After shaking the guts out of your piggy bank and hitting up friends and family for some extra dough (See Business Finance: A Matter of Life and Debt), you've decided that you want some more financial muscle behind your business.
That means a visit to your friendly (you hope) banker.
But before you even think of approaching a lender about a business loan, there are some pretty important questions you should ask yourself.
Start with this one: “Do I really need the money?”
That might seem like a silly question, but the answer is not always yes.
When you’re just starting out or when your company is experiencing some growing pains, your need for cash can be pretty great. At those points, you may have no choice but to borrow.
Still, there may be plenty of times over the life of your business when you could avoid borrowing with other measures - by more aggressively collecting receivables or better managing existing cash flow, for instance.
But let’s say that after careful analysis you've decided it makes sense to borrow. Here are the next questions you should ask:
All of the preceding questions will have some bearing on a bank's decision. But here's the most important question of all: How does your need for financing mesh with your business plan?
If you've just scratched your head in confusion and said “My whaaaaaaat?” you've got lots of work to do before you even think about asking anyone for money.
All lenders from banks to angel investors and everyone in between will want to see a written, well-considered plan for the start up, management and expansion of your business.
Consultants at our Small Business Development Centers can review your plan and help you determine the type and amount of financing your projections are likely to support. They can also help you identify potential sources of financing and help you prepare a loan package.
Consultants at our Small Business Assistance Office can help you understand more about financing your business and about the basics of business plans. And our network of Small Business Development Centers has experts located in nine main regional offices and several satellite centers statewide. Use this online tutorial on business plans developed by the Small Business Administration.
For a comprehensive look at business plans, see our Guide to Starting a Business in Minnesota. Available for download in PDF, formatted for e-readers, or available in print (all free of charge), the book covers the major issues, questions and concerns about business startups. To help you identify what government financing programs may be available to help you start or expand your business, check out the “Access Financing” Wizard from BusinessUSA
Finally, nothing we cover in this blog should be taken as legal advice. It’s not. And it’s no substitute for the professional guidance of a lawyer or accountant.
Jason Gray, owner of Real Meal Deli, explains the importance of having and using a business plan. Gray operates Real Meal Deli in three locations, two in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul.