Alternative Financing Vs. Venture Capital: Which Option Is Best for Boosting Working Capital?

There are several potential financing options available to cash-strapped businesses that need a healthy dose of working capital. A bank loan or line of credit is often the first option that owners think of – and for businesses that qualify, this may be the best option.

In today’s uncertain business, economic and regulatory environment, qualifying for a bank loan can be difficult – especially for start-up companies and those that have experienced any type of financial difficulty. Sometimes, owners of businesses that don’t qualify for a bank loan decide that seeking venture capital or bringing on equity investors are other viable options.

But are they really? While there are some potential benefits to bringing venture capital and so-called “angel” investors into your business, there are drawbacks as well. Unfortunately, owners sometimes don’t think about these drawbacks until the ink has dried on a contract with a venture capitalist or angel investor – and it’s too late to back out of the deal.

Different Types of Financing

One problem with bringing in equity investors to help provide a working capital boost is that working capital and equity are really two different types of financing.

Working capital – or the money that is used to pay business expenses incurred during the time lag until cash from sales (or accounts receivable) is collected – is short-term in nature, so it should be financed via a short-term financing tool. Equity, however, should generally be used to finance rapid growth, business expansion, acquisitions or the purchase of long-term assets, which are defined as assets that are repaid over more than one 12-month business cycle.

But the biggest drawback to bringing equity investors into your business is a potential loss of control. When you sell equity (or shares) in your business to venture capitalists or angels, you are giving up a percentage of ownership in your business, and you may be doing so at an inopportune time. With this dilution of ownership most often comes a loss of control over some or all of the most important business decisions that must be made.

Sometimes, owners are enticed to sell equity by the fact that there is little (if any) out-of-pocket expense. Unlike debt financing, you don’t usually pay interest with equity financing. The equity investor gains its return via the ownership stake gained in your business. But the long-term “cost” of selling equity is always much higher than the short-term cost of debt, in terms of both actual cash cost as well as soft costs like the loss of control and stewardship of your company and the potential future value of the ownership shares that are sold.

Alternative Financing Solutions

But what if your business needs working capital and you don’t qualify for a bank loan or line of credit? Alternative financing solutions are often appropriate for injecting working capital into businesses in this situation. Three of the most common types of alternative financing used by such businesses are:

1. Full-Service Factoring – Businesses sell outstanding accounts receivable on an ongoing basis to a commercial finance (or factoring) company at a discount. The factoring company then manages the receivable until it is paid. Factoring is a well-established and accepted method of temporary alternative finance that is especially well-suited for rapidly growing companies and those with customer concentrations.

2. Accounts Receivable (A/R) Financing – A/R financing is an ideal solution for companies that are not yet bankable but have a stable financial condition and a more diverse customer base. Here, the business provides details on all accounts receivable and pledges those assets as collateral. The proceeds of those receivables are sent to a lockbox while the finance company calculates a borrowing base to determine the amount the company can borrow. When the borrower needs money, it makes an advance request and the finance company advances money using a percentage of the accounts receivable.

3. Asset-Based Lending (ABL) – This is a credit facility secured by all of a company’s assets, which may include A/R, equipment and inventory. Unlike with factoring, the business continues to manage and collect its own receivables and submits collateral reports on an ongoing basis to the finance company, which will review and periodically audit the reports.

In addition to providing working capital and enabling owners to maintain business control, alternative financing may provide other benefits as well:

It’s easy to determine the exact cost of financing and obtain an increase.
Professional collateral management can be included depending on the facility type and the lender.
Real-time, online interactive reporting is often available.
It may provide the business with access to more capital.
It’s flexible – financing ebbs and flows with the business’ needs.
It’s important to note that there are some circumstances in which equity is a viable and attractive financing solution. This is especially true in cases of business expansion and acquisition and new product launches – these are capital needs that are not generally well suited to debt financing. However, equity is not usually the appropriate financing solution to solve a working capital problem or help plug a cash-flow gap.

A Precious Commodity

Remember that business equity is a precious commodity that should only be considered under the right circumstances and at the right time. When equity financing is sought, ideally this should be done at a time when the company has good growth prospects and a significant cash need for this growth. Ideally, majority ownership (and thus, absolute control) should remain with the company founder(s).

Alternative financing solutions like factoring, A/R financing and ABL can provide the working capital boost many cash-strapped businesses that don’t qualify for bank financing need – without diluting ownership and possibly giving up business control at an inopportune time for the owner. If and when these companies become bankable later, it’s often an easy transition to a traditional bank line of credit. Your banker may be able to refer you to a commercial finance company that can offer the right type of alternative financing solution for your particular situation.

Taking the time to understand all the different financing options available to your business, and the pros and cons of each, is the best way to make sure you choose the best option for your business. The use of alternative financing can help your company grow without diluting your ownership. After all, it’s your business – shouldn’t you keep as much of it as possible?

