There are many ways to describe what it’s like to start a business: exciting, ambitious, and passionate, to name a few. Almost every small business owner would agree, however, that there’s one word they would never use – easy. For all types of businesses, one of the most difficult challenges for any new small business owner is obtaining capital to launch your new endeavor. After all, some 47% of small businesses that fail after two years do so because they run out of money.
Apart from new dentists and doctors’ offices, traditional banks generally don’t offer loans to brand-new businesses, so startup business owners must look elsewhere for funding. The good news is that there are business loans available for new business owners, but each carries a different interest rate, terms, and personal credit score requirements, so it’s important to get educated on the different sources of funding available.
How to Qualify for a Startup Business Loan
Before you begin exploring the best business loans for a startup, take steps to make sure you qualify. This means that you need to check factors such as:
- Your personal credit score. Much of your personal credit score (or FICO score) is determined by your debt repayment history, your debt-to-credit ratio, and how much outstanding debt you have compared to your income. As soon as you begin your application process for a small business loan, this is the first factor that lenders will look at.
If you have less-than-stellar credit, some of the ways you can improve your FICO score are by making sure you are current on all of your credit cards; paying down as much of the outstanding balances as possible. It’s also crucial to check your credit report with the three major credit bureaus to get rid of any errors that may be on it.
- Your Repayment Plan. Ask your potential lender for a detailed repayment plan on the types of financing you’re considering. You can impress your lender by showing them a detailed plan of how you intend to meet your payment obligations. This could be in the form of a simple document demonstrating the income you believe your business will achieve and how you believe you will be able to handle the repayment terms.
- Potential collateral. Many private lenders will require collateral as a condition of approving the loan, especially for startup business owners with poor credit. If you own a house, have money in your personal savings, or own other items of high value, the lender may require that you put those up as collateral.
- Your sales pitch. If you need a loan to start a business, or you need working capital to fund your new business, you’ll need to convince a lender that your business is viable as part of the application process. This means explaining to your potential lender why you believe your business will make money, who your market is, and what differentiates your small business from your competitors. Lenders will be impressed if you show them that you’ve done a thorough evaluation of your market and have a sound marketing plan to sell your products and services. If your business has been running for a short time, it would also help to show your potential lender your financial statements to demonstrate a strong cash flow.
Assess Your Financial Needs
Before considering a small business loan or other types of financing for your new venture, you need to itemize what you need to spend money on, and what the general costs are. This will give you an idea of how much money you need to borrow and the type of loan you should consider. Once you’ve come up with your unique idea and product offerings for your business, assess what you will need to spend money on to make it happen:
- Manufacturing and inventory. Whether your business is online or operates out of a brick-and-mortar location, it won’t get very far if you don’t have products to sell. Manufacturing your product and having enough inventory will cost money. It’s crucial that you realistically gauge the market and determine the amount of products or services that you expect to sell and figure out how much that will cost.
- Marketing strategies. Your great product or service won’t do you much good if potential customers don’t know about them. Determine who your target audience is and devise a marketing strategy to reach them. This may involve having to purchase marketing software that enables you to reach your potential customers via SMS, email, social media, and search engine optimization strategies. Determine what software you need and estimate the cost.
- A website. No matter what type of business you are running, having an online presence– even a rudimentary one – is crucial, as most consumers today begin their search for products and services online. Even if you use a website builder and hosting service such as Wix or Squarespace, there can be fees involved. Do your best to estimate the cost for this vital business component.
- Equipment/machinery. If you’re planning to launch a new restaurant, construction company, or any other small business that offers physical services, you’re going to need equipment to run your business. Assess what equipment you’re going to need and the costs.
- Rent money for a physical space. If your business will operate out of a physical location, shop around to determine the ideal location and price for your space, as well as the cost to design it.
- Outside contractors. There’s no shame in admitting that you can’t do something, and if you have the means to do so, contracting outside help for things like logo and website design and marketing could make your life a lot easier and greatly improve your business. These services are expensive, so shop around and guestimate the cost if you feel bringing on contractors is necessary.
- Employees. Whether you’re opening a plumbing business, small accounting firm, or construction company, you will probably need employees at some point. A small business loan can help you get started on payroll until your business is pulling in enough revenue to pay your employees.
