SME Funding – Is It Really That Difficult To Raise?

According to recent findings by the British Chambers of Commerce, nearly half (49%) of SMEs surveyed find it increasingly difficult to secure funding, with cash flow being the primary reason for seeking finance. But why?

As a lender we have never faced stronger competitive headwinds, not only from traditional invoice finance lenders, but non-bank loan providers, tech-based hybrid working capital providers and the like. From a lender’s perspective it seems to us that business owners have never had more choice, when it comes to funding.

What’s going on?

We talk about funding SMEs, but the term covers a very broad church. The Government currently defines Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as follows:

Size of Business Staff Headcount Annual Turnover Balance Sheet Total
Medium Under 250 Under €50m Under €43m
Small Under 50 Under €10m Under €10m
Micro Under 10 Under €2m Under €2m

According to official statistics from gov.uk:

Although these statistics are somewhat dated now, I can’t believe the optics will have changed significantly over the last 3 years.

We know that many SMEs are facing economic challenges, making it essential for them to have access to reliable financial support. While confidence in the business community is cautiously growing generally, there are still high levels of business failures, and the evidence suggests that HMRC are taking a less lenient approach to arrears and Time To Pay arrangements.

When we meet under-pressure business owners who say to us that they didn’t realise Invoice Finance existed as a product, we still scratch our heads.

There are so many funding options available to business owners at any stage in the business lifecycle, as a quick scroll through LinkedIn will demonstrate. Invoice Finance is (obviously) a fantastic solution for funding working capital. There are also some great non-bank lenders out there, including a nationwide network of Regional Community Development Finance Institutions, providing loans to businesses where the main banks can’t assist.

In the West Midlands alone we are lucky enough to have ART and BCRS Business Loans, in addition to other non-bank regional lenders such as Frontier Development Capital and UKSE. On the business start-up front, Biz Britain are a national delivery partner of the Start Up Loans Scheme. These are the unsung heroes of the SME funding landscape and as a working capital funder, we work alongside them to deliver packaged funding solutions when the main banks cannot assist.

Of course, the fundamentals need to be there for any lender to assist a business: responsible directors, a viable business and a solid financial plan. This is sometimes where business owners let themselves down, through inadequate preparation and organisation, but in most cases, this can be overcome, with a good advisor by their side to guide them through the application process.

Access to finance is vital for the growth and sustainability of SMEs. The challenges highlighted by the research underscores the importance of reliable financial partners.

All we can do as lenders and advisors to business owners, is to keep banging the drum that support and funding is out there. The bottom line is that there are lots of great lenders about, who are only too willing to engage with business owners and their advisors, to find solutions.

Click here for more information about how FlexABL can support owner managed businesses, with a working capital borrowing requirement of up to £500k.

Empowering Conservation: Flexabl’s Donation to Misool Foundation in Indonesia

In a world where corporate social responsibility is becoming increasingly vital, FlexABL has stepped up to make a meaningful difference. Recently, we made a significant contribution to the Misool Foundation, an organisation dedicated to safeguarding biodiverse reefs on Earth through the empowerment of local communities, in Indonesia. This partnership not only showcases FlexABL’s commitment to environmental conservation but also highlights the power of collaboration in creating positive change.

The Misool Foundation, situated in Indonesia, operates in one of the most ecologically diverse regions on the planet. Their mission transcends conventional conservation efforts by actively involving and empowering local communities in marine protection initiatives. By providing educational programs, sustainable livelihood opportunities, and fostering community engagement, the foundation strives to create a sustainable future where humans and nature coexist harmoniously.

One of our key investors was fortunate enough to visit Misool in 2023, to experience, first hand, the fantastic achievement and turnaround in the marine environment at Raj Ampat. He felt, going forward, we should try to help in some small way, as this project has made such a massive contribution over recent years to the area, people and their continued education to protect and save the planet.

FlexABL’s donation of laptops to the Misool Foundation aligns perfectly with both organisations’ values. These will serve as invaluable tools for the foundation’s community outreach programs, educational initiatives, and administrative tasks. With access to better technology, the Misool Foundation can enhance their efficiency, broaden their reach, and streamline their operations, ultimately maximising their impact on marine conservation efforts.

