If you’re like the majority of new startups, cash flow will be your primary concern. You can have the best business plan in the world, but it won’t be of any use if you don’t have the money to keep the lights on while you’re getting your feet on the ground. With this, it’s important to know what resources are available to make the initial growth period a lot easier.
Although you’ll often need to make a specific financial commitment and meet certain regulations to open a franchise, there’s a lot you get in return. You’ll get the built-in name recognition that brings customers in, as well as guidance on everything from hiring to keeping local regulators happy. Before you get started, there are a few important things to know.
Are you thinking about starting a small business, freelancing, or turning a hobby into a full-time job? Or perhaps you're already running your own business and need some inspiration to take it to the next level. Each week, join small business coach Dave Crenshaw for two short lessons that reveal the secrets of running a successful small business. This series covers topics such as getting started, writing a business plan, determining your most valuable product or service, hiring people, managing processes, documenting systems, bootstrapping, seeking funding, accounting, controlling costs and profit margins, marketing, creating culture, and more.
So think about how you can diversify your own business. Think about the risks you’re subject to, the technologies you’re dependent on, and how changes in the competitive landscape could blow you off course. Then come up with ways in which you can create multiple income streams, so that if one product or service is no longer popular, others can pick up the slack.
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.
The Small Business Association (SBA) has several financing programs available for businesses, including startups, and works with banks around the country to guarantee loans so small businesses can secure bank loans and get up and running quickly. The SBA works with entrepreneurs who do not have great personal credit, making it more likely that they can still start their business even with a less than perfect credit score. Visit SBA.gov to find out more about how the SBA can help you and get information for your region.
It’s useful to come up with a business plan to think through what you want to do for the development of the product or service, marketing, financial projections, and more. And you should then get input from trusted business and finance advisors. But don’t go overboard with a 50-page business plan. In reality, many startups have to deviate from their plan as the business develops.
3. Leverage social media. Let’s face it, everyone is on social media these days, and the majority of traffic still occurs on Facebook. If you are not using Facebook for your business, create a page today. You are leaving an opportunity on the table if you don’t. There has been a shift the past few years with more and more retirees joining the social media world. I guess they realize that if they want to keep up with their kids, grandkids, friends and neighbors, they better get with the program. In fact, retirees are often my best brand ambassadors and help promote our events.
An investor looks for a more high-risk opportunity to get a higher reward and will put their money in established businesses that have the potential for high growth. Investors generally expect to be involved in the business in the form of a seat on the board of directors or some other role in which they have a say in how the business is managed. For the most part, investors want to get in on a company while it is in its early growth stage, and they get out once the business has reached a certain level of growth.
The lender will want to know how much funding you are seeking and how the loan proceeds will be used. Will the loan be for equipment or capital expenditures? Expansion or hiring? Increase in inventory? Enhanced sales and marketing efforts? New research and development of technology? New product development? Expansion into new facilities or territories?
Tenant improvements. Your new space may need some improvements or alterations (a new paint job, new carpeting, a reconfiguration of the space). Which party will pay for these improvements depends on how tight the commercial office space market is in your city. Most form leases stipulate that the tenant can’t make any alterations or improvements without the landlord’s consent. Ask for a clause that says you can make alterations or improvements with the landlord’s consent, and that the consent won’t be unreasonably withheld, delayed, or conditioned. Often, you are able to negotiate a “tenant improvement allowance,” which is an agreed-upon sum of money that the landlord will provide for the improvements and alterations you would like to make.
Your first option is to change your business model to demand fewer needs as listed above. For example, if you were planning on starting a company as a consultant or freelancer, you could reduce your “employee” expenses by being the sole employee at the start. Unless you need office space, you can work from home. You can even do your homework to find cheaper sources of supplies, or cut out entire product lines that are too expensive to produce at the outset.
Equipment loans. If you’re specifically looking for cash to fund the purchase of new equipment – including vehicles, manufacturing or production machinery, farming equipment, or other necessary equipment – then an equipment loan or leasing program may be what you need. Like business loans, equipment loans offer fixed interest rates and payment plans over a period of time.
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.
Karen Newell at Key Commercial Capital exhibits an exceptional level of professionalism and grit, which is truly refreshing in an industry where both qualities are often lacking among small business funding resources. I love working with Karen because I can rely on her to provide timely, accurate and succinct updates about my funding candidates. I enthusiastically recommend Karen for any and all of your business funding candidates!
If you own the business entirely by yourself and plan to be responsible for all debts and obligations, you can register for a sole proprietorship. Be warned that this route can directly affect your personal credit. Alternatively, a partnership, as its name implies, means that two or more people are held personally liable as business owners. You don't have to go it alone if you can find a business partner with complimentary skills to your own.
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.
When starting out, your product or service has to be at least good if not great. It must be differentiated in some meaningful and important way from the offerings of your competition. Everything else follows from this key principle. Don’t drag your feet on getting your product out to market, since early customer feedback is one of the best ways to help improve your product. Of course, you want a “minimum viable product” (MVP) to begin with, but even that product should be good and differentiated from the competition. Having a “beta” test product works for many startups as they work the bugs out from user reactions. As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook has said, “Done is better than perfect.”
So it pays to have a comfortable cushion, just in case things don’t pan out as expected. And it’s much easier and cheaper to arrange funding when times are good than it is when you’re desperate. Of course, you don’t want to be paying interest on unnecessary debt either, but there are funding options, like lines of credit, that you only pay for when you activate them. In any case, it’s worth researching your options early on.
Franchises are consistently vulnerable to cash flow issues thanks to the many mandatory expenses they face all throughout the year. On top of operational expenses and growth-related investments, franchises must obey the fee guidelines of their parent company, or “Franchisor.” Royalty and advertising fees are deducted from weekly or monthly sales. Some franchise owners must pay for new employees to undergo special training programs. Certain upgrades might be required for specific dates, and the national marketing campaigns that come from the aforementioned deduction must usually be supplemented by local advertising.
If you are an expanding business and need money for relocation and/or renovation, you’ll be looking for a term loan, which is essentially a lump sum of cash that will be paid back within a set amount of time. Depending on what you expect for the long-term when you are in a growth stage, you may be looking for investors rather than lenders at this point.
Qualifying for an SBA loan as a new business isn’t easy. You generally need to have a strong credit score (ideally above 680), some collateral, and a 10-20% down payment. However, a large percentage of SBA loans go to franchises because lenders can easily access loan performance data for franchises and predict the franchise’s ability to pay back the loan.
SBA loans of five- to six-year maturities can provide short-term working capital and equipment. Real-estate loans can run for 20 years or more. About 10% of all SBA loans go to franchisees, with the size running between $250,000 and $500,000, and maximum of $2 million. Most of that money is for franchise entry fees, improvements or working capital. Borrowers must be creditworthy, typically must contribute some equity, and are expected to repay the SBA loan out of the franchise’s cash flow.
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.
The challenge is even greater for franchise owners looking to open new locations. They must pay a “franchise fee” amounting to tens of thousands of dollars, and the aforementioned deductions begin as soon as the new location opens its doors. Combine these expenses with inevitabilities like new equipment or furniture and you can see why business loans are popular for franchises. Multiple large expenses can easily pile up at the same time, making it extremely difficult to raise profits or save money.
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.