Establishing Business Credit – The Seven Steps to Success

Business versus Personal Credit:Personal – Personal credit building starts when an individual provides their social security number and applies for their first credit card. At that point a credit profile is started with the personal credit reporting agencies in the region of the country in which they reside. This profile, also commonly known as a “credit report”, is built with every credit inquiry, credit application submitted, change of address and job change. The information contained in the report is usually reported to the credit bureaus by those businesses issuing credit. Eventually, the credit report is viewed as a statement or report of an individual’s ability to pay back a debt, and is the key tool to access and grant credit.Business – When a business issues another business credit, it is referred to as trade credit (credit from vendors or suppliers). Trade, or business, credit is the single largest source of lending in the world, but it typically not reported to the business credit agencies by most small businesses. The data regarding trade credit transactions must be submitted and then is accumulated by the business credit bureaus to create a business credit report using the business name, address and federal tax identification number (FIN). The credit bureaus use this data to generate a historical report about a company’s business credit transactions and payment history. Typically, the businesses issuing credit rely on the business credit report to determine the credit they are willing to grant and the amount of the credit limit. Additionally, many businesses (suppliers/vendors) will submit credit reference applications to the key suppliers of the business as a method to obtain payment patterns as part of the credit granting process.The major credit bureaus are:Dun & Bradstreet
Business Credit USA
Corporate Experian
Small Business Equifax
TransUnion (Personal)The information provided to the business credit bureaus (primarily D&B) is sent in voluntarily, as businesses are not required to report. Therefore, credit bureaus may never receive any information about the business transactions on credit and a business could go for years accumulating business history without being reported to the credit bureaus and establishing a positive business history of sound credit practices.Establishing Business Credit History:Business credit scores range on a scale from 0 to 100 with 75 or more considered an excellent rating. Personal credit scores, on the other hand, range from 300 to 850 with a score of 680 or higher considered excellent. With today’s tighter credit scrutiny the higher the credit score, the more likely an individual or business is to obtain credit and at more favorable terms (interest rate and contract length).While it is important to know that there are many factors http://www.myfico.com that affect a credit score; it’s based on more than just whether you pay your bills on time (still very important). The credit score will be affected by the amount of available credit you have on bank lines of credit and credit cards, the length of time you’ve had a credit profile, the number of inquiries made on your credit profile, paying the bills on time, bankruptcy, as well as other considerations.The typical American consumer credit report receives two to three credit inquiries per year and usually has 11 credit obligations – typically broken down as 7 credit cards and 4 installment loans. Business owners are not your typical consumer, because they carry both personal and business credit. This typically doubles the number of inquiries made to their personal credit profile and the number of credit obligations they carry at any given time, all of which negatively impact the personal credit score. Additionally, because business inquiries and personal inquiries are not separated on the personal credit report, the personal credit scores are negatively impacted. As mentioned earlier, using the personal credit history to get credit for their business, businesses are not able to build their business history/score, all of which could help attain critical business credit in the future.A critical mistake many business owners make is using their personal information to apply for business credit, leases and loans. This practice has the resultant impact of potentially lowering their personal credit score, while not building a business credit history and business credit score.A key to establishing credit for the business and a profile and score is to find companies (UPS, FEDEX, etc.) or your key supplier and vendors that will grant credit for your business without using your personal credit information and then report the payment experiences to the business credit bureaus. By reporting the information to the proper credit bureaus, those companies will help the business establish a business credit profile and score.The Seven Steps to Success:1. Company Legal Structure – The business must be a legal entity unto itself in order to establish business credit. Therefore, it is recommended to form a corporation (C Corp) or LLC (discuss with your CPA the advantage/disadvantages of a C Corp versus LLC) as opposed to structuring your business as a sole proprietorship or partnership. Formation of a sole proprietorship or partnership, dictates that personal credit information could be included on the business credit report. Additionally, as a sole proprietor or partner in a partnership, you are personally liable for the debts