It’s often easier to get started with a franchise compared to an independent business because a franchise comes with a proven concept, brand recognition, and customer base. Although the success rates of individual franchises vary widely, as a whole, franchises perform better than independent businesses in the long run. According to a report by the International Franchise Association, about 12,000 franchises open their doors every year!
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?)
Banks and credit unions are traditional sources for small business loans, and they’re a good place to start. Especially with small institutions, you’ll be able to meet with a lender who can guide you through the process. Larger banks might take a more hands-off approach. To improve your chances of getting approved, ask about SBA loans, which reduce the bank’s risk and feature interest rate caps. The loan process at banks and credit unions can be slow, so be prepared for a long process and a thorough review from the bank.
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.