Doug Richard’s recent report on business support in the UK highlighted that there are 3,000 government agencies and most of them simply direct people to other agencies. This can lead to a never ending cycle of being passed from pillar to post and having to explain yourself over and over again. So if you want help with your business finance, where can you go?
Here are the various options open to SMEs in the UK to help you decide the best route for you.
1. Your Bank
The high street banks (RBS, Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds) can certainly give you advice in terms of loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and they can also give you some guidance on developing cashflows and general business advice. Usually the advice is coming from staff who are well trained internally and have seen lots of businesses from the outside but may not have had the direct operational experience of running a business.
2. Your Accountant
Accountants come in many guises and it’s important that you understand whether you are dealing with an auditor (responsible for verifying your accounts after the year end), a tax advisor (helping you with Tax and VAT issues) or a firm helping with your bookkeeping, management reporting and accounts. Each of these has different specialist skills and you shouldn’t assume that just because someone helps you with your tax, they’ll also be giving you overall business advice. Equally, you’ll find that many firms from the big four (PWC, Deloitte, KPMG, E&Y) , the mid tier (Grant Thornton, BDO, Baker Tilley) and the fast growing newer firms (Tenon, Vantis, Target) can give you good specific advice on business finance issues. However, make sure that you have agreed this specifically in any engagement letter. Otherwise they might think they’re just keeping your books or auditing your company and you might think they’re advising you on how well your business is performing and highlighting any potential finance issues. The gap between these expectations has caused significant problems for many companies.
3. Your own FD or CFO
If you have your own finance staff then make sure you make the best use of them. It’s easy to dismiss the finance team as being too much in the detail and always taking a negative view but they are often highly experienced and well trained professionals who have a very good insight into your business. Listen to what they have to say and don’t just disregard their views because you prefer to hear all the good news that your sales director is telling you. A good FD or CFO will often have experience from other companies that they can bring to bear in your business.
4. Part Time FD Companies
These have been rapidly growing in popularity for SMEs and even some larger corporates and they can provide an excellent source of support and advice. They provide someone in your business on a part time basis who can guide you from their knowledge and experience in a way that’s particularly relevant to your business. When you can’t afford your own full time FD or CFO these companies (FD Solutions, Secantor, Marshall Keen, FDUK, MyFD) can all provide the support and guidance you require for your business finance in a manner that can be very beneficial for your business. Having an FD or CFO in your business, even on a part time basis can give your company a real boost and can give you a trusted advisor to turn to for advice on your company finances.
5. Government Agencies
As the Richards Review highlighted it can easily end up feeling like you’re chasing your tail when you deal with these agencies and sometimes the time and effort you put in can feel wasted when you don’t get anywhere. Business Link, which provides somewhat of a hub, has a variable reputation depending on your local region. Some of the Enterprise Hubs are more supportive and operations like Finance South East have built a good reputation for clear and relevant advice.
6. Corporate Finance Firms
There are many companies competing in the market to help you raise money for your company. These are businesses in their own right who are seeking to make a profit but that shouldn’t put you off. It means they are incentivised to help you succeed. Generally these firms do charge an upfront fee but most of them earn more of their fees from a back-end success component (a percentage of whatever is raised). Charges will range from £2k to £15k upfront and success fees are generally in the region of 5%, although they can go up to 20%. Beware of companies that either offer the service for free (on the basis that you generally get what you pay for) or that charge a very high upfront fee. There are also some who appear to guarantee an investment providing you pay for Due Diligence (DD). You end up paying £40k in advance and they find something in DD that prevents them investing (which they never really intended to do anyway). Make sure you understand and agreements before you enter into them.
7. Your Friends and Family
In reality, this is where many people go for initial advice. Now unless your friends and family happen to fall into any of the previous 6 categories, it’s likely that their advice may be somewhat questionable. If they’ve had actual experience of the same issues and they’ve resolved it then by all means listen to them. However, you should always think about the source of your advice. Where has their knowledge and experience come from?
The key lessons here are to consider where the information is coming from, whether that information is based on real world experience and training and how relevant it is to your particular business.