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Many entrepreneurs use several methods to fund their small businesses, including debt, equity and free funding, such as small-business grants.
The right option for you depends on how established your business is, as well as other factors, such as why you need capital and how fast you need it.
We’ll review the ways you can get small-business funding and provide information to help you decide which method is best for your needs.
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Small-business funding options
In general, there are two ways to fund a business:
Debt. With debt funding — like taking out a small-business loan — you borrow money from a third party and repay it, with interest, over a specific period of time.
Equity. With equity funding, you receive money from an investor in exchange for partial ownership of your company.
On top of these main sources of external financing, entrepreneurs can access free capital through small-business grants. Grants do not have to be repaid and are available from government agencies, corporations and nonprofits.
Many small-business owners also self-fund, using personal savings or tapping into their retirement account through a Rollover as Business Startup, or ROBS.
Debt funding can be a good option for a variety of small businesses, especially established companies looking to grow their operations.
Here are some of the most common types of debt financing:
Business term loans
With a business term loan, you receive a lump sum of capital upfront from a lender. You then repay the loan, with interest, over a set period of time — usually with fixed, equal payments.
Business term loans are well-suited for specific funding purposes, such as purchasing real estate or renovating your storefront. Some loans, like equipment financing, are designed to accommodate specific business purchases.
You can get business term loans from banks, credit unions and online lenders. Banks and credit unions will offer term loans with the most competitive rates and terms, but you’ll need to meet strict criteria to qualify. Online lenders are typically more flexible and may work with startups or businesses with bad credit. These companies will often charge higher interest rates.
SBA loans are partially guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration and issued by participating lenders, typically banks and credit unions. There are several types of SBA loans, but generally, these products are structured as term loans.
These loans usually have low interest rates and long repayment terms and can be used for a range of purposes, such as working capital, equipment purchases and business expansions.
This type of government funding can be a good option if you’re an established business with good credit but you can’t qualify for a bank loan.
Business lines of credit
A business line of credit is one of the most flexible types of small-business funding — making it well-suited to meet the working capital needs of new and established companies alike.
With a business line of credit, you can draw from a set limit of funds and pay interest on only the money you borrow. After you repay, you can draw from the line as needed. Lines of credit are often used to manage cash flow, buy inventory, cover payroll or serve as an emergency fund.
Like term loans, business lines of credit are available from traditional and online lenders. Traditional lenders typically offer credit lines with the lowest rates but require an excellent credit history and several years in business to qualify.
Online lenders, on the other hand, may charge higher interest rates but generally work with a wider range of businesses. Some online lenders offer startup business lines of credit and/or options for borrowers with fair credit.
Business credit cards
Business credit cards work similarly to personal credit cards, although business cards typically offer rewards for spending on operational expenses, such as gas, internet, software purchases and more.
Business credit cards can be a good funding option for startups because they offer quick access to capital and most entrepreneurs with good personal credit can qualify. You may not want to completely fund your business with a credit card, however, because overspending can lead to expensive debt that’s difficult to repay.
In general, business credit cards can be useful for all types of entrepreneurs because they allow you to earn rewards (e.g., cash back, miles, points) for everyday spending on your business purchases. Responsible spending on a credit card can also help you establish business credit, which will allow you to qualify for more competitive loan products.
If you’re a startup that can’t qualify for a business loan or you want to avoid debt, equity funding may be a suitable option for your needs. Here’s how you can fund your small business with equity:
Angel investors and venture capital firms
Angel investors and venture capital firms are common forms of equity financing that involve receiving money in exchange for equity in your company.
With angel investors, you work with individuals who invest their money into your business. These individuals often invest in startups with high growth potential. In addition to the equity they receive, your angel investor may offer business expertise to help your company progress.
A venture capital firm, on the other hand, will be an individual or group that invests from a pool of money. VCs may require a higher amount of equity in your company as well as some operational control, such as a seat on the board of directors. Compared to angel investors, VCs tend to offer larger amounts of money and invest in businesses that are a little more established.
You can find angel investors and venture capitalists through organizations like the Angel Capital Association or the National Venture Capital Association. You can also search online for investors in your area as well as attend industry events and talk to other business owners.
Either of these startup funding options may be a good option for your business if you’re looking to avoid debt. Finding and receiving capital may take time, however, and some businesses may not be able to meet the requirements set out by an angel investor or venture capital firm.
Crowdfunding is a type of small-business funding that’s particularly popular among companies that have a large social media presence. With crowdfunding, you raise money online through public donations in exchange for equity or rewards, such as an exclusive product or early access to an event.
You can set up a campaign using a crowdfunding platform, which allows you to manage the process through the platform’s website.
With equity crowdfunding, you can use platforms like Fundable, StartEngine and Netcapital to receive capital in exchange for ownership of your business. For rewards-based crowdfunding, you can turn to well-known websites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo.
Crowdfunding can be well-suited for a range of businesses as long as they’re dedicated to managing and promoting a campaign. Rewards-based crowdfunding is usually a better option for small amounts of capital, especially for businesses with a unique product or service.
Equity crowdfunding, on the other hand, may give you access to larger funding amounts, but you may have to meet stricter eligibility requirements to use one of these crowdfunding platforms.
» MORE: How to fund your business idea
Free funding is available through small-business grants, which don’t require you to take on debt or give up equity and don’t need to be repaid.
Small-business grants are available for new and existing businesses. You can get a business grant from a few sources:
Federal and state governments. Government agencies offer a range of small-business grants, including those designed for companies that focus on scientific research and technology innovation. Grants.gov provides a comprehensive list of business grants available from the federal government.
Private corporations. Many corporations offer annual small-business grant programs or competitions, such as the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. In many cases, you have to meet specific criteria to qualify for one of these grants.
Business grants are a good option for startups as well as companies that can’t qualify for other types of small-business funding. Because grants give you access to free capital, however, applications are competitive — and often time-consuming.
How to choose the right small-business funding option
The right funding option is different for every small-business owner. And the best type of funding for you now might not be the best choice to meet your needs later.
As you’re evaluating your small-business funding options, consider the following factors:
Why you need funding.
How much capital you need.
If you want to take on debt or give up equity.
How much debt you can afford/how much equity you’re willing to give up.
How long you’ve been in business.
Your personal credit history.
Your business’s financials.
How fast you need access to funding.
How much time you’re willing to devote to the funding process.