As we exit the second national lockdown of the year and enter strengthened Tier 2 restrictions, businesses are continuing to feel the strain of the pandemic. It therefore remains vital to know your options around the financial support that could help your business to recover and prosper post pandemic, and how best to approach providers of finance.
MSIF Investment Manager, Sue Chambers, discusses the importance of investment readiness and how best to prepare for funding success during a time of elevated uncertainty.
Knowing your options
When applying for funding, you should ensure that you have explored all opportunities for financial support during this time.
Firstly, you should be utilising any free resource that is available to you as a small to medium-sized business. We would encourage you to approach your local chambers of commerce and business growth hubs as they have a plethora of connections to best help your business, in addition to the latest advice derived from central government sources. The Liverpool City Region Growth Platform is a great place to start for any businesses situated within the LCR as the site also includes the latest information on any localised grants that may be available.
Be sure to check what government grants you may be eligible for as a company as well as ensuring you have utilised the Job Retention Scheme where appropriate to help both sustain your business and preserve jobs via the gov.uk website.
If government and/or local support is not sufficient to get your business through the winter, you may want to consider a Bounce Back Loan (BBLS) if you are looking for funding up to £50,000 - or alternatively, a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan (CBILS) if you need more than that.
If you have already taken out a Bounce Back Loan, you may be able to top this up to £50,000 and you should contact your original provider for further information. You can have either a BBL or a CBILS but not both. CBILS can also be applied for and used to repay a BBL. If you want to apply for either of these loans you need to do this before the schemes end on 31st March 2021.
In the first instance, our best advice is to try your own bank first for CBILS/BBL support. If they are unable to help, then you can apply to other providers. MSIF as an example is able to support businesses with a CBILS loan through both their dedicated Coronavirus Recovery and Resilience Fund in addition to the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund - NPIF Microfinance, jointly managed with GC Business Finance.
Before you look to access external funding, make sure you have a full business plan ready – including an explanation of how your company has been adversely affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, your plans for recovery and what you intend to use the funds for.
Cash flow forecasts also need to be incorporated and be as realistic as possible. For example, if your business is connected to the hospitality and retail sector, you may want to assume that there could be a further delay before trading is back to normal. It will also be useful for a funder to see a sensitised version of your forecasts that takes account of possible further lockdowns or slower recovery – say reducing revenues (and associated costs) by a prudent percentage per month.
The cash flow forecast will serve to both highlight the amount required, building in some headroom as it is only a forecast, and help to evidence ability to meet the loan repayments. It is also important to detail any assumptions you have made in the cash flow. At a time when funders can’t get together face to face to discuss your financial workings it is crucial that you explain how you have arrived at the amount of loan you are looking for. Communication is key!
Benefits of funding
There are some real benefits of securing funding during this time. It can help create additional headroom and breathing space for your business, but you need to be sure to apply for sufficient funds to get through the next 6 months and beyond.
Additional funding can also help with the retention of staff and could avoid the need to retrain new staff in the future if unnecessary redundancies are made.
Of course, some businesses are seeing growth opportunities during the pandemic and as long as they can show they have been adversely impacted by COVID in some way, then BBLs and CBILS can also be used for investment purposes. Overall, you are best preparing yourself to hit the ground running when Covid restrictions are eventually eased and we can all return to ‘normality’. Now is the time for recovery and resilience.
If you are successful in applying for BBL or CBILS funding the government will cover all fees and interest costs for the next 12 months allowing you breathing space to focus on getting your business back on track. You can also use the funding to repay any delete ‘any’ existing funding if it will help put your business on a more stable financial footing, but lenders do have a limit attached to the amount they can refinance in this way.
Implementing new finance into your business
Only you, as the leader of your business, will truly understand what your priorities are and where the extra funding will be needed most. This will vary from business to business, including covering business rates and rent, paying suppliers and, despite best efforts from the government, staff costs.
The key thing is to ensure that you have explored all options to make the most out of any assistance available.
By having these conversations, you are not only best preparing your business to re-start or continue to operate, but you are putting yourself in the best position possible for success when applying for additional funding. Make sure you have a clear plan of where that money needs to be deployed, to mitigate the risk of asking for too little or too much investment.
Be open and be honest in your conversations with any potential funders, during a time of continued and increased social distancing. It is imperative you include as much detail as you can to supplement your application. Yes, there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel but we need to be prepared for the financial challenges 2021 may present as a result.