged (that have large amounts of debt as compared to equity) entities for instance often find it difficult to grow because of the high cost of servicing the debt.
• Equity financing does not place any additional financial burden on the company as there are no required monthly payments associated with it, hence a company is likely to have more capital available to invest in growing the business.
• Periodic cash flow is required for both principal and interest payments and this may be difficult for companies with inadequate working capital or liquidity challenges.
• Debt instruments are likely to come with clauses which contains restrictions on the company’s activities, preventing management from pursuing alternative financing options and non-core business opportunities
• A lender is entitled only to repayment of the agreed upon principal of the loan plus interest, and has to a large extent no direct claim on future profits of the business. If the company is successful, the owners reap a larger portion of the rewards than they would if they had sold debt in the company to investors in order to finance the growth.
• The larger a company’s debt-to-equity ratio, the riskier the company is considered by lenders and investors. Accordingly, a business is limited as to the amount of debt it can carry.
• The company is usually required to pledge assets of the company to the lenders as collateral, and owners of the company are in some cases required to personally guarantee repayment of loan.
• Based on company performance or cash flow, dividends to shareholders could be postpone, however, same is not possible with debt instruments which requires payment as and when they fall due.

Adverse Implications
Despite these merits, it will be so misleading to think that equity financing is 100% safe. Consider these
• Profit sharing i.e. investors expect and deserve a portion of profit gained after any given financial year just like the tax man. Business managers who do not have the appetite to share profits will see this option as a bad decision. It could also be a worthwhile trade-off if value of their financing is balanced with the right acumen and experience, however, this is not always the case.
• There is a potential dilution of shareholding or loss of control, which is generally the price to pay for equity financing. A major financing threat to start-ups.
• There is also the potential for conflict because sometimes sharing ownership and having to work with others could lead to some tension and even conflict if there are differences in vision, management style and ways of running the business.
• There are several industry and regulatory procedures that will need to be adhered to in raising equity finance which makes the process cumbersome and time consuming.
• Unlike debt instruments holders, equity holders suffer more tax i.e. on both dividends and capital gains (in case of disposal of shares)

Decision Cards – Some Possible decision factors for equity financing
• If your creditworthiness is an issue, this could be a better option.
• If you’re more of an independent solo operator, you might be better off with a loan and not have to share decision-making and control.
• Would you rather share ownership/equity than have to repay a bank loan?
• Are you comfortable sharing decision making with equity partners?
• If you are confident that the business could generate a healthy profit, you might opt for a loan, rather than have to share profits.

It is always prudent to consider the effects of financing choice on overall business strategy.

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A Guide For First Time Business Buyers

Owning your own business can be very rewarding both financially and emotionally. Business ownership provides innumerable opportunities to put ideas into action and reap the rewards (and sometimes the pain).

Buying a business, rather than starting a business from scratch, has many advantages:

The business should have established customers who will provide revenues for the business almost immediately. Unlike a start-up business that needs to find customers and take them away from another business, the business buyer must retain it’s existing customers. It’s always easier and less expensive to retain customers than to try to find new customers.

The business you buy will have systems in place that you do not need to invent. Although it’s rare for any business to have perfect systems, the business you buy will certainly have a certain way of doing things. Business buyers should always make certain they understand why the former business owner did things BEFORE changing it. The laws of unintended consequences are inescapable. Make sure you know exactly what effect changes will have before you make changes.

Financing the Purchase of the Business

Financing a business purchase is important and should be considered carefully. For businesses valued under $2,000,000 the primary financing options are the lenders who offer Small Business Administration (SBA) guaranteed loans or the business seller.

What are the advantages or disadvantages of each?

First let’s look at Seller financing.

Many books on “How to buy a business” claim that a buyer should not buy a business if the seller isn’t willing to finance the sale of the business. The books often say to offer the seller 25% – 40% as a down payment then pay the balance off over 5 -10 years. The theory is that the seller who finances the sale has confidence in the business and, since the buyer owes the seller money, the seller will “help” the buyer succeed.

