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.