Upfront costs and unconventional financials have held back the expansion of businesses transforming our energy markets and introducing new ways of delivering electricity.
That’s what happened to Planet Ark Power, an engineering organisation which combines modern PV solar panels and batteries with AI powered software to ramp production up or down based on demand from the electricity grid. With a system that is cash flow positive from day one, Planet Ark Power installations help businesses turn energy from a liability into a revenue stream, as well as providing energy security.
But not too long ago, Planet Ark Power struggled to get the funding they needed to grow.
“5 Months of Hell” – The role of the right finance
Rapid growth brings rapid change, and Planet Ark Power needed a line of credit to cover the cost of those changes. But Executive Director Richard Romanowski says his experience with getting finance from the banks was less than ideal.
“The bank put us through five months of hell, then said ‘go make your sales targets for the year and come back to us’. The banks will only give you money AFTER you’re successful, with no regard for how much energy it takes.
“That’s when Marketlend came to the rescue. They asked us to explain what we were doing and our business prospects. When they understood our challenge, they said ‘this is a great opportunity’.”
By looking solely at past numbers, investors can easily miss high value opportunities like Planet Ark Power. The Marketlend platform makes up for what’s lacking in the traditional lending model by providing investors both a quantitative and qualitative assessment of each company.
In doing so, small to medium enterprises have more flexible access to fast finance, allowing them to take advantage of growth opportunities in their sector.
How Marketlend made growth simple
Through the Marketlend platform, Planet Ark Power borrowed $500,000 from 50 lenders, which Romanowski says has been a game changer for the business.
“The cost of client acquisition is huge. We’ve gone from $30,000 sales to $10 million sales, and each one is a massive learning curve – building new systems, new sales approaches and so on.
“I have a 5-star contract but I have to wait 60 days to get paid. With a customer base growing and changing so fast, I need cash flow to handle it.”
No more missed opportunities
Marketlend puts sophisticated investors in touch with high potential opportunities that fall through the cracks of traditional lenders. It avoids the many pitfalls of a peer-to-peer lender, because it is a vetted, thoroughly transparent lending platform.
“Marketlend actually cares about your business. They really want to know what you are doing,” Romanowski says.
“They take a bit of a punt with you – not in a lender-of-last-resort way, but in a way that actually understands the risk and reward.
“We now have a $500,000 line of credit and are looking to increase it. When we first went to Marketlend we had 25 staff, today we have 35. Not only that, the size of the projects are growing fast.
“Because they really understand your business, they can unlock the opportunity.”
While some debt is necessary to fund a business, if you’ve ever found yourself turning to a personal credit card to stay afloat… it’s time to stop for a moment and consider your options.
Here’s a sobering statistic: Last year, a survey of 1,200 Australian SMEs showed about two thirds of small business owners rely on credit card debt to maintain cash flow in their business. Just two years earlier, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found only a third of SMEs would use credit cards to maintain cash flow.
That means the number of businesses turning to credit cards to keep their businesses afloat has doubled in two years.
While there’s a certain convenience to using the credit card, the ensuing interest rates can put a business under even more financial pressure. Instead, here are a few tips to smooth out cash flow, and start to pay off business debt in your firm.
- Are your costs too high?
Reevaluate your regular expenses. Are you paying too much for supplies or materials? Research new suppliers and see if you can get similar materials elsewhere for less.
You could also reduce your office space and sell off equipment you don’t need or no longer use, or look into reducing your energy consumption.
This will result in savings you can put toward reducing your debt, or for maintaining cash flow in lieu of entering into even more debt.
- Can you buy now, pay later?
When looking at supplies and materials, have you considered services like Marketlend UnLock? Launched late last year, UnLock is similar to consumer ‘buy now, pay later’ models like Afterpay, except it is designed for small businesses.
In effect, Marketlend pays the supplier upfront for the materials, then gives your SME extended credit terms to pay the amount back – typically 90 days instead of the usual 30-day time frame.
This longer credit term allows businesses more time to repay, thereby smoothing out cash flow.
- Can you prioritise paying off your debt?