Makes sense, right? Not so fast. Let’s look at seller financing from the perspective of a business owner who wishes to sell a good business. A seller who sells the business and finances the sale takes HUGE risks. What are the risks? First, what if the buyer ignores the seller and runs the business into the ground? What if the buyer changes the whole business operation to a model that doesn’t work? What if the buyer is terrible with employees and he loses some? The “experts” say so what, the seller gets the business back and still has the buyer’s down payment. Sellers of good businesses don’t want the business “back”. If they wanted the business back they wouldn’t be selling it.

Here is another reason why a business owner who wants to sell a good business shouldn’t need to finance the sale and why a buyer shouldn’t want the seller to finance the deal either. SBA lenders often receive a government guarantee on a business acquisition loan (7A) of about 75%. This means an SBA lender can’t lose more than 25% even if the business fails and the loan goes bad. If the seller finances the deal the seller does NOT have a 75% guarantee so seller’s who finance deals should charge a lot more for financing (or selling price) to account for the increased risk compared to an SBA loan. This increase in financing costs puts more leverage on the buyer and actually INCREASES the likelihood the business will fail. That’s bad for the buyer and the seller.

Another common reason for seller financing is many “experts” say that small business records are so bad that only the seller knows if the business is making a profit so a seller who is willing to finance is defacto saying the business is profitable. As always, two sides to the story. Here’s an example of why this is a fallacy. Let’s say Mary owns a business that does carpet cleaning and some customers pay by credit card, some by check and some cash. Let’s assume for whatever reason the cash income can’t be identified in the company books. The books show the business is making a marginal profit but Mary says she gets about $1,000 per week in cash that needs to be considered when judging the selling price.

The books show the business is making about $20,000 per year, Mary says she’s taking another $50,000 that can’t be identified in the books. That’s a total of $70,000 and Mary wants to sell the business for $140,000. She’ll take $64,000 down and a note for 5 years at 8%. Good deal? 2 times earnings is a good deal, seller financing is good, right? Wrong. What if Mary is lying about the $50,000? You bought the business, she has your $64,000 (which is more than the books show she makes in 3 years). So you stop making payments and Mary gets the business back. Who got the better deal, Mary or the buyer?

TIP: If a business has provable cash flow and a reasonable price AND a buyer whose financial circumstance is in order, there is an SBA lender who will provide financing. There are plenty of businesses available that have provable cash flow. Inexperienced buyers should be very, very cautious about purchasing a business where the earnings can not be ascertained with reasonable certainty.

Advantages of SBA financing

Understanding the steps in getting an SBA loan makes it clear why the buyer and seller are both generally better off if the seller does not finance a transaction.

Requirements of buyer to get an SBA loan: good credit, manageable debt relative to the ability of the buyer to service the debt, buyer income requirements BELOW that which can be provided by the buyer and business.

Requirements for business to be eligible to be purchased with SBA loan: provable earnings of business adequate to make debt payments and income to seller adequate to meet sellers’s personal needs, business will likely be appraised by bank to make sure what the buyer is paying for the business is reasonable.

A buyer benefits using SBA for financing because the SBA will likely add discipline to the process for the buyer and reduce the likelihood that a buyer will make a critical mistake.

Due Diligence

Buyers – Before closing on the purchase of a business buyers should conduct adequate due diligence to ascertain if what they “think” they are buying is actually what they are buying. Due Diligence has 4 primary areas:

Industry – There is usually public information available for almost any industry. Buyers should do research to see if there are any industry issues that will positively or negatively impact the business.

Business Finances – Business buyers should retain an accountant to assist them in looking at the business books to confirm the business is earning what is claimed by the seller.

Business Operations – Before closing there is usually only so much that can be done. An important activity is to meet with the seller and discuss in detail what the seller does on a day-to-day basis so the buyer can get comfortable either filling that roll or bringing in people to fill that roll. If the seller is the guy who also repairs all the trucks then you either need to be able to repair the trucks or find someone who can!

Legal – Buyers should engage an attorney to review closing documents and make sure that the buyer understands their rights and obligations in any contracts. Good legal work BEFORE closing usually means smoother sailing after the business purchase.

Buying a business could be the best thing you ever do or maybe the worst thing. Many businesses are sold every year and the vast majority of those transactions turn out to be good for the buyer and the seller. Do your homework and you will likely be rewarded handsomely.

