Small Business Finance – Finding the Right Mix of Debt and Equity

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Financing a small business can be the most time-consuming activity for a business owner. It can be the most important part of growing a business, but one must be careful not to allow it to consume the business. Finance is the relationship between cash, risk, and value. Manage each well and you will have healthy finance mix for your business.

Develop a business plan and loan package that has a well-developed strategic plan, which in turn relates to realistic and believable financials. Before you can finance a business, a project, an expansion or an acquisition, you must develop precisely what your financial needs are.

Finance your business from a position of strength. As a business owner, you show your confidence in the business by investing up to ten percent of your finance needs from your own coffers. The remaining twenty to thirty percent of your cash needs can come from private investors or venture capital. Remember, sweat equity is expected, but it is not a replacement for cash.

Depending on the valuation of your business and the risk involved, the private equity component will want on average a thirty to forty percent equity stake in your company for three to five years. Giving up this equity position in your company, yet maintaining clear majority ownership, will give you leverage in the remaining sixty percent of your finance needs.

The remaining finance can come in the form of long term debt, short term working capital, equipment finance and inventory finance. By having a strong cash position in your company, a variety of lenders will be available to you. It is advisable to hire an experienced commercial loan broker to do the finance “shopping” for you and present you with a variety of options. It is important at this juncture that you obtain finance that fits your business needs and structures, instead of trying to force your structure into a financial instrument not ideally suited for your operations.

Having a strong cash position in your company, the additional debt financing will not put an undue strain on your cash flow. Sixty percent debt is a healthy. Debt finance can come in the form of unsecured finance, such as short-term debt, a line of credit financing and long-term debt. Unsecured debt is typically called cash flow finance and requires credit worthiness. Debt finance can also come in the form of secured or asset based finance, which can include accounts receivable, inventory, equipment, real estate, personal assets, letter of credit, and government guaranteed finance. A customized mix of unsecured and secured debt, designed specifically around your company’s financial needs, is the advantage of having a strong cash position.

The cash flow statement is an important financial in tracking the effects of certain types of finance. It is critical to have a firm handle on your monthly cash flow, along with the control and planning structure of a financial budget, to successfully plan and monitor your company’s finance.

Your financial plan is a result and part of your strategic planning process. You need to be careful in matching your cash needs with your cash goals. Using short term capital for long-term growth and vice versa is a no-no. Violating the matching rule can bring about high-risk levels in the interest rate, refinance possibilities and operational independence. Some deviation from this age old rule is permissible. For instance, if you have a long-term need for working capital, then a permanent capital need may be warranted. Another good finance strategy is having contingency capital on hand for freeing up your working capital needs and providing maximum flexibility. For example, you can use a line of credit to get into an opportunity that quickly arises and then arrange for cheaper, better suited, long-term finance subsequently, planning all of this upfront with a lender.

Unfortunately, finance is not typically addressed until a company is in crisis. Plan ahead with an effective business plan and loan package. Equity finance does not stress cash flow as debt can and gives lenders the confidence to do business with your company. Good financial structuring reduces the costs of capital and the financial risks. Consider using a business consultant, finance professional or loan broker to help you with your financial plan.

Financing Cash Flow Peaks And Valleys

For many businesses, financing cash flow for their business can be like riding a continuous roller coaster.

Sales are up, then they do down. Margins are good, then they flatten out. Cash flow can swing back and forth like an EKG graph of a heart attack.

So how do you go about financing cash flow for these types of businesses?

First, you need to accurately know and manage your monthly fixed costs. Regardless of what happens during the year, you need to be on top of what amount of funds will be required to cover off the recurring and scheduled operating costs that will occur whether you make a sale or not. Doing this monthly for a full twelve month cycle provides a basis for cash flow decision making.

Second, from where you are at right now, determine the number of funds available in cash, owners outside capital that could be invested in the business, and other outside sources currently in place.

Third, project out your cash flow so that fixed costs, existing accounts payable and accounts receivable are realistically entered into the future weeks and months. If cash is always tight, make sure you do your cash flow on a weekly basis. There is too much variability over the course of a single month to project out only on a monthly basis.

Now you have a basis to assess financing your cash flow.

Financing cash flow is always going to be somewhat unique to each business due to industry, sector, business model, stage of business, business size, owner resources, and so on.

