In today’s financial landscape, finding the best lender for your business is more complex than ever. The breadth of choice in potential lenders is vast and banks and other lenders are frequently ‘moving the goalposts’ in their appetite and criteria for approving applications. With 60% of UK SMEs looking to invest in their business in the next 12 months and 20% of UK SMEs planning to borrow in the same timeline* It is vital that SMEs are armed with the right information and advisors to ensure the right choice for the business in the months ahead. So the question is, how do you acquire the right finance for growth?
Don’t limit yourself to high street banks
Most SMEs approach their bank when they need funding but traditional banks are not always able to provide growing businesses with all the finance they need. Gone are the days when banks would give you an unsecured overdraft or a medium-term loan to fund working capital. So, you have to look at alternatives and what’s best for your needs. The good news is there is a wide range of finance providers available to SMEs. For example, there are the newer digital banking providers, independent finance companies, fintech, angel investors and private equity funds.
Be clear about what you need the money for
Business growth can come in many forms so you need to get funding that is most appropriate for your requirements. If you are investing in working capital such as hiring more staff or buying more materials, for example, you will need a different type of finance than if you are buying equipment or bigger facilities.
Assess your options carefully
There are two main types of funding for SMEs – debt finance, which involves borrowing money and paying it back over time, typically in regular monthly instalments; and equity investment, in which you give up equity in the business in exchange for investment. The equity investor then owns a proportion of the business and receives a share of any profit the business makes when it trades and on any capital event, such as a sale.
Debt finance options include traditional loans and overdrafts, invoice finance, in which an invoice finance company will lend you a proportion of the value of an invoice as soon as you have raised it; peer to peer and similar cashflow lenders, and asset finance, in which the funding is used to fund the purchase of an asset such as new equipment. There are also business credit cards and a range of newer loan options which can be hybrids of several of the above.
Equity finance options include angel investors, private equity funds and crowdfunding.
You may need to give up equity to get the finance for growth that you need
If your business is growing steadily and generating consistent profits – a manufacturing firm, for example – then you are likely to be able to borrow money as debt finance and pay it back each month in a structured way.
If your business is on a very fast growth curve, however – for example, a tech business – it is likely to need a large amount of money early on in its life cycle to scale up, which it may be unable to repay through regular repayments. In this case, giving up a share of equity to a private equity fund or angel investor would make more sense because there will not be any immediate need to repay the money which would put a strain on cash flow.
SME founders can be fixated on how much they own of the business but if giving a percentage to a private equity fund, for example, enables the business to grow faster and ultimately grow value, they will end up with a smaller slice but of a bigger pie.
- Take time to understand the pros and cons of each type of funding
The advantage of asset finance, for example, is that it provides certainty for your cash flow and forecasting models because your monthly repayments are fixed and it does not use up immediate cash but allows you to pay for the asset as it produces you with additional income streams. Asset finance may also allow you to buy new assets to scale up the business and create more revenue streams adding additional income for the business and in turn making the asset pay for itself. A disadvantage is that the lending is secured on the assets so if something goes wrong in the business then typically the lender will have a legal charge secured on the asset and may be able to take it back. Asset refinance allows you to turn existing assets you own into cash which is often a popular option for businesses who need additional cash flow to enable business growth.
The advantage of invoice discounting, meanwhile, is it can scale up with the business. The disadvantages are that it is not suitable for some sectors, such as professional service businesses, can be relatively expensive and can come with complicated administration criteria dictated by the lender. Costs are based on the turnover of your company so if you only want to borrow a relatively small percentage, you might consider using a company that funds single invoices rather than a whole turnover facility.
- Make your business shine to maximise your options
Create forecasts for your profit and loss, balance sheet and cash flow which include the impact of the funding you are looking for; if you are going to spend it on increasing production capacity, for example, then show how sales will go up, and how you will be able to make the monthly repayments. Also, boost your credit rating by paying your suppliers on time – very large companies share their customer list with credit rating agencies and so paying late could have an impact on your rating.
- Seek professional advice to help you find the best solution for raising finance. Our team of trusted business advisors are on hand to talk you through your options and what to consider and has helped many clients raise finance to support their growth ambitions. We have strategic partners with business lenders, who provide access to a variety of lenders who have been providing Asset Finance solutions to UK businesses for 25 years.
- Individual investors can benefit from big tax breaks through EIS and SEIS schemes if they invest in your business – consider if you know anyone who might be appropriate.
- Carefully consider why you need funding and what you would spend the money on and the knock-on effect on your business.