With business financing options changing significantly during the past two years, it is appropriate to review what the “new normal” looks like so that small business owners will be prepared to cope with the challenges they now face with commercial lenders. Business borrowers are more likely to find commercial financing success by quickly accepting the fact that a “new normal” way of doing things has emerged.

The dramatic reduction in the number of commercial lenders that are actively making small business loans is one of the most significant changes in the business finance lending environment. Banks continuing to insist that they are still providing small business financing when in reality they have reduced or eliminated their commercial lending programs is an equally important part of the “new normal”.

A recent report showed that commercial lending activity fell by the biggest amount since records have been kept. This trend seems likely to get worse before it gets better because based on Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation accounting, almost one out of every ten banks is close to failing. The shaky current financial condition of many banks is further documented by reports from the Federal Reserve and United States Treasury Department that over 50 banks did not have sufficient cash flow to make their November 2009 payments for loans made by the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The payments in question are due quarterly, and over ten banks have missed three consecutive installments. Unlike banks which have tripled and quadrupled interest rates for individual consumers missing a credit card payment, presumably the government regulators are simply hoping to get their money back from the delinquent banks.

Banks have far too often conducted business as if they have a monopoly on their small business financing services. The “new normal” for small business owners should increasingly reflect the growing realization that banks can be replaced when they stop providing an adequate level of service to their business customers.

As a direct result of the continuing shortcomings of banks in providing an adequate amount of small business financing help as noted above, for most business borrowers the “new normal” will involve a new bank or at least a new commercial lender (which might not be a bank at all). Even though banks would like their small business owner customers to keep believing that only a bank like them can help business borrowers, this is truly a myth created by the bankers themselves.

For many essential commercial finance services such as commercial mortgage loans, numerous banks have indicated that they will no longer provide such financing anymore. For specialized business finance services such as working capital management, business consulting and business cash advances, banks only rarely provide a cost-effective and realistic option for commercial borrowers. For business owners which have commercial loans or working capital financing due to be refinanced within the next three years, planning ahead will be increasingly important to the success of their small business financing. With the “new normal”, if commercial borrowers wait until their bank decides to pull the plug on future small business finance programs, the timing is not likely to be as conducive to business refinancing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Business Finance – Strategic Planning

Whether you are starting up your business or expanding it you will need finance in order to do so. This is especially relevant to new businesses that are just starting up. There are numerous avenues that you can approach in order to gain this start up finance and there are many different forms of it open to you; choosing the right finance that will benefit your business most is the important thing.

There is a saying that states ‘it takes money to make money,’ this applies so much to new business ventures. For your business to become a success you will need a large amount of money to start off with that can be used to get your business set up. This money will be used to buy equipment, pay the rent on your business property, employ your staff and ensure that you have enough stock to get your business going as well as being used to pay the first few months of all your bills.

Two of the main reasons why many new businesses fail to get anywhere beyond the starting point are due to inadequate business capital and poor management skills, which is why raising money is so important in the early start-up stages of business.

Some ways in which people choose to fund their business idea is by using savings, but realistically not many of us have that sort of cash tucked away, which is why we require outside help. You could opt to borrow money from friends or family if they have the financial resources to help you or you could take out a credit card for the specific use of funding your business. All of the financial options that are open to you can be split into two sections, either debt finance or equity finance. Debt finance is classified as being money that is borrowed from varies different aspects. This is finance that is required to be paid back.

Some examples of debt finance include:

o Bank loans

o Credit cards

o Overdrafts

o Leasing

o Asset financing

All of these are the borrowing of money in one form or another and they will require monthly repayments that will have added interest. Most people however use their bank as the first call of gaining start up finance regardless of the fact they are going to end up paying more money back.

There are disadvantages and advantages of using a bank loan to fund a new business idea. However the disadvantages of having a bank loan to fund your business start up far out-weigh the advantages. The benefit of using a bank loan for business finance include being able to organise a repayment holiday meaning you only have to pay interest for a certain amount of time and you don’t have to turn over a share of your profit. The disadvantages however are that bank loans have strict terms and conditions and can cause cash flow problems if you are unable to keep up with your monthly repayments. Also bank loans are often secured against assets and you may be charged if you decide you want to repay your loan before the end of your loan term.
The other form of finance; equity finance, is often more overlooked than it should be when in fact equity finance could be just the answer that your business is looking for. The main forms of equity finance come from business angels and venture capitalists. Equity finance is money that is invested into your business in return for a share of the business. With equity finance the advantages out-weight the disadvantages and equity finance is a lot more helpful to small businesses than bank loans are.

