Start-up financing is the initial infusion of money that advances an idea or an intention into something tangible. It is appropriate for any business. Even though it’s everywhere, it’s sometimes difficult to find.
It’s best use is for commencing initial operation to the point where outside investors can see and feel the venture, as well as understand that you took some risk getting it to that point.
Startup financing will possess two of the following three qualities: good, cheap and fast. It will never possess all three qualities. How easy it is to get depends on two things. If you have nothing, it’s difficult. If you have personal assets, the hard part is putting them at risk. But doing so is the rite of passage to both success and failure.
If you’re starting a business, it’s your baby. This idea may leave you feeling simultaneously liberated and inspired. But it also has an edge. Specifically, if it’s your baby, it’s also your obligation to finance it beyond the “I’ve got an idea” stage.
How do you get that first dollop of funds that will either advance your idea to the point where it can attract outside capital, or perhaps jump-start you into profitable operations? Here are some options:
- Sell Assets. If you own things, you can sell them. It’s that simple. Jewelry, rugs, pool tables, boats, time-shares, second properties–the list goes on. Most people’s largest assets are their homes and cars. Homes are covered later. Here’s what you can do with automobiles.
- Borrow Against Your Home. This is the oldest trick in the book. It’s also one of the best because you can exert almost total control over the process. Here’s how it works: Say you need $50,000, your home is worth $250,000 and you owe the bank $100,000 on your mortgage. You can borrow against the equity, in this case $150,000.
- Borrow Against Insurance Policies. If you want to know where all your money goes, look at your insurance payments. Each month you probably pay for health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, auto insurance and perhaps homeowner’s insurance. Unfortunately, you can only borrow against whole life policies, but most have some cash value after three years.
- Friends and Family. Friends and family present a formidable source of capital. Your typical friend or family investor is male, has been successful in his own business and wants to invest because he wishes someone had done it for him, according to Kirk Neiswander, senior vice president of Enterprise Development Inc., a nonprofict subsidiary of Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland. But, take the following steps to protect everyone from each other:
- Get an agreement in writing. This will eliminate all conversations that start with, “You never said that.”
- Emphasize debt (loans) rather than equity (ownership). You don’t want friends and family in your company forever. Before you know it, they start telling you how to run the place, and long-buried emotions emerge. Make it a loan, and pay it back as fast as you can.
- Put some cash flow on their investment. If Dad says, “Here’s $50,000–try not to lose it, and pay it back as soon as you can,” that’s great. But consider paying some nominal interest at regular intervals so that you and he have a reality check. And it’s better to pay this quarterly rather than monthly. This way, when things are teetering, your lender won’t immediately know it.
- Borrow Against Your Investments. If you’re starting your business part time while keeping your full-time job, a potentially stable investment is borrowing against your employer’s 401(k) retirement plan. It’s common for such plans to let you borrow a percentage of your money that doesn’t exceed $50,000.
- Credit Cards. They’re not terribly creative. But credit cards are quick and easy. In a perverse way, they are also cheap. That is, a minimum payment of $50 per month can hold down a whole lot of debt. Of course, if you only make the minimum payment, your balance continues to grow, and if the business fails, you have to pay the piper. But if things go well and the business pays off the balances without missing a beat, then you look back at your early credit card financing with a nostalgic fondness, and perhaps a twinge of longing for simpler days.