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Crowdfunding 101: How UK Businesses Can Use Crowdfunding As A Viable Alternative Finance Option

Over the last decade, many new types of alternative finance have emerged in the UK market. Some of these have built upon the traditional methods of funding a business, while others have quite successfully disrupted the market to a certain degree. Crowdfunding belongs to the latter category. Getting a group of individual investors to pitch in together to fund a business isn’t something new, but crowdfunding, with the help of available technology, has made it possible for thousands of people to back a product, a service or even just an idea in their personal capacity.

What Is Crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is exactly what it says it is. Up and coming businesses (especially the ones that find it tough to raise finance via traditional channels) share their ideas, business plans, product prototypes and everything else that is relevant on a crowdfunding platform and individual investors decide if or how much they want to contribute. The investors, in return, can get equity in the business, dividend from the revenue or royalty from each sale made, depending on the terms of contract. It sounds quite simple, because it is. The only decisive factor here is the merit of the idea being pitched.

The UK Crowdfunding Market

Crowdfunding, as we noted earlier, is exciting for both businesses and investors. However, these are still early years, and it would be unfair to compare crowdfunding with other finance/investment avenues such as business loans or commercial finance. It is estimated that from its inception in 2011 to 2018, crowdfunding has contributed over £600mn to UK businesses.

Is Crowdfunding The Right Choice For Your Business?

Not all businesses are built the same. Crowdfunding can, however, be extremely helpful in getting your business off the ground. Many young businesses and start-ups use crowdfunding just to get through the proof of concept phase (building a prototype, sending products out for testing, acquiring relevant licences and clearances, and so forth). Crowdfunding may be the right choice for your business if:
  • You only need small capital, but you need it fast,
  • Your products/ideas are relatable and solve real life problems,
  • You can’t raise money via other, more private finance options like personal loans, overdrafts and lines of credit.

Types Of Crowdfunding

Most crowdfunding pitches belong to one of the following types:

Equity Based Crowdfunding (Investment Crowdfunding)

This is, by far, the most important type of crowdfunding. As a business owner, you ask for and receive funding from investors who, in return, receive a proportionate stake in your business (in the form of equity). Equity based crowdfunding is ideal for businesses looking to raise a significant sum of money upfront. This is very similar to syndicated angel finance (please read through our guide to angel finance to learn more).

Equity Crowdfunding And Tax Reliefs

Equity based investments in qualifying businesses are eligible to receive tax reliefs (as applicable) under the EIS and SEIS.

Credit Based Crowdfunding

Credit/loan-based crowdfunding is nothing but peer-to-peer finance (P2P finance). Contributors here act as private lenders who lend you money upfront via the crowdfunding platform you choose. You are then required to repay the crowdfunding platform at a pre-set interest rate. This is a good alternative finance option for businesses that don’t want to part with equity.

Reward Based Crowdfunding

Reward based crowdfunding allows you – as the borrowing business – to reward contributors in a variety of ways. The most common reward is early access to your products/services.

Donations/Charity Based Crowdfunding

Not all businesses can afford to pay their contributors back. Social enterprises can raise money in the form of donations/charity and use it to fund their business goals.

How Does Crowdfunding Work?

Crowdfunding platforms play an important role here. There are dozens of crowdfunding platforms presently operational in the UK. Seedrs and Crowdcube are two prominent examples. Once you know what type of crowdfunding you want to go for, you will need to make public a few important details about your business.
  1. What you’re offering in terms of products/services
  2. How they make a difference
  3. If you have any intellectually protected assets
  4. How much you want to raise
  5. How much you’ve already raised from other means
  6. How you plan on using the funds raised
  7. What the timeline of progress will be
  8. What you’re offering in return

Is Crowdfunding Regulated In The UK?

Most crowdfunding activities in the UK are now regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Loan-based crowdfunding and investment/equity-based crowdfunding are regulated heavily considering the risks involved. The FCA also regulates crowdfunding platforms in line with their policies.

