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Chancellor to cut business rates by 33% for half a million SMEs

Philip Hammond will use Monday’s Budget to cut business rates by a third for half a million SMEs.

The Chancellor is expected to say in the Budget that he has listened to pleas from the nation’s embattled high street by unveiling £900m in immediate business rates relief for 496,000 small retailers.

Retailers have long campaigned for reform of business rates, which are calculated based on the annual market rent value of a commercial property, and disproportionately affect bricks-and-mortar high street retailers as opposed to digital retailers located in out-of-town industrial parks.

A long-delayed revaluation of properties last year pushed up business rates across the country. Accountants EY calculate that business rates have risen by 15 per cent in the last seven years.

This has added to rising costs for SMEs already battered by what Federation of Small Business chairman Mike Cherry has called “a perfect storm” alongside rises in the National Living Wage and the imposition of the Apprenticeship Levy.

However, the Treasury has resisted wholesale change of the system, which raises around £30bn a year for the Exchequer. It has instead focused on providing business rates relief to smaller businesses, which it estimates has saved companies £10bn since 2016.

The £900m relief will apply to small retailers on premises with a rateable value of £51,000 or below. The fund will only apply to England, as the devolved authorities have responsibility for setting their own business rates. It remains unclear how long the relief will apply, but it is understood that 90 per cent of small English retailers will be eligible.

The FSB called the measures an “early Budget treat” for its members, though it said business rates relief should extend beyond retail to the hospitality and service sectors.

FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said: “In the lead up to the Budget, we’ve been urging the government to provide targeted support to struggling small firms on our high streets. This announcement shows the Chancellor has listened and this relief is a welcome step in getting the urgent help that all small businesses need. This fund will help keep high streets at the heart of our communities.

“Small firms are the lifeblood of our high street. They are under a huge amount of pressure, with current business rates bills adding to that ever-increasing strain. For far too long they have come up against an outdated and unfair rates system and it’s clear that change is needed.”

Source: SME Web

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Government Grants for SMEs in the UK – A Hands-on Guide

Winning a government grant can be a real boon for SMEs looking for funding, technology or expertise. In this post, we will discuss everything an SME needs to know about such grants.

Running a successful business is all about pre-empting, overcoming – and, at times – walking around hurdles. These hurdles come in every shape and size you can think of – from HR and compliance to marketing and branding. But if there’s one common denominator among all the problems businesses face, it has to be the money.

Take funding, for example. SMEs around the world and across the board are known to struggle when it comes to raising money. SMEs in the UK are no exceptions to this. In fact, so difficult is raising money via traditional, mainstream and high-street lenders that SMEs have gradually started thinking beyond banks and towards alternative funding channels.

In such times, the role played by the government becomes more crucial than ever. Government grants are, without a doubt, the face of this role. This is the reason why understanding how these grants work and how your SME can give itself a good shot at winning one are important. In this post, we will try to cover what government grants for SMEs are, how they work and how to find and apply for a grant that is suitable for your business.

What is a Government Grant?

A government grant is essentially an incentive package made available by various government bodies and organisations to individuals as well as businesses. Government grants (barring the finance grants) are usually non-repayable.

Depending upon the nature of the grant body and the grant objective, these grants can come in a variety of sizes and formats. As far as small businesses are concerned, such grants range from £1,000 to £500,000. Some of the bigger and more prized grants can go even higher.

Why Are Grants Given to SMEs?

Government grants have been there for a long, long time. The names and forms they have taken may have changed over time – from business subsidies to business support – but the objectives haven’t. If you were to analyse government grants across business sectors and districts, two things become very clear:

  • Most government grants have a singular objective – to keep the economy growing. This objective takes many avatars such as employment generation, sectoral development, regional development and so on. Grants that have these objectives are more or less permanent fixtures.
  • Other grants aim to follow, aid and complement ongoing policies of the government. Such grants typically reflect the incumbent government’s views in regard with trade, environment, social welfare, technology etc.

To put things in a more sweeping perspective, we can say that government grants have three clear objectives:

  • Boost economy through regional and local development
  • Generate employment by supporting businesses
  • Create an economic environment that encourages innovation, entrepreneurship and ‘home-grown’ research

As of 2018, nearly 200 government grants are available for SMEs in the UK.

Why SMEs Should Take Government Grants More Seriously

Even though government grants are incredibly appealing, very few SMEs actually realise the potential of such grants. Here are some features of government grants that SMEs can’t afford to overlook:

Government Grants Are Diverse

Very specific grants are available across all business sectors. This allows SMEs to compete more fairly for similar grants.

Grants Are More Than Just Money

As we will discuss in the next part of this post, government grants offer much more than just money.

