One type of financing you'll want to think twice about is a home equity loan. While you'll be personally responsible for repaying any loan your business takes out if you are a sole proprietor or a co-signer, a home equity loan carries a level of risk that unsecured debt doesn't. Your credit could be hurt if your business doesn't repay money you borrowed, but your house isn't at risk in most circumstances unless you've taken a home equity loan.
Microlenders: If your company is especially small, you may need to opt for a microlender. These are non-profits that typically lend short-term loans of less than $35,000. They also have a much higher APR than bank loans but may be useful by helping you bridge a temporary cash-flow gap. Microlenders require detailed business plans and financial statements, so be prepared for some serious paperwork.
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.
The idea here is to get clear about what’s important to you, where exactly your passion lies, and what the point of the whole venture is. As a small business owner, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of paying bills, writing the website copy, changing the website copy several dozen times, filling out tax forms, and so on. Don’t lose sight of the big picture.
Becoming a small business owner has unique challenges and rewards that aren’t right for everyone. You must be driven, disciplined and able to identify a product or service that people need — one that they will pay enough for to allow you to live comfortably. You have to develop marketing skills and be able to find your own work, because it won’t fall into your lap until after you’re well established. Business owners need to understand how to budget, keep records and handle small business taxes. They must familiarize themselves with employment laws if they want to hire staff. They also need a plan for protecting their business and everything that’s tied to it if something goes wrong. (For more, see Are You An Entrepreneur?)
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.
Small business owners are passionate about their ideas and tend to get excited about the little details, leaving the financials alone in the back of their business plan. It’s a mistake to put your financial information as an appendix or otherwise in the back because “it says that finance is not important,” advises Shelton. Your lender wants to feel comfortable that you have a plan for managing your finances, including paying back your loan, so keep your financial information up front in your business plan.
You should approach small-business-loan shopping just as you would shopping for a car, says Suzanne Darden, a business consultant at the Alabama Small Business Development Center. Once you determine which type of lender and financing vehicle are right for you, compare two or three similar options based on annual percentage rate (total borrowing cost) and terms. Of the loans you qualify for, choose the one with the lowest APR, as long as you are able to handle the loan’s regular payments.