Recent years have seen businesses faced with more choice than ever when it comes to accessing finance. Our Corporate Finance team is advising businesses on applying for funds from an increasingly diverse mix of lenders and investors.
The picture became even more complex during the pandemic when the Government introduced a number of loan and funding packages for businesses, in conjunction with the British Business Bank and a variety of lenders.
Faced with this wider range of options, it can be difficult for business owners to know where to go when they are looking for funding.
What are the main types of finance for businesses?
It is essential to look around and consider all the different types of funding. Your options will depend on the stage of the business. Is it a start-up, for example, or are you are more established business looking to grow? It will also depend on what you need the funds for. Buying a long-term asset, such as a building, would not be financed in the same way as short-term assets such as motor vehicles, computer equipment or working capital, for example.
Traditional debt finance is in the form of loans or commercial mortgages from a lender, with businesses paying back capital and interest over a set term.
One of the biggest changes in accessing debt finance in recent years is the increase in the number of different providers. Newer lenders are often referred to as the challenger banks. The challenger banks aim to disrupt the market by offering new concepts in banking. They are changing how banking and payments work, offering new and innovative solutions where the technology takes the strain off the banking processes and aims to improve the experience for the customer.
Traditional forms of debt finance can be supplemented by other forms of lending.
Invoice Finance & Factoring
This is a way for businesses to borrow money against the amounts due from customers. Invoice financing helps businesses improve cash flow, pay employees and suppliers, and reinvest in operations and growth. It allows them to access funds earlier than if they had to wait until their customers paid their balances in full. It is well-suited to fast growing businesses.
Asset-Based Lending (ABL)
ABL blends invoice finance with funds released against other business assets, such as stock, property, plant and machinery. It provides additional capital that invoice finance alone could not realise.
Peer to Peer Lending (P2P)
If you can’t, or don’t want to, borrow money from a bricks-and-mortar bank or a conventional online lender, P2P lending is an option worth exploring. You are not borrowing from a financial institution but rather from an individual - or group of individuals - who are willing to loan money to qualified applicants.
P2P lending websites connect borrowers directly to investors. P2P has only existed since 2005, but there is now a range of competing P2P sites. While they operate on a similar basis, they vary quite a bit in their eligibility criteria, loan rates, amounts, and tenures, as well as their target clientele. That’s why it is worth doing your research.
Other specialist lending for specific purposes
Depending on the nature of your business plan, there may be other types of specialist lending you can access:
Supply Chain Finance – The reverse of factoring, supply chain finance enables small suppliers to take advantage of the credit strength of larger customers.
Export Finance – A range of tools used by lenders including bonds and guarantees, and letters of credit.
Trade Finance – Funding for purchasing goods. Finance is provided for specific shipments.
Equity financing is the process of raising capital through the sale of shares. Equity financing is distinct from debt financing; in debt financing, a company assumes a loan and pays back the loan over time with interest, while in equity financing, a company sells an ownership share in return for funds. These funds do not have to be paid back, although the company may choose to make dividend payments to its shareholders.
The equity finance landscape has changed and developed, and there is now equity finance available for different stages of the business life cycle, from start-up to organic growth and growth by acquisition. There are various sources of equity finance, for example an entrepreneur's friends and family, investors, or an initial public offering (IPO). In many cases investors share their business expertise as well as the investment.
What are the main sources of equity finance?
You may also want to consider equity finance for your business. There are a growing number of options out there.
An angel investor (also known as a private investor, seed investor or angel funder) is a high-net-worth individual who provides financial backing for start-up or expansion capital. It can often be friends and family who are the angel investor. There are regional groups of business angels, and a national trade body: The UK Business Angels Association.
Venture Capitalists (VCs)
A VC is a private equity investor that provides capital to companies exhibiting high growth potential in exchange for an equity stake. This could be funding start-up ventures or supporting small companies that wish to expand but do not have access to equities markets. Venture capitalists are willing to risk investing in such companies because they can earn a huge return on their investments if these companies are a success.
Private Equity – Private equity is medium to long-term finance provided in return for an equity stake in potentially high-growth unquoted companies. Private equity firms will typically look to hold investments for between four and seven years, at which time they will look to sell, or ‘exit’, their stake, either on the stock market, to a corporate buyer or to another investor. The British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (BVCA) is the industry body for the private equity and venture capital industry in the UK.
Crowdfunding is the use of small amounts of capital from a large number of individuals to finance a new business venture. Crowdfunding makes use of the easy accessibility of vast networks of people through social media and crowdfunding websites to bring investors and entrepreneurs together.
Key tips to accessing finance
Whatever source of funding you choose to access; the same basic principles apply:
• Show you have a sound management team with a clear plan and objectives
• Be open and honest, and highlight your USP – talents, technology and depth of knowledge
• Prepare a robust business plan – show why you need the money and that it can be paid back with interest or provide a return through value increase
• Think outside the box – consider alternatives
• Take professional advice
By Alison Watts, Partner