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The Oldest Business Funding Question – Debt Versus Equity

There is a constant debate over the use of the twp main types of small business loans and which is more useful. In truth they both have their place, and rather than argue over the attributes of each, businesses are wise to use a combination of both at opportune times during their growth.

Small, or new business owners may not fully understand what the differences are, and some, new to the business financing realm may not even know what equity financing is. The term equity is bandied about in personal loans regarding the value of assets versus outstanding loan amounts placed on it, and equity is acquired much the same way in businesses. However, equity lending is not done on a personal level so understanding how the equity can be used to fund a business is something all newcomers should understand.

The Two Sides of a Coin

Debt Loans:

Debt lending is the side of business financing almost everyone is familiar with. It is a straightforward loan that works much the same for businesses as it does for personal loans. It is a set amount of money “mortgaged” on the business or is other variable assets set to play out over a period of time and charged an interest structure for repayment.

Debt lending has many qualities that make it an attractive form of business financing the first of which is the all important build up of credit for good performance in repayment. The downside of debt financing is that it requires repayment that can take away from a business’ profits, usually requires collateral in the form of business assets, or personal assets to secure the loan, and perhaps the most difficult aspect of debt financing of all: debt lenders are notoriously conservative. It is up to the business owner to prove the value of their company, their ability to repay a loan, and the financial prospects of their company.

Another positive value of a debt loan vs. an equity loan is that the interest paid on a debt loan is tax deductible. Perhaps an even bigger incentive to choose a debt loan is that debt loans offer lenders no control over the way the business is run.

Equity Loans:

Equity loans are far less understood by many business owners. These types of loans can be made by private investors as well as banks, and do not involve payment structures or interest because, hang on to your seats-you don’t have to pay them back! Whoa, before you go dancing off to your local finance institution to plunk down a request for equity financing here’s the catch: Equity financing is an exchange of financing in exchange for a piece of your company. You are selling off part of the value of your company.

This is basically like taking on a partner, although some financing is offered without actual control, you will be paying an equal amount of the profits of your future business profits to your new “partner.”

Whether equity financing comes with an active or silent partner many business owners are reluctant to sell off part of their future profits. Another downside is that since there are no “payments” as in debt financing there is nothing to deduct on your businesses tax filings.

Another aspect to take into consideration is that equity financing, often known as venture capital, is usually only offered if a business can prove it has the potential to use that money to create an explosive growth so that its performance escalates, thereby providing a great return on investment for the lender.

Which Type of Financing to Choose

Equity financing can be difficult to obtain in some situations. New businesses usually neither have the equity built up, nor the track record to judge a business’ performance to obtain such a loan. That however, is also the problem for new businesses when applying for a standard debt loan. Chances are, if you have a strong business plan, good concept, and any equity value at all in the form of inventory, building, or equipment you can find private investors that might be easier to obtain than bank debt financing.

Equity finance companies are also more competitive and aggressive. They can take more chances because the potential for payoffs are greater. With debt financing the return on investment is a set figure-no less, no more than the original contract. With equity financing if the business really takes off the financer stands to reap great rewards.

One argument is that debt financing, if at all available, offers business owners the most security, less potential loss over time, and no loss of control over company direction or operation. It would seem that it is the best choice in all situations, and yet businesses big and small who understand both forms of financing well know that there are times when equity financing simply makes more sense.

If you do not have enough profit to repay a debt loan, equity financing makes good sense. It can offer you the means to expand or implement new procedures to maximize your income potential where you can then apply for a more standard type of loan. Startups with a dynamic business plan have the most to gain from equity financing. They very often cannot afford to repay a debt loan, but will in the foreseeable future have massive profits.

Established businesses that find themselves stagnated and in need of a boost of cash to expand may not be in a position to pay monthly payments on a debt loan either. They may also find banks even more reluctant to lend money on the chance they will improve than they are willing to finance a startup. In those cases an equity loan works excellently.

Once a company, regardless of its duration is capable of acquiring and maintaining payments on a debt loan it should seek that type of financing. Even venture capital lenders will shrink away from a company that never grows to the point where it can afford to take on a debt loan. Companies that are ever expanding and always on the edge of fiscal stability will look like risks to either side of the coin so it is important to have lengthy periods of time where the business is operating in a healthy profit margin before attempting to get further loans of either type.