Jo Marlow from the Misool Foundation expressed her gratitude, saying:

“We were thrilled to receive the donation of laptops from FlexABL which will be repurposed for use by the Misool Foundation team in Indonesia. A well-equipped office is critical to support our suite of programmes that have been created to protect one of the most diverse marine ecosystems on Earth. Thanks, FlexABL for your support.”

Misool Foundation’s office management team

But this partnership goes beyond a simple donation; it represents a shared vision of corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship. Our commitment to sustainability extends beyond this as we recognise the importance of minimising our environmental footprint and promoting eco-friendly practices throughout our operations. We hope through partnerships like this, other organisations leverage their resources and expertise, as many already do, to drive positive change and inspire others to do the same.

Be sure to check out the Misool Foundation here to see the great work they are doing to safeguard marine life. Also, keep a look out for further environmental and sustainable initiatives we have coming up!

Opening up Allsorts of Opportunities for The Black Liquorice Company

The story of Black Liquorice Company goes back to owner Tom Rose’s university days, where he bought sweets in bulk from a wholesaler, packaged them himself and sold them at car boot sales to earn money while at university. A part time earner turned into a cottage industry and when the storage requirements outgrew the family home, a chain of sweet shops followed. 7 years ago, Tom realised that the people of Britain deserved better quality liquorice, leading him to start The Black Liquorice Company, based near Evesham, selling a wide range of high-quality liquorice products.

Here’s what Tom had to say…

“Being a small start-up business, we have always struggled with cash flow. We import most of our raw materials and our suppliers want paying on 30 days. It takes 3 weeks for the goods to reach our warehouse and that’s before we have manufactured and distributed our product to our customers. We have a lovely customer base of farm shops, gift shops, cafes and other quality retailers and we like to be able to offer them payment terms, to make our overall offering attractive. However, from paying for our raw materials to getting paid ourselves can take weeks, which puts a real strain on our cash flow.

Growing the business has been difficult; with our cash flow locked up in unpaid invoices, we couldn’t buy the levels of stock required to meet an ever-growing demand. During Covid, our online sales went through the roof, and we found ourselves turning down business opportunities as we just couldn’t meet the demand.

We looked to banks and larger lenders, but because our historic accounts didn’t reflect what was actually going on in our business at the time, no one was willing to help us financially.

After chatting with the team at FlexABL, it was apparent that their services would be the solution that we were looking for. They made the whole process so simple for us. Now we just upload our invoices and we receive cash within hours.

This has had a massive impact upon our business, helping us with our cash flow and enabling us to grow our business. Being able to pay our supplier invoices early has even given us the leverage to obtain discounts, improving our profitability.

Without the help and support of FlexABL I don’t think we would have been able to grow the business the way that we are and now we have ‘Allsorts’ of opportunities at our feet!”

The Prompt Payment Code

Could this latest review of the late payment culture, for businesses in the UK, at last prompt change?

The government announced back in January that it was going to review and adjust its Prompt Payment Code (PPC). This reform could see credit and payment terms reduced from over 60 and 90 days to around 30 days for SMEs.  Figures recently published showed that there was a shocking £23.4bn of late and outstanding invoices owed to UK companies.  This in turn has a further knock on effect, causing late payments to their suppliers, with the sobering facts of this being that over 50,000 business close every year said the Federation of Small Business.

The PPC was introduced, in the hope, that it would clamp down on poor payment practices and offer the lifeline that SMEs were looking for, to aid their cash flow.  It came in to force in July 2021 but still, one year later, it only has just over 3,000 businesses signed up to the voluntary code.

New data also reveals that over 70% of SME businesses suffer extreme late payments from their customers to show the true severity and scale of the issue.