Some of the advantages of equity finance include your investor being committed to your business and intended projects, they can bring valuable skills, contracts and experience to your business and they can assist you with strategy and decision making as well as often being prepared to follow up funding as your business grows. Two disadvantages of equity funding are your business may suffer as you are spending time securing your investor deal and the investor will own a share of your business.

Read the rest of this entry »

Business Finance And Choosing the Right One

One of the main reasons as to why new business ventures fail is due to a lack of financial funding to get the business venture off the ground. Many people don’t realise how much opening and running a business actually costs. If you don’t research and seek out business finance you will be unable to pay for your business premises, all of your necessary equipment, your bills and your staff wages as well as any of the stock that you will need.

You also need to ensure that when you decide on your business finance that you choose the one that is best for your business. Finance comes in many different forms and can be split into two main sections; equity finance and debt finance. The definition of equity finance is money that is invested into your business that doesn’t need to be repaid. This money is yours to use in return for a share of your business profit. As well as getting money invested into your business with equity finance you will also gain expertise and business contacts that are yours to use. The second main type of business finance is debt finance. This is money that is loaned to you. It is money that requires the need to be repaid over an agreed amount of time. You will have to repay the loan in full with added interest but no percentage of your shares are handed over.

Some examples of equity finance include business angels; these are entrepreneurs who invest a certain amount of money into your business. In return for the money that is invested a business angel will gain some of your shares so that they get a percentage of your profit. Business angels are perfect for start-up businesses as they provide money that doesn’t require the need to be repaid as well as expert advice about the best way of running your business. Another example of equity finance comes in the form of a venture capitalist. A venture capitalist is virtually the same as a business angel apart from they can provide higher amounts of finance and tend to invest more in established businesses where the risk of failure is reduced.

Some example of debt finance include; bank loans. When most people think of start up business finance the first place that comes to mind is their bank even though banks are very weary about lending money to new businesses as there is fear that the monthly repayments will not be kept up-to-date. Another example is credit cards; these are expensive when it comes to start-up finance but they are also a quick way of raising finance. One more example of debt finance is overdrafts; these can be expensive but are a flexible form of borrowing, they are not suitable for long term finance and are repayable on demand.

Read the rest of this entry »

Solutions For the Business Financing Puzzle

The comparison of small business financing to a puzzle is not meant to diminish the critical importance of success by business owners when they encounter difficulties with commercial lenders. The most practical goal for using a puzzle analogy in this article is to help describe an otherwise complex working capital and commercial finance situation in a more understandable way. The current commercial loan stakes for commercial borrowers are high because their business survival might be hanging in the balance.

In using a puzzle comparison, this analogy provides an opportunity to evaluate the commercial loans puzzle (a challenging commercial lending climate) as something that tests the ingenuity of small businesses to solve. When reviewing the current small business finance environment, an increasing number of commercial borrowers are comparing what they are finding to a puzzle with pieces scattered everywhere. The ongoing descriptions of commercial financing in terms of solving a puzzle should provide a reasonable reflection of the underlying problems that cannot be ignored by a prudent business borrower. The growing confusion represented in small business owner interactions with their current bank concerning available business financing options is no doubt also reflected by such an analogy.

Recent experiences by many commercial borrowers with their business banker probably resemble a constantly changing level of difficulty for an already confusing small business finance puzzle. It has become a common experience for banks to take over two months for a working capital financing process that should realistically be completed in three weeks or less, and in many cases even then the lender does not complete the process for providing the requested working capital to the business which has been waiting without any awareness that funding might not be finalized. Suggestions that commercial lenders have misrepresented what is required to finalize commercial loans are emerging in too many reports for borrowers to ignore.

