Building resilience through collaboration

By Miranda Khadr, above, Founder of Provide Finance

If ever there was a time that small businesses needed a helping hand, it’s now…and I should know.  As a small business owner myself and the founder of a specialist funding FinTech platform for small businesses, I am only too aware of the current financial pressures that small businesses in the UK are under, as they continue to be squeezed by rising costs and falling revenues.

We’re a proud but humble bunch, us small business owners.  We have an idea, we take a leap of faith and work hard to see it through to fruition, and so it’s no wonder that this business of ours becomes our lives – like our baby – and often that means we tend to do everything ourselves to make it a success.  We become HR managers, financial directors, first aiders, receptionists, strategists, marketing executives and social media wizzes because, in the early days when we’re first starting out, we have to be, and we want to be, doing it all ourselves. This is our baby, and potentially our livelihoods, after all.

But there comes a point when you need to start letting others in, relinquishing some responsibilities, so that you can concentrate on running your business. And, although it’s tough to let go sometimes, it’s absolutely necessary because small business owners need collaboration with others in order to build resilience in their businesses. Take funding, for example, which is the area that I know and love best.

Most small business owners at some point in the evolution of their business will need an injection of cash, whether that’s to invest in tools, stock or office furniture, or to create a safety cushion of reserves in case you hit a time when business is slower and your income is down but you still have bills and employees to pay – it feels a bit like that now. Is it a good use of your time to spend hours searching for the right funding streams when, in reality, there are others who can do the hard work for you and, dare I say it, do it more effectively? These are precious hours which are taking you away from running your business, not to mention that searching for finance can be a confusing and demoralising task, particularly in the current climate when we are seeing increasing numbers of mainstream lenders withdraw from the market. This is where collaboration comes in.

I am a firm believer in collaboration, which is why I set up Provide Finance. We are a FinTech platform which supports small businesses and property landlords in seeking and securing the best funding to meet their needs. Not only that, users have access to our team of dedicated finance experts, on hand to give one-to-one support and guidance, and direct contact with over 200 lenders. By bringing everyone together under one umbrella – business owners, brokers, lenders and finance specialists – we can collaborate, sharing information, resources and advice, to ensure that small business owners secure that essential funding that they so desperately need.

The process is quick, transparent and seamless, so it isn’t hard work for borrowers. In addition, we provide a sounding board for small businesses so that owners can share issues and hopefully come up with solutions, and a resource centre with tips, information and useful links. We like to think of it as a community for small businesses and landlords who might feel as if they’re in this alone but actually we’re in it together.  We’re all here to help with the big decisions that business owners sometimes have to make in order to ensure the survival of their businesses.

The idea for Provide Finance stemmed from my 10 years of working on the finance management side of wealth management, securing loans and managing debt for individuals, some of whom owned businesses. The difference is that, in wealth management, clients are wealthier and are more likely to have access not only to funds but also to solid advice. I recognised that there was a gap in the market for the same type of service and funding to be available for smaller businesses and start-ups, who were sorely under-represented and would end up spending many precious hours trying to seek out the solutions on their own. It was then that I decided to create an advisory service specifically aimed at small businesses and landlords.

I love being a small business entrepreneur and easily my greatest business achievement has been to see my ideas become a reality. Becoming a business founder has been a long journey, with many steps taken, starting with The Business and Commercial Finance Club, my first advisory business, through to Provide Finance today. It hasn’t been easy, particularly when the self-doubt has crept up on me from time to time, but I believed in my ideas, and having the courage to share them was half the battle to seeing them through to fruition.  Not every idea I’ve had has worked out but each one has provided a lesson in learning about business, customers, innovation and myself and what I’m able to achieve when I put my mind to it.  It’s certainly fair to say that without learning from my mistakes and the challenges I’ve had to face, Provide Finance wouldn’t exist today.

It’s also safe to say that I relied on collaboration a fair bit too.  I have had the fortune of working with some incredible people who have inspired me and spurred me on to taking risks and recognising an opportunity when it’s arisen.  These incredible individuals have been so supportive and caring, working alongside me and providing me with guidance and wisdom. I haven’t had to do this on my own and my businesses have been sturdier and more resilient for the influence and support I’ve received from others.

I also aim to practice collaboration through my actions as a CEO, a position of great responsibility which I don’t take lightly. I place a great deal of importance on learning from others around me. I never stop learning. A CEO is only as good as the people around them, so surround yourself with team members who you can learn from and collaborate with. As a CEO, you have to wear many hats and it’s impossible for you to be everywhere at all times, so you need to be willing to learn from your team members, seek advice and opinions from them and collaborate in order to be able to participate fully in all areas of your business.

In terms of my plans for Provide Finance, I intend to continuing being brave and trying out ideas. Sometimes our fear of taking a chance is our greatest hurdle and restraint, so I think it’s really important to push beyond the fear-based barriers that we set for ourselves. It’s important that we don’t stand still and continue to listen to our small business clients to make sure that we are meeting their ever changing needs.

With commercial borrowing becoming more expensive as interest rates rise, I think lenders are going to be looking more carefully at who they lend to. Already, we are seeing increasing numbers of traditional high street lenders withdrawing from lending to smaller businesses as they become more cautious about who they lend to. Increasing costs and high inflation will undoubtedly have an impact on borrowers’ ability to pay back loans, something that traditional lenders will be considering when looking at their lending book.

However, as a result, there will be an opportunity for smaller, specialist lenders, such as the challenger banks, to emerge as the small business champions. Specialist lenders often have their roots in FinTech and so they have cutting edge technology combined with up to date market data, making them agile and willing to assess complex cases which fall outside of the usual lending criteria employed by traditional lenders.

I expect to see lending become more complex and criteria become more sophisticated to meet the varying needs of a diverse UK business population. Small businesses are the beating heart of the UK economy so we need to support them financially where we can, regardless of the complexities of their borrowing needs. This will lead to ever more creative commercial finance solutions and further highlights the case for platforms such as Provide Finance.  We’ve built a really strong understanding of how to make even the most complex case more straightforward, and succeed in accessing the finance needed. Our success in doing so hasn’t just meant winning industry awards – it’s also won the trust of a significant number of brokers, which is why we have delivered funding solutions worth more than £300m to date.

For small business owners, building resilience by being prepared will help them to survive the economic storm. I suspect we are on the very edge of entering a sustained period of financial instability and I don’t see the situation changing any time soon. I expect inflation to continue to remain high and interest rates to move upwards into 2023, and in order to ride out the financial storm, we all need to be prepared.

Practically speaking, small business owners should look to paying down their debts (if they can), as credit will become increasingly expensive. This may mean taking tough decisions but please know that there are debt advisers out there who can help.

It could be a case of taking a bigger picture view of your finances, going through all of your outgoings and seeing where you can make changes that will save you money. There is also the option of refinancing to consolidate all of your outstanding loans and debts. This is something that we are increasingly noticing amongst our clients and which we’re very happy to help with. It can be much easier to manage your finances if you’ve only one overall payment to meet every month with one interest rate.

Taking no action at all is not an option. Inaction will almost certainly lead to sleepless nights and will take its toll on your health, which is why it’s always advisable to be prepared as much as you can be. Money worries and the responsibilities that come with running a business can become overwhelming if left without action, which is why it’s so important to seek support and to share your concerns as soon as possible. It is because of this that Provide Finance exists. We’re here to help concerned business owners to take control of their financial situation and to support them through difficult periods such as the one that we find ourselves heading towards currently. Remember, you are not alone – collaboration means that we’re in this together.