The realities of obtaining funding in SA
Let’s be clear on one thing: raising money for your business is likely to be one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do.
Financing is necessary to help the business owner set up and expand their operations, develop new products, and invest in new staff or production facilities. Many small businesses start out as an idea developed by one or two people who invest their own money, or turn to family and friends for financial help in return for a share in the business. Even if they are successful, there comes a time for all developing SMEs when they need new investment to expand or innovate further. That’s where they often run into problems, because they find it much harder than larger businesses to obtain financing from banks, investors or other credit providers. Putting aside the cost of borrowing money, the complexity of lending arrangements and the inflexibility of banks and major lenders, the fact is that it’s almost impossible to get a business loan. The credit squeeze is not a problem unique to South Africa. Research shows that as few as 3% of applicants worldwide are successful at securing a business loan.
Yet SMEs are the backbone of all economies and a key source of economic growth, dynamism and flexibility in both advanced industrialised countries, and in emerging and developing economies. SMEs constitute the dominant form of business organisation, accounting for over 95% and up to 99% of enterprises depending on the country. They are responsible for between 60% and 70% of job creation in many countries around the world. In addition, they are particularly important for bringing innovative products or techniques to the market. While not every small business turns into a multinational, they all face the same issue in their early days – finding the money to enable them to start and build up the business and test their product or service.
It’s much harder for them to borrow money from banks or to find private investors than for larger companies – and it’s unlikely the scenario is going to change anytime soon. It’s not going to become any easier to obtain the funding needed to start, grow and prosper, and thus contribute to creating jobs and economic growth. Why is it so difficult to obtain funding? Funding institutions are inundated with applications. What makes your business a better bet than thousands of others? Do you have a good credit record? Is your business plan appealing to an investor?
These are all key questions that you will have to answer. Remember, ideas are a dime a dozen – what will set your apart is the amount of preparation and research you put into your business plan, the skills you have available and your passion for the business. Your credit record is vitally important, so keep it clean. One of the most consistent reasons for the failure of an application is non-alignment of the business with the funding institution’s mandate. Don’t waste your time applying for funding for your asparagus farm from an organisation that does not finance agricultural activities. That’s just counterproductive.
What are the options?
Banks are risk averse, so they are unlikely to finance a start-up or very young firm without collateral. They also prefer to avoid businesses that offer the possibilities of high returns but at substantial risk of loss. They are far more likely to provide expansion capital for a business that has a healthy track record. Banks do however provide credit cards, overdrafts and home loan advances which can give you access to finance. If you’re considering private equity or venture capital, you must have a solid business case and a venture that is in line the organisation’s investment strategy. You will be required to demonstrate an ability to service the loan and associated fees and interest without subjecting your cash flow to undue stress.
Government funds are available through a variety of channels, all of which have to deliver on the mandate to advance black economic empowerment, women in business and job creation. How are you able to fulfil on these objectives? Do not make the mistake of expecting to be given cash. You will need to have a comprehensive business plan that is in line with the institution’s criteria. If you are unable to secure finance, you’ll have bootstrap and use your own resources. You may also be able to borrow money from friends and family. Be warned though – this option is only suitable for non-capital intensive businesses.
Never Give Up
Bear in mind that while raising finance is tough, it’s not impossible – provided you do the legwork. Andrew Honey, publisher of Entrepreneur, approached a total of 82 prospective financiers over a period of 11 months before launching the magazine in 2006. His tenacity and resolve certainly paid off. Read on to find out more about how to compile an application for finance that will set you on a pathway to success – and get you the cash!
Alternatives to Obtaining Funding
Many start-ups that are unsuccessful in obtaining capital because they have no track record or collateral end up bootstrapping – adjusting their business model and pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, the owners launch the venture with as little as several thousand rands. They start small, often operating from home, and are cautious with their expenses, reinvesting money in the business as they go along. In this way, they develop a track record, which gives them a greater chance of securing funding into the future. Another option is to bring in a partner to share the burden of financing the business. As an entrepreneur, you also have access to “alternative capital”: energy and passion, knowledge and skills, time and effort, resilience and tenacity, networks and connection. Use it.
