You’ve got your money-making idea—now you just need a road map for success. From how to draft a business plan to landing interested investors, learn the basics of beginning your entrepreneurial journey.
Step 1: Put together a detailed business plan.
The more thorough it is, the smoother your launch will be. One key component you’ll want to analyze as closely as possible is your company’s projected financials. You need to consider two types of costs: fixed (rent, utilities, administrative costs, insurance, etc.) and variable (product inventory, shipping, packaging, etc.). Write them all down to see what kind of money you’ll need.
Starting a consulting company could cost as little as a few hundred dollars for a simple website and some business cards. A basic online business selling products can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000, plus any employee salaries, says Marilyn Landis, president and CEO of Basic Business Concepts, a Pittsburgh firm that provides financial services to small businesses. For brick-and-mortar stores, add rent and related storefront costs.
Get free help figuring out your costs and writing a business plan from a Small Business Development Center in your area and SCORE, a nonprofit small business mentoring organization. BPlans.com also offers sample business plans and software ($99.95 for Business Plan Pro).
Step 2: Talk to friends and family.
You’ve tapped your savings and are still short on startup funds? Consider going to the people you know first. You won’t be alone—friends and family account for 81% of all small business investors, according to Entrepreneur magazine. Unlike a bank loan officer, your family and friends know you, and believe in you and your abilities. So you’ll have automatically passed a big hurdle to getting financing: gaining a lender’s trust and confidence in your venture. Also, you’ll be able to customize the loan terms according to what’s acceptable to both of you, rather than what’s favorable to a bank.
Of course, asking for money can be daunting. To help everyone feel more comfortable, bring your business plan and any other relevant materials to the discussion, and be prepared to field questions. Be sure to discuss payback terms as well as the loan amount, and have an attorney draw up a promissory note once you have the details settled.
Step 3: Go to the right lenders.
For additional funding, visit your community bank or credit union, both of which are more likely than big banks to lend to small businesses these days, says Landis. “It’s the old-fashioned concept that if we know you, we feel more comfortable lending you money.”
Another place to try: local alternative lenders called community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that receive grants from the U.S. Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. The one requirement: Your business must be in or serve a low-income area (more areas qualify than you may think—even an online venture could qualify). Because the goal of these groups is to provide credit, capital and financial services to under-served communities, they’re eager to support businesses that further that mission. The average loan amount is $7,000, but can go as high as $50,000, and you can expect better lending rates, longer payback terms and even assistance with building your business. The application process varies by local CDFI. To find CDFIs in your area, go to CDFIFund.gov for a list by state.
Step 4: Target nontraditional funders.
If you’ve struck out with lenders and don’t need a huge sum of money, consider finding cash through crowd-funding (think of it as having a bunch of mini angel backers). These programs, from companies like PeerBackers.com, IndieGoGo.com and ProFounder.com, allow business owners to pitch their idea and request funding online. Anyone who is interested can contribute.
How much can you pull in? “Generally, I’ve seen people get $10,000, maybe $20,000,” says Angela Stalcup, director of global membership at Ladies Who Launch, a women entrepreneurs’ organization. “It really depends on how well you promote your business.” Payback terms (usually a small percentage of your revenue or goods) are determined by the crowd-funding company.
Have a really big, original idea that you think can be patented? You may be able to garner large investments from traditional angel investors, who, in exchange for funding, will become part owners of your company (anywhere from 10% to 80%). But before you begin the typically lengthy pitch process, see if your idea really has legs by getting advice from your local innovation support group (you can find one by Googling “nonprofit innovators group” and your city).
You can also research funding networks directly. Start with ones that are geared toward women, such as Springboard Enterprises. The women who have participated have raised between $300 and $500 million a year total for their small businesses. More traditional networks include Investors’ Circle, whose members’ median investment is $135,000.
Step 5: Tap other resources.
To round out your costs, try entering business competitions. Do an Internet search for “business grants” and type in your industry to see what turns up, says Stalcup. (Also check LadiesWhoLaunch.com for daily funding opportunities.)
And of course, there are always credit cards. Many small business owners use credit cards to finance their start-up. It’s not an ideal solution because the interest rates can be very high, but it is a viable option as long as you have a plan for how you’re going to at least keep up with the payments until you’re profitable and are able to pay off the balance.
Smart Credit Card Options:
Capital One Business Platinum with No Hassle Cash
If you have an excellent credit score of 750+, consider applying for this card. It has a 0% intro interest rate until April 2012, then a 14.99% to 22.99% variable rate after. There’s no annual fee and 1% cash back. Visit CapitalOne.com for more information.
Chase Ink Cash Business Cash Back
This card has 0% interest for the first six months, then a 13.24% to 19.24% variable rate after. There’s no annual fee; 5% cash back on select categories and 1% to 2% cash back on other purchases. It also requires an excellent credit score of 750+ to qualify. Visit Chase.com for more information.
American Express Business Green Rewards
Amex works somewhat like a debit card (you pay in full each month) so there’s no set interest rate. There’s no annual fee the first year, $95 thereafter. The card offers membership rewards of 1 point per $1 spent, and there’s no preset spending limit. You do not need as high a credit score as with the above cards. Visit AmericanExpress.com for more information.