How to Get the Most From a Business Counselor

The one trait all successful business owners have in common is that they ask for help when they need it. And the good news is help is readily available. You can find a business counselor or coach in just about any location not far from you and sessions are often at no charge, especially if you’re planning to start a business.Whether you see a business counselor through a free service or choose a fee-based business coach, here are some tips counselors and coaches want you to know to get the most from their sessions.1. Come with something, rather than nothing. I recently had an ideal business client, at least that’s how I viewed him following our counseling session. He wanted to start a lawn care and landscaping business and was employed fulltime doing just that for a local municipality. He had already asked his supervisors if it would be OK to start a business on the side, one that he could do in the evenings and weekends. They gave him the OK, had him sign the necessary secondary employment documents and were pleased that he was making plans for his professional future (after all, jobs with government entities are not as secure as they once were).He already had his own equipment, a business license, name and business cards. He came to me to find out how to reach business owners in his local community. We talked about his target market, his services, how to gather the information needed to set prices, his competition, how to ask for business-a myriad of topics that ended in steps he would take to launch his business.He felt energized afterward, and I felt refreshed, thinking, “Why was that session so productive and how can I have more clients like that?” Here’s the answer. He came with something. He had experience in the industry, a current job and savings to fund start-up expenses, equipment, and an idea of his target customer. I contrast him with another client who came in recently wanting to start a business “to help women with things like housing, childcare, life skills, because I know so many women who really need help.” You get the point.2. Trust the counselor. Confidentiality is important and business counselors will honor it. If it makes you feel better for them to sign a confidentiality statement before reading your business plan or swear they won’t steal or share your business idea, fine. But trust me. Business counselors have been exposed to all types of business ideas and very little is unique to them. Even so, they’ve chosen a career as a business counselor and are not looking for a unique idea to pirate.3. Be open and honest about your financial situation. A business counselor can be a great resource to find funding and they can help you put together a funding proposal, but you must be open and honest about your financial situation and the earlier the better. A business counselor, especially in the first session, may not want to come right out and ask “How much money do you have to start this business?” or “How much do you have to put toward a loan?” but it’s important for them to know early to help you find appropriate funding resources. Vague statements such as “I should be OK in getting a loan,” or “I should have enough collateral to apply for a commercial loan” really doesn’t help. Provide details to the counselor and the earlier you do this the further along you’ll be.If you’re an existing business owner and the counselor asks to see financial records, avoid responding with, “My accountant takes care of all that, so we’re good there.” Financial records can reveal quite a bit about management of the business. Use the counselor’s expertise and tools for financial analysis. The counselor can save you money by examining your records.In additional to your financial situation, Warren Williams, head of Turning Point Business Coaching in North Carolina adds, “Be open to what the coach can teach you. A good coach truly has your best interest at heart, for they genuinely want to help you (as well as your business) be successful. Remain open to the opportunity to make your business better by making yourself better”4. Do your assignments. Business clients tend to disappear or play “hide and seek” once the counselor gives them an assignment. An assignment might be to do some market research. If you’re not familiar with what or how to do it, simply say so. Don’t nod as if you understand. Avoiding follow-up calls from the counselor or not responding to emails because you didn’t complete your “homework” just delays the process of reaching your business goals. Let the counselor know you’re having difficulty with the assignment and could use more guidance. No need to feel embarrassed.5. Understand the counselor’s role. As with any type of counseling, the idea is to help you discover solutions as opposed to telling you what to do. “Counselors provide a sounding board for you. They’ll challenge you and help you see situations in new ways. They’ll help you find solutions, not impose them,” says long-time North Carolina business counselor Maggi Braun. Don’t feel frustrated because you didn’t get the “answers” you were looking for.6. Be willing to consider many ideas. Whether you’re a new or established business owner, keep an open mind. This is closely related to the previous point. Think of your time with a business counselor as an exploration session. Many ideas or solutions may come to the surface. Be willing to consider them and then winnow out the best. If you have to do a pros and cons sheet to find the right one for you, do it. Being wedded to a particular business name, idea, process, procedure, etc. can keep your business from moving forward. Be willing to approach the business from a different perspective and be prepared to spend time after each session digesting the ideas discussed.7. Plan for more than one session. One session with a business counselor really won’t do justice to the counseling experience. At least three sessions will give you a good foundation on how to proceed. As mentioned at the beginning, cost shouldn’t be an issue because you can find free business counseling services at your local colleges and universities. Your local library, chamber, business license office, or even a web can provide a referral.Barbara L. Hall is director of the Small Business Center at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in Salisbury N.C. She is also currently enrolled in the Masters of Entrepreneurship Degree Program at Western Carolina University. Webmasters and other article publishers are hereby granted article reproduction permission as long as this article in its entirety, author’s information and any links remain intact. Copyright 2014 by Barbara L. Hall.

