“My credit is very strong and I owned my house outright. So when I realized the SBA loan would take too long, I decided to go to my personal bank and apply for a HELOC. The whole process took less than two weeks, the interest rates were great, and I never looked back. I was even allowed to use the HELOC for my franchise fee, which other financing wouldn’t allow.”
Crystalynn Shelton is a CPA and staff writer at Fit Small Business, specializing in small business Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Taxes. She is also an Adjunct Instructor at UCLA Extension where she has taught hundreds of small business owners how to setup and manage their books using QuickBooks for 8 years. Prior to joining Fit Small Business, Crystalynn was a Senior Learning Specialist at Intuit for 3 years and also ran her own QuickBooks consulting and training business. When Crystalynn isn’t writing or teaching, she enjoys rollerblading in Venice Beach and reading a good book.
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.
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.
Approximately 75 to 100 franchisors are offering or working on offering creative financing programs for start-up franchise owners or those looking to expand. Programs range from zero-percent financing for a limited-term, lower license fees, reduced royalties and minority stake ownership by franchisors in multi-unit outlets. Each brand has its own offering, so down payments and collateral requirements will vary.
Equipment loans. Small businesses can buy equipment through an equipment loan. This typically requires a down payment of 20% of the purchase price of the equipment, and the loan is secured by the equipment. Interest on the loan is typically paid monthly and the principal is usually amortized over a two- to four-year period. The loans can be used to buy equipment, vehicles, and software. Loan amounts normally range from $5,000 to $500,000, and can accrue interest at either a fixed or variable rate. Equipment loans can also sometimes be structured as equipment leases.
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.
A lender is primarily concerned about the ability of the borrower to repay the loan. To the extent that a security interest can be given to the lender on company assets (company equipment, property, accounts receivable, etc.), the borrower should be able to increase its chances of getting a loan on favorable terms. Some lenders may insist upon the personal guarantee of the principal owner of the business. That is best avoided if possible as it puts the owner’s personal assets, and not just the business assets, at risk.
Negotiate the startup and operating costs: When you buy a franchise, there is a pretty long list of things that you need to buy before you can open the doors to customers. The cost for such items will be noted in the Franchise Disclosure Document. If you negotiate, the franchisor may be willing to absorb the cost of some of these items for you, like discounting your franchise fee.
If the franchise you're considering doesn't offer equipment leasing, look into nonfranchise, nonbank companies that specialize in equipment leasing for franchises. These types of financing companies will often provide asset-based lending to finance franchisees' furniture, equipment, signs and fixtures, and will allow franchisees to purchase the equipment at the end of the lease. Keep in mind that you may lose some tax advantages under the current law if you lease that equipment.
If you need financial assistance, a commercial loan through a bank is a good starting point, although these are often difficult to secure. If you are unable to take out a bank loan, you can apply for a small business loan through the Small Business Administration (SBA) or an alternative lender. [See related story: Best Alternative Small Business Loans]
Traditional bank options include term loans, lines of credit and commercial mortgages to buy properties or refinance. Through banks, the U.S. Small Business Administration provides general small-business loans with its 7(a) loan program, short-term microloans and disaster loans. SBA loans range from about $5,000 to $5 million, with an average loan size of $371,000.