Jeff White is a staff writer and financial analyst at Fit Small Business, specializing in Small Business Finance. As a JD/MBA, he has spent the majority of his career either operating small businesses (in the retail and management consulting spaces) or helping them through M&A transactions. When he is not helping small businesses, he spends his time teaching his five kids how to become entrepreneurs.
If you start your company with co-founders, you should agree early on about the details of your business relationship. Not doing so can potentially cause significant legal problems down the road (a good example of this is the infamous Zuckerberg/Winklevoss Facebook litigation). In a way, think of the founder agreement as a form of “pre-nuptial agreement.” Here are the key deal terms your written founder agreement needs to address:
And don’t forget that unlike their independently-owned competitors, franchise owners don’t get to choose when to schedule expenses or which suppliers to work with. Their business model might have been passed down by the franchisor but it’s up to the franchise owner to figure out how to grow the business without endangering profits or failing to cover mandatory expenses.
At the early stages of your startup, you will likely want to have a small employee team to minimize expenses. A good way to fill in for specialized expertise is to use freelancers or consultants. That way, you avoid taking on employee costs and benefits payments. And there are a variety of sites that can help you access freelancers, such as Freelancer.com, Guru.com, and Upwork.com.
Accounts receivable financing. An accounts receivable line of credit is a credit facility secured by the company’s accounts receivable (AR). The AR line allows you to get cash immediately depending on the level of your accounts receivable, and the interest rate is variable. The AR line is paid down as the accounts receivable are paid by your customers.
Branding, services, promotions, products, pricing, prints, blogs, advertising, research and social media -- all of this is marketing. With all the marketing options out there, it can be difficult for small businesses to know what to do. Marketing is a concentrated effort to do push your brand across a variety of platforms and hope that enough makes it through to your customer. Customers need to hear your message several times, so brand, brand, brand! Here are some simple steps to help you market your small business:
More than anything, focus on consistent, repetitive branding. Many marketing professionals believe in the “rule of seven," which means people need to hear or see your message at least seven times before taking any action. In today’s world of constant connectivity, you must make sure you’re seen and heard. The most common reason that people do not buy your product is that they do not know about it yet.
Trademarks. A trademark right protects the symbolic value of a word, name, symbol, or device that the trademark owner uses to identify or distinguish its goods from those of others. Some well-known trademarks include the Coca-Cola trademark, American Express trademark, and IBM trademark. You obtain rights to a trademark by actually using the mark in commerce. You don’t need to register the mark to get rights to it, but federal registration does offer some advantages. You register a mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
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But even if you’re not an internet startup or these techniques don’t feel right to you, you can still take steps to get money coming in quickly. If you run a service-based business, you can structure contracts so that clients have to pay a certain amount up front or at agreed milestones, instead of all at the end. With long-running projects, this can make a big difference to your cash flow. You can also offer special discounts and limited-time offers for people who sign up as early customers.
Banks want to see a history of successful borrowing anytime they make a loan. That includes loans for your business. Unfortunately, many businesses don’t have any history of borrowing (especially new businesses), so lenders look at your personal credit scores instead. If you’ve got good credit, that’s a good sign that you’ll handle the business loans well. If you’ve got bad credit, lenders will be more skittish about lending. If your credit is “thin” because you haven’t borrowed much in the past (or if it’s in need of some repair), you may need to build your credit before lenders are likely to approve you for a loan.
Companies sometimes think that patent protection is the only way to protect themselves. Technology startups frequently ignore the value of non-patent intellectual property. While patents can be incredibly valuable, it does not necessarily ensure that a company’s product is a good product or that it will sell well. Trade secrets, cybersecurity policies, trademarks, and copyrights can all be forms of IP that can be protected.
If you do have people in your life who could invest in your business, getting a loan from friends and family is sometimes an option. Of course, for many entrepreneurs who are just starting out and in need of cash, this just isn’t a possibility. Either the amount they need is too high, or their circle of friends and family is small or possibly strapped for money themselves. It’s possible that your friends and family will think it’s too risky because of your bad credit as well.
