Did you know that SMEs with access to credit can grow faster and achieve optimal size sooner, while those with limited access to finance potentially remain stagnant and smaller in size? This is according to the Finmark Trust study, released in 2016.
“There are a number of research studies that confirm the link between access to finance and business growth, showing that increased access to funding increases revenue and job growth in SMEs,” says Darlene Menzies, founder of finfind.co.za, a platform that helps SMEs access finance in South Africa.
“Access to finance improves cash flow, which enables business owners to invest in business growth,” continues Darlene. “According to FinFind’s SA SMME Access to Finance Report, business expansion is the number one reason for businesses requesting funding.”
“Working capital is essential for the day-to-day operations of a business,” agrees Shayne Burnstein, director of Swypefin, which offers alternative funding solutions. “More often than not, business owners lack sufficient working capital to meet their daily cash flow requirements or expand their operations. This can ultimately lead to the failure of the business. It’s common for a business to borrow capital and by using the basic principles of leverage, they can invest in assets that generate higher returns.”
“The reality is that growing a business requires money,” says Darlene. “Capital is needed to fund the increased expenses incurred to prepare for and facilitate increased revenue growth. Businesses that secure funding can invest in hiring more staff, secure bigger premises, expand into new markets or new products and services, purchase additional equipment, vehicles and machinery, as well as fund larger marketing budgets, amongst other things.
“Without access to finance the speed of business growth is reduced and, in many cases, the ability to achieve the potential of increased revenues, profits and job creation is jeopardised.”
According to Darlene, businesses that can secure funding and have the guarantee of working capital and cash flow availability are better positioned to employ and retain more skilled and experienced staff, to negotiate more favourable payment terms with suppliers, and to build better trading track records and improve their credit scores, all of which increase their ability to raise more finance and continue to bolster increased business growth and create more employment opportunities.
The challenge of cash flow
Karl Westvig, CEO of Retail Capital, says that more than 80% of business owners have identified seasonal cashflow as the greatest challenge facing the SME sector today. “Restrictions in cashflow inhibit plans for renovation and expansion, but mostly for stock purchasing, which has a direct knock-on effect on the profits and employment rates of the retail sector,” he says. “Giving business owners easy access to working capital allows them to get back to servicing the market while they partner with a financial provider for growth.”
“The biggest challenge that SMEs face is cash flow. Cash flow is king and that’s where finance products play a role,” agrees Linda Fröhlicht, Head of Business Banking, Sasfin. “They enable growth by giving the business owner cash to grow their business.” Of course, there’s always a balance. “There’s a cost to accessing finance, which means it’s essential that you’re accessing it to help you grow your business, rather than to service debt.
“If you borrow money to enable the growth of your business, the finance cost is actually part of the cost of your sales. But if it’s to service debt, or you can’t afford the finance, you’ve got a problem and it will only damage your business.”
According to Linda, it’s important to understand your margins, if you can sustain the cost of finance with your margins and if the product you’re looking at makes sense in terms of your business and your growth plans.
“The upside is that a financier can provide you with growth, because they’re going to give you access to cash, enabling you to grow your business. It’s a working capital solution — it’s not debt. We evaluate businesses and business owners to gain a deep understanding of the entrepreneur’s needs, first to ensure affordability and second to evaluate if the right product is being utilised to drive growth.”
Making finance work for you
According to FinFind’s SA SMME Access to Finance Report, the top six reasons that SME business owners request access to funding are to expand their businesses, for cash flow assistance, buying equipment, working capital, funding a contract and for property development.
There are many ways to use this capital, provided you understand your business needs and have a clear growth strategy. “We advise our clients to use the money on strategic initiatives that will ensure, and have a direct impact on, business growth and profitability, instead of personal expenses and debt management,” says Karl. “We have seen the majority of our clients seeing early profit yields (from four to six months) when funding was used for stock purchasing, renovations and expansions instead of salaries, holidays and debt repayments.”
A strategic deployment of funds can be anything from investing in the right equipment that will help you grow your business to securing early settlement discounts — all of which have the potential to boost growth in your business.