If you’re going to owe money, then you should know how much you owe and to whom. If you’re accumulating so much debt that it’s becoming challenging to keep track of what payments you must make every month, it’s time to take stock of your debt in order to prioritise your payments. Generally, when looking at loans it’s best to pay off those with the highest interest rate first.
Also consider consolidating loans if possible. Not only are consolidated loans easier to manage, as there are less people to pay, but you can typically find a lower interest rate – depending on the circumstances.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, butit’s the three best places to start. If the debt your business carries is slowing you down, the best thing to do is take steps to pay it down today. Even if those steps are small at first, they’ll compound into giant leaps over time.
Funding is often a constant concern for SMEs. To fund a business doesn’t just mean finance and there are creative ways to bring money in the door that can support growth.
What are your best options for funding? Here are some “outside-of-the-box” options that can help.
Presell Services or Products
This is a creative way to fundraise when your business is in the early stages. Get your elevator pitch ready for anyone who wants to talk about your new project. If you plan to offer a consulting service, web security, a new line of grocery stores, offer a presale.
A presale means you receive money before your grand opening. Give your customers proof of purchase, such as a coupon, to be redeemed when the business opens. Customers love to help a business they believe in and are happy to exchange a proof of purchase for something new.
This works best if you can show proof that your business is more than a concept. Blueprints for your new building, a working model, or an online store all help push presales.
Approach Angel Investors
If you have a tech startup or product idea that will disrupt a market, try pitching to a group of angel investors. If you get an offer of money, it will come with the caveat of equity. Angels want to take part in any business they fund, so they choose businesses they know well or like. This can work to your advantage if you are open to hearing a new voice as you build or expand. However, if you don’t want a board or individual looking over your shoulder or combing through your books, this might be a detriment to your growth.
The key to approaching angel investors is use your connections and your reputation. Start by asking people you already know if they have any connections to the investment community and use those familial or social ties to build your network. When you meet a new investor because a mutual, and trusted colleague introduced you, the prospect of getting money is much greater.
If no one can give you an introduction, try a cold email or a message sent without the buffer of a personal introduction first. Research the investor you want to talk to and see what kinds of projects they prefer. Stick to those who are active in your industry and go for it.
Once you take meetings, be sure to be as transparent as possible with your numbers. Any exaggeration or dishonesties will paint you in a negative hue and keep potential partners at bay. Be yourself and let your business speak for itself to win people over.
Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter let you set a financial goal, break down your vision and timeline for visitors, then market yourself to potential donors. Each campaign has a set number of days to raise the necessary money. If you reach your goal, you get the money deposited into your account and the site asks for a small percentage of what you earned. If the donations fall short, you receive nothing.
Successful campaigns start long before they are up on the crowdfunding site. This requires marketing videos, a large following and tons of buzz over what you have in the works. The most successful campaigns have money promised to them before the timer ticks down.
Once the campaign is up, it can be a full-time job to manage the social media and email marketing to bring in additional money. You will also have to organise rewards for donors that don’t gobble up all your new money but still make it worthwhile to give. A campaign requires creative marketing in all outlets in order to succeed.
It’s a lot to handle, but people make real money on these sites. If you are a master of marketing, this is a good option.
Australia’s government offers a variety of grants for small businesses, but expect a complex application process and very specific criteria for funding.
Grants are available at the state or federal level and are listed online. They tend to favor specific projects or a stage of business, such as funds to start or funds to hire as you expand. Research grants ahead of time so you know what to apply for throughout the year. Tailor each application to the specific grant, don’t rely on generic forms and answer each question with clear, honest responses.
Some of the categories for grants include expansion, green business or disaster recovery. They’ve been created to help solve problems as opposed to a basic round of funding. Check out the whole list and mark which ones line up with your business or future undertaking, then mark due dates on your calendar. If you can talk to someone who received a grant in the past, ask for advice on how to present your problem in the best way possible.
Before you Finance
Still think you may need finance? Here are some things to avoid to help you make finding finance smoother and more likely to lead to success:
- Not working with an accountant – Many business owners turn to bookkeepers, but an accountant will keep your statements in order and all your numbers on point.