Each individual businessman will have their own ideas of the perfect combination of debt and equity financing. Businesses using both to their maximum benefits are well on their way to a solid future. Instead of thinking about the issue as debt VS. equity financing, business owners should think of it as debt AND equity financing for a secure future.

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Everything You Need To Know About Business Loans

Business loans are important for businesses in multiple aspects. Whether it is for funding a company, boosting the company or using it as funding for an acquisition, these loans can be described as the bread and butter for businesses. With the 2008 Banking Crisis and the immediate aftermath slowly fading into memory, a variety of companies are now looking to business loans in numbers once again.

What do you need to know about business loans? Here are a few things which are important for business owners to be aware off.

-Business Loans are widely available. Banks are generally the first calling point for business owners when he/she applies for the said loan. But, banks are not the only body that can offer this support. In fact, it is more likely that company owners will have a far greater chance of securing a loan with a non-governing body instead of a bank.

-There are different types of loans. Different lenders have different products available and different criteria. If an organisation fits within the criteria then they can move to the next stage of credit assessment.

-Some loans are secured and some unsecured. Most lenders will seek security if available to make their loan rates more competitive and reduce their risk.

-If the company have specific funding needs: buying a business, buying a building, stock purchase etc -and then this will often determine the best source of finance.

Business loans are valuable for companies and should be considered in any funding proposition. Much has been made of the economy at the beginning of 2014. Some negativity remains as the world prolongs its exit from the 2008 banking crisis.

But confidence is renewed and has increased for the economy. Towards the end of 2013, these companies have expressed sincere confidence with the economy in 2014 and also confidence in securing the necessary support. Banks have come under fire for not doing enough to help banks secure the funding in which would help them progress in tough economic times.

But the availability of business loans -through companies and non-Governing bodies means that business owners can get help outside of the banks in securing funding for their business.

It is also important to note that the loans have different purposes in which target different areas of funding and business development such as commercial mortgage as an example. Yet, business loans at its core is a valuable form of funding for businesses in which would help them develop.

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Working Capital Necessary For Every Business

Working capital is the amount of capital required to carry on a business. It can be a problem for businesses to obtain the necessary working capital, especially when they are starting up, and that is why it is so important for businesses to know all that they can about obtaining the necessary capital to build their business properly. Whether a business is small or large the same programs are available to those seeking financing.

Business micro loans are one source for getting working capital. These are smaller loans, which are typically between $5,000 and $35,000, and are targeted to startups and newly established small businesses. This program is established by the Small Business Administration. Non-profit community lenders are given the money by the SBA, and they make the decisions on who gets the loans. Micro loans have terms of up to six years, and requirements by lenders vary. If you decide to get a micro loan be prepared with collateral, and also be prepared to personally guarantee the loan. Specific training and business planning requirements must be fulfilled before a micro loan will be accepted as well.

Credit card receipt advances, also known as merchant advances, is a fairly new, but effective method for obtaining working capital. This method allows for an immediate cash injection because the lending source will buy your future credit card receipts in the form of a cash advance. The great thing about this option is that you can apply with poor or under established personal or business credit. The requirement is that your business processes a minimum of $2,500 per month. After meeting that requirement your business will be advanced up to $100,000. The amount that you can receive is established from current sales receipts. A small percentage will be deducted from your ongoing credit card receipts, and there are no fixed payments or fixed repayment terms.

Working capital can also be obtained by selling your account receivables. There are many advantages to this option including not having to give up equity, you can purchase in volume from suppliers, you can eliminate bad debt, and there is no additional debt accrued because selling account receivables is not considered a loan.

Business credit cards give you another option for obtaining working capital, and they provide your business with a great amount of flexibility. You can track employee expenses, smooth out the process of cash advances, you can reduce some operating expenses, maximize the potential of cash flow, and they can also help businesses with their vendor relationships. Make sure that when you are looking at a business credit card that it reports to the Small Business Financial Exchange. This ensures that the card will help build up your business credit scores so you can secure larger loans down the road. If the business credit card is not reporting, you won’t be gaining all of the benefits you can out of your business credit cards.