1. Government Funds | IDC
With small businesses playing an increasingly important role in SA’s economy the state has made several supportive funding vehicles available
State funds aim to promote economic growth and industrial development in South Africa, in recognition of the fact that a dynamic private sector creates employment and reduces poverty. There are several sources of funding available from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), all of which promote entrepreneurship through the building of competitive industries and enterprises based on sound business principles.
What are the key factors the IDC looks for in a successful plan?
- Proving the viability of the transaction, ability to meet all cash flow commitments (debt repayment, creditors and other cash expenses) and to generate a decent and acceptable return to the shareholders.
- Demonstrating that all aspects relating to a successful business have been considered (including human resources, marketing, finance, technical, production, and corporate governance and compliance issues).
- Demonstrating the ability and experience of managers and key staff to successfully implement and manage the business into the future.
- Basing all intentions and forecasts in the business plan on reasonable assumptions, supported with relevant documentation as far as possible.
- Documenting all information in the business plan. The business plan should be as complete as possible, and a stand-alone document.
What are some of the red flags that cause a plan to be rejected?
- Over-gearing of the business (too much debt resulting in significant doubt being placed on the business’s ability to repay debt and expenses and manage expenses).
- Insufficient experience of key management, which means they are unable to successfully manage and grow the business.
- Inability to justify various assumptions in the business plan, coupled with incomplete analysis of the market and failure to demonstrate how market share will be captured.
- Failure to deliver key outstanding agreements or requirements that are essential to the success of the plan, such as a major contract which does not materialise.
- Failure by owners to provide required security, such as personal suretyships.
- Non-compliance (legal, statutory, tax) for existing companies that wish to expand.
- What process do you follow in evaluating plans in your organisation?
- There are two major processes:
1. Basic Assessment
This phase involves a desktop study of the business plan and constant liaison between the client and the IDC on formulating and tailoring the plan so that all requirements are met. A high-level review of financial viability and other key areas (such as human resources, technical knowledge and compliance) is also conducted at this stage.
2. Due Diligence
Subject to the successful completion of a basic assessment, this phase involves a more in-depth analysis of the business requirements based on the business plan and basic assessment. A team is assigned to conduct a due diligence which involves spending time onsite and engaging key role players such as shareholders, management, builders/professional team, equipment suppliers, existing and new customers and employees.
2. Social Development Funds | Masiszane
If your business is a development initiative that will contribute to SA’s growth, you can apply for social development funding
Social development funders aim to make a meaningful investment in shared growth by supporting people who were previously excluded from participating in the country’s economy.
Old Mutual’s Masisizane fund is investing R400 million in enterprise development, with a focus on women-owned businesses, capacity building and skills development, and financial education. Entrepreneur quizzed Masisizane’s CEO Charmaine Groves about her views on the make or break factors when it comes to applying for funding.
Who succeeds in obtaining funding from your organisation?
We look for entrepreneurs who have:
- Passion for the business demonstrated in the plan and in face-to-face interaction
- Commitment demonstrated by own capital investment into the business
- Capacity to accept constructive advice/criticism, and the ability to analyse input carefully before reacting
- Good credit rating
- Understanding of the consumer and product
- Focus on market diversification, not product diversification
- Product that meets a specific market need
- Product that meets the market’s quality standards and displays a competitive edge
What are the key factors you look for in a successful plan?
- A history of trading (at least three years) and consumer demand for the product
- Up-to-date financials and realistic projections that present a viable business as a going concern (if it’s an existing business)
- Comfortable profit margins, shown by realistic projections, to absorb loan repayments
- Demonstrated regulatory compliance (tax affairs must be in order, for example)
- Must address health and safety issues and protection of the environment
- Must address both the raw material supply and product demand aspects
- Must demonstrate a pragmatic and proven approach to getting the product to market
- The business must be able to secure and/or create jobs – our target is to create, on average, one job for every R100 000 loan
- Must demonstrate the empowerment of black people and women
- Must meet the other Masisizane fund criteria
What are some of the red flags that cause a plan to be rejected?
