Monday, February 20, 2012

Finding Finance as a Solo Entrepreneur

Finding finance as a small business or a lone entrepreneur can be very challenging to say the least. Although most governments today realise that the success of their economies can be greatly enhanced by supporting small businesses more and providing a good breeding ground for entrepreneurs with viable business plans to start up, few of them will be willing to take on the banks with regulation to force more small business finance and loans.

But have you wondered why there are so many claims that the banks have shut up shop? Surely they can only make money by lending money. It simply makes no sense at all for them to stop lending completely.

The evidence is that they are still lending – at around R500 million each month in new term loans to businesses turning over less than R1 million. In total, the banks have about R37 billion of term loans outstanding to small businesses and around R7 billion of overdraft lending.

Of course figures can hide more than they tell you. Some numbers seem to say that, on average, small businesses are borrowing less and saving more, which could support the banks’ argument: that they cannot lend because small businesses do not want to borrow. But the answer must be more complicated than that or small firms would not be complaining.

To me, it seems that there are businesses that:
 • • Have enough cash to save some away and don’t need to borrow.
 • • Want to borrow and do get loans from the banks.
 • • Could borrow to invest, but choose not to just now.
 • • Might borrow but think they will be turned down.
 • • Want to borrow and don’t get a loan from their bank.
 It’s the last group that potentially causes the most concern. The most pressing cases are always when a business is on the brink. It may need to pay wages or a key supplier but a customer has not paid or, worse, has gone bust or gone elsewhere. So, even if the business is profitable, the cash isn’t there to pay the bills. The obvious first call is to the bank – can I have or extend an overdraft?
Well, while the bank will want to lend, it won’t want to lose money, so it needs to be satisfied that the business can repay the loan or pay down an overdraft.

It needs to be sure that there will be enough cash not only to repay, but also to provide a buffer in case other customers go down or disappear. And with the current state of the economy, the banks have probably been looking for bigger buffers.

Even if you show you can repay, the bank will often need some more comfort. It still needs to get its money back if the repayments aren’t made, so it asks for security as well.

That can make it very difficult to borrow. Even if you are profitable, think you can afford to repay, and have some assets, the bank might still say NO! Why? Well remember that the money being lent is often the savings of other people and other businesses: so it can’t afford to take risks with that.
But are the banks being too risk averse? The truth is that nobody knows the answer to that question because nobody can know with any certainty how quickly the economy will be back to sustainable growth and how rapid that growth will be. Only when confidence returns will banks feel able to relax their lending criteria. In other words, when the sun comes out!

So what can be done? If the banks don’t meet the targets government has set, growth will be slower and less certain, creating a vicious circle.

But it’s not just about targets; there is practical help for lending as well. Where a bank would lend but can’t because of a lack of security, it can call on the Government’s Enterprise Finance Guarantee (EFG). The scheme can substitute for a lack of, or even absence of security, and it can be used for new borrowing, restructuring existing borrowing, overdraft extensions or invoice finance facilities. It helps the bank to say Yes where otherwise it would say No.

There is plenty of capacity available for banks to use it and as much support as they need to help them do so. There is no reason for them not to. They’ve already used it to help over 15,000 businesses borrow more than R1.5 billion.

Not only does the EFG help businesses who would otherwise be turned down, it can also encourage those that think they may be turned down to make an approach to their bank. That can encourage investment and help to get the wheels turning again. Just what we need.

One final interesting statistic which questions the mood of gloom. Tucked away in the latest insolvency statistics is the news that the liquidation rate of companies in the year to end-June was 0.7 per cent.

That’s the proportion of active companies that went into liquidation in the year. That figure is much lower than the peak of 2.7 per cent in 1993 and lower than the 25 year average of 1.3 per cent. So perhaps things aren’t so bad in the real economy?

As a lone entrepreneur part of the challnge of starting up succesfully will surely t gain access to the business finance you need. In South Africa today companies like the IDC and SEDA is doing their bit to ensure that previously disadvantaged have the business finance support they need. Companies like Business Plan Whiz will provide you with direct access to investors when you are creating your business plan and Investors Network will introduce you to business investors at regular networking events for strart-ups. But the facs is that much more still needs to be done in order to esnure that this most crucial

Cash Flow and Solo Entrepreneurs

Cash is key for any solo-entrepreneur. Without the financial backing of a business partner or investor behind you, it will be crucial to you and your business that that the financial planning part of your business plan and the effective follow up and adjust process in relation to this is done effectively.

Without adequate cash, you can’t pay your bills and you can’t make plans for your business. what is cash flow planning? Cash flow planning is projecting your future cash inflows from sales, services, and loans, and comparing them to your future cash needs (suppliers, salaries/wages, loan payments, taxes, etc.). The difference between the two is your net cash flow.

Why is cash flow planning so important? Cash flow planning can help you identify problems down the road, and fix them before they occur. It can also help you make decisions such as should I attend that conference wanted to attend, should I buy the new computer I've been wanting, or do I need to work extra hard this month to avoid a cash deficiency next month?

The first step in planning your cash flow is knowing where you spend your money! Solo entrepreneurs need to have a good grip on both their personal and business spending, as most solo entrepreneurs rely on their business income to meet personal finance goals (i.e., pay the bills!). So, you should track both your personal and your business spending, although I recommend that you keep them separate (that’s a topic all by itself).

the best way to track your spending? You can use pen & paper, spreadsheets or a software program. The best method for you is the method that you will actually use on a regular basis.
You should project your spending for at least the next 12 months so that you include annual and other periodic expenses. If you are experiencing a cash flow crisis, you should track & project your cash flow on a weekly basis, instead of monthly.

If you are an existing business, you can project your cash flow for the next year by reviewing your expenses for last year. If you are a new business, you will need to estimate your start up costs in addition to regular operating expenses.

Start up costs include inventory, legal expenses, advertising, licenses & permits, supplies, and many more costs that you may not have thought of. To research startup costs you should contact your local Small Business Development Center, contact a SCORE counselor, join groups of similar business owners, and read as many books or articles you can find on the subject.
To improve your cash flow, you should:

1. Complete the first 3 steps. You have to understand cash flow planning, track your cash flow, and project your future spending needs before you can improve your cash flow.

2. Create best and worst case scenarios and create appropriate responses to both scenarios. For example, if your best case scenario is to increase sales by 50%, how will you use the profits? Will you put the profits back into the company by investing in new equipment, training, etc.? If your worst case scenario is a drop in sales by 50%, how will you continue to cover your monthly expenses? By planning for the best and worst case scenarios, you ll be ready for any situation.

3. When estimating your future income, realize that some people will pay late, and account for that fact in your projection.

4. Charge what you are worth. Many businesses, especially service professionals, under-charge when they are first starting out. This is a great way to go out of business. Make sure you are charging what you are worth, and remember you are in business to make money, not to give your expertise away for free.

5. Watch your business spending. Focus on the value the item brings to your business, and avoid lavish spending (i.e., do you really need the fastest, newest computer available?).

6. Don?t hire until necessary. Consider using virtual assistants or temporary employees before hiring permanent employees. 7. Give incentives for early payment for products and services. On the flip side, chase down invoices the minute they?re late. Charge interest or late fees to encourage timely payments.

8. Update your projection regularly. Your cash flow plan will change frequently as your business grows. You may want to update it weekly when you first get started, then switch to monthly once you've got a good handle on your cash. Remember - whether you are a new or growing business, your cash flow projection can make the difference between success and failure.

Make sure you are being realistic about the cash flow of your venture in your business plan. Its easy to over estimate sales and under estimate costs and the time it may take for your business to start generating sales.