Thursday, 17 December 2020

SME Investment readiness during a pandemic: how to access CBILS and funding support before March 31st

As we exit the second national lockdown of the year and enter strengthened Tier 2 restrictions, businesses are continuing to feel the strain of the pandemic. It therefore remains vital to know your options around the financial support that could help your business to recover and prosper post-pandemic, and how best to approach providers of finance.

MSIF Investment Manager, Sue Chambers, discusses the importance of investment readiness and how best to prepare for funding success during a time of elevated uncertainty.

Sue Chambers, MSIF Investment Manager

Knowing your options

When applying for funding, you should ensure that you have explored all opportunities for
financial support during this time.

Firstly, you should be utilising any free resource that is available to you as a small to medium-sized business. We would encourage you to approach your local chambers of commerce and business growth hubs as they have a plethora of connections to best help your business, in addition to the latest advice derived from central government sources. The Liverpool City Region Growth Platform is a great place to start for any businesses situated within the LCR as the site also includes the latest information on any localised grants that may be available. 

Be sure to check what government grants you may be eligible for as a company as well as ensuring you have utilised the Job Retention Scheme where appropriate to help both sustain your business and preserve jobs via the website. 

If government and/or local support is not sufficient to get your business through the winter, you may want to consider a Bounce Back Loan (BBLS) if you are looking for funding up to £50,000 - or alternatively, a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan (CBILS) if you need more than that.

If you have already taken out a Bounce Back Loan, you may be able to top this up to £50,000 and you should contact your original provider for further information. You can have either a BBL or a CBILS but not both. CBILS can also be applied for and used to repay a BBL. If you want to apply for either of these loans you need to do this before the schemes end on 31st March 2021. 

In the first instance, our best advice is to try your own bank first for CBILS/BBL support. If they are unable to help, then you can apply to other providers. MSIF as an example is able to support businesses with a CBILS loan through both their dedicated Coronavirus Recovery and Resilience Fund in addition to the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund - NPIF Microfinance, jointly managed with GC Business Finance.


Investment readiness

Before you look to access external funding, make sure you have a full business plan ready – including an explanation of how your company has been adversely affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, your plans for recovery and what you intend to use the funds for.

Cash flow forecasts also need to be incorporated and be as realistic as possible. For example, if your business is connected to the hospitality and retail sector, you may want to assume that there could be a further delay before trading is back to normal. It will also be useful for a funder to see a sensitised version of your forecasts that takes account of possible further lockdowns or slower recovery – say reducing revenues (and associated costs) by a prudent percentage per month.

The cash flow forecast will serve to both highlight the amount required, building in some headroom as it is only a forecast, and help to evidence ability to meet the loan repayments. It is also important to detail any assumptions you have made in the cash flow. At a time when funders can’t get together face to face to discuss your financial workings it is crucial that you explain how you have arrived at the amount of loan you are looking for. Communication is key!


Benefits of funding

There are some real benefits of securing funding during this time. It can help create additional headroom and breathing space for your business, but you need to be sure to apply for sufficient funds to get through the next 6 months and beyond.

Additional funding can also help with the retention of staff and could avoid the need to retrain new staff in the future if unnecessary redundancies are made.

Of course some businesses are seeing growth opportunities during the pandemic and as long as they can show they have been adversely impacted by COVID in some way, then BBLs and CBILS can also be used for investment purposes.

Overall, you are best preparing yourself to hit the ground running when Covid restrictions are eventually eased and we can all return to ‘normality’. Now is the time for recovery and resilience.

If you are successful in applying for BBL or CBILS funding the government will cover all fees and interest costs for the next 12 months allowing you breathing space to focus on getting your business back on track. You can also use the funding to repay any delete ‘any’ existing funding if it will help put your business on a more stable financial footing, but lenders do have a limit attached to the amount they can refinance in this way.

Implementing new finance into your business

Only you, as the leader of your business will truly understand what your priorities are and where the extra funding will be needed most. This will vary from business to business, including covering business rates and rent, paying suppliers and, despite best efforts from the government, staff costs.

The key thing is to ensure that you have explored all options to make the most out of any assistance available.

By having these conversations, you are not only best preparing your business to re-start or continue to operate, but you are putting yourself in the best position possible for success when applying for additional funding. Make sure you have a clear plan of where that money needs to be deployed, to mitigate the risk of asking for too little or too much investment.

Be open and be honest in your conversations with any potential funders, during a time of continued and increased social distancing. It is imperative you include as much detail as you can to supplement your application.

Yes, there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel but we need to be prepared for the financial challenges 2021 may present as a result.

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Mia’s Cocktails are shaking up the lockdown

For Mia Williamson, the national lockdown in March could not have come at a worse time. Having worked in the bar industry for 5 years, she had decided that 2020 was going to be the year of change for her, and had just packed in her full time job to concentrate on her newly registered business ‘Shaker Shaker’ specialising in a bespoke mobile bar service. She had joined the Enterprise Hub programme at the Wirral Chamber and was busy working on her business plan when the announcement came.

Mia up and running

Mia was faced with two choices, to call last orders on her new business or to take the plunge and adapt to survive. Fortunately she decided on the latter and, realising that her target customers were now confined to their homes and unable to socialise, she took to social media and launched #14CocktailsIn14 Days. “I decided to capitalise on my cocktail-making skills and post a video a day for 14 days showing people how to make a different cocktail each day!” By keeping people’s spirits up – literally – and posting engaging content, Mia soon saw her number of followers increase. She says, “I totally underestimated the power of social media. Initially I found it very daunting taking and posting videos of myself, but I soon realised that my posts were triggering engagements and people wanted to see what I was up to each day!’

Having built up a healthy following on social media, the ease in lockdown restrictions enabled Mia to launch her cocktail delivery service. ‘I announced it on the Wednesday’, says Mia, ‘and by Friday my week was fully booked’. Unlike other competitors, Shaker Shaker’s delivery service provided DIY cocktail kits containing all the ingredients and instructions, so clients were buying the experience as well as the drink – and this quirky twist went down a storm.

The combination of her products and her social media activity soon attracted the attention of other businesses within the catering and events sector and Mia found herself networking and collaborating with other local independents who provided support, cross-referrals, re posts and friendship during the difficult summer months.

Mia’s advice to other start-up businesses would be ‘to focus on the journey and not the destination, move out of your comfort zone – challenge yourself and explore every opportunity!’ She admits that when she first started, she didn’t know how to run a business but through the Enterprise Hub programme she not only enjoyed the workshops that were on offer but felt that she particularly benefitted from bouncing ideas around in the one to one sessions and the encouragement she received from the advisers Heidi and Paul.

So what does the future hold for Mia and Shaker Shaker? Well the support she received over the summer from her client base and fellow independent businesses has left her in no doubt that it is only a matter of time, when restrictions regarding gatherings are lifted, that the full potential of Shaker Shaker will be realised. She already has bookings for next year for her all-inclusive mobile bar package and cocktail making classes, but in the meantime, she’s back to her DIY cocktail deliveries – adding a bit of sparkle and fun to her client’s lives!

For more information on Shaker Shaker you can contact Mia on: / 07708 777 990 or follow her cocktail making antics on or her Instagram page.

Get in touch if you are thinking of starting a business in the Liverpool City Region or have a new business under three years old. You can speak to our team via or 0151 706 8113.