By Ian Ferguson
For many years, the business community has had one consistent cry: We need greater access to finance. Since more than 80 per cent of the companies in our country have less than 20 employees and fall into the Small and/or Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME) sector, they are challenged at every turn to finance their growth and innovation.
Getting an innovative firm off the ground or expanding it requires money, but financing SMEs is a risky proposition for financiers. Where are the ‘Angel’ investors in our country, you might ask? Shouldn’t we have sufficient, successful local and international businesses, and business persons who are capable of lending and granting funding opportunities to struggling and emerging businesses and entrepreneurs?
SMEs face a number of challenges, and there certainly needs to be more partnership and support from the private sector to help overcome them. We cannot rely on government alone to rectify these challenges. Many commercial banks have offered their services to the SME, creating departments to deal specifically with their needs.
Additionally, the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Union and other international lending institutions have all done their share in SME development, introducing sustainability programmes aimed at creating more sizeable economies of scale in the sector. But despite the efforts of local commercial banks, development banks or the international lending communities, there remains a call for greater ease accessing funding that will spur businesses to greater success.
The Chamber Voice today recalls the sentiment that Barack Obama has echoed for the last four years: That we all need to bear the burdens of those in our corporate environment. Wealthy business persons, with or without government intervention, should take on a mentorship-
partnership approach to help smaller organisations in need of assistance to advance and grow. This growth will aid and advance our entire business community, creating stronger organisations and a stronger economy.
There are also some basic services and requirements that SMEs must be prepared to adhere to if they are going to even place themselves in a position to gain access to capital. Some of these necessities will require a 180 degree shift in how we currently operate, forcing a greater degree of discipline in our business and service dealings. Every business owner poised to approach a lending institution should evaluate their readiness with this checklist:
I consistently conduct and use research that tells me who my customers and competitors are, and what they expect from me.
I have a well defined niche with a clearly articulated and structured BRAND.
I operate with a thoroughly written and internally communicated business plan, with specific marketing, operational and financial targets.
I have a well-defined structure for sourcing employees, equipment and all other resources for business success.
I have documented standards of performance, and deliver products and services to standard every day despite who my customers are or who is serving them.
I ensure adequate training and performance measurement takes place so that my human talent grows and develops.
NB: Ian R. Ferguson was educated locally, regionally and internationally, having earned a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Miami. During the course of his nearly 20 years in education, talent management and human resources, he has served both the public and private sector in senior management roles. He continues to assist hundreds of local and regional businesses in improving business and service excellence through their human capital.