You’ve got a brilliant idea for a business and you’ve decided it’s time to take the plunge. But no matter how simple your model is, getting a business off the ground is going to take cold hard cash and getting a startup business loan seems like the only way.
Raising cash is not uncommon, with approximately;
– 46% of startups try to raise funds at launch
– 72% will require additional funding later on.
Startup Business Loans
As a startup you may find it next to impossible to get a small business loan, even from Australia’s burgeoning fintech loan market. But it does happen. In fact, 8.2% of startups receive a business loan. You’ll want to have at least 6 months’ trading history and some evidence that your idea really is a money-spinner before even the most relaxed unsecured business loan lenders are likely to take a risk on you.
But if you have personal assets, especially property, you may well be able to take out a secured business loan to give you the seed capital for your venture. Be aware, though, that you are putting your home at risk if you use it to secure a loan – if your business fails and you can’t repay it, you could end up losing everything, even the roof over your head.
You’ll also need to give careful thought to how you’ll cover your loan repayments until your business takes off. To qualify for a loan, especially with a bank, you’ll be expected to show that you have enough income to meet your obligations – which means you’ll need a steady and ongoing source of revenue. Calculate loan repayments.
Pro Tip 1: If you arrange a merchant account with your bank and collect payments by credit and debit cards, you can apply for a merchant cash advance.
Pro Tip 2: As you start to invoice customers, you can “sell” these invoices to a lender who in turn will give you a large percentage as an advance until the full amount of the invoice is paid. This is called invoice finance and can help improve your cashflow.
Grow the business you want.See if you qualify
No matter how versatile you are, you’re going to need help along the way as you get your business off the ground. The most successful entrepreneurs are those who recognise their strengths and weaknesses, and rely on others to fill the gaps in their skills. You may be a financial planning expert, for example, but need others to help build your prototype, design your website and mastermind your marketing.
Expertise rarely comes cheap, of course, and getting the professional help you need can be one of the greatest expenses for a start-up. If your idea is compelling, though, you might find that people are willing to contribute their time and knowledge in exchange for an equity stake in your business instead of payment. They’ll become your partners and share in both the risks and rewards of your venture, so you can expect them to be as committed to its success as you are. If you opt for this route it’s important to choose your team carefully, finding people who fully understand your strategy and have the same vision for the business as you do.
If everyone in your team isn’t on the same page, the discord can quickly derail your fledgling start-up. The other serious question is how to value each person’s contribution and decide how much of an equity stake to offer? Do you calculate the wages they could have earned in the time they’ve devoted to your project? Or how much it would have cost you to pay an external expert to do their job? Or the importance of their contribution to the success of your business?
It’s vital that you discuss and agree on these issues up front, as well as clarifying how much say each member of the team will have in making strategic, creative or financial decisions.
Find a Professional Investor
There are numerous funds (‘venture capital funds’) and individuals (‘angel investors’) who make their money by investing in emerging businesses, providing up-front capital in exchange for an equity share. Some will make a direct capital injection while others will offer convertible debt, which acts like a normal interest-bearing loan, but gives the investor the right to exchange it for stock at a later stage. 32.6% of startups receive funding from professional investors.
If you’ve ever seen an episode of Shark Tank you’ll know that angel investors tend to be savvy entrepreneurs or executives who place any potential investment under extremely strict scrutiny. They will expect you to have done extensive market research and detailed financial and strategic planning, and to present a compelling (and passionate) business case before they consider investing in your startup.
In the past, angel investors were often friends or family of budding entrepreneurs, but today there are plenty of websites that will help you get the attention of potential angels.
Business Angels is the leading Angel Investment site in Australia. The site has connected thousands of “Angels” to Entrepreneurs. We asked Christine Kaine, the Founder of Business Angels and the real pioneer of Angel Investment to provide her best advice for those of you considering this path;
Business Angels advice from Christine Kaine, Founder of Business Angels
Angel investing is about relationships. Money is usually the motivator, but in reality, the synergy of the relationship between investor and business owner is the key to success. This doesn’t mean to say that these relationships are never difficult but in the mechanics of the business they can produce astounding results.
Many entrepreneurs are so mesmerised by their good idea they don’t do full due diligence on their own venture. Due diligence is the investigation of a business or person prior to signing a contract. If entrepreneurs put themselves in the investors position and research their own company this impresses investors.
The most difficult area of negotiation in the Business Angel process is agreeing on the value of the equity. There are lots of ways of valuing a company as your accountant will tell you. But when it comes to agreeing on a dollar amount for 10, 25, 33 or 50% of a company it really comes down to what you can agree on. As one of my businesses said, “I will always lower the value of the equity for the investor I prefer.”
A convertible note is an investment structured as a loan that converts into equity. The investor lends money to a startup and instead of receiving a return in cash, he or she would receive equity.
They are often used when a valuation cannot be determined. It can be hard to value a new startup, so instead of trying to negotiate a valuation you can raise funds today and delay valuing the business until you have more to base a valuation on.
Here’s how it works: The investor provides the startup with funds on the basis that they will receive a discount on shares when a predetermined trigger occurs, usually when a ‘Series A’ round of funding occurs. Once a Series A pre-money valuation has been established, the convertible note will convert into shares at the discounted rate. The discount is generally between 20% to 40%.
A convertible note is a simple and cost-effective way to raise money. A standard market agreement can be used to avoid the cost of paying lawyers to draw up an agreement.
Venture capital trusts are managed funds where investors pool their resources, with a professional fund manager making the decisions about where to invest. Each fund will have a particular focus and rules about the kinds of businesses they will fund, and not all are interested in startups (here are some that are).
As with angel investors, venture capital funds will expect detailed business plans and convincing financial projections, and you can expect to go through a lengthy assessment and due diligence process. However, Australia appears to have a fast-growing appetite for investment in emerging businesses, so if you have a strong enough idea and a comprehensive business plan, now seems to be a great time to seek venture capital funding.
The biggest drawback to inviting an investor into your business is that you can expect to hand over some of the control to a third party, who may not share your vision, goals and risk appetite. In exchange, though, you may get access to incredibly valuable expertise and contacts that could help you propel your business forward (not to mention the cash).
Borrow from Friends & