An entrepreneur’s journey is one full of varying experiences both happy and sad ones. However the greatest experience that each entrepreneur yearns to go through is to see their business move from being a small start-up in their backyards to a fully-fledged regional business conglomerate. The experience is both fulfilling and exciting, but one that requires patient and a lot of focus at each level as you grow your enterprise from a sole proprietorship into a limited liability empire.
As your business grows from one stage to the other, the demands that it has are different and its systems keep maturing over time. In addition, the finances needed to keep the business running and growing also keep increasing over time as your business moves from one growth stage to another. Sources of funding for your business will therefore evolve over time as you grow too.
1. Seed Stage
At this stage, as an entrepreneur you will be focused more on testing your business idea to see its viability. You will also be involved in a lot of market research to try and validate existence of a market gap that you want to fill using your new product or service.
In addition, you will be focused on planning how the business operations will look like as well as determining the ownership of the business.
Finances needed at this stage will most likely be your own savings, grants from donors or borrowing from family and friends.
Related: 10 Tips for Finding Seed Funding
2. Start-up Stage
Once you are done with testing your idea and validating the existence of a market gap that you want to fill, you will move to the start-up stage where you shall be focused on establishing your own customer base. With your product ready, your focus now shifts to looking for potential buyers and early adopters.
At this stage you will also be more concerned about customer feedback about your product so that you go back to make changes as necessary and return a polished product to the market.
With a ready product to give to the market, your suppliers can now start offering you credit financing; while you can also capitalise on pre-orders from you customers in order to generate a positive cash flow for your start-up. Other sources of funding at this stage would be crowd funding, sweat capital, incubators, accelerators and angel investors.
3. Growth Stage
After tweaking your product to fit the market demand, you will start experiencing high demand for your product or service. This is a clear sign that you have moved up to the growth stage of your business where you will now face rapid growth.
As the entrepreneur leading the business, you now have to start thinking about how to deal with market competition as competitors invade your territory. With high demand and increased production, you will also need to focus on improving your business systems and hiring more employees in order to serve your customers satisfactorily.
At this level venture capitalists will start looking for you if you are on high growth path. In addition you will find it easy to access financing from banks including getting the best business credit cards there is in the market.
Related: Doing Your Finance On The Fly
The growth stage is followed by an expansion stage whereby your business now moves to different geographical locations. This is considered to be partly as a result of moving to capture new territories that have not been ventured into; but also a strategy to move away from completion in saturated markets.
With stiff competition in the market and little room to expand, your business will eventually reach maturity and the only option on the table will be product diversification. You will also be more focused on cost cutting and trying to get maximise your thin profit margins.
At early stages of this level you will find private equity firms interested in buying a stake in your company.
As you grow more mature you will be more focused on both vertical and horizontal mergers and acquisitions as a strategy to be more competitive and have control along the value chain in your industry.
Finally, once the business is well established in the value chain, you will want to exit the market and retire from actively owing and running it. At this stage you will most likely spend much of your time on road shows looking for external investors to acquire your business or you might need to consider an Initial Public Offering (IPO) and completely exit the company.
Alan Knott-Craig Answers: How To Build A Debt-Free Business
It’s tempting to go the debt route when building your business or asset base, but be careful — debt can kill your business just as quickly.
I’ve been offered debt secured against my shares. I can use the debt to buy a house or buy more shares in my company. I really believe in my company, it’s growing fast. What should I do? — Bob
There’s no such thing as free debt. It always has a catch. In this case, the catch is that if you don’t pay back the debt, then you lose all the shares in your company that you’ve worked so hard to build.
In other words, if your share value doesn’t go up, then you will lose the shares you have.
Maybe you don’t think that’s possible, and maybe you’re right. But you never know what black swan is swanning your way. The president could be assassinated. Russia could declare war on America. North Korea could send a nuclear missile to Japan. There could be another credit crisis.
All of these things would have massively negative impacts on the economy and sentiment.
The economy affects your profits (sales drop). Sentiment affects your ability to sell your shares (no confidence = no buyers).
Suddenly you find yourself staring down the barrel of a debt repayment deadline, and BOOM! You’ve lost your company and your wealth.
That’s not to say you should never take risks. When you’re young you have to gamble a bit. Roll the dice. Just beware of debt. Debt kills.
Related: Dealing With Debt As An Entrepreneur
The only legitimate reason for taking debt to buy shares is if your partner wants to exit the business. Maybe she’s met the love of her life and wants to move to Tahiti, and if you don’t buy her shares then someone else will and you’ll find yourself in bed with a stranger.