The equity loan allows businesses to obtain working capital through investment banks that provide capital secured by the equity or ownership of shares in a company. Companies that typically get this form of loans are in a market that is growing quickly, or they have established a niche for themselves. An equity loan is typically between $1 Million and $2 Million dollars initially with the potential of the loan being more over the life of the loan.

There are many other options for financing a business, and so it is recommended that you find a business capital search engine online to make sure you find all of the financing options for your business.

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Working Capital Financing Options To Raise Business Capital

It is no longer unusual to hear about start up and small business struggling with the finances of their ventures. More often than not, this does not stem from a lack of proper planning, and from profits that were never realized. There are simply times wherein business capital is no longer enough to cover for all the expenses needed to keep the business operating. And in times like such, business owners need reliable financial institutions that can offer them the working capital financing that they need. In this way, they will not have to waste a day of operations because they do not have money to spend.

Through working capital financing, business owners can have a good range of options when it comes to raising or increasing their business capital. They can select from options like applying for small business loans, making cash advances, credit card factoring, and opening business lines of credit. These are only some of the few financing options that business owners can resort to during those times when they need additional capital for their business.

Among these options, small business loans appear to remain as the most popular. However, it is not all too easy to qualify for a small business loan. A business must have a good credit history to qualify. And to most small business owners, having good credit ratings can be quite elusive. This is because building business credit requires time and time is something that most start up business owners do not have.

This leads most small business owners to consider other alternatives. A merchant or business cash advance is seen as an easier way of gaining additional business capital. So does business lines of credit and credit card factoring. These options do not require good credit scores. What matters more to these options is for small business owners to have good monthly sales volumes. The method of payment and repayment are also less burdensome. Payments and repayments do not come in fixed schedules. Instead, payments and repayments often come as a small percentage of the monthly sales that the business is able to generate.

You can learn more about these working capital financing options through financial firms near your area. You can also go online to learn more about them. Most financing firms already have online presence and these days, you no longer need to physically travel to the nearest financing office to apply for business capital financing options.

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Finance Your Startup in the Community

Finding finance for your startup may be easiest within your own community. Your ‘community’ could be in terms of relationships, geography, field of interest or affiliation.

Community Financed Business is not a generally accepted term. However, there are an increasing number of ways that businesses are financially supported within a community. Some are very traditional, such as coops that started in the nineteenth century and new ones are emerging all the time. An example is crowdfunding, that springs very recently from the social networking phenomenon.

The impetus is coming from two directions. The first is the disaffection for Wall Street and all that ‘big banking’ represents. The other is the burgeoning ‘local’ movement, the natural offspring of environmentalism.

Keeping funding in your own community has advantages and disadvantages. Some of the plusses are that you know the people providing money and your business is ‘visible’ to them. Banks have a very bureaucratic approach and lending decisions have to be ‘passed up the line’ to a corporate office somewhere else. With community finance, your access to the lenders is easy and in most cases will be face-to-face. Minuses include the reverse of that coin: you will have nowhere to ‘hide’. I always tell business borrowers to ‘over-communicate’ with their bankers. If you borrow from those you know, the time spent on communicating with them is likely to take a lot of your energy (and emotion).

Family and Friends (some say also, Fools)

For many generations, startups have looked to their family and friends for finance, whether equity or loan money. This is often extended to customers and suppliers, too. According to the Angel Capital Education Foundation, startups annually raise $60 billion through friends and family. Thus it’s probably the biggest single source of ‘series A’ funding that there is.

There are some strong caveats to this route, since emotion and relationships are to the fore. You will be focused on getting the money, but you need to know their point of view, too. Treat them as if they were a business and give them good reason to help. Be clear about how you will repay them and use a promissory note to make it legal.

Have a backup plan. If the loan from a family member needs to be called in for reasons like the lender lost a job, you need to be able to repay quickly or risk a family feud. Ask yourself if it’s the right course in the first place, and beware that it’s tough to price and structure the right deal for both parties. Think about how things will be if your startup goes belly-up. Checking downside risks is often the key to a successful startup.