Things To Avoid While Preparing Your Crowdfunding Pitch

As things stand today, there’s no way really for us to tell what percentage of crowdfunding pitches manage to meet their goals. We do, however, have observed a few key trends that seem to be common denominators among campaigns that fail. Here are the things that you may want to avoid while preparing your crowdfunding pitch:

Confusion And Chaos

This is probably the biggest red flag for any investor. When you prepare your pitch, you need to be as sure as you can about what you’re pitching. Your pitch needs to speak to the investor and answer their questions before they have the chance to even ask them.

Bad Ideas

There’s no way you can sell a bad idea to people and hope to succeed. Paying enough attention to whether the idea is viable, profitable and scalable should be at the centre of your considerations.

Bad Valuation

Many start-ups and young businesses tend to overvalue their ventures. It helps if you bring on board experienced professionals who can evaluate your business for you without any bias. A reasonable evaluation means that potential investors can see how it makes sense to invest.

Crowdfunding Alternatives – Have You Considered These?

Raising money on your own – through personal finance and from your friends/family – is usually the safest bet when dealing with small amounts. However, if you want your business to really take off, you need to take commercial finance more seriously. There are quite a few commercial finance solutions available in the market that, when utilised properly, can prove to be much more affordable and much less tricky than crowdfunding.

Business Loans

Raise money as and when you need it and use it towards the business expense of your choice – from fulfilling purchase orders to settling existing loans.

Asset Finance

Finance the purchase/lease of expensive equipment through fast, affordable and easy asset finance.

Angel Finance

Bring experienced investors on board and benefit from their expertise and industry connections.

Specialty Loans

Use specialty loans like HMO finance, development finance, bridging loans, BTL mortgages and more to raise money from specialist lenders at low interest rates. Commercial Finance Network, a leading whole of market broker in the UK, makes it easy for you to match with UK-wide lenders. Every commercial finance application we receive is decided upon within 24 hours – that’s our promise! To know more or to request a call back, call us on 03303 112 646. You can also fill in this short online form to get started.
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Angel Investing 101 – Everything UK Start-ups & SMEs Need To Know About Angel Finance

The world of modern business, despite having achieved incredible heights over the past century, still values ideas that are worth pursuing. Creativity, innovation and passion have always been at the very core of successful businesses. This is apparent when you look at the start-ups that ‘make it’ to the top. And no, we aren’t just talking about the big tech names – even a relatively modest, local restaurant that offers something new, exciting and unique has the potential to make it to such a list. At the same time, it must be conceded that not all ideas are fortunate enough to find the financial backing they deserve, especially from the traditional channels of business finance. Not all banks want to take the risk, not all venture capitalists have the time to go through thousands of pitches they receive every month, and not all high-street lenders understand how the whole thing works. This is where angel investing comes into the picture.

What Is Angel Investing (Angel Finance)?

Angel investing is an important type of alternative finance options available especially to start-ups and SMEs in their early stages of growth. Unlike traditional bank loans or business loans, angel investing comes from an individual (the angel investor). Angel investors are typically high net worth individuals who bring on board a great deal of experience in various business operations. “Combine the angel investors’ ability to fund your ideas along with their experience and industry connections and you have a perfect launchpad to help your business grow.”

The Angel Investment Market In The UK

Angel investing has always been a popular choice among businesses because of its simplicity. Things took a turn for the better as the Enterprise Investment Scheme was introduced in 1993. Since then, over £18 bn has been invested through the EIS alone. The yearly projections by The UKBAA estimate that in 2020 over £2 bn will be invested in start-ups and pre-revenue business models. Angel investing has also received a boost from an unlikely ally: the pop culture. Popular television shows like Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den have added a touch of glamour to the whole market and helped many first-time investors take the leap of faith and invest their time and money in local start-ups.

How Does Angel Investing Really Work?