- The business owners are not actively involved in the business
- The market for the product is clearly saturated or non-existent
- The product quality will not meet the market requirements – this could lead to deferral of funding while the product quality is improved
- The business is not or will not become viable in the medium- to long-term (no demand or no raw material supply)
What process do you follow in evaluating business plans?
- Evaluate against the fund’s criteria
- Evaluate the viability of the business idea, the product, markets, management and technical ability, the legal matters
- Conduct a site visit to gain a better understanding of the business and confirm the facts in the business plan
- Scrutinise the financials, check how realistic projections are, and calculate ratios to determine long-term viability and ability to repay the loan
- Check credit standing
- Motivate financing to credit committee
- Fulfil National Credit Act requirements if approved by the credit committee
- Call +27 11 217 1854
- Visit www.oldmutual.co.za
3. Banks | Nedbank
There are a number of different loan types available from banks, but the criteria are rigorous and you will need some collateral
It is notoriously difficult to secure funding from banks. Before you apply, make sure you have a good credit history and rating, strong financials that are consistent with your credit history, a verifiable income and profit, and sufficient assets to use as collateral.
According to Sibongiseni Ngundze, managing executive of Nedbank Small Business Services, applicants looking for bank funding must demonstrate a good understanding of the business they wish to embark on and importantly, their plan has to be realistic and achievable. “Applicants should use clear and simple language in their applications and business plans,” adds Ngundze. “Included therein should be a brief CV of the entrepreneur or applicant.”
In its evaluation of business plans Ngundze says the bank typically looks at the following criteria:
- A comprehensive breakdown of what needs to be financed
- The entrepreneur’s own contribution
- Evidence that the applicant has conducted extensive homework on the business he wishes to start
- Who and where the target market (clients) is and have they been accurately identified?
- Who the competitors are and the applicant’s key differentiating factors
- Suppliers and/or alternate suppliers. Do they offer reasonable terms?
- Are there substitute products?
- A SWOT analysis
- What are the barriers to entry in the industry, if any? (regulation, high capital requirements, too specialised)
- Is the business subject to seasonal fluctuations?
- How is the business affected by the
- current or future state of the economy?
- Are the premises leased or owned and is there room for expansion?
What process do you follow in evaluating plans in your organisation?
Applications are received from different sources and sales channels in the bank. These are then sent to a team of credit staff within Nedbank Small Business Services who assess the applications and plans according to the criteria outlined on page 64.
Reasons for Rejection
“The bank considers affordability,” says Ngundze. “It also places great emphasis on a comprehensive breakdown of the financial plan and the entrepreneur’s own contribution. Conflicting information between the business plan and supporting data will result in the entrepreneur being called into question. Finally, a poor credit rating does not bode well at all.
- To obtain more information, visit www.nedbank.co.za, click on Small Business Services and then on Management Guide.
- This will assist entrepreneurs with setting up and managing their business. It includes information on the requirements of a business plan.
4. Venture Capital | HBD Capital
VC companies typically favour early stage companies with high growth potential.
An equity investment which is subject to more than a normal degree of risk, venture capital is usually associated with a new business or venture and particularly with new technology projects.
According to venture capital expert Keet van Zyl of HBD Venture Capital, organisations such as his fund less than 1% of proposals received. HBD is a niche venture capital company and it has to be judicious with resources.
The screening process
- Only 25% of proposals received by HBD Venture Capital fit its funding mandate
- That number shrinks to 10% post the initial meeting with the entrepreneurs
- Half of those entrepreneurs, a mere 5%, pass the test and make it to the next round
- Only 1% will make it beyond the due diligence and legal negotiations to be successful in their acquisition of finance
How do venture capital companies typically define their investment mandates?