- The wrong partner – Investors want to see dynamic teams that balance each other out and have a clear vision with a solid plan to put it in place. Don’t waste time with someone who is unprofessional or doubts your vision. Find a partner who shares your vision and knows exactly how to help you succeed.
- No plan for the money – Anyone who funds you wants to know your plan on how to spend it. Have all of that in place before you borrow or accept the grant.
- Waiting to ask – Plan out your search for finances early. The decision to put off the search for finances can put unnecessary stress on your business. You know what you need to stay functional, so don’t hesitate to ask for it
As a former Regional Commissioner NSW, Australian Securities & Investment Commission, Chris Van Homrigh has brought his deep background in market regulation and best practice to the Marketlend team over the last year. At Marketlend, this knowledge and experience has helped support the continual refinement of a first-of-its-kind lending platform, and our constant focus on transparency and delivery of value for investors and SMEs. If you prefer to read Homrigh’s thoughts, you can scroll down for the transcript.
Well, I mean, if you look back at what ASIC looks at, it primarily has two primary objectives: one, is to have a fair and efficient markets, and the other is about having confident, informed consumers, and investors, or financial consumers, and investors. So, from a regulatory perspective, working on the investors’ side, it’s about knowing what we need to disclose to investors, the level of detail.
Marketlend, as you know, is quite transparent with all the information we provide. So, when we establish a facility with a borrower, all the information that we have, with respect to that borrower, is basically passed through to the investors. So, disclosure is a big tenant. Asset focuses a lot on disclosure, so it’s being consistent, and very apparent with the disclosure.
Again, being a lending business, there’s always loans that you don’t think are going to go into arrears, but they’ll go into arrears, or potentially go into default, and again, it’s about getting the information in a timely manner across to the investors, and the right level of information.
Now, of course we do have some investors who want more information than others, but, again, it’s about getting that information, and answering their questions. Sometimes with the legal process where things go into arrears or in default, that can be protracted. Investors are always concerned about getting their money back in a timely basis, and obviously in return they get for making the investments.
Need some general tips on improving your small business’s health –especially when it comes to getting finance? This week, we have the pleasure of welcoming Bessie Hassan, who shares our drive to educate the market and help small businesses. As the Money Expert for finder.com.au – the site that compares virtually everything – Bessie is an experienced commentator who often appears on national radio, TV, and throughout online publications sharing her best money-saving tips and property advice. Bessie is passionate about empowering Australians to make better decisions, whatever it is they’re looking for.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur looking to start a new business from scratch or a seasoned owner wanting to expand your business offshore, you’re going to need some capital at some point. To get your hands on this extra dosh, it’s likely you’ll need to take out a business loan. In business, time is money and money is time, so it’s worth knowing a thing or two about how to apply for finance the right way.
Here are four ways to improve your chance of getting the “green light” for your business loan.
1. Check your credit health
Although we’re told to keep our business and personal lives separate, this rarely happens for business owners, as lenders often look at both your company and personal credit scores before lending you money. There’s no point applying for a business loan if you know you don’t have a great credit history (either personally or via your business). Being patient and working to improve your credit score before applying will give you a better chance of securing finance.
Your company’s credit score will be impacted by how long you’ve been in operation, your credit enquiries, Personal Property Security Register (PPSR) registrations and director information. You can improve your score by paying your bills on time, keeping balances low on credit cards and communicating with your creditors. Your personal applications for credit and accounts held in your name may also be checked to help the lender determine your risk profile. Being happy with your credit score and taking steps to improve it will put you in a strong position to begin your finance search.
2. Have a solid business plan
Lenders are most concerned about your ability to repay the loan over time. They’re not going to fork out and invest in your business if they doubt you’ll be profitable and successful in the future, so they’ll want to see proof-points that your business can stand the test of time.
A thorough business plan will make it easier for you to communicate your business vision, strategies and goals to lenders. Including information about how the money will be used and some cash flow projections will show you’re serious about your business and confident in your ability to repay the loan.