Each business must self-assess its sources of financing cash flow, including but not limited to owner investment, trade or payable financing, government remittances, receivable discounts for early payment, deposits on sale, third party financing (line of credit, term loan, factoring, purchase order financing, inventory financing, asset based lending, or whatever else is relevant to you).

Ok, so now you have a cash flow bearing and a thorough understanding of your options available for financing cash flow in your specific business model.

Now what?

Now you are in a position to entertain future sales opportunities that fit into your cash flow.

Three points to clarify before we go further.

First, financing is not strictly about getting a loan from someone when your cash flow needs more money. It’s a process of keeping your cash flow continuously positive at the lowest possible cost.

Second, you should only market and sell what you can cash flow. Marketers will measure the ROI of a marketing initiative. But if you can’t cash flow the business to complete the sale and collect the proceeds, there is no ROI to measure. If you have a business with fluctuating sales and margins, you can only enter into transactions that you can finance.

Third, marketing needs to focus on customers that you can sell to over and over again in order to maximize your marketing efforts and reduce the unpredictability of the annual sales cycle through regular repeat orders and sales.

Marketing works under the premise that if you are providing what the customer wants that the money side of the equation will take care of itself. In many businesses, this indeed proves to be true. But in a business with fluctuating sales and margins, financing cash flow has to be another criterion built into sales and marketing activities.

Over time, virtually any business has the potential to smooth out the peaks and valleys through a more robust marketing plan that better lines up with customer needs and the business’s financing limitations or parameters.

In addition to linking financing cash flow more closely to marketing and sales, the next most impactful action you can take is expanding your sources of financing.

Here are some potential strategies for expanding your sources for financing cash flow.

Strategy # 1: Develop strategic relationships with key suppliers that have the ability to extend greater financing in certain situations to take advantage of sales opportunities. This is accomplished with larger suppliers that 1) have the financial means to extend financing, 2) view you as a key customer and value your business, 3) have confidence in the business’s ability to forecast and manage cash flow.

Strategy # 2: Make sure where possible that your annual financial statements show a profit capable of servicing debt financing. Accountants may be good at saving you income tax dollars, but if they drive business profitability down to or close to zero through tax planning, they may also effectively destroying your ability to borrow money.

Strategy # 3: If possible, only transact with creditworthy customers. Credit-worthy customers allow both the business and potential lenders to finance receivables which can increase the amount of external financing available to you.

Strategy # 4: Develop a liquidation pathway for your tangible assets. Equipment and inventory are easier to finance if leaders clearly understand how to liquidate the assets in the event of default. In some cases, businesses can get resale option agreements on certain equipment or inventory from prospective buyers assignable to a lender to be used as recourse against a lending facility for financing cash flow.

Strategy # 5: Joint venture a sales opportunity with another business to share the risk of a large sales opportunity that may be too risky for you to take on yourself.

Summary

The primary long-term objective of a business with fluctuating cash flow and margins is to smooth out the peaks and valleys and create a scalable business with more of a predictable sales cycle.

This is best achieved with an approach that including the following steps.

Step #1. Micro Manage your fixed costs and cash flow and accurately project out the cash flow requirements of the business on a weekly basis.

Step #2. Take a detailed inventory of all the sources you have for financing cash flow.

Step #3. Incorporate your financing constraints into your marketing approach.

Step #4. If possible, only transact with creditworthy customers to reduce risk and increase financing options.

Step #5. Work towards expanding both your financing sources and available source limits for financing cash flow.

Business cycle stability and cash flow predictability is an evolutionary step for every business. The industries with longer sales cycles will tend to be the more difficult to tame due to a larger number of variables to manage.

A continuous focus on the process for improvement outlined will help create the desired results over time.

Accounts Receivable Financing – Don’t Worry, Be Happy

There is a reason why accounts receivable financing is a four-thousand-year-old financing technique: it works. Accounts receivable financing, factoring, and asset-based financing all mean the same thing as related to asset based lending- invoices are sold or pledged to a third party, usually a commercial finance company (sometimes a bank) to accelerate cash flow.

In simple terms, the process follows these steps. A business sells and delivers a product or service to another business. The customer receives an invoice. The business requests funding from the financing entity and a percentage of the invoice (usually 80% to 90%) is transferred to the business by the financing entity. The customer pays the invoice directly to the financing entity. The agreed upon fees are deducted and the remainder is related to the business by the financing entity.

