From the December 1998 issue of Entrepreneur

No matter how spectacular your business plan is, your start-up efforts can come to an abrupt halt if financial backers don't share your enthusiasm for the venture. To fulfill both the needs of small businesses and the requirements of venture capital companies, Congress created the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program in 1958. Licensed and regulated by the SBA, privately owned and operated SBICs use their own capital, along with funds borrowed from the SBA, to provide small businesses with long-term loans and equity investments.

For start-up entrepreneurs, this means plenty of resources, tips and, best of all, opportunities--if you're willing to do some research and preparation. The SBA's Mike Stamler offers the following tips on how to seek SBIC financing:

  • Use the SBIC directory, available on the SBA's Web site (http://www.sba.gov/INV) or via mail, to locate existing SBICs by state or nationwide.
  • Identify and investigate SBICs that might be interested in financing your company. Consider the types of investments a particular SBIC makes, how much money is available for investment, and how much will be available for future investments.

The most important thing to keep in mind when seeking financing from an SBIC is to be prepared. "[Your] initial presentation will play a major role in your success," says Stamler. "You have to demonstrate to the SBIC investors that an investment in your firm is worthwhile. The best way to do that is to present a detailed and comprehensive business plan."

With the SBIC program making investments of $2.35 billion dollars last fiscal year, we'd say visiting the program's Web site or calling the SBA (800-8-ASK-SBA) for more details is a step in the right direction.

Net Worth

Bright ideas for making money on the Web.

Whether you've just dabbled on the Internet or you regularly surf until 3 a.m., you're probably aware of the Web's potential as a business tool. And we're not talking about resource value alone. Thousands of companies use the Internet to sell everything from their consulting services to wares concocted in their garages.

The exciting thing about starting a Net-based business is that it's up to you to determine how elaborate your venture will be. Will you employ the latest e-commerce technology to create an online store, or will you stick with a Web site advertising your products or services? To jump-start your quest for the Internet business best suited for you, here are a few popular options:

*Internet consulting. You're an Internet maven, not to mention a veritable marketing whiz. News flash: Business savvy doesn't extend into the realm of the Web for all entrepreneurs--and that's good news for you. Business owners longing to get their companies online need you to help them with Internet marketing and sales strategies. For more information, contact the Information Technology Training Association, 8400 N. Mopac Expwy., #201, Austin, TX 78590, (512) 502-9300.

  • Web site design. Businesses are outdoing themselves by advertising online when they really need to focus on promotion to increase the "look to buy" ratio, according to Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Enter the Web site pro, with a gift for graphic design and knowledge of the latest Web site design technology. Sure, there's plenty of software that allows business owners to design their own sites. But harried entrepreneurs are often happy to turn the task over to a designer who can get the job done easily. Contact the Association of Internet Professionals Inc. (800-JOIN-AIP, http://www.association.org) to find out how you can make your mark on the Net.
  • Internet research. Though "surfing the Web" has a nice ring to it, not everyone enjoys the experience. Some people are still working with older 14,400-bps modems--this alone may spell c-l-i-e-n-t-s for you. Build a Web site that offers your services as a researcher who deals with Internet-based material.
  • E-commerce. Don't want to hassle with leasing a storefront location to sell your wares? Open an online store. Similar to ordering products from TV or catalogs, customers visit your site, where they select and pay for products.
  • Wholesale magazine subscription service. Become an affiliate of an online subscription service such as Los Angeles-based Magazine Mall Inc. (888-ALL-MAGS, http://www.magmall.com). You can sell discounted magazine subscriptions in the comfort of your home, leaving door-to-door sales and cold-calling behind.

For information on how to start your own Net business, check out Entrepreneur's How To Become An Internet Entrepreneur business start-up guide (#1393, $69). To ensure you're a law-abiding Internet business owner, visit legal search engine and directory FindLaw Internet Legal Resources (http://www.findlaw.com).

Read All About It

The game of (business) life.

Don't gamble with your economic--and mental--stability by starting a business without surveying the possible pitfalls. Instead, read Starting Up by David E. Rye and Craig R. Hickman (Prentice Hall, $22.95), and let their interactive start-up scenarios hone your entrepreneurial prowess.

The authors use an inventive format to give you a shot at business trial and error without real-life consequences. Chapter by chapter, readers are offered a set of business scenarios and must decide how to react.

Chapter one sets the stage: You're downsized from your cushy corporate job just after you bought a new Range Rover, so you begin exploring entrepreneurial possibilities. By the end of the chapter, you must choose whether to pick one of the ideas you've dreamed up and fly with it or analyze the options more thoroughly. The first decision sends you to chapter two, about taking action, the second to chapter three, about narrowing your decision.

And so goes the rest of the book. Rye and Hickman take less-than-comical real-life situations and turn them into witty scenarios that won't cause you any trauma--but may just help you avoid making some serious mistakes when starting your business.