It is critical to learn as much as possible about the VC’s investment mandate and to ensure that the concept and business plan fit within its scope. Here is a list of common criteria for VC investment mandates:
- Most VC companies shy away from start-ups in favour of companies that are able to demonstrate revenue for anything from six months to two years
- Qualities and proven ability of the management team
- Equity-based funding is a likely requirement
- VC companies typically favour specific bands of financing requirements –
- R10 million to R50 million, or R100 million
- Sufficient barriers to entry, cutting down many competitors and ensuring a largely uncontested market space
- Potential for fast-paced, high growth
- Many VC companies will favour certain industries and exclude others
What are the key factors venture capital organisations typically find in a successful proposal?
- Match with the VC company’s investment mandate
- Viable current business model
- Aggressive growth strategy
- International expansion opportunities
- Growth in their industry
- Passionate entrepreneurs/strong management teams
- Can this entrepreneur be an industry leader?
- Can the business model create a “network effect”?
- Unique differentiating products/concepts
- Barriers to entry
What are some of the red flags that cause a plan to be rejected?
- Most venture capital companies make financing decisions that are based on the investment mandate – a mismatch with the mandate will result in rejection
- Slow revenue and profitability growth projections
- Lack of uniqueness
- Lack of scalability
- Lack of understanding of the industry in which the entrepreneur operates
- Inadequate strategic plan to be able to implement and grow a great business concept
- Unreasonable expectations of the valuation of the business concept
- False claims being made or misrepresentations
- Misalignment between the business plan and the entrepreneur’s oral ‘pitch’
What is the typical process for evaluating proposals for VC?
Not unlike other venture capital investors, the HBD process is designed to provide crucial decision points at each step of the investigation to ensure that the business owner experiences no unwarranted delays. Van Zyl outlines the procedure for evaluating business proposals received by the organisation:
- Initial Screening: The information provided in your business plan is evaluated to determine if it is in line with the funding mandate and whether it is likely to yield venture capital expected returns.
- Assessment: In this initial meeting the business owners will present their business case with the objective of determining possible synergies and the way forward.
- Term Sheet: A short investigation is conducted and a report is presented to the investment committee. If the decision is to proceed with due diligence, HBD will negotiate a term sheet and exclusivity agreement with the business owners.
- Due Diligence: Due diligence is carried out by a core team and outside expert consultants. A typical due diligence process can take between one and three months as it requires a very detailed review of the financial, human capital, legal, market and product components of the business.
- Deal Execution: If the investment committee approves the transaction, the legal documents are negotiated and implemented and the funding is disbursed.
- Call +27 21 970 1056
- Visit www.hbd.com
Attracting Angel Investors
Look to your networks and the people you know to find angels
Professionals. These include doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants and so on. You know these people, so an appointment should be easy to arrange. Professionals usually have discretionary income available to invest in outside projects.
Business associates. These are people you come in contact with during the normal course of your business day. They can be divided into four subgroups:
Suppliers. The owners of companies who supply your inventory and other needs have a vital interest in your company’s success and make excellent angels. A supplier’s investment may not come in the form of cash but in the form of better payment terms or cheaper prices.Customers. These are especially good contacts if they use your product or service to make or sell their own goods.
5. Private Equity | Business Partners
A private equity investor will become a partner or direct owner of your business
Private equity capital is provided to companies for the development of new products or technologies, strengthening of the capital base or for acquisitions
Entrepreneur quizzed Business Partners’ Nic van der Westhuizen, area manager of the North Rand, on his views on the make or break factors when it comes to using your business plan as a tool to get funding.
What is the average ratio of plan submitted vs plan approved?
It varies between 17% and 20%. It depends on the number of business plans for start-up businesses; the approval rate here is normally smaller.
What are the characteristics of a successful plan?
It’s well thought through and realistic. This does not have to be an academically correct document. The facts in the business plan should be well checked. Assumptions should be well motivated. The entrepreneurs should preferably have some experience in the industry, or at least have the ability to be trained. The business plan is really a reflection of the abilities of the entrepreneur. They should also preferably have some own contribution towards the business.