3. Know what type of loan you need
There are many different financing options available for businesses. To be eligible for most, you’ll need to have an Australian Business Number (ABN) and for some you’ll need to have been operating for a certain period of time (eg one year for most unsecured loans). You also might need to generate a minimum amount of annual turnover, which can range between $50,000 and $200,000 depending on the type of loan you’re going for. To decide which option to take, you’ll need to understand why you need the capital in the first place.
For example, if you need some additional funds to meet daily business expenses, you might want to take out a business credit card. Remember you’ll need to compare providers to score the lowest interest rate you can. If your expenses can fluctuate (maybe on days when you purchase stock) then consider a business overdraft account, which allows you to overdraw on your business account to a certain limit.
There’s no point approaching a lender for equipment finance if you’re just going to spend the money on inventory – it’s important to do your research so you apply for a product that will complement your needs.
4. Don’t leave it until the eleventh hour
All businesses need money to operate so if you’re short on cash, your business’s lifespan may also be short. If you know you’re going to need extra cash in the near future, start researching your loan options now! Approval for a loan can take anywhere between a few days and a few months, depending on the type of finance you’re applying for. It’s important to have some time up your sleeve so you’re not rushing the application and can wait out the approval process (without going bankrupt in the meantime).
When embarking on your search for finance, it’s important to practise due diligence to ensure you take out a loan that will suit your business needs. Understanding your credit history, having a solid business plan in place, researching your finance options and being prepared are simple ways to improve your chance of being approved so you can make your business vision a reality.
The Banking Royal Commission has opened many people’s eyes to the need for greater transparency in the financial sector. It has also shed light on how challenging it has been for SMEs to get funding. Marketlend CEO and Founder Leo Tyndall breaks down why the push for greater transparency and accountability from the finance sector helps cutting edge platforms like Marketlend which have these values built in. Leo also suggests that banks are now shying away from SME lending, making funding sources like Marketlend even more important. Click play to hear what he has to say or scroll down to read a transcript of his interview.
Look, I think the faith in banks generally has fallen away a little bit. The credibility definitely has been damaged, and investors are now looking at alternatives, especially in the investing side. They’re actually looking at who’s out there, who’s actually lending, right, sort of brought up an article recently where they said they saw a serious influx of more investment capital.
We look at high net worth individuals or sophisticated investors or experienced investors, so we’re in a different bucket than, say, [others]. But, we have found that our investors are definitely willing to put more money to work with us, and are looking at our businesses and going well, I can see everything you’re doing. The big thing with us is transparency: they can see everything that’s being done. The Royal Commission, I think the best thing about it, is, it shows us a lack of transparency. It shows that there’s things going on that you just don’t know what the bank’s up to.
And I mean, it depends on the press, who’s saying what. But the reality is that if people are charging fees for people who are no longer around, and they’ve been running forwards and the like, I mean, the whole faith in the banking system is really faint.
Now, I must say, that I would’ve said that there was a common thread, I think in the economists around post GFC, that banks will become more like utilities, and I think with the royal commission a few others, the banks are gonna get less and less money for lend, and it will be that there will be more like utilities without taking the money paid out, or receiving paid out, and you won’t see that type of lending that you saw in the past. And we are seeing that banks are very, very, reluctant to lend at the moment.
We’re seeing clients come to us, who, typically, would’ve said the bankers actually would’ve given them more facility, and we’ve also spoke to banks, and they’ve told us similarly.
Running a SME is always a challenge and funding one can be particularly difficult. Marketlend Founder and CEO Leo Tyndall and his team are focused on delivering a more transparent and fair marketplace for SMEs. Part of this job is helping to educate the market to help SMEs avoid some of the pitfalls in the lending space. Watch below or scroll down for a transcript of his interview.
The problems there is there’s no long-term support to the SME industry. So, the typical loan and if you look at the last fintech report, they pointed that the majority of their lenders lend between six to eight months. For an SME, they need a lot longer loans, they need capital to be turning over regularly. They have growth or they have needs, and what happens is these lenders are firstly doing principle interest payments, it’s a short-term lend, it’s a little bit like what I would call a sugar high, it gives them money right there and then, but then it doesn’t set them up for the long term. The classic one is the … talking about the tea company, she’s able to deliver to Sydney Opera, but with … line, it would have been P and I and it would have drained her cash flow on a daily basis.