Community Financed Business

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is now a widespread means of providing small-scale financial support to farmers. Typically, members in a community buy shares in the produce of farms pre-season and receive delivery as and when the particular crops or meat becomes available. The process has now spread to other sectors of the economy, mainly in ag and food. There are examples in seafood (Port Clyde, ME) and restaurants where patrons invest and get repaid in meals and other perks over time.

This tends to be a very effective, but somewhat risky way of raising funds-for the investor. I lost several hundred dollars, supporting a small bookshop in my village, where my up-front money was to have been repaid in books on a monthly basis with a small amount of interest. The business model was not carefully enough prepared and the startup was poorly managed, and resulted in failure.

Interestingly, about two years later in the space next door, another community supported business has opened – a restaurant. Not only did these founders sell shares to local supporters, but they, themselves, are buying produce from local CSA farms. There are many other ways in addition to the CSA model of pre-funding product sales by subscription or ‘shares’.

Cooperatives

They are much more widespread than you might imagine, both locally and nationally. There are nearly 30,000 of them in the US. I used to serve on the board of the Brattleboro Food Coop, a two-store retailer in my local Vermont town. We had reached capacity in our main store with a $16 million turnover, and decided to build an entirely new store at a cost of several millions. Coop members in the locality advanced well over $1 million in 3 and 5 year loans as part of the shareholder equity to back the bank and other financing. In addition another local coop partnered in the building – Coop Power – by providing the solar roof.

A significant proportion of coops are small and locally oriented. Many are among farmers and banking. Savings and Loan Associations are, in effect, coops. Some started small and local but have grown into large entities, with the strength of local support. An example is Land o’ Lakes, now pretty much a national brand of dairy products.

Direct Public Offerings

A direct public offering is a way for a company to “go public” without the intermediaries that orchestrate an IPO. A company completes required offering documents and securities filings, which enables them to sell shares directly to the public – the company’s customers and community.

A recent example of a DPO is Quimper Mercantile in Port Townsend, WA, that has raised over $500,000 in a DPO to open a general store. They were assisted by Cutting Edge Capital. Another of CEC’s clients is People’s Community Market, whose model of grassroots investing allows Californians of all economic backgrounds to become Founders and Shareholders in creating a food store in West Oakland.

Crowdfunding

You will surely have heard of Kickstarter. An MBA student of mine raised over $15,000 (on a $10,000 target) seed money locally for Raleigh City Farm in North Carolina, via a Kickstarter campaign. Well, the movement is much more widespread and often locally oriented. You can take a look at my crowdfunding page for more info.

The JOBS Act which is due to come into force this year, allows anyone to invest up to $10,000 a year, or up to 10 percent of their net income if they earn less than $100,000 a year, in private companies. This contrasts with the present, given that crowdfunders are largely rewarded non-financially. One of the first platforms off the block will be Earlyshares, an equity based crowdfunding platform.

Revenue-based Funding & Customer Financing

Another new approach to funding business is Revenue-Based Funding. The idea is that instead of the risk being associated with the capital growth of the investment, the lender takes a risk on the revenue, by charging a percentage of the top line. A US company called RevenueLoan now offers a Revenue-Based Funding product, but on relatively large amounts for startups. As they say, “Revenue Based Financing (RBF) is a hybrid financing method that fills a need in the growth capital market for companies with approximately $1 to $10 million in revenue and a proven plan for growth.

Maker Community

Typical interests enjoyed by the maker subculture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, 2-D plotter cutting, water-jet cutting, and the use of CNC tools (even applied to embroidery), as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts.

The whole print-on-demand industry is another example, where authors can produce books even one at a time. While these are not funders, they reduce the costs that would otherwise be associated with small-scale manufacturing. However there are hybrids that combine maker facilities with startup seed funding, as well as incubation space in factory-like settings.

Business Accelerators and Incubators

Unlike many business assistance programs, business incubators do not serve any and all companies. Entrepreneurs who wish to enter a business incubation program must apply for admission. They also tend to be physical places where you can start your business under a collective roof. Many incubators/accelerators are competitive to join, but once in seed capital is provided.

While it is possible to generalize about accelerators, there are almost as many variations as there are similarities. Business Accelerators may focus on very specific geographies (such as cities or States), industrial sectors (such as information technology or clean energy), industrial processes (such as manufacturing or industrial kitchens). Accelerators can offer physical space on short or medium terms, networking, mentoring, funding or introduction to funding, training, peer group support. These may vary in time, for instance: pre-launch, startup, early stage.

