Growing up in the Midwest to working-class parents, my family did not believe in debt. At first, it was my father who worked hard to provide for me and my siblings—waking up early and working late. I can't remember him ever taking a day off, even when he was sick. As an entrepreneur, I've carried on that mentality, especially when it came to funding for small businesses.
As I started my career, I began to realize that debt wasn't always bad and in fact there are certain times (and certain industries) where debt is needed to start and grow your business. When that's the case, finding funding sources that meet your needs is critical.
If you are seeking funding for small businesses, there are a few routes you can take to meet your goals.
Personal Finances or Family and Friends
When I left corporate and ventured out to start my own female-focused branding and marketing agency Tote + Pears, I had a vision. More importantly, I had a plan—one that included a financial foundation from which to draw the resources I needed to get my business off the ground.
Most entrepreneurs have to dig deep into their own pockets when they're just starting out, and that can be a scary step, especially if you are in a position where your family or partners are depending on you. But it can also be empowering to know that you are in control of your business and future.
Taking the time to research which programs fit your business best may yield the financial support you need to get started.
To maintain control when financing a business on your own, budgeting and planning become an integral part of the process. The standard practice is to have at least a year's worth of savings at your disposal. Make sure you are able to cover your basic living expenses, start to tighten up on spending and prepare for some ups and downs. After you establish where you are and what is needed, you'll have a good sense of whether or not you are in a position to fund a small business on your own.
That said, it is also common to need outside support. Try starting with your circle. Family and friends can be your biggest champions. They know your heart, your background and have insight into your potential.
Oftentimes funding for small businesses starts with those trusted relationships. Reaching out can be challenging, especially if you are used to doing things on your own. It helps to remember that nobody makes it alone. All successful businesses started somewhere, often with the support of close friends and partnerships. So go ahead and paint the picture for your network of family and friends. Then, set boundaries and have a finite and realistic plan for repayment. With the right processes in place, family and friends can provide the small business funding you need to launch and grow.
Small Business Funding
Business loans are a more traditional approach to small business funding. With a strong business plan and an in-depth expense sheet, you can demonstrate your preparedness for a loan and, if granted, maintain independent control of your business while you pay it off.
I steered away from this option due to my initial hesitancy about debt. However, as a woman entrepreneur and a business owner of color, there are some very compelling small business funding opportunities available. If you are looking for ways to finance small businesses, it is certainly worth researching your eligibility for certain small business loans.
It is also worth noting that some minority entrepreneurs notoriously have a harder time gaining funding from banking institutions. Also, some businesses may appear too risky to lenders. But loans from the bank are not the only option. There are small-business development programs that offer loans, even when the bank doesn't. Taking the time to research which programs fit your business best may yield the financial support you need to get started. Often, finding funding for your small business can be a matter of seeking out the right match.
Grants, Angel Investors or Venture Capital
Finding a match is the name of the game when it comes to applying for a grant or attracting investors. However, if you are willing to take the necessary steps, all three options provide non-repayable small business funding.
Applying for a grant from the government or a foundation requires that you meet certain criteria: Grant programs often want to see that your business will provide a service or product connected to their initiatives. If your business is a good candidate, this funding option may provide a solution that is mutually beneficial.
Angel investors and venture capital firms can also offer big money. They are looking for a stand-out idea and a sharp business plan. Finding the right fit can be a challenge, especially because both require that you give up some equity in your business. For many entrepreneurs who want to maintain their vision for their business, giving up or sharing control with investors is not ideal. However, if you can make adjustments and find the right connection, angel investors and VC firms have the resources to provide funding for your business that will allow it to grow in ways you may not have been able to achieve on your own.
It takes vision to build a business from the ground up. But you need money to grow. Finding funding for small businesses is the first step to bringing the vision to life, and ensuring that you are able to maintain success.
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