Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Diane Wekler, who has been igniting business growth and profits for 20+ years. She is a serial entrepreneur and author of the award-winning Mastering the Money Maze: 10 Secrets to Winning Business Financing, and her well-known weekly blog. For more information: www.WeklarBusinessInstitute.com.
SmallBizLady: Where do you start when looking for small business financing?
Diane Weklar: If lenders and investors don’t know you, it may be more difficult to get financing. Start building banking relationships as soon as you can. Cultivate a relationship with lenders BEFORE you request a loan. Step #1 get to know the bank managers in your community. Lenders are phenomenal networkers. They can be found in every organization. Introduce yourself and start building relationships. Follow the same approach with investors.
SmallBizLady: Are there differences between lenders and investors?
Diane Weklar: Yes, you need to understand the differences between lenders and investors.
Lenders provide Debt – the usual approach for most businesses. Debt includes loans, lines of credit, mortgages, etc. Lenders want to make money from the loan and by offering other products and services – just as you do with your customers. Lenders want to build a long-term relationship with you.
Investors require Equity which means you giving up a portion of ownership in your company. You will acquire partners in the management of your business and they will share in the profits. Investors intend to make a lot of money by selling their portion of the business in the future. You will need to have an exit strategy in place if you go the investor route.
SmallBizLady: What is the most important thing funders look for?
Diane Weklar: Funders want to finance exceptional management teams. Both lenders and investors focus more on the skills and experience of the management team than the business plan. A management team with a solid history of success gives funders confidence that the plan will be effectively executed.
If your team is lean, consider adding the advisors and consultants that you use. Establish an Advisory Committee with the skills lacking in your management team. Ensure your Board of Directors has additional skills that augment your management team.
SmallBizLady: Does how you ask for money make a difference?
Diane Weklar: How you ask for funding can be the key to success or denial. The secret is to show funders how your success can make them money. The funding request lists how much money you need, how it will be invested, and what the returns will be to the funding source. You need to state specifically how the debt will be repaid to the lender. For an investor you need to outline the exit strategy that outlines how they will be rewarded for their investment.
Make your funding request exciting and provide info as to how this funding will make you more profitable and why.
SmallBizLady: What do funders want to discuss in detail?
Diane Weklar: Funders want to make sure you know industry trends and your business opportunities. Lenders and investors review hundreds of business plans. They know your market and the industry trends. You need to show how well you understand not only the environment, the risks involved, as well as the opportunities that this cash infusion will provide to the growth of your business. This needs to be based on hard facts—that means good market research.
SmallBizLady: Are there red flags that funders look for?
Diane Weklar: Eliminate client concentration and you increase your probability of success.
If you are dependent on a single, or a small group of customers, that is a red flag to funders.
If those customers run into financial trouble you may lose a significant amount of revenue. Your future is now intertwined with the fate of your struggling client. This issue applies to your major vendors and suppliers as well. Financing sources find this may be too risky to bet on your business. Make sure that you conduct comprehensive customer segmentation—you may find you have more diversity than you think!
SmallBizLady: What do financing sources want to see in terms of profitability?
Diane Weklar: Lenders require 2 to 3 years of profitability to ensure that you can repay the loan with causing strain on the company. Investors want to see profits plowed back into the company to ensure growth. Financing sources want to ensure that the owners are not taking excessive resources out of the company but are investing to ensure growth.
SmallBizLady: How important is a comprehensive understanding the competition?
Diane Weklar: Knowing the competition is key to your marketing success. And every business has direct and indirect competitors. You need to differentiate your products and show that you are offering a unique solution to customer needs.
Financing sources want to be reassured that a competitor cannot enter your space and take away your customers. You need to present to them the barriers that stop competitors. This can include great customer service, outstanding retention rates, intellectual property, etc.
SmallBizLady: What other issues are important to lenders and investors?
Diane Weklar: Financing sources will want to see your succession strategy to ensure that they will be repaid if disaster strikes. Showing funders that you are prepared for disaster can help you win financing. The three deadly D’s have destroyed many firms—death, disability, divorce. You need to establish buy-sell agreements to protect both the owners and the financing sources. There are also insurance policies that can protect you, the firm and funders.
SmallBizLady: How important is your credit score in obtaining financing?
Diane Weklar: Maximize your credit score to capitalize your ability to win financing. Understand that financing sources will be checking both your personal and business credit reports. Ensure that there are no inaccuracies in either. Studies have shown that half of all credit reports have errors serious enough to deny credit. Many lenders are requiring specific levels of credit scores (e.g., 700+ on personal). Make sure you know a funder’s requirements before submitting a funding request.
SmallBizLady: Are financing sources requiring personal guarantees and collateral?
Diane Weklar: Lenders today are requiring both personal guarantees and collateral to guarantee the loan. Lenders expect that you will invest your personal wealth for 10% to 30% of the money needed. So for a $100,000 loan you need $30,000 down and a personal guarantee for $70,000.
Many issues occur around asset valuation—which differs widely between lenders and business owners. But the bigger issue may be personal guarantees—you need to have a professional help you negotiate and protect yourself. If you default on a loan the lender will take possession of your assets and sell them in order to repay the loan.
SmallBizLady: What about alternatives to banks and investors?
Diane Weklar: There are a number of alternative financing options other than banks or investors. Peer-to-Peer (P2P) lending is a basic model of people lending to people bypassing banks and middlemen. P2P lenders include Lendingtree, Kabbage, Prosper, Lending Club. Crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Factoring is selling your receivables to a third party to obtain funding. And some firms go to a vendor or client that they have a long relationship to gain financing.
Each of these channels has different requirement and fees for their transactions. Be Aware that there are many online predatory lending companies that offer funds for outrageous rates that can go as high as 120%.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.
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