For years I have read the popular business magazines, all having so called experts write articles for entrepreneurs on how to finance their business. “The top 10 strategies for financing your start-up”, “How the SBA can help your small business”, “Personal credit is the key for entrepreneurs” and so on. In most cases I’m willing to bet those writing these articles are journalists that have never had a successful start-up. How can I come to that conclusion you may ask? Because of the bad advice they give.
Going to the SBA for a loan, using your retirement funds, tapping all your personal credit cards or giving up 75% of your idea to an investor are all ideas I have read from the popular magazines. The thing is, in every one of these cases you are using your personal credit and not separating you from your business. You are putting 100% of your credit and assets at risk.
I have worked with thousands of small business owners who have been very successful without the need to use their personal credit cards, retirement funds or fill out stacks of paperwork and wait months for a response from SBA backed banks. In fact I have seen entrepreneurs with access to hundreds of thousands of dollars without giving up a percentage of their company or having any of the money show up on a personal credit report. Sounds good right? Well, there is one catch. You will need to go through the evolution of financing your business. You can’t start at the end. This is the problem with most entrepreneurs. They want fast results and aren’t willing to wait. By taking the quick fix they give up ownership and put their personal credit at risk.
The evolution of business financing starts with a solid foundation for your business. A solid foundation is comprised of several parts. The first of which is structuring your business entity appropriately. I recommend to every entrepreneur that you use a Sub Chapter S-Corporation, C-Corporation or Limited Liability Company to operate the business. This is the first step in separating the business owner from the business. The next phase of building the solid foundation is to ensure the business is in compliance with the lending markets. Several business owners are surprised when I tell them most lenders we work with when reviewing a credit application will first call directory assistance to see if your phone number is listed. It’s a simple check, but it’s the first flag that will be raised for them if the business isn’t listed. Why would a lender finance a company that doesn’t want anyone to find them?
There are hundreds of other due diligence phases that a company must go through in order to ensure the owner and business are not considered “high-risk” for obtaining credit and financing. The more a business has in place to show that it is a real business the more likely a lender will grant credit to that company.
The second step in the evolution of small business financing is to define what the business does, what makes it unique and why it will be successful. The business owner must create a one-page “sales pitch” for the business, also referred to as an executive summary. The executive summary can be used when applying for credit, seeking investors and developing marketing campaigns.
Business owners need to keep in mind when seeking financing that the most important thing for a business is to produce a profit. Without revenue there will be no profit. Marketing the business will help produce the revenue and the executive summary will help create the marketing.
Third, a company must build a business credit report separate from the owner’s personal credit. By working with trade credit, the single largest source of lending in the entire world, a small business can tap into limitless leverage for buying goods and services they need to start, run and grow the company. The beautiful thing about trade credit is in many cases it’s free money. If a vendor grants terms of net 30, a business owner has the ability to use the vendors goods or services for 30 days without interest before they need to pay the vendor. The other wonderful part of trade credit is that there are companies offering products and services small business owners need who will report the credit to a business credit bureau. The reporting of the trade line will create a business credit profile separate from the personal credit of the business owner. Eventually the business will be able to access more and more credit under the business name only if it maintains a positive business credit score.
The more credit received under the business name the more likely other companies will grant that business credit. No one wants to be the first in line to grant a business $50,000 in credit, but if others already have they will be more inclined.
Fourth, is to use the owner’s positive personal credit score in combination with a positive business credit score as leverage for obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars in unsecured lines of credit for the business. The key is to do this with lenders that don’t report the accounts to the personal credit bureaus but rather the business credit bureaus. Many banks offer business lines of credit and loans, however finding the right type of product from these banks can be tricky. A business owner needs to make sure the loan or credit line they apply for reports only to the business bureau.
By keeping business debt separated from the personal credit report, a business owner has the ability to keep their personal credit score high. The more a business owner uses their personal credit in the business, the lower the score will drop. Credit scores determine the ability to buy homes, rates on car insurance, and several other factors. Keeping a personal credit score above 720 is extremely helpful in the business owner’s personal and business life.
The fifth stage of the business financing evolution is to look at other alternative financing the business may be able to obtain. Leasing is one key area. Why use precious cash reserves to buy equipment or software when you can make a small monthly payment? In addition 100% of the payment on the lease is expensed.
The final stage deals with investors. The majority of investors don’t want to look at companies unless they have already progressed through the business evolution stages outlined above. Keep in mind that an investor is not just investing in a business they are investing in the business owner as well. If the business owner has tapped every available resource for credit and cash personally and never taken the time to establish business credit, financing or lease arrangements an investor will toss that company’s proposal in the garbage quickly.
Not every business owner will find themselves at the stage they need an investor. They may have a combination of enough cash-flow, credit and financing in place from the early stages that they won’t need additional capital. However, if a business needs to grow with the help of additional capital or financing there are two typical ways an investor will look at the deal.
The first is through debt financing and the second equity financing. Debt financing with an investor is where they provide a loan to the business in exchange for a pre-determined amount of interest. Equity financing is where an investor puts money into a business in exchange for ownership. There can also be a combination of debt and equity.
The majority of small business owners believe this is where they should start, with the investor. In reality this is the last place a business owner should look. Investors want to use their money to grow a business by having the money spent on revenue generating activities. The typical small business owner that goes to an investor says “I need a million dollars to start my business.” When asked what they’re going to use the money for they say, “start-up costs and payroll”. This is where the investor walks away. No investor wants to fund a project so the business owner can make payroll, buy office furniture, equipment or office supplies.
This is the perfect example of the evolution of business financing. The company starts out as an idea, then structure is put in place. Next, the business becomes real with licenses and a sign outside the building. Next, the business creates an identity with the right message. Then the business obtains trade credit that separates the personal and business credit in order to obtain larger lines of unsecured credit. All of which is used to build the infrastructure of the business without maxing out all the available credit for the business or business owner. Last, the business has the ability to seek investors because it has done everything required to create the solid foundation.