As far as the UK angel investing market is concerned, the largest share of investment comes from small to medium scale investors who want to achieve two goals with such investments:
  1. Put their savings/disposable earnings to the most profitable use by investing in a venture that they can understand and help
  2. Claim important tax savings through the EIS.
For most business sectors, angel investors can claim up to £300,000 in EIS tax relief, while businesses cannot raise more than £5mn per year through the EIS. Given these numbers, it’s easy to see why most angel investments lie in the £10,000-500,000 range. Syndicated angel investments, in which two or more angel investors team up to fund a business, can see this number go as high as £2mn.

Angel Investments Are NOT Loans

If you’re looking to fund your start-up with the help of angels, this is the very first thing you need to know: angel investments are nothing like business loans. In exchange for the money your business receives, you’ll be required to give up equity to the investor. The amount of equity you ‘sell’ depends on the investment appetite of the investor.

The Risk

Angel investments are inherently risky for the investor since they have to put their money on the line. The risk is mitigated by the potential of the business in question to provide returns that are significantly higher than those provided by other investment options.

Angel Investments And Equity

The only potential downside to angel investment, from the business owner’s point of view, is the sharing of ownership in the business. Most businesses, in their early stages, aren’t ready to give up a significant chunk of equity. Angels, however, are open to negotiations when it comes to striking a mutually beneficial deal. Moreover, angel investors looking to make the most of EIS/SEIS tax reliefs cannot hold more than 30% of the equity. It’s common for investors to ask for equity in the range of 5 to 20%.

Has Your Business Got What It Takes?

It’s not always easy to predict what an angel investor would look for in an investment opportunity. From what we, as a leading commercial finance broker, have observed over the years, there’s a recurring theme that you may want to judge your business by.

Real Life Value

Angel investors usually prefer businesses that aim to add real-life value. Products and services that solve real-life problems always make for a good pitch.

The People

Angel investors, being individuals, prefer to work with people who are motivated and prepared to do what it takes to succeed. It’s not enough to just have an idea that works, it’s equally important for them to know that you believe in this idea. It’s probably the most intangible aspect of this discussion, but it’s as important as any other.

The Numbers

Investors, regardless of the type of investment in question, want to know that you have all your numbers figured out. This includes creating a well thought out business plan, among other things.

The Viability

Questions to ask yourself: Is your business idea viable? Is your main selling point intellectually protected? Will there be any potential conflicts with other parties?

The Future

Questions to ask yourself: Is there enough room for growth? How do you plan to scale your business? Will the profitability/viability get affected at a larger scale?

The Proof

Everything you do in terms of proof will count in your favour. From an intensive market survey and proof of concept to purchase orders and testimonials, just to name a few examples. While it’s good to have a business that works not just in theory, it’s not a prerequisite. This eventually comes down to how the promising your business idea is in the investors’ eyes.

The Exit

If you put yourself in the investor’s shoes, you can see why an exit strategy is important. Investors do not generally want to stay on board for decades. They prefer to have an exit window of 5-10 years in which they can make the most of their investment. How you plan on providing them this exit becomes, in this context, an important question.

Angel Investment And Business Stages

As we noted earlier, angel investments are best suited for start-ups that are in their early stages of development. There are three main business stages that are most likely to secure angel finance.

Pre-Revenue Stage

This is the earliest stage for an investor to come on board. Pre-revenue businesses generally have not much to stand on except the power and potential of the idea. It helps if this idea can be/is intellectually protected, has obvious benefits and is proven to work in real life. Quite naturally, pre-revenue angel finance is fraught with risks, and investors may want a sizeable share of equity for their money.

Pre-Profit Stage

Pre-profit businesses are the ones that have already set up shop (so to speak) and started trading. The revenue they generate isn’t enough to cover their expenses and debts. At this stage, investors have enough evidence to visualise the profitability.

Post-Profit Stage

Post-profit businesses are the ones that have not only started trading but also gone beyond the break-even point. Such businesses rarely look for angel finance, but when they do, they have a very good chance of securing it.