What are the key factors Business Partners looks for?
How realistic is the business plan? We look at the risk involved in the business. This is determined by the viability of the business, the gearing, and the entrepreneur. We require a detailed description of the existing and/or proposed market and how the entrepreneur proposes to enter the market.
What can cause a business plan to be rejected?
Some of the major reasons for rejection are affordability (due to the high finance amount required the business cannot afford the repayment), viability of the business (especially in cases of new businesses), a poor credit history, lack of experience where it is required in specialised industries, and over optimism regarding projections without acceptable motivations.
What process do you follow to evaluate business plans?
All business plans are evaluated by portfolio managers and area managers. These are all highly experienced people. We do a desktop analysis, discuss the business plan with the applicant and visit his business, if applicable, before we make a decision. If we come to the conclusion that there might be a deal in it we do a detailed due diligence on all the relative facts in the business plan.
What is your best advice for writing a business plan to get funding?
Always write a business plan for yourself and not for your bank or financier. Regard a business plan as a roadmap for your business. Be honest and realistic in the document. Never fool yourself. Write the business plan yourself. The business plan that we want from the entrepreneur must be a realistic, workable document. It must be a “living” document that is updated on a continuous basis.
- Call +27 11 713 6600
- Visit www.businesspartners.co.za
Access To Finance In SA: What You Need To Know
Finfind’s inaugural SMME Access to Finance Report reveals some of the biggest challenges SMEs face when trying to get finance. Understand the landscape, and you can adjust your business to obtain more finance.
Access to finance is a primary challenge for the majority of SME owners, particularly in the early stages. Without an understanding of the complexities of SME funding and the challenges experienced by both the providers and seekers of finance, it’s impossible to address the obstacles that are hindering increased deal flow.
Many countries have transparent data from lenders on a number of SMEs applying for loans, the reasons they are applying, financing terms, the interest rates, rejection reasons and rates, non-performing loans and factoring volumes. However, this information does not exist in the public domain in South Africa, even though it is crucial for policy-making. There is an urgent need for quality data and increased transparency to map SME’s access to finance and understand their funding challenges so that practical solutions can be developed.
Finfind has responded by publishing South Africa’s inaugural SMME Access to Finance Report. As an innovative fintech company that provides SMEs with a free funder matching service and an up-to-date database of over 420 finance products from public and private sector SME funders, Finfind has comprehensive data on the providers and seekers of finance. The report has enabled us to provide valuable insights about SME funding that can benefit policy-makers, funders and organisations involved in SMEs.
Some of the key findings of the report include:
High demand for SME finance
The SME funding gap in South Africa is estimated at between R86 billion and R346 billion per annum. It provides a compelling, largely untapped market opportunity for innovative funders who are able to develop new lending models and risk assessment tools tailored to address the challenges of this complex and burgeoning market.
Funders require new risk assessment models
Banks currently struggle to serve SMEs as they treat business (big and small) as a single market, and apply traditional lending methods that use collateral and conventional financing scorecards as a one-size-fits-all approach. These traditional instruments are detrimental to micro, very small and small businesses securing finance. For funders to close the credit gap, innovative new credit scoring models that enable more accurate risk assessment need to be designed specifically for this target market.
There is a lack of SME credit record data in South Africa
South Africa has comprehensive consumer (personal) credit record data that is well organised and regulated. However, this is not the case for SME credit record data. The credit bureaus in the country have little, and in some cases, no credit history data for SMEs. There is no regulation of SME credit record data, and no standard means of data collection (or a framework for credit records) for SMEs.
This poses a major challenge for SME lenders as they use the credit score in their risk assessments. Funders request credit reports (credit checks) from the credit bureaus to assess a business’s historic credit conduct. In the case of SME lending, funders request the credit report for both the owner and the SME, even though they are two separate legal entities.