The Prompt Payment Code isn’t sadly enforceable currently and businesses continue to seek alternative solutions to the issue that so many are facing.  Bank overdrafts were the original cashflow cure for SMEs but this product is a good as finished, thanks to Bank regulation. However Invoice Finance is now recognised as a growing and valuable solution for SME owners to consider as this allows them to release cash tied up in their unpaid invoices, until they are paid by their customers, thereby relieving the inevitable pressure on cashflow, which then allows them to reinvest and grow.

FlexABL see this issue on a daily basis and are working closely with a growing number of companies, to enable them to release cash from their unpaid invoices via innovative and, of course, flexible asset-based lending facilities.

A client, with a confidential facility in the plant hire sector said “I would highly recommend FlexABL. We are a small company and find them professional and very helpful, the transfer over to FlexABL was smooth and did not affect the running of the business in any way. The online system is clear and user friendly, with full support at all times.”

If you would like to speak with one of the team to see how we might be able to help with your daily cashflow conundrums please do give us a call on 0333 123 1111 or apply here

An Opportunity Missed?

Can we take it you would always want to help your clients obtain the most appropriate cashflow solutions that their businesses sometimes cry out for?

One of the most common issues faced by the SME business sector, on a daily basis, is their cashflow – or lack of it.  There are not many smaller companies, post-Covid, that still sit on available cash and many now struggle with the simple day to day requirements of paying suppliers on time.

When it comes to ‘stay awake issues’ for business owners, customers paying late and loss of revenue are top of the list.  As an accountant, you are likely to be fully aware of the many facilities available to assist and support your clients, yet more than two thirds of accountants have said that whilst they understand the benefits of utilising invoice finance, they do not promote it as a cashflow solution to their clients.

In a recent survey, British Business Bank’s Small Business Finance Markets 2020/21 report said that “The SME market highlights a surge in applications for external financial support, including government and local grants, among small and medium sized businesses (SMEs), with almost half (45%) of all SMEs surveyed saying they applied for external financial support in 2020, compared to 13% in 2019. At the same time, gross bank lending (excluding overdrafts) to smaller businesses rose to £104bn in 2020, 82% higher than in 2019, driven by use of the government loan schemes.”

“The report suggests there could be significant further demand for funding into 2022 and beyond, as businesses seek to move on from the pandemic, pivot towards growth, improve productivity and transition to a new ecologically focussed economy”

“External finance most often sought for cashflow with some investing for growth”

With government support for SMEs mostly discontinued, it is time for the innovative UK Finance sector to take a lead in providing finance solutions to a growing number of UK companies.

FlexABL and their experienced management team, has been delivering cashflow solutions now for over 30 years. Those services allow businesses to turn up to 90% of their unpaid invoices into cash within hours. There really is no longer any reason to wait to be paid to give an immediate boost to cashflow that your clients may well need.

Our systems connect with most of the major accounting software packages, meaning less admin and paperwork all round. Our team are on hand, at all times, to help you and your clients, through this process to release the pressure and help them grow.

Now is the time to get the SME market back on track and with your help we can support your clients.

If you would like to find out more about our services, or if you have a particular client you wish to discuss and would like to have a chat, then please do give us a call or drop us an email at pstokes@flexabl.co.uk

Welcome to Flexabl, Karen!

FlexABL is delighted to announce another addition to the team. Karen Fisher joins us to support the continued delivery of service-focussed cashflow solutions to our expanding client portfolio. Karen brings a wealth of experience with her, having worked within the invoice finance sector for many years, alongside both Kirsty Ibbotson and Paul Stokes. With a reputation for delivering effective and long-lasting working relationships, Karen always makes sure the client is the cornerstone of her attention.

Kirsty said “It’s a pleasure be able to welcome Karen to the team, she brings so much experience with her to help drive the business forward for the benefit of all of our SME clients. Growing our team, with the right people, is imperative, if we are to continue with our long-term plan to provide a market-leading invoice finance solution to UK SMEs”.

Paul said “It’s great to be working with Karen and Kirsty again and to help continue supporting SME’s across the Midlands with their cashflow and growth.”

It’s an exciting time for FlexABL and we can’t wait to continue with our growth plans!