Where to Get Start-up Business Loans
There are not many types of start-up loans available. There are even less start-up loans for those with bad credit. So, getting an unsecured loan for your startup business will be difficult but not impossible. While most traditional banks and many alternative lenders do not offer them, as many of them view startups as too risky, there are some options:
Startup Business Loan Options
- Online Lenders. There are online lenders that specialize in giving loans to startup businesses, even to new small business owners with less than stellar FICO scores. These finance options can include term loans, lines of credit, and equipment financing.
Drawbacks: Because they are taking on so much risk, these lenders often charge very high interest rates – in some cases as much as 30% – to new small business owners, depending on their FICO scores.
- Personal Loans. Personal loans have become popular over the past decade as online lending has become more prevalent. They are often easy to apply for, have far lower requirements than a standard business loan, and funding is typically quick. They can be a good source of bridge financing to pay for the startup costs if your personal savings aren’t enough to cover everything.
Drawbacks: Personal loans usually don’t offer as much money as business loans, so you may not be able to borrow the amount that you need. Additionally, depending on your FICO score, the interest rate on a personal loan can be extremely high.
- SBA Loans. The SBA loan program offers two specific types of loans that new small businesses may be eligible for: the SBA Microloan and the SBA 504 Loan. These loans have much lower requirements than the popular SBA 7a loan and pay relatively small loan amounts to new businesses and offer much lower interest rates than online or personal lenders. They are typically offered through not-for-profit intermediaries, often called community development companies (CDCs), although some for-profit private lenders may offer these types of loans as well.
Drawbacks: These loans are usually offered to small businesses that have been operating for at least six months, with some form of working capital foundation, so if you can somehow be in business for that long, the loan may be worth it. Additionally, CDCs and lenders often only provide business loans for minorities, those that operate in underserved communities, and veteran-owned businesses. The biggest potential drawback is that the amount you borrow may not be enough to cover your costs – while the maximum amount you can borrow for a microloan is $50,000, the average SBA microloan size in 2022 was a little more than $16,000.
- Personal Credit Card. If you’re desperate for funding and have no alternative sources of capital, then your personal card gives you a line of credit to draw upon to fund any start-up expenses. Make sure to get receipts so you can separate your personal expenses from your business ones so that you can take advantage of business tax deductions.
Drawbacks: Personal credit cards typically carry a much higher interest rate than a business loan. Plus, startup business costs are usually high, and this will cause you to draw down your available credit significantly. That, in turn, will affect your FICO score, as your credit utilization rate is a big factor when calculating your score among all three major credit bureaus.
- Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). A HELOC allows you to establish a line of credit using the equity in your home as collateral. You can use the money for large purchases, such as the cost of funding your new business.
Drawbacks: This might not be an option for you if you recently bought your house, as most banks require you to own a certain amount of equity in your home to use this type of finance option. Also, when you borrow against the equity of your home and are somehow unable to repay the debt, you could risk losing your home.
- Friends and Family Loans. Hey, you can always remind your friends and family members that Michael Dell started Dell Computers with a $1,000 loan from his parents. Seriously, if you have family members and close friends who trust you and you’re possibly willing to share with them a piece of your future success, this is always an option.
Drawbacks: If you were a troublemaker as a kid or never paid back that $100 your friend spotted you back in the day, then asking your parents or close friends for a loan may not be an option, no matter how much begging you do. So, if you’re planning on asking, try to make amends with them beforehand.
What to do if You’re Declined
Rejection is always a bitter pill to swallow, but if you are turned down for a startup business loan, you shouldn’t see it as a failure, but as a valuable lesson. Lenders make money by giving loans and charging interest on them, so in most cases, they want to see your small business succeed. As such, if you are turned down, they will usually be happy to specify why they turned you down and give you advice on how to get approved next time. The most common reasons for getting turned down are credit score, lack of assets, and a poor business plan. The ways to improve this are:
Make sure you are caught up on your bills. Having at least six months’ worth of on-time payments toward your current debt will go a long way toward improving your FICO score.
Apply for new debt. This may sound counterintuitive, but a strong debt-to-credit ratio is a big part of your credit score. The more unused debt you have, the more favorably a lender will look upon you.