Alternative Financing Vs. Venture Capital: Which Option Is Best for Boosting Working Capital?

There are several potential financing options available to cash-strapped businesses that need a healthy dose of working capital. A bank loan or line of credit is often the first option that owners think of – and for businesses that qualify, this may be the best option.

In today’s uncertain business, economic and regulatory environment, qualifying for a bank loan can be difficult – especially for start-up companies and those that have experienced any type of financial difficulty. Sometimes, owners of businesses that don’t qualify for a bank loan decide that seeking venture capital or bringing on equity investors are other viable options.

But are they really? While there are some potential benefits to bringing venture capital and so-called “angel” investors into your business, there are drawbacks as well. Unfortunately, owners sometimes don’t think about these drawbacks until the ink has dried on a contract with a venture capitalist or angel investor – and it’s too late to back out of the deal.

Different Types of Financing

One problem with bringing in equity investors to help provide a working capital boost is that working capital and equity are really two different types of financing.

Working capital – or the money that is used to pay business expenses incurred during the time lag until cash from sales (or accounts receivable) is collected – is short-term in nature, so it should be financed via a short-term financing tool. Equity, however, should generally be used to finance rapid growth, business expansion, acquisitions or the purchase of long-term assets, which are defined as assets that are repaid over more than one 12-month business cycle.

But the biggest drawback to bringing equity investors into your business is a potential loss of control. When you sell equity (or shares) in your business to venture capitalists or angels, you are giving up a percentage of ownership in your business, and you may be doing so at an inopportune time. With this dilution of ownership most often comes a loss of control over some or all of the most important business decisions that must be made.

Sometimes, owners are enticed to sell equity by the fact that there is little (if any) out-of-pocket expense. Unlike debt financing, you don’t usually pay interest with equity financing. The equity investor gains its return via the ownership stake gained in your business. But the long-term “cost” of selling equity is always much higher than the short-term cost of debt, in terms of both actual cash cost as well as soft costs like the loss of control and stewardship of your company and the potential future value of the ownership shares that are sold.

Alternative Financing Solutions

But what if your business needs working capital and you don’t qualify for a bank loan or line of credit? Alternative financing solutions are often appropriate for injecting working capital into businesses in this situation. Three of the most common types of alternative financing used by such businesses are:

1. Full-Service Factoring – Businesses sell outstanding accounts receivable on an ongoing basis to a commercial finance (or factoring) company at a discount. The factoring company then manages the receivable until it is paid. Factoring is a well-established and accepted method of temporary alternative finance that is especially well-suited for rapidly growing companies and those with customer concentrations.

2. Accounts Receivable (A/R) Financing – A/R financing is an ideal solution for companies that are not yet bankable but have a stable financial condition and a more diverse customer base. Here, the business provides details on all accounts receivable and pledges those assets as collateral. The proceeds of those receivables are sent to a lockbox while the finance company calculates a borrowing base to determine the amount the company can borrow. When the borrower needs money, it makes an advance request and the finance company advances money using a percentage of the accounts receivable.

3. Asset-Based Lending (ABL) – This is a credit facility secured by all of a company’s assets, which may include A/R, equipment and inventory. Unlike with factoring, the business continues to manage and collect its own receivables and submits collateral reports on an ongoing basis to the finance company, which will review and periodically audit the reports.

In addition to providing working capital and enabling owners to maintain business control, alternative financing may provide other benefits as well:

It’s easy to determine the exact cost of financing and obtain an increase.
Professional collateral management can be included depending on the facility type and the lender.
Real-time, online interactive reporting is often available.
It may provide the business with access to more capital.
It’s flexible – financing ebbs and flows with the business’ needs.
It’s important to note that there are some circumstances in which equity is a viable and attractive financing solution. This is especially true in cases of business expansion and acquisition and new product launches – these are capital needs that are not generally well suited to debt financing. However, equity is not usually the appropriate financing solution to solve a working capital problem or help plug a cash-flow gap.