SBA loans or loans that are backed by the Small Business Administration, a federal agency, do not typically need collateral. Even startups can get business loans without collateral through the SBA. Technically, banks or lenders will not decline your business loan application if you have no collateral. However, there has to be some kind of security. You may extend a personal guarantee. There could be some assets, whatever form and shape, which may have some tangible value and that can be attached to the loan as security.
Often, banks that aren't willing to work with you based on your financial profile become more amenable if you suggest working with an SBA loan guarantee; these loans are guaranteed up to 90 percent by the SBA. Small businesses simply submit a loan application to the lender for initial review, and if the lender finds the application acceptable, it forwards the application and its credit analysis to the nearest SBA office. After SBA approval, the lender closes the loan and disburses the funds; the borrower makes loan payments to the lender.
At some point nearly every franchise will seek a loan or working capital. Knowing your franchise financing options can be the difference between thousands of dollars saved or lost. If you are a franchise business owner seeking financing and need help understanding the options, please reach-out to one of our funding specialists and we’ll help you navigate the process.
The staff at Key Commercial Capital was wonderful. They made sure to explain all our options in detail and were always interested in the best for us. They verified our documents before submitting for approval to ensure everything was in order and that the application and closing process was as smooth as possible. They were also very responsive and available at all times. I will certainly be back on the next opportunity.
Direct online lenders. There are a number of online lenders that make small business loans through a relatively easy online process. Reputable companies such as Swift Capital provide very fast small business cash advances, working capital loans, and short-term loans in amounts from $5,000 to $500,000. Sites such as Fundera and LendingTree offer you access to multiple lenders, acting as a lead generation service for lenders.
Some franchising companies run their own franchise financing programs that help franchisees get in the door. Program offerings and requirements vary by franchisor, with such options as limited-term loans, reduced license fees or reduced royalties, and minority stake ownership by franchisors. Some companies, like Ace Hardware, offer financing to existing franchisees to open a new store or buy out a competitor.
That is why you should use an administrative service to manage your loan, and give you a professional platform to raise the money and make payments to. This can make it easier for people you know to lend money to your business, and you won’t have to worry about any of the paperwork or tax implications. It could also improve your chances at getting funded.
Short-term loans like the ones offered by OnDeck have higher rates and fees compared to longer-term loans. Effective interest rates start at 9.99%, and if you have a newer franchise and/or poor to fair credit, your rate will likely be higher than that. Nevertheless, OnDeck is one of the few reputable sources of short-term, unsecured business loans offered to franchise owners, and also one of the fastest. OnDeck is additionally one of the few online franchise lenders willing to lend to applicants with poor credit.
Type of loan. Many types of business loans need to be secured by collateral, whether that’s by your mortgage, investment accounts, vehicle, life insurance or other assets. You may find that while you still need to secure them, SBA loans come with better interest rates and requirements that aren’t as strict as other financing options. The fact that they’re guaranteed for up to 90% of their amount by the government gives lenders the confidence they need to make offers to customers who may be more risky borrowers.
If you own an existing franchise and are looking for working capital financing, then you’ll likely have even more options than you had when you started your business. These loans can be used to fund any business activity, such as to make payroll or to make equipment purchases. The table below shows some of the best options for working capital franchise financing and who each might be a good fit for.
Data as of March 2017. Comparison of longest average store hours in the regions (MSAs) in which TD Bank operates compared to major banks. Major banks include our top 20 national competitors by MSA, our top five competitors in store share by MSA and any bank with greater or equal store share than TD Bank in the MSA. Major banks do not include banks that operate in retail stores such as grocery stores, or banks that do not fall in an MSA.
Some franchisors report being approached by financial brokers--historically more interested in big deals--to put together large pools of money using SBA and private funds. These funds would be available to franchisees through the franchisors like a trust fund. Groups of smaller banks with funds to invest would contribute to the fund from all over the country.
Microlenders are nonprofits that typically lend short-term loans of less than $35,000. The APR on these loans is typically higher than that of bank loans. The application may require a detailed business plan and financial statements, as well as a description of what the loan will be used for, making it a lengthy process. Also, the size of the loans is, by definition, “micro.” But these loans may work well for smaller companies or startups that can’t qualify for traditional bank loans, due to a limited operating history, poor personal credit or a lack of collateral.