Friends & Family As Sources of Business Funding

As a budding entrepreneur, it took a lot of hard work and diligence, but you finally have your business idea squared away and things are starting to make sense. While visions of success circle throughout your mind, there’s probably one haunting fear that remains: how on earth will you come up with enough money to fund this whole thing? That’s usually not an easy question to answer, but it remains critical that we find an answer if we ever want to turn aspirations into achievements.One of the first places that entrepreneurs look for funding is from family and friends. Sometimes an entrepreneur may be so lucky as to have family and friends come to them before they even ask for funding themselves! But while the sentiment should be appreciated, a wise entrepreneur will consider drawing funding from these two groups of people very cautiously. And while many people draw a hard line on fundraising from family and friends, doing so isn’t always necessary. Yes, these sort of business transactions can have horrible consequences if they sour, but if entered into wisely and with enough analysis, it’s possible for great things to happen. And although the range of things to be considered when entering such an agreement is vast and nearly infinite, I’ve distilled the subject down to three important considerations to ponder when you think of starting a business with the help of family or friends. To emphasize, these aren’t the only considerations that need to be made, neither may they be the absolute most important of any consideration – my aim is simply to provide a few pieces of food for thought.

1. Will the investment dramatically hurt or imbalance the lifestyle of your family member or friend if the deal goes wrong?Consider how financially stable the prospective investor currently is. For example, if your friend is living with unpaid student loans or other debts, she may not be the best candidate for a round of financing. Even if she is enthusiastic and willing to contribute cash, the risk that this transaction results in if your business fails are simply too high. This isn’t to say that she cannot still provide other types of capital, however. Even though financial investments are out of the picture, personal capital of labor or social capital of contacts may still be desirable!2. What level of control, if any, does your family member or friend desire?Some people will contribute money to your cause merely because they want to help you achieve your dreams, and without a second thought to having a role in the business aside from financial backing. On the other hand, other people will expect some role or control in the company. The level of control could range anywhere from having free products and services for life, or a paid position in the upper levels of management. When probing for their desires, be sure to recognize that giving some level of control to the individual may not always be a bad thing. If he is qualified and brings talent or experience to the position, it’s worth considering.

3. What is the payout for your family member or friend? Will it be financial gains or simply goodwill?Aside from control in business, a second big motivator for investors is the result or “exit strategy,” and family members and friends are no exceptions. Ask the interested investor what her expectations are for the future. Would she like to see her investment double? Or would she simply like her money back after a certain number of years? Either way, planning for the future by evaluating the expectations made today can be instrumental in reducing tensions down the road.

Alternative Financing Vs. Venture Capital: Which Option Is Best for Boosting Working Capital?

There are several potential financing options available to cash-strapped businesses that need a healthy dose of working capital. A bank loan or line of credit is often the first option that owners think of – and for businesses that qualify, this may be the best option.

In today’s uncertain business, economic and regulatory environment, qualifying for a bank loan can be difficult – especially for start-up companies and those that have experienced any type of financial difficulty. Sometimes, owners of businesses that don’t qualify for a bank loan decide that seeking venture capital or bringing on equity investors are other viable options.

But are they really? While there are some potential benefits to bringing venture capital and so-called “angel” investors into your business, there are drawbacks as well. Unfortunately, owners sometimes don’t think about these drawbacks until the ink has dried on a contract with a venture capitalist or angel investor – and it’s too late to back out of the deal.

Different Types of Financing

One problem with bringing in equity investors to help provide a working capital boost is that working capital and equity are really two different types of financing.

Working capital – or the money that is used to pay business expenses incurred during the time lag until cash from sales (or accounts receivable) is collected – is short-term in nature, so it should be financed via a short-term financing tool. Equity, however, should generally be used to finance rapid growth, business expansion, acquisitions or the purchase of long-term assets, which are defined as assets that are repaid over more than one 12-month business cycle.

But the biggest drawback to bringing equity investors into your business is a potential loss of control. When you sell equity (or shares) in your business to venture capitalists or angels, you are giving up a percentage of ownership in your business, and you may be doing so at an inopportune time. With this dilution of ownership most often comes a loss of control over some or all of the most important business decisions that must be made.

Sometimes, owners are enticed to sell equity by the fact that there is little (if any) out-of-pocket expense. Unlike debt financing, you don’t usually pay interest with equity financing. The equity investor gains its return via the ownership stake gained in your business. But the long-term “cost” of selling equity is always much higher than the short-term cost of debt, in terms of both actual cash cost as well as soft costs like the loss of control and stewardship of your company and the potential future value of the ownership shares that are sold.

Alternative Financing Solutions

But what if your business needs working capital and you don’t qualify for a bank loan or line of credit? Alternative financing solutions are often appropriate for injecting working capital into businesses in this situation. Three of the most common types of alternative financing used by such businesses are:

1. Full-Service Factoring - Businesses sell outstanding accounts receivable on an ongoing basis to a commercial finance (or factoring) company at a discount. The factoring company then manages the receivable until it is paid. Factoring is a well-established and accepted method of temporary alternative finance that is especially well-suited for rapidly growing companies and those with customer concentrations.

2. Accounts Receivable (A/R) Financing - A/R financing is an ideal solution for companies that are not yet bankable but have a stable financial condition and a more diverse customer base. Here, the business provides details on all accounts receivable and pledges those assets as collateral. The proceeds of those receivables are sent to a lockbox while the finance company calculates a borrowing base to determine the amount the company can borrow. When the borrower needs money, it makes an advance request and the finance company advances money using a percentage of the accounts receivable.

3. Asset-Based Lending (ABL) - This is a credit facility secured by all of a company’s assets, which may include A/R, equipment and inventory. Unlike with factoring, the business continues to manage and collect its own receivables and submits collateral reports on an ongoing basis to the finance company, which will review and periodically audit the reports.

In addition to providing working capital and enabling owners to maintain business control, alternative financing may provide other benefits as well:

  • It’s easy to determine the exact cost of financing and obtain an increase.
  • Professional collateral management can be included depending on the facility type and the lender.
  • Real-time, online interactive reporting is often available.
  • It may provide the business with access to more capital.
  • It’s flexible – financing ebbs and flows with the business’ needs.

It’s important to note that there are some circumstances in which equity is a viable and attractive financing solution. This is especially true in cases of business expansion and acquisition and new product launches – these are capital needs that are not generally well suited to debt financing. However, equity is not usually the appropriate financing solution to solve a working capital problem or help plug a cash-flow gap.

A Precious Commodity

Remember that business equity is a precious commodity that should only be considered under the right circumstances and at the right time. When equity financing is sought, ideally this should be done at a time when the company has good growth prospects and a significant cash need for this growth. Ideally, majority ownership (and thus, absolute control) should remain with the company founder(s).

Alternative financing solutions like factoring, A/R financing and ABL can provide the working capital boost many cash-strapped businesses that don’t qualify for bank financing need – without diluting ownership and possibly giving up business control at an inopportune time for the owner. If and when these companies become bankable later, it’s often an easy transition to a traditional bank line of credit. Your banker may be able to refer you to a commercial finance company that can offer the right type of alternative financing solution for your particular situation.

Taking the time to understand all the different financing options available to your business, and the pros and cons of each, is the best way to make sure you choose the best option for your business. The use of alternative financing can help your company grow without diluting your ownership. After all, it’s your business – shouldn’t you keep as much of it as possible?