Winning a Grant Validates Your Business Idea

A large number of SMEs are stuck in the validation loop that stops them from expanding or trading more confidently. Inadequate funding makes matters even worse. A grant can be a good way to turn the corner in such times and receive external recognition and validation.

Government Grants: Shortcomings & Drawbacks

While the features associated with government grants are certainly attractive, there exist shortcomings and drawbacks you should be aware of:

The Competition Is Fierce

The competition for government grants is fierce to say the least. Since young businesses, start-ups and established businesses all tend to spill over into the space that’s reserved for SMEs, the competition can become entirely off-putting.

It Can Take Months Before You See the Money

Applying for a government grant isn’t always the smoothest of processes. It can take many months for the assessment process to conclude, making grants irrelevant for businesses that require urgent funding.

Grants Can Never Replace External Funding

Given their limitations in size and scope, government grants cannot replace external, third-party funding channels – not in the long run, anyway.

Types of Government Grants for UK SMEs

In our guide to start-up funding, we have already discussed the various types of government grants. In the context of SMEs, these types remain more or less the same.

Direct Grants

A direct grant is a project-specific and objective-driven cash reward to businesses that meet the criteria. This is what most businesses think of when they think of a government grant.

Despite being the most popular and sought-after type, these grants come with a host of limitations and riders. As things stand today, direct grants focus more on young SMEs (trading for 5 years or less) in economically disadvantaged regions and districts. Furthermore, the grant amount is usually on the lower side. Given these facts, one would be forgiven to think that direct grants are good for encouraging businesses, but not necessarily supporting them.

  • Direct Grants Are Not Free Money!

It’s a common misconception among business owners and operators that winning a direct grant is just like winning a lottery. The fact is direct grants are nothing like free money.

Almost every direct grant scheme requires you to match the grant amount – a pound for a pound.

In other word, a direct grant of £10,000 will need you to raise £10,000 on your own before you see any of the grant money.

We, at Commercial Finance Network, have helped numerous SMEs raise the capital required to win direct grants. You can learn more about our services here and request a free quote here.

  • Most Direct Grants Are Project-Based.

Unlike other grant types, direct grants are almost always project-based. The grant objective clearly tells you what you’re expected to spend the money on. Some grant bodies go so far as to monitor the spending.

  • Example

A good example of an SME direct grant is the Business Energy Efficiency Programme organised by various local councils in the West Midlands. This direct grant offers rewards up to £20,000 for the qualifying businesses that implement energy saving technologies in their operations.

Finance Grants

If you are looking for a well-meaning financing support for your SME, finance grants should always be the focus of your search.

A finance grant combines the features of grants and loans. Also known as ‘soft loans’, such grants are an excellent way of raising a significant sum of money for SMEs. Typically, the loan amount can go from as low as £5,000 to as high as £250,000. Finance grants are usually available around the year. Unlike direct grants, however, finance grants are repayable. The terms of repayment are subsidised through public funding. So, you may either get a loan that’s fully free of interest, or you may get a lenient repayment schedule with generous repayment holiday months/years.

  • Soft Loans Are Not Always Project-Based

Unlike direct grants, finance grants (soft loans) aren’t always project-based. The grant objectives can be wide-ranging to allow you more control over the spending.

  • The Qualification Criteria Can Be Stringent

Quite a few finance grants require you to prove that your SME is unable to secure funding from other mainstream lenders. This translates into additional documentation and longer processing times.

  • The Grant Amounts Are Flexible

The biggest advantage that finance grants offer is their flexibility. You can negotiate the loan terms and amounts with the grant body (much unlike direct grants that leave no room for negotiation).

  • Example

ART Business Loans make for a good example here. This finance grant offers low-interest loans to businesses that generate employment in the West Midlands. The loan size ranges from £10,000 to £150,000.

The UK Export Finance (UKEF) scheme is also a very fitting example of how government grants are at their efficient best when partnered with private investors and lenders. It aims to promote exports to our major cross-border trade partners by helping SMEs raise funds, win overseas contracts/orders, fulfil these orders and access trade finance.

Tax Relief Schemes

Tax Relief Schemes are indirect grants offered to qualifying SMEs. There are little to no upfront benefits to such schemes. In the long run, however, these tax savings can be very attractive. Here are some common and ongoing tax relief schemes that you can focus on:

Tax Relief Schemes for SMEs

1. Employment Allowance

Most businesses are required to contribute to the National Insurance every year. By securing the Employment Allowance, your business can save up to £3,000 on these contributions.