Save money! Of course, this is easier said than done, but if you have savings and any other assets of value such as your house, lenders will see that you have potential collateral, thus making it easier for you to qualify for a loan.
Have a strong pitch! Improving your business plan to include careful market research will improve your chances of getting a loan. Some of the questions you need to answer are: What differentiates your products and services? How will your business turn a profit? Do you have a strong marketing plan?
Other Financing Options for Startups
If getting a startup loan isn’t an option, worry not, as there are avenues to explore to obtain capital for your new venture.
- Crowdfunding. Over the past decade, crowdfunding has become a popular way to raise funds for start-up businesses. It is the practice of raising funds through popular crowdfunding websites. Setting up a crowdfunding campaign is relatively easy and typically done through a crowdfunding platform. Once you’ve set up your account on the platform, write up a compelling description about your company and its products, and indicate the amount of money you are seeking to raise and how you plan to use it. To attract investors, your business plan and products must strike an emotional chord. One of the biggest perks of crowdfunding is that you can retain full ownership of your business. While equity crowdfunding is an option, you can also focus on handing out rewards – such as discounts, special product releases, or profit-sharing – to your investors.
- Small Business Grants. There are several grants available for startups through both private entities and the federal government that could reward you with thousands of dollars in start-up cash, especially if you are launching a woman-owned, minority-owned, or veteran-owned business.
- Small Business Credit Cards. Since there are limited business loan options available for startup businesses, you may want to consider applying for a business credit card as a temporary alternative. Business credit cards issued to startups will require a strong FICO score, which helps to mitigate the risk the card issuer is taking due to your lack of time in business. Like with any credit card, interest is only charged on the amount you use. As an added bonus, business credit cards typically come with perks – such as cash-back rewards, travel points and discounts with select vendors – helping you save money at the same time.
- Venture Capital. VC funds usually have the most stringent requirements, and only invest in companies that are in an industry with the potential for high-margin growth. To invest, VC managers will require a strong business plan, showing growth and revenue milestones you plan to hit and how you will accomplish them. In return for investing VC managers may want high ownership stakes, a seat on the company board of directors, right of first refusal, and anti-dilution protection. VC funding is not easy to obtain. There are hundreds to thousands of businesses vying for funding at any given time. To make their own selection process more seamless, most fund managers will only accept pitches through referrals.
Steps to Take Before Applying for a Startup Business Loan
Before you seek a loan to fund your startup, there are several steps you need to take first to set up and establish your new business. These include:
- Making sure that the federal government knows your business exists. Okay, this may sound strange, but it’s really not – in order for your business to operate, get a loan and take tax deductions, the IRS must know that it exists. That means that you need to obtain a federal Employee Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This is a number needed for the IRS to identify your business. You can apply for one on the IRS website.
- Registering your business. For tax reasons (and to also make sure your company officially exists), you should register your business within your state as a limited liability company (LLC), “doing business as” (DBA), or a corporation. Sole proprietors typically become LLCs or DBAs so that they can tie their business’ revenue with their personal incomes, which has tax benefits. Higher-margin small businesses that have multiple owners sometimes register as S corporations, which also have tax and legal benefits. Registration must be made in your state, and each state has slightly different requirements. Either a tax attorney or online legal companies such as legalzoom.com can assist you with this for a fee.
- Creating a business plan. Small business lenders may ask for a business plan before approving you for a loan. A business plan is like a resume for your business. It defines your business, what makes it unique, and states why you believe it’s going to make money, among other things. You can find templates for business plans online, or if you have the means, you can hire someone to do it for you.
- Getting your paperwork in order. Whenever you apply for a start-up loan it’s a good idea to get your paperwork in order BEFORE you start the application process. If you’re seeking to borrow for a startup business, lenders will probably want to see any financial statements you have at this point, your personal tax returns, and a business plan.
Hang in There
Creating a business from scratch is one of the most difficult – albeit rewarding – challenges that anyone can take on, and obtaining capital for your new venture may be the most difficult challenge early on. There are, however, borrowing opportunities and other sources of money that you can tap into besides your personal savings. Carefully evaluate your funding options to make sure you select the one that is right for your business.