A UK first for FlexABL! Launch New Digital Onboarding System

We are delighted to be the first lender in the UK to launch the new online application system, powered by Dancerace’s F3 software, which will simplify and speed up the application and onboarding process for clients. We want to make it easier than ever for advisors to small businesses to obtain funding for their clients, keeping them in control of the process at all times.

Whilst we are excited to be rolling out this new technology, we do want to reassure our introducers and client that this does not mean that we are walking away from the ‘old way’ of doing things, we love chatting with people and getting to know what really makes business tick and building those relationships. We also know that some people like the ease of doing things online when they have a spare 10 minutes.  Either way you now have a choice of how you work with your FlexABL lending provider.

In the first instance, we ask introducers to get in touch with us, to let us know that an application is on its way and to also discuss the proposal in outline, especially if there are any particular issues that we need to be aware of.

Once this is done, the new application process is fast, simple and secure. All applicants need to do is as follows:

  1. Access our online portal at Apply now – FlexABL and enter their borrowing requirements.
  2. Confirm their Companies House details.
  3. Connect their online or offline accounting package – our system supports the major cloud-based accounts packages, such as Xero, Quickbooks and Sage.
  4. Upload any additional required documentation – eg year-end accounts and bank statements.
  5. We use this information to assess the application and to deliver an indicative offer within 24 hours.

There’s no paperwork or time-consuming email trails and answering the online questions and connecting an accounting system takes minutes, enabling introducers to maximise the time they spend with their clients.

This new system is the latest addition to our range of digital services, including e-sync technology which integrates with clients’ cloud-based accounting packages to make the whole process of raising cash from outstanding invoices easier and quicker than ever before. Combined with our online AML processes and paperless e-signing, FlexABL is leading the way in delivering efficient and sustainable funding.

Fundamentally, however, these systems are all designed to enhance the overall service that we deliver and are optional – we still have the ability to run client facilities in the time-honoured way. Our key strength remains the personal relationships that we build with our clients and introducers – something that technology cannot replace. If you have got any questions regarding our range of digital services, or if you have any new business proposals to discuss then please get in touch – while we love the benefits that digital brings, we much prefer to talk!

Supporting the UK’s small businesses

18 months ago, none of us could have foreseen what lay ahead. COVID has affected us all in so many ways and throughout the various lockdowns, small business owners have demonstrated their ability to react quickly and adapt, in order to keep trading. We have witnessed the resilience and creativity of British businesses – restructuring entire operations almost overnight, finding new ways to sell and look after customers and generally doing whatever was necessary to ensure that they survived.

Throughout the crisis, the Government’s support has been phenomenal, both in terms of the scale of financial assistance provided and the speed with which the various schemes were delivered. CBILS and Bounce Back Loans kept liquidity in the system, while the Furlough scheme ensured that we avoided mass unemployment. HMRC have remained lenient when dealing with arrears and the suspension of court action against overdue creditors has given businesses the best possible chance of riding out the storm.  

However, this support could not continue indefinitely and as we emerge from the crisis, business owners are now facing a new set of challenges: supply chains in some sectors are stretched to breaking point, labour and raw materials costs are spiralling and debt accumulated over lockdown now needs to be addressed and repaid.

Of course, it’s not all bad news; the economy is showing real signs of recovery and order books are growing. However even that can bring its own set of challenges as growing sales can mean a need for greater working capital funding, at a time when business cash flow is already stretched.

Invoice Finance could play a part in addressing these challenges, delivering a flexible and cost-effective source of working capital finance. Furthermore, an Invoice Finance facility is designed to increase in line with a business’s sales growth, so with order books improving generally, now may be an ideal time to explore how it may be able to help your business.

What is Invoice Finance?

Put simply, Invoice Finance allows you to release the cash locked up in outstanding B2B invoices – often a company’s biggest asset. A lender will typically advance 85% of the gross value of an invoice, although this can be higher or lower, depending on the circumstances.

