10 Ways to Finance a Small Business

You may have a fantastic idea for a small business, but without funding, it’s stuck in the hangar. Bootstrapping—financing your business using cash flow—can get those wheels moving but at some point you’re likely to need an infusion of cash to launch, keep the doors open, or grow. Luckily, there are many options to acquire the capital you need and no matter your model or industry, you can find the right options to finance your small business and see it soar.

Every business is unique. Not every option described will be a good fit for your small business, but for every option you will need a strong foundation in the form of a solid business plan or excellent business health with a successful track record.

Common ways to finance a small business include:

1. Traditional loans

This refers to financing through traditional banks, generally the brick-and-mortar institutions with a branch in your neighborhood. These institutions are a large source of small business funding, but they are unlikely to loan 100% of the money you need. You will need to come up with a portion of the money on your own, from other sources. Your likelihood of obtaining a loan from these sources depends on many factors, including your relationship to the bank, your personal credit history, and what other debt you hold. Read more here about 8 steps to landing a small business loan.

2. Alternate lenders

While there’s no strict definition of an “alternative lender,” we can start by describing them as “non-bank lenders.” Some are entities that focus on community development (and are backed by the SBA, CFDI, or other trustworthy institutions). Others are less-regulated internet lenders promising quick cash. Check out our FAQ on alternative lenders to learn about the options and how to vet them.

3. Self-funding

For purposes of this overview, we’ll define “self-funding” to mean any option where you are putting up 100% of the money yourself, or have an otherwise massive stake in the game. This includes your own savings, credit card funding, or a home equity line of credit. While it can be an easy and quick way to get money, it also exposes you and your family to the most risk. If the business fails, you could lose your home or life savings.

4. Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding has gotten quite a bit of buzz recently, with many businesses boasting lucrative success stories. And while crowdfunding is a legitimate path for some businesses, it requires a hefty investment—and a little luck—to be one of those stories. Keep your goals tangible and modest, and expect that you will need to heavily pre-promote your product and achieve some early “wins” in order to achieve your goals. Read about 11 elements of a successful crowdfunding campaign here.

5. Grants

There are a remarkable number of grants that exist, but also a remarkable number of restrictions surrounding each one. As a rule they are very targeted and very competitive, and despite the title of this blog post listing small business grant ideas, we caution that there’s rarely such a thing as free money. You may also find grants through the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. Ask your business counselor if this might be a good program for you.

6. Private investors

Retired or wealthy industry professionals may be willing to invest in your business. One important question to ask if you’re considering taking this approach is whether you are willing to accept their advice. This can be done through an advisory board as a channel for the advice, and the investor’s role, oversight, and stake should be clearly outlined prior to accepting funding.

7. Strategic partnerships

For industries where larger players are open to supporting smaller ones, a strategic partnership can be win-win. Many biotech firms are funded through partnerships with other drug firms. For example in the drug industry, a company like Pfizer may choose to invest money by buying the rights to certain research, or a drug in development.

8. Angel investors

Angel investors, who can invest individually or as a group, come in at an early phase to get your company off the ground. There is generally a quite rigorous screening process before you would be invited to make a pitch. There’s no set range, but $50k-$500k is typical. Angel investors have an eye to the exit strategy: they want to know how they’re going to get money out of the deal, and aren’t looking to be involved for the long haul. Cherrystone Angel Group in Rhode Island is one of many groups around the country.

9. Venture capital

VCs are generally looking for big players—a minimum investment might be $5 million. Some may go lower, but if you don’t need an infusion of that much cash, you’ll likely be looking to work with one of the other sources listed. VCs typically stay involved longer, and are generally looking for equity or convertible debt, though the terms are all highly negotiated. In many cases, investors may require terms that allow them to bring in their own CEO, or to take over your company if you don’t meet set goals.

10. Friends and family

Often people you love have a unique combination of faith in you and wanting to see your business soar. Obtaining financing from friends and family can be an informal crowdfunding model, and it needs to be as equally thought out. It may come as an early inheritance, a loan, or a generous gift. No matter the form, it’s critical to put all of the details and expectations in writing. And hold to the tenets of good business: don’t execute your business plan until you have full funding. It may be tempting to move forward with a gift of $50k from a generous aunt, but if your business requires $100k to be viable, you’ll fall short no matter how good the intention. In every transaction, imagine how it will impact Thanksgiving dinner for years to come.

Are you ready to move forward? Schedule an appointment with one of our business consultants to talk through your options, get your business (or business plan) into healthy shape, and prepare a successful campaign or application. Get flying!