Focus on loans, grants

DURING this series I am looking at a number of issues relevant to all SMEs and identify both the opportunities and challenges associated with each issue. Topics to be covered include planning; staff and recruitment; customers and service; marketing; competition; new products and services; being well organised; collaborating with others; understanding and analysing risk; managing the money; going into business with family or friends; grants, loans and investment; expansion and growth; technology and exporting.

Today my focus is on grants, loans and investments. The first challenge is to adjust our mind-set that says, ‘I can’t do anything without money’. Access to funds comes quite a way behind passion, commitment, creativity, problem solving, good ideas and determination. When all these attributes are in place then maybe it is time to look for funds if we need them.

All over the Pacific there are many schemes encouraging people to take out micro loans or to leave the ranks of the ‘unbanked’! Banks have special offers aimed at SMEs as long as we can produce the collateral to support the loan. There are government supported schemes like the YES program in Fiji which will make limited funds available provided certain criterias are met. There are various program run by donors usually focused on specific sectors like tourism or issue based like climate change. There are organisations like Pacific Trade and Invest who specialise in helping Pacific businesses access export markets and overseas investors. Some people will borrow from friends or family.

Even with all these schemes it is still hard for many small businesses to access them, especially for those a long way from the urban centres.

Chasing the money is not a sound or sustainable business strategy and I don’t recommend it, no matter how attractive the offer may sound. Everything comes with strings attached – make sure you understand what they are and that you are prepared to accept them.

Many entrepreneurs have started very successful businesses with no external finance and have grown their businesses slowly and debt free. The need to borrow money needs to come from some robust and accurate planning where all other avenues have been exhausted and the consequences of borrowing or seeking investment are well understood. Of course, in some cases a well planned injection of cash will do wonders for the business and help it grow.

Unfortunately, I have seen too many SMEs take out what appears to be very small loans without knowing the interest rates or how they will repay or what they really want the money for. I have even seen businesses borrow to repay earlier loans! If you have limited financial knowledge then seek help from someone who is independent – a mentor or coach or adviser. Ask your local Chamber of Commerce or business association. Research everything that is available before deciding on one particular financial product.

If your business is interesting it may attract the attention of investors — don’t be flattered into saying yes!! No one will invest in your business without wanting something back — a return on their investment. Make sure you know exactly what this is before making a decision.

How much control will you need to give up in order to get an injection of capital and is it worth it?

Remember, if an offer looks too good to be true then it probably is!!

Finally, desperation is not a good reason to go into debt! Explore every other avenue first. Shop around to see what the best deals are and then seek help to make sure you can afford the deal and that it is the right one for you at this time. Spend time developing your own financial literacy – your Chamber of Commerce or business association will be able to tell you what courses are being run and where. The more you know and understand the more likely you are to make the right decision and the more you will feel empowered.

Focus on creating a solid business strategy first and then you can explore the help you might need to turn the strategy into action and achievable goals. If you need help with understanding or analysing available grants, loans and investment or you want some feedback on your own practices, then please get in touch.

* Chris Elphick is partner in Breadfruit Consulting, formerly Learnfast Pacific, supporting the development of a range of businesses and organisations in Melanesia and other parts of the Pacific. He is an experienced trainer, coach and business mentor and has years of experience of working with Small & Medium Enterprises. He and his partner Hazel Kirkham live in Vanuatu. Breadfruit Consulting have partnered with Fiji Entrepreneur to develop mentoring services for new and young entrepreneurs.

If you have an issue or query related to this article, please contact Chris at chris@breadfruitconsulting.com or text to +6785500556

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