The current system does not uphold legislation that distinguishes between the owner and the business, which means that when SMEs apply for finance, lenders rely on the credit records of individual owners to assess the risk of lending. This prejudices SMEs that might be extremely creditworthy but have owners with compromised personal credit scores.
The lack of SME finance readiness is a major hindrance to securing finance
The qualitative research shows that many SMEs are unable to access funding as they cannot provide funders with proof that they are bankable and can afford the finance they are requesting. Funders need to examine the SME’s financial records to determine that the business is viable and to assess their ability to repay the funding. To do this they require access to the SME’s latest financial statements and up-to-date management accounts including income/cash flow projections and outstanding debtors, tax clearance certificate, VAT statements and business plans amongst others.
Financial record-keeping is a major challenge for many SMEs and they are not able to produce these documents. Without these, they are unable to access finance, and are ill-equipped to make sound decisions in their business or properly manage their cash flow. Poor cash flow management often results in SMEs falling behind on VAT and PAYE commitments as they are unaware of what is owed. Many viable businesses are liquidating due to liabilities owed to SARS and other creditors as a result of poor financial record-keeping and an inability to secure funding.
Further to these key findings, the report provides valuable insights into the supply and demand for SME funding. It profiles the SMEs seeking finance by geographic location, turnover, age of business, sector, job creation, financial need and amount of finance required, amongst other key indicators. It also profiles the funders, and considers the supply and demand matches and mismatches, highlighting some of the funding gaps and opportunities in this critical sector.
About the smme access to finance report
Finfind launched the report in partnership with the SA SME Fund and its findings have been made freely available to stakeholders in the SME ecosystem. The report identifies providers and seekers of SME funding in South Africa, and the associated challenges, gaps, opportunities and potential solutions to increase funding success in this vital sector. While ground-breaking in terms of the information it provides, this initial report did not answer all the questions in this complex environment, but provides an excellent start to understanding the landscape.
The report is based on independent analysis of Finfind’s funder and SME finance seeker datasets in 2017, the largest SME access to finance research sample to date. In 2017, Finfind had a total of 126 916 visits to its platform, 81,2% of which were unique visitors. The average time spent on the site was more than five minutes per user.
The report analyses comprehensive data from more than 10 000 SME funding requests that were matched with a base of 148 funders and 328 finance offerings. Comparisons of the Finfind data with data from SARS, GEM SA and StatsSA studies show that the Finfind data is representative of the SME market and that the report findings can be generalised for SMEs in South Africa.
Looking For Funding? Try Manufacturing
There are over 200 national incentives for the industrialisation of South Africa. Can you tap into grant funding to grow your business?
Many people ask me why the focus of public investment in SMEs and business is so heavily weighted on the manufacturing sector?
The reality is that investment in industrialisation results in a multiplier effect in jobs, foreign earnings through exports and increased tax revenues. Countries that focus on industrialisation have proven its potential to stimulate economic growth and address social challenges.
If you’re looking for opportunities and the support needed to realise these opportunities, manufacturing is a good place to start. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) offers several manufacturing-based incentives and grants.
Below are the ten key general principles associated with the DTI incentives:
1. Matching concept
DTI grants are based on a ‘matching’ or ‘co-funding’ principle, which requires an applicant to invest a portion of the funds required for the project for which funding is being requested. The DTI will fund a portion of the project qualifying costs (anywhere from 10% to 90% depending on the specific fund) on condition that the applicant can prove a source of the remaining portion. The source of the difference can be debt, equity or any other form of funding.
2. Qualifying/allowable investments or activities
The DTI sets rules for what can be funded by way of a grant (qualifying costs). These may differ based on the incentive, but the general rule is that the main application of grant funding is for plant, machinery, tools and equipment. Land and working capital will not qualify and would form part of the co-funding.
3. Project size
This refers to the full project size and includes all costs involved in implementing the project. All costs include capital expenditure (e.g. plant, machinery, tools and equipment), working capital (e.g. salaries, wages, stock etc.) and other costs including, but not limited to, land, vehicles, business development and certifications.Not all costs will qualify for funding from an incentive.