An example of early settlement discounts can be found in the retail industry. “Currently retailers are trading under very challenging conditions. With VAT and the price of petrol increasing, consumers have tightened their belts,” says Shayne. “Under these conditions suppliers are offering retailers trade discounts for COD payments. It often makes sense for them to borrow the capital to take advantage of the trade discounts, enabling the retailer to increase their margins.”
The same is true when it comes to importing goods. “Importing goods takes time,” says Linda. “From the shipment to bill of loading, three weeks on the water, turning raw materials into a finished article, selling the products, and then waiting an additional 60 days for your debtors to pay you — cash flow becomes a real challenge.
“Finance products and terms that fit in with your cash flow cycle are meaningful. In addition, if you make an upfront payment to an exporter, you can also negotiate discounts. You can then offset a portion of the discount you will receive from the supplier to finance fees.”
Growth capital can be used in any industry and any-sized business, from a dentist or doctor’s business to a clothing manufacturer. “Advancements in 3D printing technology enable dentists that historically relied on outsourcing a technician to make dental crowns, for example,” says Shayne. “This process typically takes a few weeks at a considerable cost.
By borrowing capital to purchase 3D printing equipment, the dentist can bypass the technician and make the crown in an hour, allowing them to see more patients, which would significantly increase their turnover. As a business owner, you need to critically consider what will help you grow your business: Is it new equipment, bigger premises or marketing spend? What can you invest in that will grow your turnover and your profit margins? That’s where financing makes sense.”
Karl agrees. “Any business can benefit from both alternative and traditional funding products when invested in growth initiatives,” he says, adding that businesses in seasonal trade industries in particular should investigate the alternative funding products available to them. “Because of fluctuating cashflow, seasonal businesses usually find it difficult to access traditional business financing channels. The application process can be long and arduous, whereas alternative funding allows quick access to working capital, and repayments are linked to cash flow.”
Karl does have a word of advice for business owners considering their financing options: “Don’t wait too long when thinking of applying for funding.
Once turnover has dropped too much, it affects a business’s affordability, and when funding is obtained it’s then often used as emergency funding and meeting commitments instead of investing in business profit and growth initiatives. It’s also important to deal with credible funding providers that provide consultants and assistance to the business owner with industry advice and economical insights on where the best opportunities for growth exist.”
Alternative financing solutions
Studies such as the CB insights study on fintechs, the World Bank Group (2017) on Alternative Data Transforming SMME Finance and the IFC’s (2010) SME Banking Knowledge Guide show that fintechs are able to reduce many of the pain points and barriers to SME funding and importantly facilitate increased scale.
“Funding aggregators are automating funding matches, generating quality leads for funders and reducing search costs for both the providers and seekers, while online lenders are reducing approvals to less than 48 hours and funding disbursements shortly thereafter,” says Darlene.
“Our innovative funding products provide an alternative to traditional business finance loans,” explains Karl, highlighting Retail Capital’s alternative funding solution. “We determine business affordability by assessing expected future sales, linking payments to your business turnover. We offer fixed or flexible repayment options, linking it to your cash flow cycles and business needs, to ensure affordability.”
The rise of fintechs that are able to provide alternative funding solutions is largely thanks to innovative tech advancements and algorithms that can evaluate businesses based purely on multiple data points.
“By automating processes and gaining more insight into available data, fintech companies are able to make more informed decisions regarding the credit profile of clients,” says Shayne. “We have developed an algorithm that looks at your previous 12 months’ turnover in order to determine an amount of your future sales that we can advance to you,” he continues, explaining how Swypefin’s product works.
“Our repayments are based on a percentage of your turnover, which allows you the flexibility to pay less in the months in which your cash flow is constrained and pay more in your busier months. We do not tie up your assets as collateral. Our fee is fixed, transparent and pre-agreed upfront. You will never be liable to pay more than what is agreed upon. If the advance is settled early we offer a pro rata refund on the fixed fee depending on when settlement takes place.”
Positive cash flow and smart financing solutions
Ultimately, finance should support your business and help you grow. With that in mind, Linda unpacks when you shouldn’t be accessing finance, and how to ensure you remain on the path to growth rather than bad debt and business failure.