Commercial Finance Network and Angel Finance: How We Can Help

As a leading whole of market commercial finance broker, Commercial Finance Network is best placed to match your business with angel investors who can offer invaluable industry experience, funding and expertise. Our panel of private investors consists of UK-wide angels with years’ worth of investing experience. When you work with us, we make sure that your ideas – they may well be the next big thing – are placed in front of the right investors. Angel investing is not just about money, it’s about the priceless experience and expertise that can make all the difference in the world. To know more or to request a call back, call us on 03303 112 646. You can also fill in this short online form to get started.
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Why UK Businesses Need to Trade Internationally – The Key Benefits of International Trade for UK SMEs

The Key Benefits of International Trade for UK SMEs – As a business, you’re always trying to find and break new grounds to gain that competitive edge. But, have you considered going global yet?

The history of the world as we know it has been shaped by a complex concoction of ideas, events and people.

But there has always been a strong, undeniable driving force behind much of the development we’ve seen in the post-industrial revolution era: natural resources. The quest for the very best of everything that our planet has to offer has built, transformed and even destroyed civilisations, and international trade is a vibrant reminder of that fact.

Today, no country can afford to sit back and not engage in international trade. Many of Western economic policies stem directly from trade-related reasons and thousands if not tens of thousands of companies in the UK keep the wheel of our international trade turning.

But while all this happens, what does international trade mean for you and your business?

In the more-connected-than-ever world, you can’t possibly afford to ignore the possibilities that exist around the world. If you’ve been apprehensive about the seemingly complex international trade puzzle, let us break some things down for you.

Before that, let’s take stock of where things stand from an SME point of view.

More and More SMEs Are Trading Internationally

Thanks to consistent efforts of successive governments, international trade has seen some promising numbers in the last few years.

Although there has been a marked drop in overall exports in the past two years due to puzzling developments and speculations around Brexit, the overall number of SMEs exporting internationally has increased. The latest figures released by the government indicate that the number of SMEs exporting products and services internationally rose in 2017 by 6.6%.

“With more and more SMEs engaging in international trade (especially exports), it’s clear that it’s indeed possible even for a small business without millions of pounds in cash reserves to expand their operations, customer base and influence around the world with success.”

At 235,000 and counting, the SMEs trading internationally account nearly for 10% of all SMEs in the UK.

Benefits of International Trade for UK SMEs

While there can be cited dozens of benefits of international trade, here are the important ones that UK SMEs need to know:

A. International Trade Allows for the Diversification of Operations

It’s probably the most apparent benefit of going global for SMEs.

As a business trading internationally, you can easily diversify many of your business operations. This includes the two end-points of business – paying customers and suppliers whom you pay. You can access diverse technologies, market opportunities, natural resources and human resources, and make them all work in your favour.

B. Diverse Operations = Better Risk Tolerance

Risk tolerance is a business metric that defines how much of a leeway a business can have against various risks – from market events to uncontrollables like natural calamities.

When you start trading globally, your business automatically spreads much of its risks over a wider geographic area. Of course, this comes with additional trading risks, but they usually offset themselves with associated rewards. Essentially, businesses that import/export can tolerate negative events without sustaining much damage, as opposed to domestic businesses that can suffer irreversible damage.

For example, an unfortunate event like an earthquake can bring your manufacturing operations and domestic demand to a standstill. But if you export the manufactured goods internationally, you can still move the surplus inventory off your warehouses, maintaining the incomings relatively unscathed.

C. Trading Internationally Opens Up New Channels of Revenue

It’s no secret that you can’t have every type of demand in a single market. If you trade only domestically, your operations will always be limited to a certain type of demand. Any fluctuations in those demand forces will have a direct impact on the revenue.

Alternatively, when you trade globally, you can add multiple, previously-untapped revenue channels to your operations. This is just an extension of the previous risk tolerance argument we made, but it’s definitely one of the highlights UK SMEs need to think about.

D. International Trade Isn’t Crippled By Finance Bottlenecks Anymore

The second half of the 20th century was marked by epochal turns. The World War II started a chain of events that was propagated further by the Cold War, followed by the oil-centric upheavals in the Middle East. All these events meant one thing – the money gradually dried up from all international trade that wasn’t related to oil.

