In Sidney Sheldon’s The Stars Shine Down (1992), the novel’s protagonist starts out with three million dollars and leaves her hometown for the big city to start what would become her real estate empire. She quickly realizes how small three million is within the big leagues of the industry. Luckily, a sympathetic banker shows her that, despite not having enough money of her own, she can find various ways to make her projects happen.
This story may just be fiction, but it actually is possible to start a successful business with little to no money. Plenty of people I know have what they think is the next big idea and are willing to work to make it possible, but they don’t have the finances to make it a reality. In truth, nowadays, there are plenty of solutions to work around the financial aspects of starting a business.
Available in various banks and loan centers, a business loan that suits your situation should be easy to find, depending on how much you need and how well you can sell your business to the party providing the loan. The idea is simple: a bank, for example, gives you money to start your business, but you have to pay it back plus interest.
To ensure you pay your loan (and so that the bank has assurance that they are capable of getting back something from their loan, you need to put a valuable asset as collateral. This could be your home, your car, or any property you have that’s either worth around the amount you loan or whatever the bank determines is good collateral. Some loans in the market don’t require collateral, but expect that the interest rates are much higher.
If your business fails or if you are unable to pay a loan, the bank takes the collateral and sells it for as much as it can to recover the money it lost from loaning you. When looking for loans, it is best to find one that best suits your business needs and the collateral you can afford. Some types of loans offer flexible due dates and collateral options and incentives made for small business owners taking out loans.
The policies on small business loans vary from state to state. If you’re taking out a small business loan in Ogden, you’re allowed to apply for a 504 SBA Loan (for land, buildings, and other major assets), a 7(a) SBA Loan (for long-term goals and special business requirements needed to operate), and the Express SBA Loan (for short-term goals such as inventory purchases). This may vary in other cities in Utah and other states.
Plenty of startups and small businesses find that they don’t have the collateral or are just too new of a business that lending organizations and banks think they’re an unsafe investment. Another option to start your business is to find a venture capital investor. These are investors who understand that startups have the potential to be successful. Somewhere in a sea of startups, a handful of them have the winning idea that will become the next Instagram, Uber, or Scrub Daddy, and these investors are willing to risk their money to get high returns and better payoff as an investor.
These investors will look at your business idea and see if it has long-term growth potential. These are usually wealthy people looking for additional investments to add to their portfolio, but investment banks and other players in the finance industry can also consider venture capital. This is the ideal solution if your startup has less than two years of operating industry, as very little banks will agree to make an investment with an inexperienced business.
These investors will not only provide their money to fund your business; they’ll also provide you with the knowledge and expertise to get it running efficiently. That means if you can get a wealthy person to back you up, that’s fine. But if you can get a wealthy businessperson who has expertise in the industry you’re trying to enter, you can also ask them to provide you with their knowledge.
The downside of this, though, is that by letting a VC into your startup, they sort of own a part of your company. When they have equity in your startup, they legally have a say in some of your company decisions, or else they may pull out and leave your business to fend for itself. To avoid this, before taking on anyone as a VC, make sure there is a contract between the two of you stating what the limitations of this equity is.
Business Incubator Programs
When you hear the word “incubation,” you might either be thinking of chicken eggs or fetuses that went into premature births. Though the fetus is there, it’s not yet ready to come out, so a mother hen or an incubator protects these fetuses in a controlled environment until the fetus turns into a body ready to come out.
The same concept is applied to businesses inside business incubator programs. Colleges and universities often provide it to their students creating their own startups, but some venture capitalist organizations or local economic development organizations also provide business incubators. If you have an idea and a business plan accepted by the incubator, the sponsor of this program provides funding to get your business on its feet. They provide you with the basics such as administrative services, co-working spaces for all its businesses under incubation, and management training for when the business finally becomes independent.
Once your business takes off or you get your footing, you are allowed to leave the incubator and work independently. Some business incubator programs operate as non-profit, such as one created by universities for its students. Others, such as the ones run by venture capitalist investors, may take some equity from its businesses, thus providing them with profit from the successfully incubated businesses.
However, this may be a slow process. If you are ready to enter the market without incubation, you can opt for an accelerator. It’s similar to an incubator, except the organization provides funding and management training, but at the same time expects fast returns.
If the first three aren’t viable solutions, you have the option to crowdfund your startup. If you’ve ever heard of GoFundMe, Kickstarter, LendingClub, and other websites, you might be aware of what crowdfunding is. Simply create a crowdfunding page in any website, make a compelling spiel convincing people why your business matters and why they should invest, and then wait for people to send money to your business.
This money can be donation crowdfunding, meaning they get nothing in return for giving you money, but this may be the most difficult if you’re trying to sell you a business. Your parents may give you money to start a business for free, but a stranger on the internet isn’t going to give you free money if they know you may be making more than them thanks to their donation. Some crowdfunds offer different kinds of crowdfunding: equity (similar to VC), debt (similar to business loans), or reward crowdfunding (investors get freebies and other concrete incentives).
This may seem like a good idea, especially if your crowdfunding goes viral because many people see the need for your business (and going viral can help you increase sales once your business is running). However, each of these types of crowdfunding comes with their own cons.
Reward crowdfunding means that you’re not only sending products for free, you’re also time-pressured to send out products to your investors. Equity crowdfunding means you have to give away part of your company to online investors, which means full transparency online about where that money is going to and what your business plan is. And if that’s not a challenge enough, thanks to Kickstarter scams, you might have a hard time finding people willing to invest in your project if you can’t write convincingly enough.
You don’t need to have a million dollars on pocket to start a business. If you’re willing to put some effort into your idea and tap into the right financial investor or organization, you can get the right funding to make your idea a reality.