Sometimes growing a small business requires borrowing money. Fortunately, you have numerous loan sources from which to choose. From traditional lenders, such as large institutional banks, to high-tech lending platforms, such as crowdfunding websites, you can find the right source of funding for your small business. Small businesses have a harder time getting approved for traditional loans. In 2015, 97% of businesses with 20 to 99 employees were approved for debt financing, while only 83% of businesses with one to four employees had their loan applications approved, says the Government of Canada. It isn’t surprising, then, that online lending sources are increasing in popularity with small businesses. Before taking out a business loan, you’ll probably want to research both traditional and alternative sources to find the best fit for your business. The most common sources for business loans include large institutional banks, community banks and credit unions, credit cards, family and friends, and crowdfunding sources.
Large Institutional Banks
Large institutional banks have household names and usually operate on a nationwide or international level. They are the banks whose names adorn the tops of skyscrapers downtown. Borrowing from big banks offers several benefits. Because of their size, they often have the most lending programs available. Their sheer volume of customers means they can usually offer the best interest rates. The downside of large institutional banks is that they’re rigid with their loan approval requirements. The corporate office, usually in a big city far away, hands down decisions, and the process is highly impersonal. If your business has a unique situation, you’ll have trouble getting in front of an actual decision-maker to talk about it. For this reason, established businesses with good credit and strong revenue are the best customers for big banks.
Community Banks and Credit Unions
Community banks and credit unions provide an alternative to large institutional banks. Both are known for offering flexibility and great customer service. The difference between the two is that credit unions are nonprofit organizations. They distribute their profits to customers in the form of lower interest rates on loans and better returns on deposit accounts. This is a big advantage of a credit union, but there are also some potential drawbacks. You have to become a member, which sometimes requires an annual fee, though it usually isn’t much. Credit unions tend to have fewer physical locations — sometimes only a single branch. Because they’re nonprofit and focus on keeping costs down, credit unions can be slow to invest in technology, such as mobile banking apps. Community banks are structured like institutional banks, only they’re local and smaller. With a local bank, you can often sit down and meet with the decision-maker face to face. This can be a huge benefit in borderline situations where you fall just short of the bank’s approval criteria. By explaining your situation to the decision-maker, you might be able to turn a “no” into a “yes.”
You might think of credit cards as something you use for personal expenses, but many are tailored to businesses. Business credit cards typically give you 90 days to pay before accruing interest as opposed to 30 days. Some offer additional perks, such as discounted interest rates on major purchases. Credit cards are highly flexible, as they offer a line of credit rather than fixed sum of borrowed money. Your credit line might be $50,000, but that doesn’t mean you have to borrow it all at once or even at all. You can dip into it on an as-needed basis. The drawback is that interest rates usually are much higher than for bank loans, and if you make even a single payment late, your rate can skyrocket.
Family and Friends
Family and friends are another potential source of funds. You typically don’t have to fill out a lengthy application or argue the merits of your business’s financial statements. Most family and friends lend your business money because they care about you and want you to succeed, not because they see it as an investment opportunity. If you have family members or close friends with money to spare, and you’ve struck out with other funding sources, you might consider approaching them for help. The downside to borrowing from friends and family is that it can end friendships and strain familial relationships. Make sure you understand the potential fallout that could result from a worst-case scenario in which you’re unable to repay the funds.
If you have a fantastic business idea that doesn’t fit into the neat little boxes drawn by traditional banks and lending institutions, consider crowdfunding sources. With crowdfunding, groups of strangers come together, each pledging money to fund a small business, charity, or cause. A host of online platforms exist to connect those seeking funding with those looking to invest. With crowdfunding, you have the flexibility to set your own repayment terms. You might offer a certain interest rate over a certain term or, alternatively, an equity share in the business based on the amount pledged. Some platforms, such as GoFundMe, encourage people to donate without expecting monetary compensation in return. The biggest downside to crowdfunding is that just because you put a campaign up on a platform, doesn’t mean people are going to fund your business. There are no guarantees. You might shatter your funding goal, you might get 50% of the way there, or you might have no one pledge money. Success in crowdfunding comes from giving people a reason to fund you, whether that is the potential for monetary gain or because your idea can somehow make the world better. You have many options for small business financing. By researching each one and understanding its pros and cons, you can find the best funding source for your small business.