Lenders were unwilling to deal with foreign suppliers or banks, making letters of credit an irrelevant option for businesses. Today, we are glad to report, this isn’t the case.

Even a small business with limited capital can easily have letters of credit issued to the supplier’s bank without any problems. Thanks to the good perception UK businesses have in foreign markets, there are fewer things to worry about today than ever. If you’re exporting goods or services, you can just as easily arrange for flexible finance packages that keep the operations running smoothly.

When it comes to trade finance, Commercial Finance Network is an automatic choice for hundreds of UK SMEs. Being an industry-leading whole of market broker, we help UK SMEs access a diverse panel of lenders who bring on board decades of global trade experience. High acceptance rates, customised loan terms and fast approvals are just some of the features that make our trade finance services popular among businesses across the UK.

E. You Can Easily Beat Domestic Competition

Trading internationally means trading on a bigger and wider canvas. By going global, you can make sure that your business has an edge over domestic competitors.

F. A New Lease of Life for the Service Industry

Service provider businesses are among the fastest growing businesses of the 21st century, thanks largely to the internet effect. Given that the UK is one of the most important financial markets of the world, it’s no wonder that UK service providers – especially in the technology, financial and education sectors – have been reaping the rewards of trading internationally.

If you run a service business, you can – at relatively lower cost spreads – access and seize foreign markets.

G. Trading Internationally Promotes Innovation

Innovations isn’t just a buzz word – it’s the primary catalyst for business growth today.

If your business operates in tech, manufacturing or financial sectors, you know this first-hand. Innovation in a far-away market can often have an tearaway effect on your local performance. In such times, it pays to be connected to the world at large – something trading internationally lets you do.

Explore the World of Opportunities With Commercial Finance Network

Whether it’s sourcing better, cheaper equipment from overseas suppliers or exporting goods/services to foreign customers, every well-thought-out international trade move can be a game changer for your business.

At Commercial Finance Network, we help UK SMEs realise their global trading goals with robust, flexible and customised trade finance solutions – from affordable import-export finance to universal letters of credit. Let us worry about mediating with foreign banks and suppliers while you focus on your business.

To request a quote or talk to our trade finance experts, click here.

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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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Get Your SME Finance-Ready – 5 Actions to Improve Your Business Loan Eligibility

Looking to get an SME loan? Avoid these common mistakes to immensely improve your chances!

Taking the entrepreneurial leap of faith might well turn out to be the most rewarding thing in your life. The sheer joy of seeing a plan, a concept – a dream, indeed – materialise is indescribable. But to get there, you’ll first need to take off the rose-tinted glasses.

The world of business is ruthless beyond measure. No industry, no sector, no niche is devoid of competition. Therefore, your business – like every other business – will need to withstand this competition day and night in order to survive, thrive and, eventually, succeed. And this process invariably involves scaling up your business – a point at which drawing strength from your personal savings or seeking help from friends or family just isn’t enough. This is when you, as an SME, are most likely to seek external funding and financing. This, also, is when you have every chance of seeing multiple business loan applications turned down.

How does a young SME go about securing a business loan that’s both substantial and fair?

That’s a question that needs to be discussed in multiple blogs. For now, we will take a look at the steps that you can take to give your business the best chance of getting business loans. Before that, however, it will be more prudent to understand how the lenders perceive SMEs.

SME Lending Is Changing

  • The lending landscape is fast changing.
  • Open Banking will make getting business loans less difficult for SMEs.
  • Banks’ isn’t the only voice that matters.

SME Lending in the UK – A Stat Check

  • Asset finance, general business loans, equity finance & most other commercial SME loans have grown in size since 2015.
  • As many as 7 in 10 small-business loan applications were approved by lenders in 2017-18.
  • 62% of all SME finance applications in 2017-18 stated business growth as the principal reason for the loan.

