In the experience of many small businesses over the years, one thing is certain - no matter what type of business you start, it is going to require money from somewhere. Although many entrepreneurs are one-person companies, raising sufficient money is often overlooked seriously by many new startups. The word sufficient here is defined as the amount of money that will really make this business succeed through practical and aggressive means.
Most of the time, the passion of starting a new business overtakes common sense and a real clear idea of the startup and operating capital needed is lacking. So it is advised that when you consider shopping for money to start your business, that you do so after completing some form of a business plan. Even if you take money out of your own pocket or borrow on the equity on your home or from your credit card, it is essential that you know ahead of time that it will be well spent.
Let's take a look at the most popular options for financing small companies.
This is the easiest type of money to obtain. According to the Small and Medium Size Business Survey of 2007 by the National Small Business Association (NASB) credit cards are the number 1 financing choice of 61% of businesses of 0 to 4 employees. Frequently, the instant that a small business is formed, the owner takes the EIN number to the bank and starts a checking account. Oftentimes, these small business owners are encouraged to sign up for a credit card and offered favorable terms (sometimes 0% financing) for the first few months.
The problem with credit cards is that the interest rate is often very high at 15 to 20% + and according to the NASB, 71% of small and medium-sized businesses are carrying balances from month to month. This has grown from 64% in 2000. The amount of interest expense carried thus obviously affects profitability and cash flow. If credit cards are used as the principal source of financing, the situation is even worse because the amount borrowed is often higher in this case.
The advantage of credit cards is that there are no barriers to this form of borrowing. This is easy money to obtain. There is no system of checks and balances to ensure that the purpose for which the financing is being carried out is qualified by formal business planning and review.
Earnings of the Business
This may seem a bit obvious, but plowing cash back into the firm from earnings is a form of financing. It is important to keep that in mind, because the cash that becomes available from operations could alternatively be used as a distribution to owners or shareholders. Some of these owners may require that they receive distributions. Depending on the stage of the business, this could have deleterious effects on the business, with respect to growth.
Putting money back into the business should be done consciously, with a clear idea for what specifically the money will be used. If the money is getting put back strictly to grow inventory, it may take a much longer time to grow the business. However, if the money is getting put back to invest in systems and people that represent critical choke points in the current business operations, that is a much better plan for higher growth.
Line of Credit
This could come in the form of a business asset or home secured loan. This means that the bank will utilize the company's property (equipment, building, accounts receivables) or personal property (usually your home) to ensure that they will obtain significant value in the event that you default on your loan. This is also a much easier form of loan to obtain however is best used for incremental financing not a major infusion of cash.
One of the best strategies early in the business is to establish good relationships with a community bank in your area with assets around $100 to $200 million. Ideally, their investments in the sub-prime mortgage business are limited so that their interest in lending in general is not tainted. Discuss your business and forthcoming lending interests with the individual that has the final say so on the loan approval. Unsecured loans will be the only option for new businesses and usually have serious limitations on the amount that can be financed and usually comes with higher interest rates.
Private Equity Firms
These are venture capital or private investors that will invest in your business in return for some direct control (or say so) into company matters so that they can extract the return that they expect from your company. This requires that you carefully choose from people/firms with whom you develop a good rapport and that are familiar with your type of business.
Private equity is a good choice for small businesses that need to move to the next level due to limitations on the current business that presents obstacles to growth. This is because, the firms that will invest their money will want to see a good operating and financial track record before they inject their money.
Good advice for small companies at this level is to hire an investment banker. Although this carries a cost to achieve this financing, it allows the banker to attend to this specialized form of financing and allow you to keep focused on running your business. One thing is certain, you will be required to complete a formal business plan for this option.