2. SME Business Rates Relief

All properties owned by businesses are charged business rates by local councils. If your business holds one property (valued at £12,000 or less), you can apply for 100% Small Business Rates Relief. For businesses holding two or more properties, it’s still possible to get proportionately lower relief.

3. Corporation Tax Reliefs

  • Capital Allowances let SMEs claim tax reliefs against the purchase of business assets.
  • R&D Reliefs are meant to encourage R&D spending.
  • Creative Industry Tax Reliefs provide special tax reliefs to ‘creative’ industries such as arts, film, theatre, music and digital media.
  • The Patent Box is one of the most exciting tax relief schemes out there. This scheme allows inventors and businesses to claim tax reliefs against profits made by the use or licensing of their patents.
  • There are many other Corporation Tax Relief Schemes tailored for the need of SMEs. You can refer to this page to learn more.

Tax Relief Schemes for SME Investors

1. Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS)

The Enterprise Investment Scheme is perhaps the strongest investment magnet for SMEs. Under this scheme, SME investors can claim tax credits and reliefs of up to £300,000 each year. This scheme applies to total investment of up to £5 million per year.

2. Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS)

This scheme is similar to EIS but limited in scope to serving start-ups and young businesses. If your SME has been trading for no more than 2 years, your investors can claim tax credits under the SEIS.

SME Grant Finder: How to Find Government Grants

Searching through available government grants is no longer a dreadful or time-consuming task. Just head over to the Business Finance and Support page and filter through the available options. This page allows you to zero in on government grants based on your location, business type, size and turnover.

5 Steps SMEs Need to Take to Win Grants

1. Applying Early

Applying early gives you an important edge over competitors. To be able to do this, you need to be aware grant announcements.

2. Preparing a Detailed Business Plan

It doesn’t matter what sort of loan, support or grant you are after – you will always need a business plan that paints a clear picture of the present state of your business and your future objectives. A good, in-depth business plan that answers questions even before they are asked enormously improves your chances of winning government grants.

3. Understanding the Grant, the Grant Body and the Grant Objectives

If your grant application is rejected, it’s very much likely that the fault lies neither with your business nor the grant – it lies with the incompatibility of your objectives with those of the grant body. The best way to avoid this is to apply for grants that share objectives with your business.

4. Having Professionals on Board

If you don’t have prior experience in applying for grants, it’s always a good idea to hire grant experts and consultants.

5. Preparing a ‘Winning’ Grant Application

A generic, off-the-bat grant application is never going to win you a grant. Preparing a grant application that lets the grant body know how you share in their objectives is the key.

We Help SMEs Grow!

Government grants offer a host of opportunities for SMEs to raise the much-needed funding. It is, however, never a good idea to rely heavily on government grants. The timelines are unpredictable, the amounts are usually lower than what you need and you will, in most cases, need to raise external funding anyway.

But it’s not all bad news – there are easier way to fund your business.

Commercial Finance Network – a leading whole of market broker – has helped many SMEs across the UK secure fast and low-interest funding. To know more about our industry-leading finance services, you can visit this page.

Check your eligibility for a low-interest business loan and other finance products by requesting a free quote here.

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A Complete Guide to Financing Start-ups in the UK – Start-up Loans, Governments Grants & More

Financing a start-up can be challenging. In this post, we explore the various ways – from start-up loans to crowdfunding – in which you can go about overcoming this challenge.

The world has seen unprecedented innovation in the last 30 years. By many estimates, these years account for more path-breaking, paradigm-shift-inducing inventions, innovations and ideas than the rest of the human history combined.

It wouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that this culture of innovation has impacted the economy just as definitively as it has our everyday lives. The smartphones we use, the smart payments we make and the big data we routinely stand in awe of – these innovations have left few aspects of modern life untouched. Much the reason why, there has also been a remarkably noticeable upsurge in the number of people answering their entrepreneurial ‘calling’.

The numbers are telling in this regard. In the last five years, the business registration rate has steadily increased despite all the uncertainties around the impending Brexit. If your start-up is among these, it’s quite likely that you are looking for better ways than putting your life savings at stake to raise enough capital.

The Importance of Financing a Start-up Correctly

Choosing a right set of financing options is of utmost importance for any commercial activity.

For start-ups, however, this becomes an even more sensitive proposition. Unfortunately, many promising start-ups pay the price for indecisiveness, inaction and incorrect decision-making. We have seen that the start-up culture is booming in the UK – but there’s always a downside to every argument. The statistics released by the ONS suggest that 48% of new businesses do not survive their first four years of trading. In 40% of such cases, financing problems is the major reason.

By weighing the start-up financing options discussed below, you can avoid your start-up from meeting this grim fate.

