Market research is important because it will help you figure out whether or not there is demand for the service you’re offering or the product you’re selling. It will also help you when it comes time to write your business plan, especially if you’re pitching an angel investor or a venture capital firm. They will want to see there’s a market for your idea, otherwise, it won’t scale as rapidly as they need it to in order to make a return on their investment.
Never start a business as a “sole proprietorship,” which can result in your personal assets being at risk for the debts and liabilities of the business. You will almost always want to start the business as an S corporation (giving you favorable flow through tax treatment), a C corporation (which is what most venture capital investors expect to see), or a limited liability company (LLC). None of those are particularly expensive or difficult to set up. My personal preference is to start the business as an S corporation, which can then easily be converted to a C corporation as you bring in investors and issue multiple classes of stock.
If you prefer a little more guidance as you search out a franchise opportunity, consider hiring a consultant to locate the perfect opportunity. Consultants gather information on your financial situation and preferences and give you a few options that fit. However, make sure you’re working with a reputable franchise consultant. Ask questions about franchisees they’ve successfully helped and contact those franchisees as references.
Despite these indicators, financing remains a problem for potential franchise owners. According to Entrepreneur magazine (January 2013), there’s still an 18 percent lending shortfall in the franchising industry. In a bid to boost franchise ownership, many franchisors are taking matters into their own hands and offering financing programs of their own. Meineke, The UPS Store, Gold’s Gym, Masasge Envy and Instant Imprints are just a few examples of franchisors now offering financing to qualifying first-time and multi-store franchise owners.
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.
Franchises are worth considering because opening a business can be risky, especially if you don’t have prior experience juggling all the things that come with it. You’ll need to choose a name and image for your brand, make sure you have the right staff and build a full suite of products or services to meet demand. Even if you have mentors or a network of friends who are small business owners, you’ll often find that you’re struggling with important decisions.
Small business term loans. Term loans are typically for a set dollar amount (e.g., $250,000) and are used for business operations, capital expenditures, or expansion. Interest is paid monthly and the principal is usually repayable within 6 months to 3 years (which can be amortized over the term of the loan or have a balloon payment at the end). Term loans can be secured or unsecured, and the interest can be variable or fixed. They are good for small businesses that need capital for growth or for large, onetime expenditures.
Government small business loans help put your own business within reach. First there’s the quest for a decent location, then comes building a customer base, followed by all the initial hiccups of generating a cash flow before your business grows roots and gains momentum. The beginning of a business is crucial because it’s when you gain or lose market credibility. If you disappoint your customers, they may not give you a second chance. If your business gets off to a rocky start (most do), and you believe you can recover but need further financing to make this happen, you can apply for government small business loans.
StumbleUpon recently published an excellent business plan guide; also consider reviewing startup information provided by the IRS. Help from experienced mentors is free through organizations such as SCORE, an organization of volunteer business mentors who provide specific advice and resources to newly created and growing businesses on a no-cost basis. There are many other organizations, such as your local chamber of commerce, that can also provide mentoring and guidance.
A Rollover for Business Startups (ROBS) lets you take retirement funds from a 401(k), traditional IRA, or other eligible retirement account and invest them in your franchise, without having to pay taxes or an early withdrawal penalty. You can fund all or part of your business through a ROBS. Funds from a ROBS can be used as a down payment on larger financing, like an SBA loan, or to bridge the gap between other piecemeal loan financing options, like equipment leases, etc. Funds from a ROBS can also be used for franchise fees, consulting fees, and other costs that traditional loans often can’t be used for.
Startups requiring a lot more funding up front may want to consider an investor. Investors usually provide several million dollars or more to a fledgling company, with the expectation that the backers will have a hands-on role in running your business. Alternatively, you could launch an equity crowdfunding campaign to raise smaller amounts of money from multiple backers.
Part of the reason we spent a full day researching and figuring out location has to do with what it will cost you to start. If you’re working from home and not seeing clients, you may find your startup costs are limited to marketing, stationery, any supplies, and legal. If not, you’re going to need enough to set aside for at least the first months rent and utilities of the new space, including all the amenities to outfit your new office.
There are several loan programs aimed at helping first-time entrepreneurs set up their business. The Small Business Administration (SBA) operates the loan programs offered by the U.S. government. To qualify for the loan, your business must meet some criteria such as your business must operate in the United States, your business must qualify as a small business according to SBA guidelines, you must operate for profit and you should have a good credit score.
You also will need to file certain forms to fulfill your federal and state income tax obligations. The forms you need are determined by your business structure. A complete list of the forms each type of entity will need can be found on the SBA website. You can also find state-specific tax obligations there. Some businesses may also require federal or state licenses and permits to operate. You can use the SBA's database to search for licensing requirements by state and business type.
Plum Alley was founded by Deborah Jackson, who had over two decades of experience raising capital for businesses, in 2012 as a crowdfunding platform for women-run businesses that needed extra funding. In 2015, Plum Alley Investors emerged as a way to connect women-owned businesses with investors who want to invest specifically in women-run businesses. Plum Alley is unique in that their investors are dedicated to investing in women-centric businesses, and they help women gain access to the capital they need.
However, despite the tendency of commercial banks to favor franchise businesses, you are still subject to the bank's underwriting and lending policies. The bank still has to review your net worth and credit history to determine whether you can pay back the loan advanced to your business. In some cases, you may also have to provide collateral to secure your business loan.
One of their loan programs is the SBA 8(a) business development program. According to their website, SBA’s 8(a) business development program is specifically dedicated to providing business assistance to entrepreneurs who are members of a socially and/or economically disadvantaged minority group who need help accessing mainstream economic capital. This program is divided into two sections and requires a nine-year commitment. The first four years are dedicated to development, and the remaining five years are a transition stage.
The loan officer takes your application, and in some cases, all of the applications she has received during a set time period, to a credit committee, and the committee determines whether or not a loan gets approved. This is why it’s so important to have the loan officer on your side–you need someone standing up for you in front of the credit committee when you can’t be present.
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