Small Business Finance the Smart Way

Are you a small business owner? If you are, you’ll know that running a small business is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do in your life. You’re the company’s spokesperson, owner, founder, advertiser and investor. You are its inspiration. It is your livelihood and your passion. And like all passions it is all consuming.

It has you crunching numbers when you should be sleeping. It has you sketching out ideas on napkins in restaurants when you should be eating. But like any love affair the irritations are worth it. You know that almost nothing in your life can match the highs that your business gives you. So stick with it! Give your business all your heart and soul. But be sensible when it comes to your cash.

Business Finance.

Starting your business can be incredibly costly. Buying the machinery, renting the premises, purchasing the advertising space… well you get the picture, you’ve been there. You are also probably aware that the cost of kicking your business into life is so high it can affect your businesses ability to grow later on down the line.

You’ve established yourself as a great business; you know you have the ability to expand and to grow. But you just don’t have the cash to do it. But what is the best way to get that much needed cash injection? You don’t want to be taken for a ride. This is why you need to know about business finance.

Small Business Cost.

The first thing to do when you start investigating small business finance is to look carefully at what you want to achieve. Having clear goals is one of the basic rules of success in business. If you are going to borrow money to support your business you must have a clear aim in mind. That way you can easily track the success of any investment and see how much, making your small business grow will cost. So, determine what you want. Are you purchasing assets, such as land or machinery, or stock? Or are you looking to improve your market position through advertising, or expand into new markets? Whatever you’re doing be clear about your goals.

Small Business Finance.

There are two types of small business finance available to you. The first is the more traditional and common form, known as ‘debt finance’. This involves your company lending money from a financial institution, usually your bank. There are up sides to this deal, you get your cash and you keep all your business. You do have to pay more back than you borrowed in the first place, with the onus on you to repay as soon as possible.

However, if you have clearly identified a use for your money this should present no problem to you and allow you to expand quickly. This is why it is the route taken by the majority of small businesses. If you fail to pay back the money you have borrowed however the consequences are severe, as part of the agreement will involve collateral. Often, this could be your house.

A less common option is that of ‘equity finance’. Ever seen the TV show Dragon’s Den? Then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Equity finance is when an investor gives you the cash you need and in return you give him a share, or a stake of your business. As the investor has no assurances, unlike the bank, he or she requires a much greater pay off if things go well. They want some of those profits! However if things don’t work out, you won’t be sleeping in the streets!

Your Future.

So there are plenty of ways you can offset your small business cost. Small business finance is easy to get if you pitch correctly and your business is heading in the right direction. Whichever mode of business finance you choose make sure you keep following the dream and your passion might end up making you millions.

Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Background

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking

Why You Must Have a Clear and Written Plan for Your Personal Finance Planning Success

Good personal finance planning will never happen as a result of managing your financial life by the urgency of the moment or by what is urgent instead of what is important. As you know, success at anything, especially in the effective management of money, requires you to be proactive consistently in your daily actions. In this article, we’ll be talking about how you can accomplish this starting right now by having a clearly written plan for your personal finance planning success.

Personal Finance Planning Made Simple

One of the primary differences between people who are successful with their personal finance planning and people who are not is that the successful people have a clear and written plan as to how they’re going to achieve their goals. Meanwhile, unsuccessful people assume that as long as the plan is in their head, that’s good enough. Many of us greatly underestimate how big of a difference it can make to simply write down your goals and a plan for accomplishing them.

If you’re reading this and assuming that something this simple can make a big difference, here’s what you owe it to yourself to start doing right now: sit down every night and write out a step-by-step plan for what you’re going to do the next day. Keep it simple, put things in order of priority and make sure that you take care of the things which require the most focus when you are the most focused, which is normally right after you get up in the morning.

Just do this for one week, and at the end of the week evaluate your progress and set out a goal for what you’re going to accomplish the next week. This will be more than enough time to convince you how much more focused and productive you can be by simply having a clearly written plan for how to manage your time and energy.

Staying Focused on the Big Picture by Being Focused in the Small Picture

After you’ve done this exercise for a week, sit down and map out a plan as to where you’re going to be financially in one year. Break this goal down into monthly, then weekly milestones, and finally into small actions which can be taken on a daily basis. This way, you can focus your energy on the small building blocks which will eventually make up your success over the period of the next year.

Too often, people don’t do and then find that at the end of the year, they are nowhere near where they want to be. You can set yourself apart from this majority by following the simple steps in this article and having a clear path towards achieving success in your personal finance planning.