Projects are evaluated to determine their bankability. The DTI aims to ensure that the principles applied in an application and business plan are realistic and will result in a sustainable business and/or project. In evaluating bankability, the DTI will look at the ability and know-how of the team and will require the applicant to show proof of market.
Proof of market is demonstrated by off-take agreements, purchase orders, contracts or letters of intent.
Incentives are strategic funding and, as such, are not an appropriate source of funding for distressed businesses or businesses with short timeframes. This funding should be viewed as strategic funding. The DTI may provide timelines for processing applications, however, applicants must be prepared for timelines longer than those indicated. Applications may take anywhere from three to 12 months to be processed and approved.
6. Approval prior to investing
Investments made prior to the approval of an application will be non-qualifying investments. This means that an investment made before receipt of an approval from the DTI cannot be recuperated. This will be enforceable even if the investment made formed part of an application that was approved.
7. Milestone based claims
The DTI will make payments based on project milestones as indicated in an application. Each fund may define its own milestone parameters.
8. Rebated claims
Claims are rebated to applicants. This means that an applicant must first invest, in line with its application, and then submit a claim for the approved investment. This principle demonstrates the importance of securing co-funding, which will be used to initiate the project.
9. Tax free grants
Grants awarded and paid are tax-free.
10. Equity substitution in nature
As grants are not repayable, they can be considered equity for purposes of securing debt. Most debt funders require a portion of equity from an applicant to lower the risk of debt. Debt financiers will consider a grant as an equity contribution, allowing applicants to unlock debt that would otherwise not have been available.
6 Steps To Ensuring You Meet Your Funder’s Mandate
Find your funder, approach the right people, and tick all the boxes.
1. Determine why you need funding
According to Quinton Zunga, founder and CEO of RH Bophelo, a special purpose acquisition company with interests in the healthcare sector, many business owners do not understand cash flow and its impact on the operations of a business. “A good idea without enough cash flow is not sustainable,” he says. “You have to prepare the business for the worst-case scenario and ask yourself ‘what if things don’t work out my way? Do I have a plan B?’ Don’t assume you’ll be able to access finance to save the business if your cash flow is poor.”
The reality is that too many business owners apply for funding because their working capital is under strain, customers owe them money or their margins are too low.
“There’s a big difference between funding that will help you grow your business, and trying to plug a self-inflicted cash flow problem,” agrees Kumaran Padayachee, CEO of Spartan SME Finance, an alternative funder.
The key to growth funding can be summarised in one sentence: Will this help me make money? If the answer is yes, you’ve ticked the growth-funding box. If you’re not sure, relook your financials and forecasting. If the answer is no, you’re trying to solve a cash flow problem that will not be fixed by taking on more debt funding.
“As a funder, we care about what entrepreneurs want the money for,” says Kumaran. “We look at business models and strategy. We take a view of the entire picture, which gives us insight into whether the funding will be used in a growth context, or to plug a gap created by a strategy, cash flow, sales, marketing, management or an access-to-market problem.”
The real insight is that it shouldn’t only be up to funders to determine the answers to these questions, but business owners themselves. If you understand why you need funding, one of two things will happen: You’ll realise there’s a problem in the business that funding won’t solve, and you can begin working on it; or you’ll be prepared when you apply for funding, increasing your chances of securing the finance you need.
The reality is that too many business owners apply for funding because their working capital is under strain, customers owe them money or their margins are too low.
2. Understand the funding landscape
Different sectors, industries and funders have their own rules and mandates. To understand the funding you’re trying to access, you need to first understand the sector you’re in, and the funding rules that apply.
For example, property is a long-term investment and funders in this space require a commitment of at least five to 15 years. TUHF, which is a specialised residential property finance company, also requires an equity contribution, as it does not offer 100% financing.
