Finding the capital you need to get your business started may be easier than you think.
By Max Berry
You've come up with a business idea; you've done the necessary research and written a sure-fire business plan. Now what's the next step? Finding the money to turn that business plan into reality. There is a wide array of potential sources of funding available to entrepreneurs. Each comes with advantages and downsides.
All in the Family
Friends and family members are often the first place a budding business owner turns to when looking for money to start his or her company. “Your family is a great starting place for a loan,” says Skip Honigstein, chairman of the Orlando chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). “If you have a strong idea, the first people you are most likely to persuade are those who know you the best.” Honigstein notes that family lending is particular common among many immigrant communities, in which families often work together to launch new businesses. “You’re also likely to get much more favorable repayment terms from close relatives than you would from any bank,” he adds. If your family can’t fund your fledgling company directly, they may still be able to help obtain funding from a bank or other financial institution by guaranteeing a loan. Ted Waitt co-founded Gateway Computer in 1985 with a $10,000 loan guaranteed by his grandmother. Today Gateway has revenues of almost $4 billion a year and employs over 1,600 people.
Of course seeking money from family members and close friends has its risks as well. "Money issues can poison what were once close relationships," says business consultant C. Davis Fogg. Being in debt to the bank is one thing, feeling indebted to a family member or friend is a much more personal experience. “If your business runs into trouble and is slow to repay a loan—or unable to repay altogether—that can create serious problems with the family members who gave you the money. Remember, you don't have to spend Thanksgiving with your bank.”
"If your business runs into trouble and is slow to repay a loan—or unable to repay altogether—that can create serious problems with the family members who gave you the money. Remember, you don't have to spend Thanksgiving with your bank."
Play Your Cards Right
Increasingly, budding entrepreneurs are turning to the easiest form of borrowing around—credit cards. "Many people use their personal credit cards to start a business,” Honigstein says. “Credit cards offer a quick and convenient way to purchase needed assets while spreading out the costs over time.” Nevertheless, like any other borrowing instrument, credit cards demand careful use. “You need to watch the balances and make certain not to take on more debt than you can handle." Interest rates on credit cards often rise after certain debt levels have been reached, as well as in the event of a late or missed payment, which can cause your debt to increase rapidly.
“There are genuine advantages to using credit cards wisely,” says Gerri Detweiler, author of The Ultimate Credit Handbook. “Credit cards also provide convenient billing statements that allow you to track expenses,” she adds. However, using personal credit cards can negate that advantage by mixing your personal finances too closely with those of your business. “If you are late with a payment or run too high a balance on a personal card that you are using to run your business, your credit rating will suffer.” That can hurt you in the long term if you need to borrow money for non-business related reasons—car loans and home mortgages, for instance. Detweiler advises trying to separate your business and personal finances as soon as possible.
“Most banks and other lenders are working hard to recruit new small business customers,” she says. “So as soon as you file the forms with the state to open your business, you may find yourself deluged with business credit card offers.” Detweiler says that business credit cards will help insulate your personal credit rating from any trouble your business experiences. (To find and compare business credit card rates, try searching my3cents.com or bankrate.com.) Many business credit cards offer some form of rewards program for specific purchases that can result in considerable savings on items like office supplies. “You should definitely take advantage of rewards programs,” Detweiler says. She adds that having more than one business credit card is often useful because the rewards programs and rates and fees vary significantly between different cards.
The Traditional Approach
Beyond family and credit cards, there is still the traditional bank loan. Many first time entrepreneurs are wary of approaching a bank with plans for a new business, assuming that they will be rejected, but today most banks are eagerly looking for small business accounts. “Banks are going out of their way to find new businesses,” says SCORE’s Honigstein. “But you will still have to demonstrate to them that your idea is workable and that you are a good risk.” That means providing them with a well-conceived, well-researched, clearly written business plan. “Your presentation to the bank needs to be professional in every way,” Honigstein advises.
Among other things, banks will scrutinize your financial history, including your credit record. So make certain you have resolved any outstanding issues before applying for a loan. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has a program to assist entrepreneurs with the process of obtaining a new loan and works with participating financial institutions to provide small business loans for startups. You can learn more about the SBA small business loan program at sba.gov.
Max Berry is an Associate Editor/Writer for Business 24/7 Magazine.