A Precious Commodity

Remember that business equity is a precious commodity that should only be considered under the right circumstances and at the right time. When equity financing is sought, ideally this should be done at a time when the company has good growth prospects and a significant cash need for this growth. Ideally, majority ownership (and thus, absolute control) should remain with the company founder(s).

Alternative financing solutions like factoring, A/R financing and ABL can provide the working capital boost many cash-strapped businesses that don’t qualify for bank financing need – without diluting ownership and possibly giving up business control at an inopportune time for the owner. If and when these companies become bankable later, it’s often an easy transition to a traditional bank line of credit. Your banker may be able to refer you to a commercial finance company that can offer the right type of alternative financing solution for your particular situation.

Taking the time to understand all the different financing options available to your business, and the pros and cons of each, is the best way to make sure you choose the best option for your business. The use of alternative financing can help your company grow without diluting your ownership. After all, it’s your business – shouldn’t you keep as much of it as possible?

Business Loans In Canada: Financing Solutions Via Alternative Finance & Traditional Funding

Business loans and finance for a business just may have gotten good again? The pursuit of credit and funding of cash flow solutions for your business often seems like an eternal challenge, even in the best of times, let alone any industry or economic crisis. Let’s dig in.

Since the 2008 financial crisis there’s been a lot of change in finance options from lenders for corporate loans. Canadian business owners and financial managers have excess from everything from peer-to-peer company loans, varied alternative finance solutions, as well of course as the traditional financing offered by Canadian chartered banks.

Those online business loans referenced above are popular and arose out of the merchant cash advance programs in the United States. Loans are based on a percentage of your annual sales, typically in the 15-20% range. The loans are certainly expensive but are viewed as easy to obtain by many small businesses, including retailers who sell on a cash or credit card basis.

Depending on your firm’s circumstances and your ability to truly understand the different choices available to firms searching for SME COMMERCIAL FINANCE options. Those small to medium sized companies ( the definition of ‘ small business ‘ certainly varies as to what is small – often defined as businesses with less than 500 employees! )

How then do we create our road map for external financing techniques and solutions? A simpler way to look at it is to categorize these different financing options under:

Debt / Loans

Asset Based Financing

Alternative Hybrid type solutions

Many top experts maintain that the alternative financing solutions currently available to your firm, in fact are on par with Canadian chartered bank financing when it comes to a full spectrum of funding. The alternative lender is typically a private commercial finance company with a niche in one of the various asset finance areas

If there is one significant trend that’s ‘ sticking ‘it’s Asset Based Finance. The ability of firms to obtain funding via assets such as accounts receivable, inventory and fixed assets with no major emphasis on balance sheet structure and profits and cash flow ( those three elements drive bank financing approval in no small measure ) is the key to success in ABL ( Asset Based Lending ).

Factoring, aka ‘ Receivable Finance ‘ is the other huge driver in trade finance in Canada. In some cases, it’s the only way for firms to be able to sell and finance clients in other geographies/countries.

The rise of ‘ online finance ‘ also can’t be diminished. Whether it’s accessing ‘ crowdfunding’ or sourcing working capital term loans, the technological pace continues at what seems a feverish pace. One only has to read a business daily such as the Globe & Mail or Financial Post to understand the challenge of small business accessing business capital.

Business owners/financial mgrs often find their company at a ‘ turning point ‘ in their history – that time when financing is needed or opportunities and risks can’t be taken. While putting or getting new equity in the business is often impossible, the reality is that the majority of businesses with SME commercial finance needs aren’t, shall we say, ‘ suited’ to this type of funding and capital raising. Business loan interest rates vary with non-traditional financing but offer more flexibility and ease of access to capital.

We’re also the first to remind clients that they should not forget govt solutions in business capital. Two of the best programs are the GovernmentSmall Business Loan Canada (maximum availability = $ 1,000,000.00) as well as the SR&ED program which allows business owners to recapture R&D capital costs. Sred credits can also be financed once they are filed.

Those latter two finance alternatives are often very well suited to business start up loans. We should not forget that asset finance, often called ‘ ABL ‘ by those Bay Street guys, can even be used as a loan to buy a business.

If you’re looking to get the right balance of liquidity and risk coupled with the flexibility to grow your business seek out and speak to a trusted, credible and experienced Canadian business financing advisor with a track record of business finance success who can assist you with your funding needs.