British Business Bank SME Finance Report 2017-18

UK Finance Quarterly Reports

Liberis Business Survey 2018

Regardless of the narrative or the wider picture, it’s safe to say that the lenders have always dictated the terms of the commercial finance game. They have had the absolute right – at times, an unfair proposition – to accept, modify or reject business loan applications from SMEs as they see fit. While this isn’t likely to change anytime soon, there are definitely some levellers being introduced by the government to make the playing field more even.

The first amongst this is the rather dramatic arrival of Open Banking (better known as PSD2 across mainland Europe) earlier this year. This purported game changer will not have as much of an impact on everyday banking as most thought. The lending game, however, has been forever changed since its introduction. Thanks to the absolute customer-side control of finance data, your business can now request – nay, compel – big banks in the UK to share your 12-month financials, credit history and other data with private, P2P or overseas lenders. While such data sharing isn’t a new concept, the edge lies in the fact that Open Banking will let the borrower have more control over their data. What this means, essentially, is that getting your SME finance-ready will be much, much easier now than it was five years ago. The lenders will be able to make better, more informed lending decision based on this data – just about as seamlessly as personal loan or credit card applications work.

This development is in perfect alignment with the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Act of 2015 that had made it mandatory for banks and institutionalised lenders to share finance data with alternate credit partners for SME loans.

The fact of the matter is – if you run an SME in the UK, you have a great chance of securing a business loan today than ever before.

What Does It Take for an SME to Get a Business Loan in the UK?

The lending criteria differ from one lender to another. They also depend upon the type of the loan you seek. Some of the most common and fundamental lending criteria for SMEs in the UK are:

  • The borrower should be a registered business entity (Sole Trader, LC, LLP or PLC).
  • The business should have a ‘demonstrable’ trading history of 18-24 months.
  • The director(s), owner(s) or proprietor(s) should be able to furnish personal guarantees if required.
  • The business financials should be able to demonstrate a certain minimum turnover (subject to the amount of the loan).

Understanding Why the Lenders Are Forced to Say ‘No’

Despite the lending atmosphere that’s gaining in positivity as far as SMEs are concerned, quite a few business loans are still routinely declined. In this light, it’s important to understand the common reasons why small-business loan applications fail to get approved. This will help you eliminate a major hurdle in getting finance for your business.

The Business Isn’t on Top of Their Credit Score(s)

Countless SME loan applications fail to pass the very first check that banks perform – the credit check. What’s more astounding is the fact that many SME owners aren’t even aware of the credit trail they leave while their business is trading.

The Business Has Problems

It’s a vicious cycle but that’s how it is.

Most businesses apply for loans when there’s a cash crisis. And lenders don’t like such situations. This Catch-22 is perhaps the biggest hurdles SMEs face in getting approved for a business loan. Along with cashflow problems, other problems such as a questionable business plan, a history of poor business decisions, lack of expertise at the helm and inability to prove the growth potential often lead to loan applications being turned down.

The Time Just Isn’t Right

You cannot apply for a regular SME business loan if your business is just starting up. Most lenders will want to see a trading history of no less than 2 full years. Similarly, if you’re applying for a business loan and your business has been trading for 20 years with little to show for it in terms of growth, the lenders won’t take a liking to your application.

There’s No Collateral Provided

Unsecured business loans attract closer scrutiny from lenders. So, for an SME that doesn’t have a great deal of creditworthiness, it becomes imperative to provide additional security. Business loan applications that aren’t backed by adequate collateral or guarantees usually get declined.

The Plate is Already Too Full

Just like personal loans and mortgages, you cannot expect to get a business loan for your SME if you already have a number of repayments to take care of. A business loan application from an SME dealing with a plate full of loans is almost certain to get rejected, leading to a soft credit enquiry mark that further worsens the situation.

Steps You Need to Take to Improve Your Business Loan Eligibility

There’s no telling what the lender will think of your business loan application. Perception is a strong phenomenon and is still relevant despite much of the work being handled by tried-and-tested credit algorithms. You can, however, take the following steps to make sure that your application stands a very good chance of finding takers.