If you don’t have the cash then you need debt. Fair enough. But be very careful. Debt kills. I can’t emphasise this enough.
It’s best to live life imagining the shares in your company are worth nothing. That way you won’t live beyond your cashflow. And you won’t take debt against your shares.
If you’re still tempted to get debt, ask yourself, “Do I love what I do?” If the answer is “No,” then definitely do not take any debt. Debt will simply yoke you to something you don’t love. Debt will make you a slave.
Generally speaking, debt is driven by greed. Greed, greed, greed.
And greed always ends in tears.
I want to build a property empire, but every time I buy a new property I’m forced to sell my existing property because the bank refuses to give me two bonds. At the moment I’m struggling to cover my bond repayments with rental income. Advice? — Phumlani
First thing first, read Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. This book will tell you everything you need to know.
In summary, it’s about using the bank’s money to make you rich. Borrow money, buy property, use rental income to pay off mortgage, you’re left with asset and income stream. Boom! What could possibly go wrong?
Here are some rules of thumb:
- Buy commercial property. A tenant that relies on his premises to generate income will look after those premises more than a simple residential tenant. In other words, you’ll spend more money maintaining your residential property.
- Location, location, location. Pick an area with low risk of property prices failing. It might be more expensive but your first priority is always “Don’t lose money.”
- Yield is everything. Divide the annual rental income by the property value. If more than 7%, go for it. If less, don’t. You want the yield to be close to prime rate.
- Don’t take more than 50% debt. You never know what will happen. If the tenant misses her rent for a few months you want to have a safety cushion so you don’t get caught short of cash when your monthly mortgage repayments are due.
- Never sell. The transaction costs for buying and selling properties will eat away your profits. Buy to hold. Never sell.
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with growing without debt. Many property moguls never ever used debt to grow their empire. It’s slower, but safer.
Debt is a shortcut. Sometimes it works, but most times it ends in tears.
Alan Knott-Craig’s latest book, 13 Rules for being an Entrepreneur is now available.
What it’s about
It’s easy to be an entrepreneur. It’s also easy to fail. What’s hard is being a successful entrepreneur.
For an entrepreneur, there is only one important metric of success: Money. But life is not only about making money. It’s about being happy.
This book is a collection of tips and wisdom that will help you make money without forgoing happiness.
Get it now
Do you have a burning start-up question?
South African Investors And Entrepreneurs, The World Needs You
With governments and corporations across the globe constantly on the lookout for innovators and entrepreneurs, time is most certainly against those who remain constricted by their limited citizenship portfolio.
Citizenship-by-investment (CBI) was once seen as something only reserved for the ultra-wealthy, but it is now also becoming the new normal for business investors and entrepreneurs wanting to expand their reach. We live in a highly globalised world where the flow of goods, people, and ideas means that the freedom to move and do business internationally has never been more important. With governments and corporations across the globe constantly on the lookout for innovators and entrepreneurs, time is most certainly against those who remain constricted by their limited citizenship portfolio.
How can citizenship-by-investment benefit South African investors?
First of all, entrepreneurs with multiple passports or residence permits are able to take advantage of the benefits and best practices of all the countries to whose jurisdictions they belong, while also being less vulnerable to a single country’s risks, shortcomings, and unexpected changing fortunes. The more jurisdictions an investor can access, the more diversified their assets will be and the lower their exposure to both country-specific sovereign risk and global volatility. By acquiring a higher quality nationality, one obtains greater global access and is better prepared for an uncertain future.
Nations within the EU, for example, offer citizens and residents access to all 28 member states, as well as to a number of other countries associated with the EU’s freedom of movement charter. In addition to expanded global mobility and a reduction in sovereign risk, alternative residence and citizenship also offer individuals access to career, educational, and cultural opportunities on a global scale.
The benefits to governments and citizens of host nations
It would, however, be misguided to think that the advantages presented by citizenship-by-investment are for investors alone: for the governments and citizens of host nations the benefits are substantial. For governments, the inflow of extra capital reduces pressure on the treasury and protects national sovereignty by helping to mitigate the need for loans. Indeed, the establishment of a transparent, well-managed CBI program is not dissimilar to discovering a sustainable source of oil within the confines of a country’s national borders. Both scenarios create an immediate injection of new funds into the national treasury, which ultimately leads to greater long-term prosperity for the country and its people.
Successful applicants also bring intangible benefits to receiving countries, such as scarce skills and rich global networks. They add diversity and they uplift host nations through their demands for improved and novel services, which can create new opportunities for local communities. In Malta, for example, the establishment of a CBI program was as much about attracting rare talent as it was about generating much-needed capital in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Four years after the launch of the Malta Individual Investor Program (MIIP), Malta has one of the highest GDP growth rates — and one of the lowest unemployment rates — of any EU member state. In 2017, the country also reported a record-high budget surplus, with 90% of the gains attributable to the MIIP.
