About three of four years later I was ready to raise some capital and grow the business. I didn’t like the idea of taking on debt, especially as I had my own family and couldn’t risk their home. Back then (this was in ’99) there was a scheme called the small enterprise loan guarantee, which allowed me to borrow money without having to underwrite the sum with my home; in fact I think about three quarters was underwritten by the government.
So with that scheme behind me, I wrote my business plan, went to my bank manager at Nat West and borrowed around £100,000 to help take 3Sixty to the next stage.
As I said, this was in ’99. Back then the local bank manager had quite a bit more autonomy when deciding on loans and it wasn’t the “they’re high risk, computer says no” approach which exists nowadays. Today your local bank has no real discretion. Applications just go up the ladder to some anonymous processing centre, where formulas are applied to your business and huge decisions made at the drop of a hat.
That’s a shame because a lot of lending money is about who you’re lending to, not just the business plan they’ve submitted. Thankfully my local bank manager saw the bigger picture and believed in me, which is lucky because you need working capital to grow and invest.
Since that first loan we’ve had a continued relationship with the bank and with every passing year it’s become a more faceless process. In the creative industries we’re quick to say that ‘banks don’t get us’ but I’ve no doubt that people in every type of sector feel the same. Just looking at bank loan processes now, the people judging your business are less trained and less personal. They’re really just glorified salesmen, and so it’s probably true; they don’t ‘get’ creative or many other businesses.