of the business and all your personal assets are at risk in the event of litigation.Corporations and LLC’s, on the other hand, provide the business owners liability protection, and can build a business credit profile that’s separate from the personal credit profile. Therefore, apply for credit under your business’s name and find businesses will to grant credit without a personal credit check or guarantee.2. Register with Business Credit Agencies – The best known business credit bureau is Dun & Bradstreet. Dun & Bradstreet has a process on their web site to establish a D-U-N-S number (a specific 9 digit number related to your business) and instructions how to establish a business credit rating. It is strongly recommended that you contact D&B and follow their process to establish business credit. The following is from the D&B web site:How do I get started with D&B? With our unsurpassed global data collection system, D&B continually gathers the data that initiates the creation of business credit profiles on new companies. Many kinds of activities can trigger a profile on a new company, such as incorporating your business, applying for a loan, getting a business telephone number, taking out a lease on office space – even just when another company seeks information from D&B about your business. Still, a new business may not have a complete business credit profile. Getting a D-U-N-S Number from D&B – the worldwide standard for business classification systems – is an essential part of helping you establish your business credit profile and will ensure that when a company looks you up in the D&B database they will find you. In some cases, a D&B D-U-N-S Number is so a requirement for doing business some entities, such as the US government.You should make sure you have a D&B business credit profile if:You are planning to obtain a business loan
You need to purchase or lease equipment
Your cash flow is tight
You want to ensure you are getting a fair deal from lenders compared to your competition
You want to pay net 30 days instead of COD (Cash On Delivery)
You are paying interest at prime plus 1, or even higher
You plan to do business with entities that require a D-U-N-S Number, e.g. the US GovernmentThese issues and dozens other like them can be addressed by having a strong business credit profile. A good rating provides you with the financial freedom to take the steps you need to grow, and is a straightforward, unbiased method for other companies to assess your level of risk when considering taking you on as a creditor. A poor credit rating is a certain barrier to growth and success, preventing you from getting adequate funding on fair terms.Communicating directly with D&B will help establish your business credit in less time. If you are a new company, D&B can help you build a complete business credit profile from the ground up; if you have been in operation for a while, you will want to improve and/or protect your business credit profile. Find out more about how to establish, monitor, improve, or protect your business credit.3. Credit Market Requirements – Businesses must meet all the requirements of the credit market in order to have a higher probability of credit approval, as not being in compliance with the credit market can “send up signal flares” with both credit bureaus and potential grantors of credit.Some of the “signal flares” include:not having a business license,
not being registered with the Secretary of State for a certificate of good standing,
operating under your social security number rather than a FIN or EIN,
not having a phone line (land line) that is listed in the phone directory in the exact business legal name,
no web site, or
not having a business email address (not AOL or gmail, but a specific URL for your company).4. Small Business Credit Lines – Investigate and locate a minimum of five businesses (vendors/suppliers) willing to grant a small business credit without personal guarantees and will report the payment experiences to the business credit bureaus. This will assist your business to establish a credit report and build a financial credit foundation for the company. Find companies willing to grant credit that report to the credit bureaus such as marketingoncredit.com, UPS, FEDEX5. Business Credit Cards – Obtain three business credit cards (Sam’s Club Discover Business card), that are not linked to you personally and that report the business credit to the reporting agencies. Then be sure to always pay your bills on time!6. Financial Statements, Business Plans and Loan Packages – These documents are often required by many credit grantors as part of their loan application process. CxO To GO is a national professional services firm that has assisted many business with their financial statement preparation and business plans. Additionally, CxO To Go has packages such as PowerPlan and PowerPlan2 for business plans, PowerPuncher for executive summaries, CFOCast for financial projections and BankSell for bank proposals so lenders and bankers will take action. It is important to note that 61% of all businesses are turned down for a loan due to a poor loan package, however with BankSell the lender loan package gets results and moves the applicant to the top of the list for review and credit committee approval.7. Debt management – Be a smart money manager and manage the debt levels to ensure they are not too burdensome and can be paid back with current cash flow. Do not incur debt that will over leverage the company and cause missed or late payments.