1. Start-up Loans

When it comes to funding start-ups in the UK, start-up loans should be the first option you explore.

In the last few years, start-ups have managed to instil a good deal of confidence among lenders. More and more private lenders and banks have started looking at start-ups as huge opportunities, and not mindless, risk-filled adventures. This pattern means that getting a start-up loan is the most affordable and convenient funding option for start-ups across industries.

What is a Start-up Loan?

Start-up loans, even though granted exclusively to start-up businesses, are more like personal loans than commercial loans. This is primarily due to the fact that start-ups don’t have any history of trading to refer to. In most cases, start-ups are founded by a small group of partners and have no history of business credit for the lenders to go by, either.

In essence, a start-up loan is a small, unsecured loan that hinges entirely on the viability of the business model and the personal credit history of the proprietor or the partners.

With one or more start-up loans, you can expect to raise capital up to £25,000.

Why Choose Start-up Loans?

Start-ups, unlike established businesses, have very specific needs, and start-up loans address these needs better than any other financing alternative.

  • Easy to Secure

Start-up loans are much easier to secure when have a good-enough business plan and a blemish-free credit report.

  • Fast Processing

Start-up loans are processed just as quickly as personal loans. This saves you precious time and resources that can be directed towards a successful launch.

  • Little to No Collateral Required

Most lenders offer unsecured start-up loans, once they are convinced of your repayment potential. For higher loan amounts, some collateral may be required to offset the risk taken by the lender.

  • Industry Expertise

This is one feature few other start-up financing options can offer.

If you receive a start-up loan offer from an experienced lender specialising in your industry of operation, it can add immense passive value to your business.

How to Get a Start-up a Loan?

Although most mainstream lenders offer start-up loans, the eligibility criteria and repayment schedules differ wildly from one lender to another. The easiest and fastest way of securing a start-up loan that is tailored to meet your needs is to have a reputed broker like Commercial Finance Broker on your side. Whole of market brokers can approach UK-wide lenders on your behalf, increasing your chances of getting affordable and customised start-up loan quotes.

2. Government Grants for Start-ups

If you are familiar with the start-up culture in the UK, you’ve probably heard of government grants. Even though relying solely on government grants to finance your start-up is impractical, it’s equally unwise to dismiss this option altogether.

What is a Government Grant?

A government grant is essentially a reward granted to various businesses and charitable organisations under various schemes and from various public funds. The primary motive behind the establishment and distribution of government grants is to incentivise innovation, foster entrepreneurship and, in turn, create more employment in various business sectors.

Depending upon the objectives of the grant, your start-up can receive upfront cash rewards, tax incentives, equipment support, technical support and no-interest/low-interest loans. UK start-ups can receive grants from the local authorities, the UK Government and the European Union.

Government Grants for Start-ups: Types and Features

  • Direct Grant (Direct Finance)

This is the most popular type of government grant available for start-ups and young businesses. When you apply for a direct grant, most schemes and trusts will require you to match the grant reward 1:1. In other words, you can expect to raise up to 50% of the required capital using the grant, while the rest will need to be raised through private funding.

  • Available for start-ups
  • Grant size varies from £500 to £500,000 (subject to available schemes)
  • Non-repayable
  • No interest
  • Soft Loans (Subsidised Loans)

Soft loans or subsidised loans aim to strike a balance between direct grants and private or peer-to-peer start-up loans. These loans, available as government grants, are subsidised with public funds so that cash-strapped start-ups can afford them.

  • Loans up to £25,000 are available for start-ups
  • The interest rates (4 to 6% p.a.) are much lower than other loan alternatives.
  • The repayment terms are lenient and generous.
  • Equity Finance (Tax Incentives)

This is a lesser-used but extremely powerful government grant. Through such schemes, the government promotes investments in start-ups by offering up to 50% rebates in the income tax for the investors. The rebate percentage depends upon the size of the business and the business sector.

  • Income tax rebate up to £100,000 can be claimed.
  • Available for start-ups and young businesses with fewer than 25 employees

Government Grants: What Start-ups Should Know

  • Applying for and winning a government grant is often a time-consuming process. If your start-up requires an urgent finance package, grants may not always be useful.
  • The competition is fierce. In recent years, it has become nearly impossible to win government grants in business sectors that do not have a direct impact on the socio-economic policies of the government.
  • Even if you manage to win a government grant, you will still be required to secure an external loan to raise enough capital.

How to Apply for Government Grants

The application process is, in itself, a bottleneck. The slow processing times and ambiguous terms mean that you will need to prepare an extremely thoughtful grant application to qualify.

If you want to win a government grant for your start-up, a proven and systematic approach must be adopted.