For smaller economies that face increasing trade and industry competition on the global stage, such an outcome can be transformative. Take the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, for example. Three years after relaunching its CBI program in 2007, the program accounted for around 5% of the country’s GDP. A year later, this figure had doubled, and after the sixth year, the figure had doubled again to 20%. By 2014, the St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program was responsible for approximately 25% of the nation’s GDP.
Moreover, other projects made possible through Caribbean CBI programs have had the knock-on effect of boosting employment and contributing to the greening of their economies. For instance, in Antigua and Barbuda an award-winning 10 MW clean-energy project cluster was realised within two years of launching its program. In addition to large-scale installations, over 50 schools and other government-owned buildings have been equipped with sustainable solar-energy systems in order to benefit from the new clean-energy supply. Such innovations were only made possible through the funds conferred by the country’s CBI program.
Thus, the inflows of funds from citizenship programs can be considerable, and the macro-economic implications for most sectors can be extensive. Just as traditional foreign direct investment (FDI) increases the value of the receiving state, bringing in capital to both the public sector and the private sector, so the benefits proffered by CBI — a form of FDI — rapidly turn the fate of a country away from debt and dependency and towards independence and stability.
In short, citizenship-by-investment is a boon to both host nations and investors alike. For South African entrepreneurs and investors who find themselves burdened by visa restrictions and red tape, acquiring a second citizenship is a simple means of expanding global reach, getting ahead of competitors, and giving something back to host nations that are only too grateful to have these talented individuals as part of their community.
First Rule Of Securing Growth Capital: It’s Not About The Product
Paragon CEO, Gary Palmer, discusses the pitfalls facing business owners searching for capital to fund expansion.
A common mistake made by entrepreneurs looking for growth capital is fixating on which product they should choose. When looking to finance growth in your business, the decision process should be focused on longer-term strategic priorities and then finding a partner to help you access the right product to deliver on those goals.
Let’s get real
At the outset business owners need to look at their business realities and decide whether they should be looking for debt or equity financing. For example, if a business can only support debt of 2.5 times EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortisation), and they are already at that limit, then they will need to look for equity financing to achieve their growth goals. In many instances, a combination of both debt and equity financing will hold the key, allowing the organisation to benefit from cheaper debt funding, but ensuring that it is not overextended.
Even if the growth project can be funded through debt alone, business owners face the challenge of dealing with a multitude of institutions, each of which puts emphasis on different aspects of the deal. No business owner can know the minutia of their requirements, and so working with a partner who can help you prepare your presentations is a must.
The challenge becomes all the greater when companies may be looking to finance a non-traditional project. We have a client who is looking for finance to build roads leading to his development. This is not something traditional lenders usually deal with, and so in this instance he will need to access more creative funding options not offered by the banks. Another example is when a founder is looking to buy out other partners, this too may need to go to a lending institution which is able to structure deals for out-of-the-box requirements.
Square pegs, round holes
A common frustration faced by business owners is that some lending institutions sell products rather than solutions. Too little time is spent understanding the needs of the client and designing an appropriate solution, tailored to the client’s unique requirements. These lenders are literally forcing the client’s needs into the limited number of financial products they offer.
It’s going to get more complex
Another challenge for business owners is the sheer number of institutions out there. New funds, new lenders and the plethora of fintech offerings are making it harder for growth companies to find the best offer available. In the US and Canada, more than half of the big property deals are now funded by non-banks. We believe South Africa is headed the same way. The added competition, is of course great for the market and will encourage better service and more creative options, but it does make it difficult for business leaders to keep track of everything available.
Don’t fall prey to borrower’s remorse
In so many cases, companies are in a rush to secure funding and often end up choosing a product which is not suited to their longer-term strategy. Getting out of a transaction can be exceptionally difficult. Far too often companies wake up to better options too far down the line. If more appropriate finance is found, companies will be left carrying the settlement fees attached to their previous funding, not to mention the administrative pain of changing lenders.
Related: Funding Growth
Paragon has over 150 lenders on its books and a network of angel investors which we can access to find the right deal. It’s our job to know exactly what is available and more importantly, to work with business owners to ensure they access lending which is not going to result in borrower’s remorse. The only way to ensure good results is to start the lending hunt with a partner who can help you first determine the right lending strategy, based on your business reality. The alternative could prove both expensive and painful.
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