Smart Ways Entrepreneurs Can Finance Growth Using Debt
By Deborah L. Meyer | 5/17/2017, noon
Many entrepreneurs concentrate great effort on increasing sales, and they should. Yet, what if sales are not enough? Debt, when used properly, can be a powerful vehicle for realizing your business vision. Raising equity, or outside capital, is another way. Let's focus on DEBT.
You're probably familiar with this standard accounting equation:
ASSETS = LIABILITIES + EQUITY
We all want to increase assets. Net profit directly affects our bank account balance. What if your business is new, with few assets and customers? You probably contributed some form of capital to start the business. If growth doesn't happen as quickly as anticipated or expenses are higher than original assumptions, personal assets may fall short to fuel business growth.
Debt is a liability. It's a promise to pay back a known amount at a future, specified date. You will pay interest expenses in addition to the original amount borrowed. The interest rate varies widely; factors include the length of time in business, business and personal credit history, debt term, etc. Obviously, a low rate is better. I prefer credit cards like the Ink Business Cash credit card. The first 12 months are interest-free, so have a plan for paying the balance in full when the rate resets to 15% or more.
Many service-based businesses find business credit cards sufficient. However, not every business is structured similarly. There are plenty of product-based companies that require specialized equipment, large work spaces, additional employees to carry out the firm's mission, or all the above. Millions in sales are required to generate even a small profit; industry examples include consumer goods and technology.
Before You Apply for a Loan
Get your finances in order. If your business is new, loan officers will request detailed, forward-looking financial projections. Take advantage of free resources offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) or SCORE if you have difficulty preparing the projections. SCORE is an extension of the SBA offering free workshops and mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs. For established businesses, ensure your books are accurate and up-to-date. Loan officers may also require evidence of key contracts already won or previously committed investors.
Consider an intermediary. Finagraph is a free tool for business owners that takes your accounting data and provides a high-level view of your business health. The company serves as a loan intermediary between you and the bank.
Win clients and use them as collateral for the loan. Don't take it from me. I recently had the privilege of attending PWE (Prosper Women Entrepreneurs) Startup Accelerator's Demo Day. Five women-owned companies within Prosper's accelerator program pitched to the audience, made up of investors and community members. One of my favorite businesses was SOCIAL Sparkling WineA(R). Founder Leah Caplanis turned to homeopathic solutions during her battle with thyroid cancer at age 26 and became vegan. Now cancer-free, Leah created an alcoholic beverage that is gluten-free, organic and only 88 calories per serving. At Demo Day, another entrepreneur asked Leah how she managed to grow her business so quickly and gain major traction with grocery retailers. Leah's reply: "I focus on the pitch to the grocer and secure the contract. Then I use that contract as collateral for the loan."
The last strategy is a good lesson to many. If you own a product-based business that relies solely on individual consumer sales, you'll have more difficulty securing a loan because you must attract thousands of buyers to your product. Instead, develop corporate relationships. For an $8 product, you need 2,500 single sales to equal one corporate account worth $20,000.
Suppose you exhausted the measures above and are denied a business loan. Here are some other suggestions:
Network vigorously. Re-connect with former colleagues and friends. Even if the person is outside your specific industry, he or she may know someone who can help.
Consider collaborations. A perfect example of this is my friend Lisa Grovo, founder of Big Heart Tea. Lisa's company was previously known as Retrailer. At the Big Heart Tea launch party last month, she served Cup of Sunshine -- a custom ice cream flavor made in collaboration with Clementine'sA(R), a St. Louis-based creamery known for its "boozy" ice cream. The flavor was so good that Clementine's opted to keep it on its menu permanently.