“One of the biggest issues we see are companies that overtrade and get themselves stuck in a debt cycle,” she explains. “In simple terms, a business that is overtrading has orders, but not the infrastructure to meet those orders. If there’s a clear growth strategy in place matched with the right financing vehicles, this growth can be planned, controlled and executed, but many entrepreneurs want to run before they can walk.
“When this happens, the business will invest in expensive fixed assets in order to meet orders, and then the necessary orders don’t come in, or something happens to disrupt the business. Now the business is playing catch-up, and the business owner needs finance to cover debt.”
Related: Understanding Cash Flow
According to Linda, the biggest cause of over-trading is failing to plan cash flow. “This is one of the first questions we ask: Do you have a strategy in place and a cash flow projection? Not just for this year, but this month, week, and even on a day-by-day basis.
Another key error many business owners make is using the deposit from one contract to kick start another contract. “There’s a domino effect when this happens. The business very quickly gets totally out of kilter, and the owner never quite manages to get on top of his finances. To avoid this trap, concentrate on finishing the job at hand. Ensure that you allocate the funds that you get to where you lent the money from — no matter what.
“This goes back to managing cash flow. Business owners believe that finding a second project from the first (when it’s not finished and the money isn’t in the bank) will help them grow. Instead, it just kills their business.
“Cash is king and never borrowing money can cap your growth, but you need to understand the difference between healthy debt and bad debt.”
While the solutions for cash flow assistance, buying equipment, working capital and funding a contract are similar to each other, property development is specific.
Done correctly, investing in the commercial property from which you run your business can make strong financial sense and result in savings on your bottom line.
“Many business owners who own their premises have two separate companies,” explains Suraj Lallchand, director at Fedgroup Ventures, a division of Fedgroup. “The first is the original company that actually runs the operations, and the second is a ‘prop co’ that owns the property.”
The reasons for this are simple: There are tax benefits, it opens a second income stream, and it keeps the two entities separate, allowing the business owner to one day sell the business while maintaining the property portfolio they have built up. In many cases, if the business is sold but remains in the premises, as the property owner they will continue to draw rental fees from the business.
“It’s a simple process,” explains Suraj. “You would put the property into the prop co, take a loan against the property, and charge rent to the operations company. This then becomes a taxable deduction for the operational company, and the interest you pay on the loan for the building is deductible for the prop co. As a result, you bring your taxable income down to a minimal amount. We see many companies that would rather purchase their own properties and take the tax deductions than continue to rent.”
The key to owning your own commercial property is whether or not the operations company can afford the rental and has strong prospects for the future. “If you can’t occupy the building and you don’t find a tenant, the prop co will end up defaulting on its loan and losing the property,” he adds.
“We always do our due diligence on the borrower and the property in question,” agrees Rick de Sousa, Head of Commercial Property Finance at Fedgroup. “The security we are lending against is determined by the value of the property as well as the owner’s ability to service the loan. If the owner of the business is purchasing the property, then the business’s stability and projected income is an important factor for us to consider.”
According to Rick, there is a completely different level of responsibility involved when you purchase premises compared to rent. “It’s a good example of risk and return,” he says. “Your risks increase, and it becomes your responsibility to ensure the building is maintained, rates and taxes are being paid, security, insurance, health and safety — you no longer have a landlord taking care of any of these things — but the returns should be commensurate with that risk.”
Rick’s advice is that you ensure the yield of the property makes sense. “Property has proven to outperform inflation. It’s generally in the high teens. In addition, commercial property is pretty predictable when it comes to rentals as well. You can bank on a yearly increase of 6% to 8%. This all aligns with whether the property is well managed though, and if you’re the landlord and the tenant, whether your business can continue to pay the rentals for the foreseeable future.”
From a property owner’s perspective, Fedgroup’s terms are flexible. “We can lend up to 75% of the asset value,” says Rick. “We also give interest-only terms. This means you can choose to only pay the interest, and once the business has grown and your revenues have increased, you can elect to start paying capital, or you can continue to only pay your interest and see returns once the property has appreciated and is sold. Those returns can then be invested in the next property.”
