Having been in business in the same town for almost twenty years, a Midwest company was accustomed to expansion and going after market opportunities. The owner had kept her business competitive by continuously improving product offerings and learning from the input of both customers and target customers. With a loyal, experienced operations team, she felt that she had the recipe for long-term success. However, when the recession of 2008 hit, she was unable to obtain a renewal of her line of credit by which she had historically been able to normalize cash flows.
The case study above illustrates a business principle–that we must always as business owners prepare for the unexpected and have the flexibility to adapt to changing market conditions. If we seem surprised when an action that we did not anticipate occurs, then it follows that either: 1.) our planning is incomplete, 2.) our systems and processes are too unresponsive to key indicators, or 3.) we have not established a feedback loop that provides us as small business executives with vital, timely information. Regardless the reason, it is poor management to not have a contingency strategy or tactic in mind for situations that may arise.
What should an executive team do when financing from lenders or investors falls through? First, the reason for such a collapse in financing is normally attributable to one of the following:
- Partners or new regulations restricted the financing source from making (continuing) the deal.
- A more attractive alternative was available to the lender/investor from another source at the same time.
- The company failed to read the market conditions and adjust the financing request accordingly.
To stabilize the business in response to one of these situations, the owner and top finance executive should always seek new sources of funds–even if today’s source has been very reliable. If you have built relationships with other providers of financing, you may be able to reduce the risk any one player undertakes by spreading it among several. Alternately, you may find that some institutions have differing standards for new clients than for existing ones and may want the entire financing facility. In either scenario, it is incumbent upon you and your team to perform due diligence. Find out how the bank (or alternate source) has shown commitment to other borrowers. In many cases, your accountant or attorney may be able to recommend new sources for you. Others in your trade group may have similar referrals to provide.
Being able to lay out both your best case scenario and a worst case one will show a new source your planning strengths and help to establish credibility. Ask questions about how credit facilities could be expanded as you hit milestones. Offer your plan for reporting your financial and operating performance. Discuss what the loan covenants may look like and have frank conversations about how your team will accommodate the request to demonstrate creditworthiness.
To avoid a recurring financing problem, owners should try to over-finance their operating needs whenever possible. It is extremely valuable to have credit available that is not being used–this cannot be overstated! Given that this funding source may dry up at any point, you never want to have to go back to the lender or investor because you failed to anticipate growth.
The other recommendation is that you look at different types of credit. If you traditionally have only taken out installment loans, look for lines of credit–and vice versa. There are additional types of financing that may also be advantageous to consider–accounts receivable, factoring, purchase order financing, contract or project financing, asset based lending, leasing, etc. By using more than one type of funds from more than one source, you are diversifying your vulnerability to a credit restriction that could be deleterious to your business success.