  • Know What the Grant is Trying to Achieve

Many start-ups choose to send applications to any and every grant scheme that comes up. This approach usually results into a great deal of wasted time and resources. Instead, you should aim to apply for grants that have specific objectives relating to your business sector.

  • Communicate with the Grant Body/Organisation

It’s always advisable to have a clear communication with the grant body if any of its objectives or terms are unclear. This will help you understand whether you should invest your resources into preparing a grant application.

  • Prepare a Grant Application That Stands Out

Remember – dozens, if not hundreds, of businesses will be competing against you to win the grant in question. Preparing an outstanding grant application will improve your chances significantly. Your grant application should be able to convey how your start-up aligns well with the grant objectives.

  • Supplement Your Grant Application with a Business Plan

You will need a great business plan to bolster your grant application. In the business plan, emphasise the aspects of your business that directly concern the grant objectives. Additionally, you will be required to furnish any external funding commitments you may have received – especially if you are applying for a direct grant.

  • Keep Checking for New Grants

Dozens of new start-up grants are introduced each month. It’s widely believed that the early-bird applications have a higher chance of winning government grants. The definitive list of available grants can be found at the Business Finance Support Portal launched by the UK Government.

3. Investments

If there’s one thing that has added an extra touch of glamour to the very idea of entrepreneurship, it’s the awe-inspiring risk appetite shown by external investors. The stories of start-ups receiving outlandish investment deals regularly make the rounds in start-up circles – and not without their reasons.

Having an external investor on board can be the most cost-effective way of financing your start-up. There are many ways in which your start-up can bring in external investments. Some of these are:

  • Equity investments (selling a share of your equity in the business)
  • Capital investments (mortgaging a share of your equity in the business)
  • Credit lines (flexible credit lines on an as-needed basis in exchange for a fixed percentage of revenue/profits)
  • Custom investments (fully customised investment plans)

4. Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is an effective way of raising small sums of money, especially for consumer-facing start-ups. It’s all about letting numerous people contribute in their personal capacities in exchange for a stake in your business.

Crowdfunding is a good way to raise money in order to address specific business objectives such as:  fuelling research, manufacturing prototypes, financing marketing campaigns and entering new markets.

Is Your Start-up the Next Big Thing? We’d Love to Hear from You!

There’s something innately attractive about dreaming of an idea, working hard to bring its seed to life and watching it grow into something significant. The unfortunate reality is that many such dreams are routinely cut short for the want of more funding.

At Commercial Finance Network, we’ve been living the entrepreneurial dream – with all its highs and lows – for over a decade. With the help of our UK-wide panel of specialist lenders, we’ve helped numerous start-ups overcome their financing problems. Customised to the highest degree, the start-up loans we broker are more than just loans – they are what the ambitious start-ups of today need to turn the corner and scale newer, higher peaks of success.

Don’t let the funding shortfall stifle your start-up even before it takes off. Call us on 03303 112 646 or fill in our contact form to request a free start-up loan quote.

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One third of business owners unaware of alternative finance options

More than half of SMEs expect to increase income or turnover in 2018-19, according to British Business Bank

One in three British SMEs want to grow their business but are unsure how, according to a new poll by British Business Bank. Often, smaller businesses want to grow but do not consider, or know of, the alternative finance options available to them.

The new polling reveals, for example, that only 5 per cent of businesses have considered angel investment whilst only 7 per cent have considered crowdfunding.

Older business owners are significantly less likely to be aware of or to have used alternative growth finance options than their younger counterparts. One in five (19 per cent) millennials (under-35s), for example, have considered crowdfunding, compared with fewer than one in 20 (3 per cent) over-35s.

The good news is that business confidence is high among those surveyed, with more than half (51 per cent) of business owners saying they expect to increase their income/turnover in the next financial year, with fewer than one in 10 (8 per cent) expecting their income/turnover to decrease.

Piers Linney, non-executive director at British Business Bank, believes that businesses need to look beyond the high street to finance their growth.

Linney said: “Getting investment for your business does not have to be as scary as going into the Dragons’ Den. There are plenty of ways to get finance and access support – the challenge is knowing where to look, making the time to find out about them and getting investor ready.”

Keith Morgan, CEO of British Business Bank, added: “The financial landscape can be complex and confusing for smaller businesses trying to finance their growth ambitions. Our polling shows that too often smaller businesses want to grow but don’t know where to start meaning we miss out on their growth.”

The British Business Ban, the UK government-owned economic development bank, recently launched a Finance Hub – a new website dedicated to providing independent information on finance options for scale-up, high growth and potential high growth businesses.

Source: SME Web