How does the customer know to pay the financing entity instead of the business they are receiving goods or services from? The legal term is called “notification”. The financing entity informs the customer in writing of the financing agreement and the customer must agree in writing to this arrangement. In general, if the customer refuses to agree in writing to pay the lender instead of the business providing the goods or services, the financing entity will decline to advance funds.

Why? The main security for the financing entity to be repaid is the creditworthiness of the customer paying the invoice. Before funds are advanced to the business there is a second step called “verification”. The finance entity verifies with the customer that the goods have been received or the services were performed satisfactorily. There being no dispute, it is reasonable for the financing entity to assume that the invoice will be paid; therefore funds are advanced. This is a general view of how the accounts receivable financing process works.

Non-notification accounts receivable financing is a type of confidential factoring where the customers are not notified of the business’ financing arrangement with the financing entity. One typical situation involves a business that sells inexpensive items to thousands of customers; the cost of notification and verification is excessive compared to the risk of nonpayment by an individual customer. It simply may not make economic sense for the financing entity to have several employees contacting hundreds of customers for one financing customer’s transactions on a daily basis.

Non-notification factoring may require additional collateral requirements such as real estate; superior credit of the borrowing business may also be required with personal guarantees from the owners. It is more difficult to obtain non-notification factoring than the normal accounts receivable financing with notification and verification provisions.

Some businesses worry that if their customers learn that a commercial financing entity is factoring their receivables it may hurt their relationship with their customer; perhaps they may lose the customer’s business. What is this worry, why does it exist and is it justified?

The MSN Encarta Dictionary defines the word worry as:

“Worry

verb (past and past participle wororied, present participle wororyoing, 3rd person present singular worories)Definition:
1. transitive and intransitive verb be or make anxious: to feel anxious about something unpleasant that may have happened or may happen, or make somebody do this

2. transitive verb annoy somebody: to annoy somebody by making insistent demands or complaints

3. transitive verb try to bite animal: to try to wound or kill an animal by biting it

a dog suspected of worrying sheep

4. transitive verb

Same as worry at

5. intransitive verb proceed despite problems: to proceed persistently despite problems or obstacles

6. transitive verb touch something repeatedly: to touch, move, or interfere with something repeatedly

Stop worrying that button or it’ll come off.

noun (plural worories)Definition:
1. anxiousness: a troubled unsettled feeling

2. cause of anxiety: something that causes anxiety or concern

3. period of anxiety: a period spent feeling anxious or concerned…”

The opposite is:

“not to worry used to tell somebody that something is not important and need not be a cause of concern (informal)

Not to worry. We’ll do better next time.

no worries U.K. Australia New Zealand used to say that something is no trouble or is not worth mentioning (informal)”.

Query: if a business is financing their invoices with accounts receivable financing, is this an indication of financial strength or weakness? Query: from the point of view of the customer, if you are buying goods or services from a business that is factoring their receivables, should you be concerned? Query: is there one answer to these questions that fits all situations?

The answer is it’s a paradox. A paradox is a statement, proposition, or situation that seems to be absurd or contradictory, but in fact is or may be true.

Accounts receivable financing is both a sign of weakness with regard to cash flow and a sign of strength with respect to cash flow. It is a weakness because, prior to financing, funds are not available to provide cash flow to pay for materials, salaries, etc. and it is an indication of strength because, subsequent to funding cash is available to facilitate a business’ needs for cash to grow. It is a paradox. When properly structured as a financing tool for growth at a reasonable cost, it is a beneficial solution to cash flow shortages.
If your entire business depended on one supplier, and you were notified that your supplier was factoring their receivables, you might have a justifiable concern. If your only supplier went out of business, your business could be severely compromised. But this is also true whether or not the supplier is utilizing accounts receivable financing. It’s a paradox. This involves matters of perception, ego, and character of the personalities in charge of the business and the supplier.

Every day, every month thousands of customers accept millions of dollars of goods and services in contracts that involve notification, verification and the factoring of receivables. For most customers, “notification” of accounts receivable financing is a non-issue: it is merely a change of the name or addresses of the payee on a check. This is a job for a person in the accounts payable department to make a minor clerical change. It is a mainstream business practice.