5 Keys to Raising Capital for Your New Business Idea

Learning how to raise capital for your business idea is often difficult for many otherwise very capable would be entrepreneurs. Raising finance, be it from a bank, a venture capital firm or a business angel, has a lot to do with being able to sell your business idea, and less about how good that idea actually is. The best business idea can get nowhere if you cannot convince your prospective investors of its potential as an investment and your ability as a business owner of making it a success. You should keep the following key points in mind when trying to raise capital for your new business idea.Prepare a business planWriting a business plan is often a lot of work and distracts you from doing what you want to do, which is running your business. But you won’t get any funding without a solid written business plan. Telling an investor or your bank contact that they should give you money because you had a great idea is just not going to cut it. A business plan will explain exactly what you plan on doing with that money, why you need it and real numbers proving your business idea potential. Among other things, you’ll need to be able to prove that you know your audience and the size of the market you plan on targeting, your marketing plans, your expected cashflow for the first few years and how will you deal with risks such as another competitor entering the market. If you are unsure about how to write a good business plan you can also hire a consultant to help you prepare it, but make sure you know exactly what’s in it, since the consultant won’t be with you when talking to the potential investors.Practice your pitchLooking for investment is like selling your business idea to somebody who knows a lot about what makes a good, profitable business. While a good business plan is the basis for your pitch, you will still need to deliver it the right way. It’s worth investigating your potential investors, and adapting your pitch to that information. For example, a bank is often conservative and would be more interested in you showcasing how your business idea is a safe bet and has a solid base, without extravagant expenses or high risk taking. However, an investor with an existing portfolio of cutting edge technological business may be more interested in listening to how your business is highly innovative and will use the money to create the next big thing online. Do not go into any meeting with your investors without researching all you can about them and their style, since they will have no doubt researched you to see if you, as a person and a businessman, are likely to succeed.Plan for threats and weaknessesRemember when at job interviews people asked you to name your weak points? Your investors are going to do exactly the same about your business idea. While it’s clear that you wouldn’t be asking for investment if you didn’t believe your business idea has a high potential for success, you should also be aware of what things could make it fail, and be able to plan for it. Do not say “Nothing can go wrong, I have everything covered” because at best you’ll get a reality check from the investors about the many things you had not considered, before politely being shown the door. Being secure of yourself is great, but realism is highly appreciated in business.Know your USPWhat makes your business idea unique, and so makes people choose you over anybody else to buy from? Your unique selling point, or USP, will be key to your marketing strategy since it’s the reason why people will buy from you. A generic business with no unique selling point is not likely to make venture investors interested, because if anybody can do it, it’s probably not going to be very profitable. Investors want a high return on investment, and that means that your business should grow and not just be good enough for you to make a living. On the other hand, a bank may be less demanding with your uniqueness, as long as you are using a proven business model on a niche that has room for new players, but a bank knows that they’ll get their payment through your loan interest so they are satisfied with you just breaking even and paying your loan.Show that you the right person to lead your businessThis is another challenging issue when trying to get finance, and a question that few investors will ask you directly so you need to show it by your actions and your sales pitch. Some people are great at having ideas, but are very bad at making those ideas into a real business and managing the day to day of said business. As a business owner, you’ll need many skills that aren’t directly related to your business core idea. Even if you are technically the best developer in the world, and the person who can best implement your idea, you may not be the right person to actually manage it and many investors will notice that unfavourably. Make sure you come across as a savvy businessperson, and not just a great inventor or a proficient salesman.

Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Background

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.

CPA Advertising – A Better Choice For Low Budget Online Advertising

Just like any information medium, the internet cannot survive without the advertisers. Most websites and online services are fueled by advertisement. For business newbie’s, the internet is one of the most cost-efficient ways to reach a larger number of potential customers and to increase sales.Cost-per-action (CPA) advertising is an online marketing process where the advertiser only pays whenever an action that is indicated in their advertisement has been made like sign up a registration form or buys a product. For instance, a client is asked to sign up a form with their e-mail address and zip code, when they submit the form, the client will be paid by the advertiser.Unlike the traditional cost-per-click (CPC) model for marketing where an advertiser has to pay for every click or view of their advertisement without the assurance of getting a lead or if a product would be sold, CPA is a much better choice for low budget advertisers.CPA advertising is strictly a performance-based advertising. There is more assurance that the money that an advertiser pays for advertising will be converted into profit unlike assuming that a product will be sold by just seeing the advertisements.In CPA advertising, a return of investment is also assured especially for an up starting company or individual who is only starting to build a business. It is also an effective way of reaching out to a larger number of prospective customers without expanding the limits of a business’ resources.A CPA network takes charge of the CPA advertising. The network pays out affiliates in exchange for their traffic from the agreed fees from the advertisers for the cost-per-lead or cost-per-sale. Conversions-meaning conversion of advertisement to leads (visitor to a site that discloses personal information in order to be approached for a product to be sold) or sale of products-are dependent on the traffic while at the same time; the network is dependent on conversions. More conversions mean larger revenues for both the network and the advertiser.It is best to take note that an advertiser must make sure to provide a high quality product to produce high-conversion rate for the product or service being sold. In this way, a CPA network will immediately approve an advertiser’s application especially when one is new in the business.Because a company or businessman can save in this kind of advertising, more likely, they can save more for their online advertisement campaign and use their savings for other aspects in their campaign.Because this kind of advertisement is also being utilized by major branded corporations, it can also be used by companies as testing grounds for the effectiveness of their advertisement before launching into a major advertisement campaign.Whether an advertiser relies on CPA advertisement or not, the success of a high rate of sold products by advertisement does not rely on the mode of advertisement but on how the product is packaged for the consumers to buy the product. Keep on track and see if what’s best for a business’ advertising needs.