So the issues that seemed to be with the SME lenders is that they, themselves, probably still haven’t been able to get their heads around what the real risk is, so as a result of that, what they do is just go in quick and come out quick, and it is a case that they’re generally not interested in lending over about 50,000 dollars. They don’t want to go for higher, and part of the reason for that is if you set up a direct debit for say, 100,000 dollars, and you got back to the client and you say, “Look, here’s what you’re going to be paying per day,” the client may balk at it because he’ll go, “Well, that’s going to strain all my cash flow…”
Well, it’s not that they get away with it, it’s a need, it’s a demand thing, and it’s speed. So if you ring up tomorrow and you ask for a loan, and get (other firms), one of the others can give you a loan within 24 hours. We had a comment from one of our borrowers who was lending through us, and then they got a … loan, and they turned around and said, her husband actually did this, and her husband isn’t the finance guy, and she said it was so easy: just click the buttons and you went ahead and did it, and as a result of that, they caused him problems because we looked at the risk and said, “Well, why do you have this … loan that’s draining your cash flow?”
And it’s more that businesses don’t have time, typically, to look at their various options. They’re not strongly educated in that area of finance, and then they’re just looking at speed. They need to pay their next supplier, they need to pay their wages, and as far as they’re concerned, they’ll fix it up next day and it’s fine, and that’s their focus, and so it works okay for a while, but if you don’t have a very clear plan of how you’re going to pay it down, well, then the problem is it bites into your cashflow, and we’ve seen that happen a number of times.
The thought of approaching a professional investor with access to millions makes you sweat, but if you’re like many startups, you need money to get your new business off the ground. What is it that makes investors reach for their wallets?
Businesses who bring in money do several things right. Here are key points you want to present to any potential partner.
1. Do Extensive Research
A lot of entrepreneurs skip this step as they develop their product or service. But market research is crucial and it needs to cover each angle.
Start with your industry. Look at how new developments in tech affect your field and be an advantage. Make note of trends and patterns, what aspects are in decline and where the market may expand. Approach customers and ask them how they use the product or service and take notes.
Next, tackle demand. What do customers in your area of expertise want? Real estate firms may see a need for more rental properties. If you have a chain of gyms, ask your members what products or services they wish you had.
The creators of Instacart are a great example. They studied the food industry and saw the move towards deliverables. They put together a plan to expand delivery service to groceries. Today their industry is worth 2 billion USD. The company saw a demand and responded, which makes them a big draw to investors.
2. Write a Stand-out Business Plan
A business plan is your future company on paper. It lets investors see the results of all your research, understand what problem you want to solve and shows how you differ from your competition.
A good plan includes:
- A one to two-page executive summary, (an overview of your plan’s key components)
- Your research presented as proof of demand and market
- Financial data and how much money you need
- A description of your perfect customer
- A write up of any staff or team members
- Past accomplishments and future goals
Walk the line between enthusiasm and hyperbole. Use plain, straightforward language and be sure to edit several times. Ask a professional writer to look at it, make sure it reads well and seek any minor mistakes.
Your complete and polished presentation will help you stand out and make the right people pay attention.
3. Develop a strong Marketing Strategy
Break down your marketing for anyone who wants to buy into your business. It’s essential to be specific and have a breakdown of your numbers.
Take the college magazine as an example. Here is what an interested investor is waiting for:
“We ran a quick poll on Facebook and got a big response from readers aged 17 to 19.
We tested keywords in tandem with Pay-Per-Click, (PPC), on Google. A new reader costs us $4.50 and generates $30 dollars in profit.”
You know the audience, you can build the audience and be in the black. You are the expert of your project – show it.
4. Have a Working Model
Ideas alone are rarely enough. It’s those who have a working model that get the money. Show that your idea has traction and you are much more likely to get that deposit in your account.
A working model is your service or product offered on a small scale. For example:
Product: An online subscription magazine for students on surviving college
Working Model: A blog with over 1,000 subscribers and a substantial social media following
When investors see the success in your model they will see you as an asset.