For a number of years most business financing has been more complicated than borrowers realize. Recent events have made these complexities more obvious primarily because the eventual results have changed so drastically. It is situations like those noted above that cause business borrowers to feel like some of the required puzzle pieces have been removed from the board. In effect that is exactly what has happened in many cases because fewer banks are now providing small business financing. When this happens with the bank that a business has previously relied upon for their small business finance needs, a business owner is indeed likely to feel as if the commercial finance puzzle pieces have disappeared.

By continuing the puzzle analogy, there are two practical options for commercial borrowers to analyze and consider. First, in an approach which can lead to a small business finance puzzle which will involve “fewer pieces” if executed successfully, business owners should assess the potential for a reduction in their commercial debt requirements. Second, by looking for alternative commercial lending sources, small businesses should attempt to find the “missing pieces”. As with any complex business financing situation, both of these (as well as any other realistic commercial loan choices) should be thoroughly reviewed with the help of an experienced expert.

Read the rest of this entry »

Small business owners will be more likely to avoid serious future business finance problems with working capital management and commercial real estate loans by exploring what went wrong with business financing and commercial lending. This is not a hypothetical issue for most commercial borrowers, particularly if they need help with determining practical small business financing choices that are available to them. The bankers and banks responsible for the recent financial meltdown seem to be saying that even if anything actually went wrong, everything is fine now in the world of commercial lending. Nothing could be further from the truth. Commercial lenders made serious mistakes, and according to a popular phrase, if business lenders and business owners forget these mistakes, they are doomed to repeat them in the future.

Greed seems to be a common theme for several of the most serious business finance mistakes made by many lending institutions. Unsurprising negative results were produced by the attempt to produce quick profits and higher-than-normal returns. The bankers themselves seem to be the only ones surprised by the devastating losses that they produced. The largest small business lender in the United States (CIT Group) declared bankruptcy after two years of attempting to get someone else to pay for their mistakes. We are already seeing a record level of bank failures, and by most accounts many of the largest banks should have been allowed to fail but were instead supported by artificial government funding.

When making loans or buying securities such as those now referred to as toxic assets, there were many instances in which banks failed to look at cash flow. For some small business finance programs, a stated income commercial loan underwriting process was used in which commercial borrower tax returns were not even requested or reviewed. One of the most prominent business lenders aggressively using this approach was Lehman Brothers (which filed for bankruptcy due to a number of questionable financial dealings).

Bankers obsessed with generating quick profits frequently lost sight of a basic investment principle that asset valuations can decrease quickly and do not always increase. Many business loans were finalized in which the commercial borrower had little or no equity at risk. Banks invested almost nothing in cash (as little as three cents on the dollar) when buying future toxic assets. The apparent assumption was that if any downward fluctuation in value occurred, it would be a token three to five percent. In fact we have now seen many commercial real estate values decrease by 40 to 50 percent during the past two years. Commercial real estate is proving to be the next toxic asset on their balance sheets for the many banks which made the original commercial mortgages on such business properties. While there were huge government bailouts to banks which have toxic assets based on residential mortgages, it is not likely that banks will receive financial assistance to cover commercial real estate loan losses. As a result, a realistic expectation is that such commercial finance losses could produce serious problems for many banks and other lenders over the next several years. As noted in the following paragraph, many lenders have already drastically reduced their small business finance programs.

Inaccurate and misleading statements by commercial lenders about their lending activities for business finance programs to small business owners is an ongoing problem. Although banks have typically been reporting that they are lending normally with their small business financing, the actual results indicate something very different by any objective standard. It is obvious that lenders would rather not admit publicly that they are not lending normally because of the negative public relations impact this would cause. Business owners will need to be skeptical and cautious in their efforts to secure small business financing because of this particular issue alone.

There are practical and realistic small business finance solutions available to business owners in spite of the inappropriate commercial lending practices just described. The emphasis here is focusing on the problems rather than the solutions primarily because of the lingering notion by some that there are not significant current commercial lending problems. Despite contrary views from bankers and politicians, collectively most observers would agree that the multiple mistakes made by banks and other commercial lenders were serious and are likely to have long-lasting effects for commercial borrowers.

Read the rest of this entry »