The flexibility of Invoice Finance

Unlike traditional loans, the funding available through an Invoice Finance facility typically grows in line with your sales. With many businesses experiencing an upturn in orders, this form of working capital finance could assist in funding growth and in a world where company losses over the last 18 months are commonplace, most Invoice Finance lenders are more interested in where the business is headed, rather than looking at historic accounts, when assessing a borrowing request. This makes Invoice Finance particularly suitable for companies that find themselves wrestling with the challenges of funding cashflow, post Covid.

What do FlexABL offer?

We provide a full range of invoice finance solutions, which can be tailored to meet the individual needs of your business. If you sell goods or services on a Business to Business basis then we can usually find a solution to your requirements. Our systems link to most of the cloud-based accounting systems, but we can also deliver a more traditional, hands-on service – the choice is yours. Either way, our aim is to release cash from your outstanding invoices quickly and easily.

Why are FlexABL different to other lenders?

We appreciate that no two businesses are the same and so we take the time to understand your business and goals. We are agile enough to react quickly to your changing needs and we offer a level of personal service that most of our competitors simply can’t match. For example, every one of our clients has direct access to a decision-making director, so they have the comfort of quick decision-making when required. We can also offer confidential facilities (where your customers are unaware of our involvement) to smaller businesses. Indeed, we are so confident in the quality of our service, we don’t insist on locking our clients into long-term contracts, unlike our competitors, where 12 months, or even longer, is the norm.

What should I do if I’m considering Invoice Finance?

Please get in touch. We want to make sure that Invoice Finance is right for you, so please contact Paul Stokes or Eric DeArmitt (details below) who will discuss your requirements and talk you through your options.

At this stage we can also provide you with a quote and give you an indication as to whether we will be able to assist you. Assuming that you are happy to proceed to the next stage, you will have the option of linking your cloud-based accounting package to us so that you can apply online, or you can send financial information to us via email, if you would prefer. Either way, we will be back to you within 24 hours with a decision.

Eric DeArmitt                     edearmitt@flexabl.co.uk              07436 037234

Paul Stokes                       pstokes@flexabl.co.uk                  07557 303333

FlexABL Launches To Help SME’s Access Funding

A business dedicated to helping SMEs access vital funds to develop and grow has launched in the Midlands.

Paul Stokes and Kirsty Ibbotson have co-founded a new invoice finance company, called FlexABL, and have opened their headquarters at Lake View House on Wilton Drive in Warwick.

The duo have a combined 35 years of commercial finance experience in aiding the development and growth of the UK’s SME community.

Their new venture will see them providing finance to small to medium sized businesses that are looking to boost their cash flow or invest to aid future growth.

Paul said: “SMEs are the backbone of the UK economy, so it is vital that we are supporting them now more than ever to ensure both they and the country business community bounce back stronger from the pandemic.

Many of the bigger banks and our competitors are moving out of the smaller business space, making it more difficult for smaller businesses to achieve their aims – whether that is investing in equipment or staff to diversify and grow, or simply seeking some short-term cash flow relief to remain stable.”

Businesses have received commendable government support over the past year, but they now need further funding to help them thrive in the long-term, which is where Flexabl can play a vital role in providing that launchpad for future growth.

I’m really excited at the prospect of working alongside Kirsty to help companies across the country to bounce back from the pandemic.

Flexabl will be helping SMEs to access funding by providing tailored, competitive loans that are secured against assets, and include creative approaches such as invoice discounting.

FlexABL will be helping SMEs to access funding by providing finance against their trade receivables, sometimes a business’s biggest asset. They can offer confidential facilities to smaller businesses, and will tailor their products to the individual needs of a business, with no long-term contractual tie-ins, something that they believe will appeal to business owners in the current environment.

Kirsty added: “Combining the latest technology with a personalised service that is tailored to each business owner’s needs and circumstances is key to our business, and is an approach we feel will stand our clients in good stead.

Although our headquarters are based in Warwick we very much pride ourselves on having nation-wide presence given both mine and Paul’s wide-ranging experience within the commercial finance industry.

We already have a number of clients on board, and we are looking forward to a strong year of growth ahead with further plans to recruit over the coming months.”