As you grow your company, you may discover that it’s time to move beyond leveraging your personal credit to fund your business, whether through business or personal credit cards, and look for outside investors or lenders.
When it comes to securing funding for your business, you must first decide what form of investment is right for your company: equity or debt. More specifically, are you looking for an investment in exchange for an equity stake in your company, or would you be better off getting a loan to fund your business?
EQUITY INVESTMENT: SELLING SHARES IN YOUR BUSINESS
Equity investors provide capital, either in the form of cash (preferable) or in kind with services, in exchange for a percentage of your company’s profits. Generally speaking, equity investment is only feasible when you have a clear plan for exiting your business, so your equity holders will be able to earn a return on their investment when your equity becomes saleable. If you are not yet at the place where you have a clear strategy for exiting your business, you (and your investors) will likely be better off securing a loan to fund your business.
If you are at the early stages of your business and not yet clear on its value, you may want to structure that investment in the form of what’s called a SAFE investment. SAFE stands for “Simple Agreement for Future Equity.” Basically, a SAFE is an agreement between an investor and your company that provides rights to the investor for future equity in your company.
In exchange for the money invested through the SAFE, the investor receives the right to purchase stock in a future equity round (when one occurs), subject to certain conditions set in advance in the SAFE. SAFEs were created to be a simple replacement for convertible notes, and they are designed for startups seeking initial funding.
A SAFE makes sense when your company is likely to raise money in the future through an established valuation, but your company is in too early of a stage to be valued appropriately. For more information on SAFE investments, check out this video from the seed-money startup accelerator Y Combinator.
You definitely want to bring on a trusted legal advisor like us if you decide to fund your company with complex investment structures, such as a SAFE, or if you are going to raise capital by selling equity in your company. With our support and guidance, we can ensure that you have the proper legal and financial systems in place to secure your investment.
DEBT INVESTMENT: BUSINESS LOANS
Oftentimes, the best place to start looking for outside investment in your company is by reaching out to your friends and family for a loan. Before you take on a loan from a friend or family member, be sure to document the loan with a promissory note.
A promissory note is basically a legal agreement that you are promising to pay back the money you borrowed under certain terms. The promissory note should have clear terms regarding how you will repay the loan and the specific terms under which you will repay, such as the interest rate you are paying on the loan and over what time period the loan will be repaid.
If you don’t have any friends or family who are interested in investing in your business, you may choose to fund your company with a loan from a bank. The best way to do this is to have a relationship with a local banker, who can get to know you and your business. From there, the banker can help you tap into different small-business financing options, generally through loans from the SBA, or Small Business Administration.
It’s never too early in your business lifecycle to establish a relationship with a business banker. Ideally, contact the local business banks in your community, and go meet one or more of the bankers at each of the banks to find a relationship that feels most supportive to you and your business.
When you receive funding from a business bank, make sure the loan is provided to your business, and not to you personally, whenever possible. And it’s most ideal if you can avoid a personal guarantee of the loan, though not always possible. A personal guarantee means that if your business fails, you will be held personally liable for the balance of the loan, and the bank can come after your personal assets to satisfy the terms of the loan.
Once your business has established income, you may be able to qualify for a loan for your business without a personal guarantee. Yet, in the early stages of your business, this likely won’t be possible. However, you should always ask to get your business loan without a personal guarantee required—the worst case scenario is the banker says no.
GAIN CONFIDENCE AND CLARITY WITH LIFT SYSTEMS
Building relationships with investors and lenders can be a great way to fund the future growth of your business. That said, developing such relationships will require you to confront any remaining insecurities or fears you may have about whether or not you are personally worth investing in.
On that note, having solid legal, insurance, financial, and tax (LIFT) systems in place will make you far more confident going into these relationships. If you’ve yet to put LIFT systems in place, contact us, as your Family Business Lawyer™, to take our free LIFT 20-Point Assessment.
Just taking the 20-Point Assessment is a huge benefit, as it shows you the gaps in your foundation that need the most attention. From there, you can meet with us to conduct a more thorough audit of your business, so you can eventually implement the full LIFT Foundation System & Toolkit into your operations.
With a solid LIFT foundation for your company in place, you can finally gain genuine confidence about your business’ long-term success. Armed with that clarity, you can devote all of your energy and passion into growing your business into something truly meaningful for yourself, your clients, and your family.
This article is a service of Sahmra A Stevenson, Family Business Lawyer™. We offer a complete spectrum of legal services for businesses and can help you make the wisest choices on how to deal with your business throughout life and in the event of your death. We also offer a LIFT Start-Up Session™ or a LIFT Audit for an ongoing business, which includes a review of all the legal, financial, and tax systems you need for your business. Call us today to schedule.