F is for FINANCE…

Recently I was asked the question below by someone called Sherry in an online forum and I felt that as this is a common question, it may be useful to others to post my thoughts here;

“I am seeking start up capitol to get my business up and running. All the sources I have tried say, you cannot get this capitol unless you have a history. Do you have any suggestions on how to get start up capitol?”

Looking at the way you spelt “Capitol” Sherry, I’m assuming that you’re from the USA. I am unaware of quite how things may differ between the UK and the US in this regard but here are some thoughts that you may find useful.

A lot depends on the type of business and the situation however the first step is to ensure that you have a good proposition for any prospective financier. Just a few weeks ago I was speaking to a commercial lending manager for a large bank. During our discussions he mentioned that despite the current economic climate, they are approving around 80% of good applications currently.

OK… So what is a “good” application..?
1) You absolutely need to have a business plan. Without one of these you pretty much have no chance and as first impressions count, I wouldn’t suggest trying your hand without a business plan expecting that you’ll get a second shot by producing one and making another appointment!

2) You need to be able to demonstrate a knowledge of the business (or proposed business), your target market and the industry that you will be operating in.

3) The cash… How much you need, why, how long will you need it for and what you’ll be spending it on. It is important to state quite clearly how much you actually need. For example if you ask for 100k when you actually need 150k but expect that the bank won’t go that high – the chances are that a savvy commercial lending manager will see through this, you’ll look as if you don’t have a true understanding of the finance requirements of your own business – and the answer won’t be the one you’re wanting to hear!

If you need the cash for use as working capital – ask yourself “Do I need all the money in one lump sum?” If the answer is no then you can negotiate with the lender to release it in stages provided that you meet certain pre – defined milestones. This can be a more compelling business case for the lender as their risk is reduced in this instance.

In addition;

Do you have anything that you can offer as security? This reduces the risk and makes the proposition appear more appealing.

Are you contributing any of your own funds to the venture? If so – again, this makes the proposition appear more appealing because it demonstrates your own belief in your venture in that you are prepared to put your own assets on the line.

Venture Capital – Have you approached any of these organisations? VC’s will want to acquire some equity in the venture in return for their cash (and may want to place someone on the board) however on the upside often they come with significant experience and contacts which can help to propel your business forward. They generally are less risk averse than the banks however their costs are higher. VC’s tend to want to keep the investment in the business for a relatively short time before harvest so will want to have a clear exit strategy agreed at the outset.

Another option is Business Angels. They are similar to VC’s however tend to want to assist new business ventures for more philanthropic reasons.

I’d suggest contacting an experienced business support agency in your area. They are likely to have the latest information regarding loans, matched funding for projects, grants and other funding that may be available and may also be able to assist with developing a business plan and marketing strategy if you do not already have these in place.

I wish you the very best of luck and would welcome any comments and / or questions,

Andy Salmon.