Ease Into the World of Investing

The United Nations does it. Governments do it. Companies do it. Fund managers do it. Millions of ordinary working people – from business owners to factory workers – do it. Housewives do it. Even farmers and children do it.’It’ here is investing: the science and art of creating, protecting and enhancing your wealth in the financial markets. This article introduces some of the most important concerns in the world of investment.Let’s start with your objectives. While clearly the goal is to make more money, there are 3 specific reasons institutions, professionals and retail investors (people like you and me) invest:For Security, ie for protection against inflation or market crashes
For Income, ie to receive regular income from their investments
For Growth, ie for long-term growth in the value of their investmentsInvestments are generally structured to focus on one or other of these objectives, and investment professionals (such as fund managers) spend a lot of time balancing these competing objectives. With a little bit of education and time, you can do almost the same thing yourself.One of the first questions to ask yourself is how much risk you’re comfortable with. To put it more plainly: how much money are you prepared to lose? Your risk tolerance level depends on your personality, experiences, number of dependents, age, level of financial knowledge and several other factors. Investment advisors measure your risk tolerance level so they can classify you by risk profile (eg, ‘Conservative’, ‘Moderate’, ‘Aggressive’) and recommend the appropriate investment portfolio (explained below).However, understanding your personal risk tolerance level is necessary for you too, especially with something as important as your own money. Your investments should be a source of comfort, not pain. Nobody can guarantee you’ll make a profit; even the most sensible investment decisions can turn against you; there are always ‘good years’ and ‘bad years’. You may lose part or all of your investment so always invest only what you are prepared to lose.At some point you’ll want to withdraw some or all of your investment funds. When is that point likely to be: in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years or 25 years? Clearly, you’ll want an investment that allows you to withdraw at least part of your funds at this point. Your investment timeframe – short-term, medium-term or long-term – will often determine what kinds of investments you can go for and what kinds of returns to expect.All investments involve a degree of risk. One of the ‘golden rules’ of investing is that reward is related to risk: the higher the reward you want, the higher the risk you have to take. Different investments can come with very different levels of risk (and associated reward); it’s important that you appreciate the risks associated with any investment you’re planning to make. There’s no such thing as a risk-free investment, and your bank deposits are no exception. Firstly, while Singapore bank deposits are rightly considered very safe, banks in other countries have failed before and continue to fail. More importantly, in 2010 the highest interest rate on Singapore dollar deposits up to $10,000 was 0.375%, while the average inflation rate from Jan-Nov 2010 was 2.66%. You were losing money just by leaving your savings in the bank.Today, there are many, many types of investments (‘asset classes’) available. Some – such as bank deposits, stocks (shares) and unit trusts – you’re already familiar with, but there are several others you should be aware of. Some of the most common ones:Bank Deposits
Shares
Investment-Linked Product1
Unit Trusts2
ETFs3
Gold41 An Investment-Linked Product (ILP) is an insurance plan that combines protection and investment. ILPs main advantage is that they offer life insurance.2 A Unit Trust is a pool of money professionally managed according to a specific, long-term management objective (eg, a unit trust may invest in well-known companies all over the world to try to provide a balance of high returns and diversification). The main advantage of unit trusts is that you don’t have to pay brokers’ commissions.3 An ETF or Exchange-Traded Fund comes in many different forms: for example, there are equity ETFs that hold, or track the performance of, a basket of stocks (eg Singapore, emerging economies); commodity ETFs that hold, or track the price of, a single commodity or basket of commodities (eg Silver, metals); and currency ETFs that track a major currency or basket of currencies (eg Euro). ETFs offer two main advantages: they trade like shares (on stock exchanges such as the SGX) and typically come with very low management fees.The main difference between ETFs and Unit Trusts is that ETFs are publicly-traded assets while Unit Trusts are privately-traded assets, meaning that you can buy and sell them yourself anytime during market hours.4 ‘Gold’ here refers to gold bullion, certificates of ownership or gold savings accounts. However, note that you can invest in gold in many other ways, including gold ETFs, gold Unit Trusts; and shares in gold mining companies.With the advent of the Internet and online brokers, there are so many investment alternatives available today that even a beginner investor with $5,000 to invest can find several investment options suited to her objectives, risk profile and timeframe.Diversification basically means trying to reduce risk by making a variety of investments, ie investing your money in multiple companies, industries and countries (and as your financial knowledge and wealth grows, in different ‘asset classes’ – cash, stocks, ETFs, commodities such as gold and silver, etc). This collection of investments is termed your Investment Portfolio.Some level of diversification is important because in times of crisis, similar investments tend to behave similarly. Two of the best examples in recent history are the Singapore stock market crashes of late-2008/early-2009, during the US ‘Subprime’ crisis, and 1997, during the ‘Asian Financial Crisis’, when the price of large numbers of stocks plunged. ‘Diversifying’ by investing in different stocks wouldn’t have helped you very much on these occasions.The concept and power of compounding are best explained by example. Assume we have 3 investments: the first returns 0.25% a year; the second returns 5% a year; and the third returns 10% a year. For each investment, we compare 2 scenarios:Without compounding, ie the annual interest is taken out of the account.
With compounding, ie the annual interest is left (re-invested) in the account.Let’s look at the returns over 25 years for all 3 investments, assuming we start off with $10,000 in Year 0:With 0.25% return a year, your investment will grow to $10,625 after 25 years without compounding; your investment becomes $10,644 after 25 years with compounding.
With 5% return a year, your investment will grow to $22,500 after 25 years without compounding; your investment becomes $33,864 after 25 years with compounding.
With 10% return a year, your investment will grow to $35,000 after 25 years without compounding; your investment becomes $108,347 after 25 years with compounding.This shows the dramatic effects of both higher returns and compounding: 10% annual returns coupled with 25 years of compounding will return you more than 10 times your initial investment. And 10% returns are by no means unrealistic: educated investors who actively manage their portfolio themselves and practise diversification can achieve even higher returns, even with some losing years.People of all ages and backgrounds need practical and customised guidance in developing their financial knowledge and skills in order to reach their financial goals. In this article we’ve tried to describe in simple terms some of the most important concepts and principles you need to understand on this journey.