Friday, October 30, 2009

Business Finance in Difficult Times

Although many small firms have been experiencing difficulties in the current economic climate, both with trade and accessing
business finance  , many smaller businesses are booming. So what does the future hold for small businesses in South Africa?

Both entrepreneurs and small business experts have said that we are through the worst, while other believe it may be that a W shaped, basically a short but unsustainable recovery. Trading conditions may continue to be challenging. Business finance from risk-averse lenders may continue to be an issue and as the case currently, Angel finance together with other types of funding may be the only option available to business looking to start or grow.

Given that small business account for 60% of all businesses in the South Africa, it will be this sector which will help lead the country out of recession. But is the SME sector currently in a fit enough state to effectively kick-start the economy? Many SMEs outside the financial, property and transportation sectors have not felt the same pain as larger businesses. Many continue to have good orders, profitable work and, if finances were pre-arranged before the clampdown by the banks, many have little difficulty in continuing financial arrangements.

The outlook is difficult but workable. Strangely, where the greatest challenge to SMEs lies is when the economy begins to recover.
The climb out of recession is the time when the greatest number of businesses fail. Those failures are not caused by poor sales or losses – many of those businesses that fail are profitable and expanding.
Rather, the reason is simple: a growing business needs increased working capital – it needs cold, hard cash. Cash to fund the next sale, cash to fund the next increase in turnover.

A lack of working capital can lead to over-trading. Despite increased turnover and profits a business may not generate enough cash to cover its daily needs. It’s a risk all companies face. If a business has a conflict between profitability and cash flow, it must choose cash flow every time.

Being a profitable growing company also means a business has greater need for finance. As turnover grows, so stock grows along with the money owed to suppliers, tying up increasing amounts of cash in these areas.
So where can businesses get the finance they need to survive the upturn?
Banks are being tougher on businesses – reviews are more common, renewals tougher and banks are demanding increased security or other guarantees, suggesting shorter repayment terms or alternative finance options.

Banks want more information, projections and plans and on a more regular basis. If they don’t like what they see, or don’t see what they expect, they are increasingly likely to withdraw facilities. Despite that, the South African banking figures show that bank lending to non-financial businesses increasing by R100 million in May, but that was after the slump in April of R2.3 billion.

Business finance is out there. Businesses needing extra capital can look to peer groups or to venture capital. This venture capital comes from two major sources – either business angels or Venture Capital funds.
These individuals or funds put up money for shares – and they risk losing the money if the project fails. Demand for funding is increasing and there is less money available, but people still want good businesses to invest in.

Given the current recession, what do small businesses need to think about, and what should they do differently?

The simple answer is that nothing should be fundamentally different – the basics always apply in good and bad times: you need to be providing the products or services that customers want. Look at those organisations that managed to thrive despite the economic slow down. When times are tough you need to be selling the product or service that customers think of first when there is a specific need. Solid client relationships are also key. The relationships you have with your clients will help them to not only trust your product or service but also refer you to their friends and colleagues. Last but not least, ongoing market research to understand the needs and situations of your clients are essential. The better you understand your customers, the better you can provide them with the product or service that they require, at the price they are willing to pay.

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