Other Community Finance Opportunities

Many other community or ‘local’ finance opportunities exist. There may be financial incentives such as grants available from local government agencies, or business plan competitions run by local development bodies and academic institutions, for instance.

Depending upon the governance structure of your startup, there may be program funds that are accessible. For instance, in those States where the L3C form (limited liability company that limits the level of profit) exists, you could get foundation funding.

There are also combinations of some of the different community funding avenues to be explored. For instance, you could use crowdfunding to extend the family and friends route. You could add other people in your network and, by having a larger lender base, each contributor’s risk could be reduced, because they’d be providing smaller sums. The downside of the hybrid would be the time you would need to commit to keeping lenders informed of progress.

How You Can Do It?

Brainstorm with friends and associates, but do it in an organized way. You probably have fixed ideas about how you are going to raise money for your startup and it will be important to spawn new ideas. On a solo basis, one of the methods I use is mind-mapping (several free programs and apps are on the Web); it lets me get all my scattered ideas briefly noted in one visual space. It helps me see the wood for the trees.

Affinity diagrams might be something you can use in a group. It sounds daunting, but all you need is some wall space and sticky-notes. Participants work on their own ideas and post them. When you have them all on the wall you can begin to see which ideas are related, or which may generate new ideas.

Be as wild as you can about where you can capital or loans from. You’d be surprised about how many sources there are, and just how many people would love to help.

William Keyser, a veteran entrepreneur, is Managing Director of Venture Founders LLC: How To Start a Business. Startup Owl offers a wealth of free information and advice to would-be and early stage entrepreneurs.

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A Small Business Loan Expert Might Be Needed

What appears to be the most challenging commercial banking climate in several decades is currently impacting many small business owners. The use of a small business financing expert is a prudent step for commercial borrowers to take in view of continuing business lending difficulties since such advanced help is usually a good idea when faced with complex problems.

When it comes to running their own business, most small business owners probably have a very independent perspective. It is normal for most small businesses to postpone seeking outside consulting help even when facing a business loan rejection by their banker. Many previous business finance options are no longer available from traditional banks, and this might not yet be obvious to some small business owners. An appropriate starting point for seeking a small business finance expert is for a business borrower to realize that they have a commercial finance problem that requires outside advanced consulting help. For most this realization will occur after being turned down for a commercial loan by their current bank and not knowing what to do next. Some business owners might have already had this experience and then unsuccessfully tried to find new financing. The last straw that prompts a call for expert assistance in a growing number of cases will be the decision by many banks to permanently stop making commercial loans to small businesses.

Some potential pitfalls should be anticipated during efforts to find a qualified and experienced working capital expert. An important practical reality is that there are very few individuals or companies that are qualified to act in the capacity of a small business loan expert. Problem-finding and problem-solving are both essential components of an individual being asked to provide advanced help which can be used to formulate effective business financing options. An adequate stock of these skills that are so critical to the success of a business financing expert are generally scarce commodities in any field but commercial financing in particular seems to be suffering from an ongoing shortage of these positive traits.

There is an ample supply of former residential mortgage consultants that have attempted to add small business loans to their line of products but have virtually no meaningful experience involving complicated commercial mortgages. Small business financing is more complicated than realized by many borrowers. It literally takes at least several years to master the field, and then only if the individual is engaged in it as a full-time occupation and not a part-time venture. Based on this observation, a strong emphasis should be placed on finding a suitable full-time expert in an established commercial financing business with extensive experience. It will also be prudent to avoid a current banking relationship when seeking advice about who to contact as prospective business financing experts. This will reflect the very real possibility that a bank which has already been less than helpful in making needed loans will not necessarily have a trustworthy recommendation while also removing potential conflicts of interest.

When seeking small business loan expert help, business owners should not lose sight of their immediate objective. The purpose in using a small business financing expert is to ensure that all effective and practical commercial finance options are fully reviewed. It is essential that commercial borrowers receive thorough and candid advice before finalizing any working capital and commercial loan agreements.

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