“Funding is usually made up of two components: Financing (loans) and equity (owner’s contribution),” says TUHF’s CEO, Paul Jackson. “The purchase price of the property, the costs of refurbishment and the amount of money the client can contribute of his own money are the three main contributing factors that determine how much financing the client will need to apply for.”
More importantly, entrepreneurs approaching TUHF are dealing with industry experts operating within a niche space. This is true of most funders, and should be carefully considered by business owners.
When you’re considering your growth options, focus on what you absolutely need to push the needle, and make do with what you can as you build up your pipeline.
“In every case ask the question: Do the costs involved in accessing the finance make sense? Will this help drive growth? How? Once you’ve ticked those boxes, consider all your funding options. There are a lot of solutions available to you, from bank funding, which is the cheapest to access but requires a lot of collateral, to private equity funding, which involves giving away equity in the business,” says Kumaran.
“Alternative funders like us play in the middle of these two traditional options. Alternative funders tend to be niche and specific, focusing on specific sectors or industries. They carry more risk and don’t require collateral, which is why they’re more expensive than banks, but they bring industry and sector-specific insights as well — and it’s debt funding, which means you aren’t giving away equity in your business. Their processes tend to be efficient as well, largely due to the niche nature of the funder. When you’re ready to grow, find a funder that matches your needs and understands your business.”
3. Start early
“Raising capital patiently is key, because acquiring funding quickly but unwisely could lead to repayment issues,” says Quinton. “Some funding can only be accessed later and you need to be patient, or you may find yourself struggling to pay it off before your business has grown big enough to do so. You need to focus on preparing a business plan and understanding the cash flow impact of the decision you make. Look for an advisor or banker to work with you on the business plan.”
4. Know what funders look for
All funders are looking for specific business and personal traits in the business owners they back. Quinton values integrity and honesty, a good understanding of the business they are in, and personal commitment. “Funding a new business is always tough because the entrepreneur may not have experienced all the sides of the economy and may not be accustomed, mature and ready enough to go to the next level. This is where a steady track record is advantageous,” he adds.
Paul agrees. For TUHF, the entrepreneurial character and competence of the borrower is of paramount importance. “We follow a character-based lending approach,” he says.
“A client that displays certain characteristics is considered a better investment option. These include entrepreneurial qualities; an open-minded attitude that is willing to take advice; someone who is self-disciplined and manages the cash flows of the property to the benefit of the property, and not for personal use. Other sought-after characteristics include someone who keeps their tenants happy by keeping the property clean and well maintained, providing all-round good customer service; is committed to doing everything in their power to ensure the success of the deal; is up-to-date on utilities; and directly involved in the property management, even if there is an external service provider.”
5. Avoid red flags
Every funder has red flags they watch out for and they will walk away from a deal if they find them. “A bad past business track record indicates the business owner’s legal, financial, and HR values,” says Quinton. “These are important to us. Without some ethos and standards, you end up not being on the same page as your investor. I usually ask about the entrepreneur’s previous partnership — how they handled it and why it ended. Desperation is also a deterrent, as is a poor business case.”
Paul agrees. The driving factor in TUHF’s business is the borrower’s aptitude in property. “Real estate competency is therefore a key characteristic of TUHF borrowers. It’s important that the building is properly matched to the skill and entrepreneurial competence of the borrower. Some of the conditions we evaluate include a credit record, ensuring the borrower is not under debt review, or blacklisted; returned debit orders on a client’s bank statement; track record and state of repair of the client’s other properties; having the right risk attitude, which in our case is considered, cautious and patient; taking the time to do due diligence; and property fit — does the size and nature of the project match the client’s talents and experience. It’s a red flag for us if one of these is mismatched.”
6. Don’t give up
The most important step in funding is perseverance. Many business owners knock on multiple doors and make numerous applications before finding a funder that fits. This could be because red flags need to be addressed and financial management accounts followed, but each time you approach a funder you learn something new that you can implement in your business.
“Don’t view failure as a disaster,” says Quinton. “Figure out which stage of the lifecycle your business is in and align that to your commitments.”
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