“It takes money to make money.” That saying is somewhat true. To create or expand your business empire you will need some funding to cover your expenses until your income comes in. That may take 2 months or 2 years, and it may require $200 or $200,000. The money can always be found, one way or another, but you need the right method for you.
Money comes from three sources, each with its own benefits, dangers, and costs. You will likely use two, if not all three of these types over the course of your enterprise — and you must understand each to evaluate which will work for you today, tomorrow, and 5 years from now.
#1 Method: Self Financing
When business owners have cash on hand, they typically look to their own bank account first as a simple form of financing. Self financing can be broken down two different ways, each with their own considerations. First, there are two types of self financing: lump-sum and bootstrapping. Second, self-financing can come from you, personally, or can come from your current business that finances another business, venture, service, or product line.
Lump-sum financing is when you have a fixed amount of money from the sale of a business or investment, an inheritance, personal savings, 401(k) cash-out (rarely a good idea) or other amount of cash that can be used to finance a business venture. The amount you have available is relatively fixed and can be viewed and tracked as a one-time investment.
Bootstrapping is constantly used by most small businesses, usually without conscious knowledge. Bootstrapping is where you pay for the new or expanding business through cash flow coming in from another source. The other source may be your day job, your spouse or partner’s job or business, a profitable business or product line, or passive investments (real estate, mutual funds, and bond).
Self-financing works when you need a small amount of money, when you have a large amount of money available, when you are comfortable with risk, or when you need money quickly. It also works when a profitable business can absorb investing in a new venture until the new venture takes off; assuming adequate cash flow projections and tracking has been done to ensure the new venture is not a never-ending profit leach.
#2 Method: Debt Financing
Debt financing is obtaining money that must be paid back to the lender, usually with interest. Similar to self-financing, debt financing may include both using your personal credit as well as the credit and security of the business to obtain a loan or line of credit.
Personal debt financing is readily available to most business owners. If you have a decent credit rating, you can obtain credit cards, a home equity line of credit, or a loan, without informing the bank about your business. You may obtain a loan from a family member or friend who knows about your business venture but who may not demand as rigorous standards as a formal bank.
Businesses may also obtain credit cards, lines of credit, and loans from banks and credit unions. Loans that are secured by the Small Business Administration (SBA) are available through banks providing lines of credit to small businesses that may not be able to obtain credit without the SBA guarantee. Alternative debt financing options such as Prosper.com enable individuals and businesses with lower credit ratings to obtain financing from diverse sources. But these private loans will typically be at interest rates higher than SBA loans.
#3 Method: Equity Financing
Equity financing is giving away ownership (equity) in your business, and potential future profits, in exchange for money (capital) today.
Investors can come in the form of silent partners, family, friends, or private investors who speculate in new companies. Angel Funding, wealthy individuals and groups who invest in small, high growth companies, typically buy stakes in companies for a few hundred thousand dollars. Venture Capital firms and Investment Banks typically are looking for companies where they will invest millions of dollars.
If you are planning to seek private investors, Angel Funding, Investment Banks, or Venture Capital, you will likely need more sophisticated financial reporting than is covered in this book. You will also need more lawyers and accountants.
How do you decide which type of financing to pursue?
Most likely, one type of financing is obviously not right for you now. You will probably use two or even all three types of financing for any one business, and your choice may change over the life of the business as you expand and add new ventures. You may be able to weed out certain choices because they are not available — you don’t have cash or another income source (self), you don’t have a good personal credit rating (debt), or your business has no exit plan (equity).
For each decision, you must track the benefits (Return on Investment), and the costs (interest, fees, and lost profits) of each type of financing. As your business grows, you may need to add or switch financing as prior financing methods become too expensive, are exhausted, or do not produce a sufficient return.