1. Make Sure the Foundation of Your Business is Strong & Convincing

You want the foundation of your business to be sound, strong and stable. This is vital not just to secure a business loan but also to achieve profitability in the long run.

When you know that your business has a great shot at success, you should be able to convince other people of the same. To convince lenders, you will need a great business plan – especially when your business is relatively new. A good business plan should be accompanied by a cause-and-action plan. This will involve a good explanation of why your business needs a loan, how you plan on using the funds and what your repayment schedule will be like.

A fully customised proposal with all the relevant details shows the lender that you’re serious about the business. This always works in your favour as lenders perceive you as less of a risk and more of an opportunity.

2. Get Your Business Financials in Order Before You Apply

Many businesses get this wrong – but you shouldn’t. Never apply for a business loan if you don’t have an independently audited, tax-certified financials for at least two years in your possession. These financials typically include the tax returns, quarterly balance sheets, cashflow analysis and profit/loss statement.

It’s common for lenders to also request projections over the loan term. So, it’s a good idea to prepare revenue, profit/loss and assets/liabilities projections for up to 5 years before you approach a lender.

3. Know and Understand Your Credit Scores

Regardless of everything else, most lenders will eventually take a look at the credit history of your business before making a decision. Any obvious red flags on this report – from delayed payments and missing records to frequent enquiries and grave defaults – will hurt your application. So, it’s important to know and understand your credit scores before you apply. This includes building a solid credit history for your business as well as personal accounts.

Less than 20% of all SMEs in the UK proactively monitor and assess their credit scores – you don’t want to be a part of that group!

Some useful steps in this regard are:

  • Checking your business credit score once every quarter
  • Filing for corrections when you spot inadvertent mistakes or errors
  • Using a dedicated business account for your business activities
  • Utilising credit facilities such as overdrafts and credit lines judiciously
  • Making timely repayments
  • Not making ‘hard’ enquiries for credit unless you are ready to submit a full application

4. Let the Lenders Know That You Are Invested

A commonly ignored and often decisive mistake is the failure to demonstrate your involvement in your business. Many businesses – especially the ones not registered as Sole Traders – face this problem, just because there’s no ‘face’ attached to the business.

An easy way to avoid this is to make an offer for a collateral. This shows the lenders that you are willing to share the risk with them. Secured loans are always easier to go through.

5. The Time and Timing – Both Should Be on Your Side!

As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t go searching for a business loan when your business finds itself cornered with nowhere to go. This will only lead to you ruining your credit history with multiple rejections. Having enough time at your disposal is the key. This is where good business intuition and experience will come in handy for you.

As far as getting the timing right goes, you should be well aware of the market situations before applying for a loan. Has the industry your business operates in been faring poorly of late? Have there been any major changes in the lending landscape recently? What has been the trend in the interest rates being offered over the last six months?

Answers to such questions will give you an idea about whether you should apply for a loan right away or it’ll be wiser to wait for a few weeks.

Getting a Business Loan is a Process and Should Be Treated as Such

Many loan applicants think that lenders are prone to making arbitrary decisions. While true in rare scenarios, this usually isn’t the case. The lenders are also in the business – the business of lending money. The more businesses they lend to, the more money they end up making. So, as long as you have taken care of the ‘risk’ factors discussed in this article, you will have little to worry about when you apply for an SME loan.

Applying Left, Right & Centre – A Big No!

The biggest – and unfortunately, the most common – mistake that SMEs make is to apply for credit with no plan of action. Applying at a dozen places will not only lead to simultaneous rejections that will do your credit score no good but also handicap your business from accessing finance when you need it the most. Before applying for any business loan, you should be aware of what your options are – without making hard credit enquiries.

That is exactly what we at Commercial Finance Network, a leading whole of market broker, do for you. Working with some of the best-known and specialist lenders across the UK, we make sure that you get a loan offer that’s fair, fast and flexible.

The days of blindly accepting the first offer that comes your way are long gone. Let our team of experts curate the best business loan quotes for you. Call us on 03303 112 646 or contact us to speak with one of our Business Loan Specialists today!