Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why pubs are the best place to grow your business

Most of you will already know that I offer support to enterprises, charities and individuals through a range of services and programmes (- my favourite of which is probably ‘beer mentoring’).
What many probably won’t  know is that I used to manage a loan fund for local co-operative enterprises, and am regularly invited to sit on panels to assess applications from start-up and growth businesses to decide whether they should be invested in.

As such I have a perhaps uncommon insight into financing issues as a business advisor, and find myself being asked to speak at various events on alternative sources of finance to the traditional high street bank for business start-up and growth. And it struck me recently that most of these alternatives might be best pursued not in an office, or over the internet, but in the pub as they’re all based around relationships and local knowledge, rather than institutions and ‘risk ratios‘:

  • Angel Investors (think dragon’s den but without the scathing comments): people who are going to invest their money into you and your idea. They want to be assured that its not only your idea that’s a great one, but that you’re the best person to be leading on it - they want to get to know you. And what better why  to do that than over a drink?
  • Loan stock (think interest only mortgages): this is where other people and businesses lend you their money with the expectation that you’ll pay them back at an agreed future date. These are effectively ‘private loans’ so you can choose where you discuss and agree them - and what more conducive environment could there be to negotiate terms than in a friendly pub?
  • Community shares: where local people in a town or village all invest their own money in a common cause (usually buying the post office to keep it open, or installing a wind turbine to create free/cheap electricity for everyone). It can take a long time to knock on everyone’s door to make your pitch to them, so far better if there were a communal place where most of them are regularly assembled…pub?

All these ‘alternative’ forms of finance are based on people investing their own money (not someone elses') and as such there’s a different criteria that these investors are using: they’re interested in you, in building a relationship with you. And that’s something that’s hard to do in a posh office, but far easier over a drink… but they’ll still want to know about your business and be assured that they’re not going to be wasting their money, so you still need to know your numbers - however in a pub setting, you need to know them even more intimately than for a bank: a bank manager will expect you to have lots of notes with you, spreadsheets, etc. But in a pub, if you can’t give people an answer straight away off the top of your head, you’re sunk.

So, pub finance - perhaps a better alternative to the traditional high street bank? but it’ll demand that you know your businesses figures and detail inside out, and able to cite them more instantly than a bank manager would expect… On the up side, all your investors will be rooting for you and doing whatever they can to ensure your success (as its their money at stake!) and the interest you’re paying on the money is going back to other local people and fellow businesses, rather than in bonuses to  bankers…

UPDATE - 04.01.2013
my local paper, the Todmorden News has also just written an article based on this idea  - and in any of you are wondering, yes: I did buy my own pint!  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Why everyone needs Thomas the Tank Engine to help them manage their enterprise

I was recently invited to speak to a roomful of small business owners about the various options open to them to finance their ambitions for growth. One of my fellow panelists  John Daly stressed the importance of good robust financial management reporting. He argued that all enterprises needed sound financial reporting to support their success that should fulfill 3 specific criteria.

As I was listening, I realised that I knew these criteria already - not from any text book, or discussions with finance directors, but from one of my kids’ favourite TV shows: Thomas the Tank Engine. Thomas always introduced himself as being 3 things that made him the best and most successful engine on the island of Sodor: “I’m really useful, really reliable, and always right on time”: the same criteria that John argued that financial management needs to be: relevant, reliable, and regular.

So next time you think you see the Fat Controller at a business seminar, look again - it might be John Daly marshaling the trains; as for me - I’m off to watch TV with my boys to brush up on my management skills!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

chase the money and don’t worry about keeping it legal – the new world of Charity Trustees...

I generally have a lot of admiration for Charity Trustees: people who are willing (and able) to commit their time and energy in pursuit of a dream of a supporting a better community, without expectation of reward or recognition of any type.
There will always be odd ‘rogues’ who see being part of a Charity’s governing body as a means to add a gloss to their career aspirations, but such people are usually the exception, and don’t usually stick around long enough to do too much damage...

However some recent research published by the Charity Commission suggests just how far Trustees of Charities are feeling compromised and pressured in a context of government cuts, recessionary pressures, and generally rubbish weather (2012 being one of the wettest on record!):

  • last year, the biggest cause of complaints investigated by the commission (86%!) related to charities’ governance: how well (or not) they’re acting within their legal powers and rules, as well as those of the wider legislative framework that charities exist within. You’d therefore imagine that Governance and the law would be the area that most Board of Trustees are concerned with? Wrong – they list support with fundraising as being the most important thing. And 1/3 don’t offer new Trustees any support in understanding their role or responsibilities.
  • it also appears most charities are also recruiting new Trustees from within their own staff and volunteers (always highly risky owing to the heightened associated risk of conflicts of interest, amongst others...) . This means bad habits, mis-information and stagnation are all therefore likely becoming increasingly rife in charities as there’s little ‘fresh blood’ to challenge long-held assumptions that  may no longer hold true, or practices that need to be changed.

Is it any wonder then that charities’ reputations are increasingly under scrutiny and their reputation and place being questioned? Especially when a wealth of support exists for charities to recruit Trustees with little/no cost, and inductions for new Trustees can be structured very easily and cheaply using the materials freely available from the Charity Commission.

So what’s going wrong? Why aren't charities making the most of this (free) support? Why are bad practices emerging on such a large scale that risk damaging this sectors’ credibility? Could it be because the world they’re used to – the world where there were local funded advisors who would pro-actively keep them aware of issues, opportunities and risks through the likes of CVS’ is fast disappearing and they've not realised just how bad the fallout could/will be? Or more frighteningly, have charities always prioritised the money over compliance, and it’s only recently that we've noticed it due to more insightful research being undertaken and published?