Over and above the flexible terms and the fact that Fedgroup does not prescribe how funds are allocated once the loan has been granted, Rick believes their clients benefit from the property experience of the division’s team and partners. “We can talk property with them, which is extremely valuable when making such a big decision.”
“Many businesses keep the company and property portfolio separate. There are tax benefits, it opens a second income stream, and it keeps the two entities separate, allowing the business owner to one day sell the business while maintaining the property portfolio they have built up.” — Suraj Lallchand, Director at Fedgroup Ventures, a division of Fedgroup.
Growth through property
“Owning commercial property is a good example of risk and return. Your risks increase, but the returns should be commensurate with that risk.” — Rick de Sousa, Head of Commercial Property Finance at Fedgroup.
Financial Literacy Key To Business Success – Especially In A Tough Economy
What can South African SMMEs do to position themselves for success in tough economic times? Arming their people with basic financial literacy is a good place to start argues UCT Graduate School of Business Associate Professor Mark Graham.
In times of economic hardship, good financial and management skills in a business can make all the difference. According to a recent article in Business Day, international investors are sniffing about South African SMMEs that have proven themselves to be well-run during this time of subdued economic growth – and are also attractively undervalued.
Strong balance sheets and stable management in an environment of slow growth economy with low liquidity adds up to some bargain long-term investment opportunities for international consortiums it seems. Among those who have been involved in investment or buyout offers in the past few months are Clover and Interwaste.
It seems self-evident to suggest that well-run businesses attract investment and success. But what actually makes a business – of any size – well-run in the first place?
There is obviously no short answer to this; good leadership, a clear strategy and a strong and motivated workforce all play their part, but one factor that is often overlooked is financial acumen – throughout the organisation. While the accountants and members in the finance team are expected to understand the numbers, this is not always a core competency required in other departments. Yet, having a good working knowledge of finance at every decision-making level, from new managers to members of the board, can be key.
Even if people don’t need to know a lot about finance in their day-to-day job, the more conversant they are on the subject, the better off they – and the business – will be, according to Richard Ruback, a professor at Harvard Business School and the co-author of the HBR Guide to Buying a Small Business. “If you can speak the language of money, you will be more successful,” he says simply.
Financial savvy will give the marketing manager the ability to demonstrate not only that something is a good idea/product or service, but that it makes financial sense too, for example. And it will make sure that the people in the HR team understand more clearly why reducing staff churn is a good idea not only for company culture but for the bottom line as well.
A knowledge of some basic financial decision-making tools (the all-important balance-sheet, for example) and an appreciation of the difference between profitability and cash flow will ensure that non-financial managers are more likely to effectively participate in business strategy and decision-making. Someone who understands the financial statements of a business understands the business in a way that is not otherwise possible. It’s like looking beneath the hood of a car and understanding how it all fits together and why the car can move forward – or not.
Such people can more confidently identify potential problems and inefficiencies before they impact the overall financial performance, because those warnings are almost invariably reflected in the financials first – and often at departmental level. Critically, they can also help identify financial irregularities, enabling them to call out and stop fraud and corruption in its tracks.
Equipping its people with financial skills is therefore a good strategy for a business looking to position itself for growth and investment. And it makes sense for individuals too – Joe Knight, a partner and senior consultant at the Business Literacy Institute in the US and the co-author of Financial Intelligence, says that an absence of financial savvy is “career-limiting.”
Let’s not ignore the fact that there are challenges however. Finance matters tend to scare a great many people. Traditionally, these areas of knowledge carry the stigma of being impenetrable, and financial literacy is not ideally developed at early levels. According to a study by the Financial Services Board, South Africa currently has a financial literacy rate of just 51%.
This means that roughly one out of every two people is likely to prefer to abdicate from financial decision-making – leaving it to the “numbers” people. But with some intervention and training it is possible to empower individuals to decode these mysteries and get to grips with the language of finance.
All things being equal, it’s not pure luck that allows some businesses to operate well and thrive while others fail. Well-run businesses are generally run by well-informed people. In short, decision-makers who don’t understand basic financial concepts and the language of finance simply don’t know what is going on.
