One difficulty that most startup founders and small business owners are all too familiar with is . . . fund-raising. In fact, a recent survey found that 27 percent of businesses responding reported being unable to access the funding they needed.
Yet, as troublesome as the process of finding and securing funding might be, small businesses have a bevy of options to pursue outside the normal means. On top of that, news out of the U.S. House of Representatives -- its passage, in September, of the Wagner bill -- could help ease some of the burden. (The Senate has yet to weigh in on the bill, which was opposed by the Obama administration. The new administration could react differently.)
If the legislation does eventually pass, its provisions would be of great benefit to microcapped companies. Businesses which are valued at less than $300 million could issue stock shares on an accelerated schedule, with less oversight by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Supporters say the legislation has the potential to increase small businesses' access to capital by allowing them to utilize fund-raising methods previously available only to large companies. The bill's detractors believe that it will inhibit regulatory oversight.
Politics is not the only issue. Given the many fund-raising options already out there -- debt, accounts receivable financing and equipment leasing, for example -- small businesses may find it difficult to choose the best route to take. All these choices mean added complexity.
Small businesses can now think big with their funding.
Having access to some of the cost-saving provisions that large companies currently utilize could provide more opportunities for small business growth. However, company leaders could easily find themselves at a disadvantage if they don't tread lightly.
Jumping into something they don't fully understand -- whether it's taking on too much debt, securing the wrong kind of investors or signing unfavorable leasing conditions -- could put their capital in a precarious position. Here are four viable ways startups can use large company fundraising tactics:
1. Equity crowdfunding
Crowdfunding is a relatively new option, a trait early-stage companies might gravitate toward. Although crowdfunding only accounts for 3 percent of capital raised, it's a rapidly growing industry, worth $5.1 billion total and responsible for raising about $2 million daily.
This option allows early-stage startups and small businesses to raise up to $1 million through multiple investments, which can be as small as $100. It's kind of like an initial public offering at the micro level.
Some regulatory paperwork is involved with crowdfunding, so startups should use a trusted platform for the transaction. StartEngine -- a partner of ours -- has a great platform, especially for companies with no revenue coming in yet. Polished presentation tactics, such as video packages and presentations that highlight incentives for potential investors, are both hallmarks of successful crowdfunding campaigns. Once a campaign is complete and the funds received, reports must be filed biannually with investors.
2. Revenue-based financing
Also called a revenue loan, revenue-based financing is a small business-friendly alternative to a traditional bank loan and is typically utilized by larger companies.
One of our partners, Lighter Capital, specializes in these loans. Bank loans usually require collateral and assets as backup; revenue loans, however, are secured with a certain amount of monthly revenue, a percentage of which is paid out until the loan and its multiple are repaid. Lenders usually set their own minimum annual revenue, which can range from $25,000 to $150,000.
Startups that choose this route must have clean, correct financial statements to report. Revenue loans are a great option for company founders not wanting to issue equity in return for capital.
3. Strategic investments
In the traditional business world, strategic investment is simply where one company receives an investment for another with the idea that there's something greater than a normal monetary return that can be gained.
NBCUniversal, for example, put $200 million into BuzzFeed in 2015 for that exact reason. Strategic investments are an option for startups, as well, in the right situation. These investments don't just link companies with investors in hopes of more commercial relationships. And, here, smaller companies can gain credibility, more capital and access to additional resources, such as talent, equipment and domain expertise.
Strategic investments can be hard to come by, because they're essentially a matchmaking game. But networking may be the answer. Networking, especially with leaders at larger companies, is the best way to find investors. These investors have a lot to offer and can provide the resources of a larger company that are normally out of a startup's reach.
4. Traditional debt-financing
Debt financing is a viable option for startups, but it can be harder to secure in a company's earliest days. This type of financing typically involves firms that raise money for working capital or capital expenditures through the sale of bonds, notes or investor bills. In return, investors become creditors, promising repayment of the principal and interest.
Whether a company is large or is a startup getting off the ground, the possibility of securing debt-financing depends on a strong foundation and solid financials compliant with generally accepted accounting principles.
Debt-financing isn't usually the first option for an early-stage, pre-revenue company, but it's another great option for companies not quite ready to issue equity in exchange for capital.
The passage of the Wagner bill -- if it happens -- will create some additional fundraising opportunities for startups and small businesses. They can start to take advantage of funding sources that are more traditionally used by larger companies. These opportunities offer unique benefits for growth, so startup founders should do their homework and use these opportunities to their advantage.