Understanding Receivable Financing Pricing And Rates Is Not Impossible! Invoice Discounting 101

‘ Misunderstanding all you see ‘; those are lyrics from the Beatles ‘ Strawberry Fields ‘, and talk about being a bit appropriate for the confusion around receivable financing and invoice discounting rates in Canada.

So, talk about confusing… let’s try and clear up some real basics around receivable finance in Canada -mostly along the lines of how it works and how it is priced. Clients are always providing their version of what they think they are getting but the reality is often far from that.

A/R finance is used by thousands of firms in Canada to address cash flow shortages when in fact more traditional financing simply doesn’t make sense or can’t be attained.

A good way to clear up some of the confusion around this method of business finance in Canada is to address it head on, which is simply to say that this finance mechanism isn’t financing per se, it’s simply the sale of one of your assets at a discounted rate. So from that perspective even we own up to being guilty sometimes around the terminology!

Another way of looking at our issue to frankly address what might be perceived or real drawbacks or negatives around A/R financing. The discount rate used on receivables when you sell them, in Canada, ranges anywhere from 1-5%. To be fair, the average discount rate tends to be in the 2% range.

Invoice discounting rates make the most sense when they are used to take advantages of opportunities for growth and higher profits and sales via asset turnover.

Part of the reason A/R finance is viewed as confusing by many is that it’s essentially part of an unregulated industry. Clearly our banks are regulated and you know what you get (when you can get it!)

So what does that all mean to Canadian business owners and financial managers. Simply 4 words. Pick a solid partner! Or adviser.

Where invoice discount financing gets confusing is in the terms/contracts, and the rates.

So how do you address that pricing in terms of benefits? Several factors have to be taken into consideration. They are the quality and age of your receivable portfolio, the ‘ opportunity cost’ of what you can do with additional cash flow, and the actual cost of carrying your receivables and inventory as opposed to monetizing them more quickly via a receivable financing strategy.

As we have said in the past carrying receivables anywhere from 60-90 days can easily cost you anywhere from 10-20% when you factor in days to pay your firm, admin costs, lost opportunities, your current financing costs, etc.

So why do Canadian business owners and their finance staff stumble on the issue of receivable finance. It’s partly, as we have shown due to their inability to overlook the total pictures in the areas we have demonstrated above.

Invoice discounting rates makes the most sense when you look at opportunity cost. If you finance your receivables as you generate them you lower the balance sheet investment and reduce your day’s sales outstanding.

A quick example – if your annual sales are 1.2 million and your daily sales are $3300 per day for example you could add $10,000 to cash flow by a 3 day reduction in DSO. A 30 day reduction adds 100k to cash flow!

Charges or costs for a 100k per month facility equate to a 2k per month cost if you are turning your A/R promptly.

So, confusing. We hope not, although we’re the first to admit it takes a bit of time. Speak to a trusted credible and experienced Canadian business financing adviser for clarity on achieving best invoice discounting rates and benefits for your firm.

Improve Your Family Finances

It all starts with a simple step – make a budget! The most important thing about improving your family finances is to get a clear picture of exactly where you stand. Once you know that, you have a clear understanding of the positive and negative aspects of your financial position you can identify clear steps to take in order to move forward, and improve your finances.

A budget is the backbone of any financial endeavour – whether you are running a business or a household. You must be clear about what financial responsibilities you have, as well as be clear about what your income sources are. The key here is to be completely open and honest with yourself – if you’re not, the whole exercise is futile.

It’s also important to identify financial goals for yourself and a clear timeline in which you want to achieve them. Examples may include going on a holiday, buying a car, paying off existing debt, or buying a house. No matter what the goal, make sure you have a set date you want to achieve it.

To speed up the achievement of your goals, take steps to increase savings, income streams (if possible) and reduce your level of debt. Your personal debt is money you give to someone else each time you have income, so obviously if you reduce those debts, you’ll improve the amount of investable (not disposable) income.

Pay off your credit cards, then cut them up to make sure you don’t run them up again. Pay extra – as much as possible – on your debts to repay them earlier. This will usually save you money because the longer you have these debts like a car or personal loan, the longer you are charged interest. The more you pay on the debt, the less interest is charged and you can pay it off quicker because you are reducing the principal amount of the loan.

If you’re like most people you will have multiple interest incurring debts. You can attack your debt using a number of strategies. Personally, I like to repay smaller amounts first, because the psychological impact of removing a debt from your list of liabilities is fantastic. Plus, the amount you used to pay on the smaller debt can then be snowballed onto other debts – reducing them quicker. Other people may like to repay any extra they have on the debt which is incurring the highest amount of interest. The bottom line is that you should do whatever suits you and your goals.