While the SA government is currently talking up the need for foreign direct investment to rescue the country from the economic doldrums, there is much that ordinary businesses can do to position themselves for success. And ensuring that their people are adequately equipped to understand the nuances of business through the language of finance is perhaps a good place to start.
Trade Agreement Tips That Will Save You Costs
If you are looking to benefit from trade agreements, you need to keep the following advice in mind.
Trade benefits all parties involved. When a country has scarcity of certain resources or lack the capacity to satisfy their own needs, they have the opportunity to trade the resources which they produce in surplus, for the products they need or want.
When goods are transferred from one country to another, it stimulates the economy as products and money is switched between hands. Over the years, the competitive nature of moving goods from one country to the other, negotiating prices and opening new markets has caused certain agreements to immerge to promote trade between the member countries.
A trade agreement is an arrangement between two or more nations in order for goods to move more easily between borders with mutually beneficial tariffs imposed on imports. These agreements ensure that duty tax is removed or reduced on condition that the importer and exporter provide the correct documents. This is all the more reason for traders to familiarise themselves with the current trade agreements in place.
Tip1# Know Whether You Export To Or Import From A Country With A Trade Agreement
There are a few trade agreements that you need to be aware of which will significantly cut duty tax. The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is one of them. The fifteen SADC member states included in the agreement enjoy an impressive 85% free trade on goods.
Another trade agreement commonly used by South Africans is the South African Customs Union (SACU) which allows duty tax free movements of goods. This means zero duty tax is payable on trade between these countries. Trade agreements with European countries include the SADC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and the SACU European Free Trade Association (EFTA). We have prepared a list of all the trade agreements as well as the countries involved here.
Tip 2# Know Which Certificate Of Origin Is Necessary For The Specific Trade Agreement
Only traders who can prove that goods were produced or processed in a member country may benefit from these agreements. This is why importers and exporters need to submit paperwork attesting that the goods were made in the country listed as the beneficiary of the trade agreement. The proof provided is called a ’Certificate of Origin’.
A certificate of origin often abbreviated to C/O or CoO is a printed form or electronic document completed by the exporter and certified by a recognised issuing body, validating that the goods in a particular export shipment have been produced, manufactured or processed in a particular country.
The exporter has to submit proof that either a) the products were wholly obtained from that country; this means all components and manufacturing originated in that country, or b) that it is sufficiently processed in the country of origin.
In other words, although some components might have been imported, the product was sufficiently transformed, or value was added in such a way that the final item can be deemed as new or original. Furthermore, if a company was registered in one country and the manufacturing plant in another, the certificate of origin would be issued from the manufacturing plant’s country. There are various certificates of origins used for different countries. Read here for more details about the different documents required to ensure you benefit from lower duty tax.
#Tip 3: Ensure The Certificate Of Origin Is Completed In The Right Manner
These documents must be completed correctly. Most of the information provided has to come from the exporter. If the wrong information has been reported, it can influence the relationship between the importer and exporter negatively.
Common mistakes when filling out a Certificate of Origin may include:
- Identifying the wrong country of origin
- Using the wrong H.S. code
- Providing an incorrect or incomplete and rather ambiguous description of the goods
- Not including a description on how the cargo is packed or reporting a total weight that does not include packaging
- Exporting goods made from imported material and not sufficiently processed to be deemed as originating from the exporting country.
A lot of information can be misrepresented on the certificate of origin. For this reason, we recommend making use of companies specialising in trade administration to ease the stress and to ensure that all the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted.
Backing You With Smarter Tools
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The new “Backing You” campaign extends this commitment to support small business owners through the challenges of business ownership – with a little help from Danny DeVito.
“The importance of small business is personal to me. At a young age, I watched both my parents and my sister build their own business from the ground up and struggle to balance family obligations with growing their businesses,” says DeVito.
“When Intuit QuickBooks approached me for this campaign, I felt this was a way that I could give back to this very important industry, show them how to make their lives easier and make them laugh along the way too.”
QuickBooks gives you a set of business tools that’ll do all the hard work for you, making sure you get the time to do what really matters to you. “Because collecting receipts is so 80s, and who has time to chase payments?” says Danny.