5. Answer the Question: Why You?
Never forget that you are the true product, so make investors understand why you, not the competition are the real investment.
Put your best traits, biggest accomplishments, past success in the foreground. If you have a mentor, classes to help you continue your education or any seminars scheduled, bring those up as well.
The best trait about you is that you have more than an idea, you have your drive and your vision to back you up. Show investors you bet on yourself and that will help bring them around to do the same.
Why is starting a new business easier than getting a licence to drive in Australia? In the video below, Marketlend Founder and CEO Leo Tyndall explains how this is a problem and why we should think differently about the reality of starting a new venture. Prefer to read rather than watch the video? The transcript is below.
Q: What do you mean by it’s easier to start a small business that to get a driver licence in Australia?
Yeah. Well, what I mean, is it’s easier to get a driver licence first than starting a business is the reality is, is that driver licence you gotta do a number of hours, and you gotta do these tests, you’re gonna send your contact and accounting firm alike when you open up a company, and away you go. And people will take on commitments, and you’ll be operating.
The problem is, is that, directors’ responsibilities are not fully understood, people don’t realise that there is a lot more complexities around things of reporting, you have finances, or like they do when they grow, there’s no business plan required, and so they send you to get going. Some, you’ll find business plans, but are they realistic or not? So there’s all these problems that come with people setting up businesses, because there is no restriction: you can just contact one of these guys and set up a company. Now, I’m not suggesting we should have restrictions, but what I’m definitely saying, is, that businesses themselves, by the time they get started, get too carried away to actually think about all things they need to know, and unless they’re very experienced, they’re gonna find that things are gonna blow up or things are gonna pop up that they never considered would happen before.
So, there is a need for some more training, on-going training, maybe, or at least some form of compliance check, or supervision, you could say, for businesses that have been operating for a year, or the like. I mean, I just saw a proposal for someone who’s start-up, and I gotta admit, the idea was just on the left field, he’s already spent 2.5 million dollars on it, and it’s like oh my God, is no one sort of sat there and gave him a bit of a shark’s tank, … test, and said, “Really? You need to actually wake-up and realize.” There has to be a very clear delivery of a solution, and not only just an idea, but an ability to actually make it grow and deal with it as it grows over time.
I think the other problem being, which is, in a way, a little bit being fixed is the failure for equity investors to participate in small business . . . the biggest problem in Australia I think is that people have to learn how to get more money, they can’t actually, most of them are not skilled enough to know how to raise equity.
If you look at our business, we haven’t borrowed anything. We’ve got equity partners, and every time we need funds, we’ve raised equity, and we’ve done that on the basis that we don’t, for the first few years, we didn’t think want to be levered. We didn’t want to have that debt hanging over our head, and it’s still the case, and it’s very much where it’s by comparable notes, or whether it’s by some other form, it’s very much that there is a need for the business to be able to grow, and by turning around and just going out and getting loans, ’cause you think that’s the only solution, isn’t the best solution.
Financial System Review – click for the full report
Government should continue its current process to graduate the fundraising regime to facilitate securities-based crowdfunding. This would enable entities to make public offers of securities to a potentially large number of people (the ‘crowd’). The risks associated with crowdfunding investments would require some adjustments to consumer protections, including capping individuals’ investments and clearly communicating the risks.
Government should then use the policy settings for securities as a basis to assess wider fundraising and lending regulation to ensure it facilitates other forms of crowdfunding, including peer-to-peer lending.
A range of crowdfunding models are emerging globally. Crowdfunding facilitates the funding of projects or businesses, where small amounts of money are raised from the ‘crowd’ via an online facilitator (or platform).68 Financial crowdfunding models include:
- Securities-based crowdfunding, where the ‘crowd’ invests in an issuer in exchange for securities — either equity (crowd-sourced equity funding, CSEF) or debt.69
- Peer-to-peer lending, where an online intermediary facilitates lending between individuals, often in the form of unsecured personal loans, potentially to fund a business.70
- Graduate fundraising regulation to facilitate innovations in fundraising emerging from new technologies and ensure policy settings are consistent across funding methods.
- Provide firms, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with additional funding options.