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?

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.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.

How to Find an Honest SEO International Internet Marketing Company

One of the greatest challenges facing any international business today is being found on the Internet. The Internet has changed the fundamental means for how we conduct international business. It provides instant, real time answers to many of our daily commercial and personal questions. But now that you have a Website, can your site be found when one performs a search on Google, Yahoo, Live.com or AOL for your company’s product or service?Chances are that when another domestic or international business seeks to find your products or services, they will not find you. Most Webmasters deal only with design and layout. They are graphic artists who have learned a little bit of HTML. They copy and paste written copy into a table and upload. They are not expected to be professionals in the art of international Internet marketing nor should they be.The Internet is a big place. An expanding and creative digital universe which demands a variety of professionals in hardware, software, graphics, copy writing, international marketing, domain retailers, operations, finance, journalism, advertising and public relations. But where can we find that magician called an SEO or search engine optimization international marketing professional?We find an avalanche of companies advertising themselves using Google AdWords as SEO international Internet marketing and Web promotion professionals. But sad to say, over 80 percent of these companies know very little about SEO Internet marketing and much about how to take your hard earned money.In May of 2006 the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) announced that Internet advertising revenues reached a new record of $3.9 billion for the first quarter of 2006. The 2006 first quarter revenues represent a 38 percent increase over Q1 2005 at $2.8 billion and a 6 percent increase over Q4 2005 total at $3.6 billion.Last year, AdWords alone generated $3.4 billion for Google.With the Internet being the place to secure market share, many charlatans and wannabe international Internet marketing professionals are surfacing – thieves who know little more than how to cash your check and disappear quickly.So how does one go about shopping for an honest and successful company which specializes in international marketing and public relations on the Internet?You must ask several questions. Problem is, most companies seeking international SEO Internet marketing support do not know the questions to ask. Leyden Communications (Israel) provides below a list of questions for every company from Tel Aviv, London, Washington and New York, to Paris, Japan, India and China to ask the SEO or international Internet marketing company before they sign a contract.First, if your target audience is New York, London, Manchester or Los Angeles, or any native English speaking market, be certain to hire a native from that country. One whose English is at mother tongue level and understands the marketing culture of your target market. If you do hire an Israeli, make certain that they have lived and worked in your target market locale for at least ten years.Second, you want to know what experience and for how many years they have worked with international marketing, conventional distribution channels, sales, marcom, viral marketing, production of brochures, advertising and public relations?Third, what professional experience do they have in copy writing, journalism and research?Fourth, what practical experience do they have in programming?And last but not least, how long have they been working on the Internet?An international Internet marketing professional must wear many hats to succeed. The Internet SEO must be an experienced international marketing or PR person – one who understands how to penetrate and motivate a market outside of Israel without the Internet. They need to understand the basics of international marketing, branding, distribution and sales channels in order for them to integrate the digital world with the classic print, broadcast media and sales markets. The SEO must be an accomplished, creative and professional writer who can write for both the reader and the search engine.This article is an example of how one writes for both the reader and the Google and Yahoo search engines. The English suffers a bit as the writer finds a fine balance between getting your attention and the eyes of the search engines. But what is more important? The search engine!For if your customers in the UK, France, Germany, Brazil, Japan and South Korea do not find your Website, then having a Website with the best of conventional copy writing will find itself lost in cyberspace.Can you find a Webmaster, Internet graphic design, Internet programmer, professional Internet marketing, international marketing guru and professional journalist and or copywriter all in one person?
Many in Israel will tell you yes. I say, you will be lucky to find a team with each one of these professionals in no more than perhaps three international Internet SEO marketing companies in Israel.What then would be the real acid test for securing a professional SEO – search engine optimization Web promotion marketing company in Israel, New York, London, Paris or Beijing?Simply perform a search on Google for “Israel Internet Marketing” or “Israel International Marketing.”
If the SEO company you are talking to in Israel is not listed in the top ten, you must ask yourself one question: “How can they rank you, without the continued use of an expensive Google AdWords campaign, in a top ten position?”Google AdWords are a very powerful advertising tool used by SEO international Internet marketing companies in Israel, but they are not a substitute for having your commercial Website stand on its own digital legs. AdWords are not a substitute for getting out optimized news stories on Google News and PR news releases in to the many corners of the Net. AdWords do not substitute for creating blogs, professional rooms and forums in Google and Yahoo and the creation of videos for YouTube.Can a native born SEO in Israel find, let alone professionally write the English, French, Spanish or China copy and news you need for your Website and for international blogs and news releases?
Are they fluent in a variety of Israel export and import markets relating to hi tech, food, defense technology, agriculture, biotech, security, real estate, chemicals, metals, gaming, politics, crisis communications, education, plastics, music, shopping, telecommunications, sales, stocks, manpower, diamonds, Judaica, office products, food, beverages, tourism, games, textiles, dating, health, sports, news, videos, clothes, hotels, airlines and rental cars?Allow the native Israel SEO to market your products and services to domestic markets and sales cultures that they know best – Tel Aviv, Ra’anana, Ashdod, Herzlia, Afula, Haifa, Jerusalem, Kiryat Shomona and Eilat.Never look at office size as a measure of success. What you are paying for is knowledge and talent. Many SEO professionals and their complimentary staff of copy writers and programmers may work from a home office in Israel. Again, judge their international Internet marketing success by the ranking of their clients and their own personal search engine optimization ranking on Google and Yahoo.Never pay a maintenance fee. International Internet marketing SEO professionals are not servicing a car or cleaning a house. What you do want to invest in is more Web pages created by their Webmaster and more news stories and or news releases created by their PR firm to be placed on Google News.Never pay all that they ask for up front. Unless you know the company a good policy is paying half before the work begins and the balance once the work is completed. It takes about three weeks to begin seeing the results of SEO or search engine optimization. Although with some Israel SEO, you can see rankings improve within a matter of days by using Alexa.com. In using Alexa.com, it is a tool that you can use, one that cannot be played with by the SEO or SEM company.Lastly, if the SEO international Internet marketing company promises you a first place ranking, you will then know that they are bogus. No SEO or SEM can promise you something for which only Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL control. They can promise you a higher ranking and depending on the link density of your industry maybe even a top ten position.Remember that the top ten search engine position that we are talking about would not be a paid Google AdWords sponsored link. It is your Web site, your Web pages standing on their own two feet that counts. Also having an optimized news story about your company’s products and services in a top ten position would equal your Website being in a high SEO ranking. In fact, as long as the SEO news / public relations story is in a high position, it reinforces your credibility as it serves as third party endorsement. It is far more potent than your Website ranking, as long as the story has a link to your Website.Your first stop in hiring an international Internet marketing company in Israel is a Google search.
Your second stop is to meet the SEO and SEM – search engine marketing team. If you don’t see a native English speaking, experienced international marketing professional who understands terminology such as POP, embassy commercial attache department, Israel Export Institute, packaging, four color bleed and what an optimized SEO news headline on the Internet looks like – keep walking.