Businesses from across Northern Ireland are coming together on Smallbusinesscan.com to network with like-minded people and to share ideas, knowledge and contacts. Girvan Gault of Ulster Bank talks about how entrepreneurs can finance their ventures
The good news for any entrepreneur looking to secure funding for their business idea is that a strong business idea capable of commercialisation will always attract the required level of funding support.
The best way to finance your business is always from current cash flow arising from sales, but unfortunately this is not realistic for most start-ups. At the early stage of the business capital is a key requirement, so as well as basic banking needs, some sort of debt financing may be needed such as working capital or asset finance.
Therefore most start-up owner-managers will look externally for financial support to help get their company off the ground.
The criteria used by potential funders in deciding whether or not to invest in a new start-up have not changed significantly during the current downturn.
The traditional '5Cs' of bank funding support still hold true. These are character, capital, capacity, collateral and conditions. Banks essentially consider cash flow projections, marketing plans and ultimately the promoter's repayment capacity for the funding. Once you have proof of concept and evidence of demand, it is a lot easier to secure funding at terms and conditions that are more favourable to the business.
Decisions around financing your business are one of the most important decisions you will make at start up stage. When considering the different financing options, you need to spend some time learning about conditions attached to early stage capital investment.
Engaging a professional adviser will add value to your business plan by challenging your thinking the same way that a bank would. Showing the bank that you have covered all the angles will strengthen your case when it comes to making your pitch.
It is useful to know in advance what a bank is likely to fund and what it is not. Banks are usually willing to fund the purchase of plant machinery or vehicles, working capital, property purchase and refurbishment of property, but they would not typically fund research and development, trading losses and salary costs.
If you are looking to borrow money, you must present a clearly written business plan. Questions which this plan should address must include: What are you selling? Is there a clear market? Who are your competitors? What is your unique selling point? How much bank finance do you require? What security can you offer? How will you repay the money?
When speaking with potential funders the entrepreneur should be able to answer any questions on your business with confidence and this comes with knowing it inside and out.
If possible, leave a copy of your business plan with the bank beforehand. If appropriate, bring along any samples or other materials relevant to your new business.
Shauna's flexible approach uncovers niche in the market with 'pay as you go' virtual administration service
Tyrone Office Solutions was set-up at the beginning of this year by Shauna Rooney to suit the needs of companies in the current economic environment, offering flexibility and cost-effectiveness.
Shauna Rooney was for over five years an administration and marketing officer for the publicly funded, cross-border, agency InterTradeIreland Acumen. That ended late last year, when the agency lost funding as part of public sector cutbacks. "All their operations were taken in-house to its head office in Newry and the Omagh office was closed," she explains.
"It was make or break time for me. It was then a matter of get another job or do something for myself. I always had the urge to venture into starting my own business. I decided that I wanted to work for myself and I started doing a lot of research. It seemed that operating a 'virtual administration service' offered some great opportunities.
"I found that there is a niche in the market," she says. "For example, people are downsizing, they are working from home and they don't want another person working in their house with them - so they can outsource to myself."
Shauna's new business, Tyrone Office Solutions, is based in the same Omagh shared office workspace as InterTradeIreland Acumen was and she offers a range of flexible administrative and marketing support services to businesses and individuals on a 'pay as you go' basis. These range from book-keeping, to typing and being a PA to the busy self-employed.
"I have clients who only need assistance once or twice a year and others who use my services every day," she said.. "The service is designed around the client and is tailored to suit individual requirements. Tyrone Office Solutions is an affordable and flexible service that can save businesses time and money."
The business already has a healthy range of clients, including other small businesses in the shared workspace in Omagh Enterprise Complex.
And, despite Shauna having left its employment, InterTradeIreland Acumen is another customer.
"It is going very well," she reports. "I am very happy. I have already built-up a good clientele. I am pleasantly surprised at how fast it's growing."
Tourism initiative delivers everything visitors need from a perfect travel companion
Julie McNeice is not only the founder and proprietor of MyTourTalk. She is also an entrepreneur and a former director of a Vodafone subsidiary, with responsibility for customer management in Northern Ireland. She then took on a number of consultancies with companies requiring mobile technology and business management expertise.
"I was approached by a company in Barcelona, backed by a team of venture capitalists, who were looking for a way of delivering interesting and useful visitor experiences with new and emerging technologies," she recalls.
"Whilst doing some market research for their South African division, and considering further career opportunities, I decided that my next move would be either into the renewable energy industry, or this. And I chose this."
The 'this' is one of the most exciting tourism initiatives currently available, combining creatively produced audio files that provide what the company describes as "the perfect travel companion". Packed with useful information, stories and service providers, all by locality, they are available on iPhones, Androids and by hiring MP3 players from tourism information centres and some National Trust attractions.
"I set about researching guides for Northern Ireland and came across something that hadn't been done before," recalls Julie. "Guiding you from one location to the next we take you on a walking or driving tour letting you know what to expect, the best places to eat, drink, sleep and so on."
Julie entered her emerging company into a competition funded by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
"NITB and DETI identified opportunities for the development of travel apps in the Northern Ireland market and they got together with the Technology Strategy Board and the Small Business Research Institute to procure a project from private enterprise," explains McNeice. "To do this, NITB and DETI launched the competition. There were four winners, two from England and two from Northern Ireland, out of 72 entries. We were fortunate enough to win the largest award. Our submission was to create an iPhone and Android app that would support our content and deliver an amazing visitor experience."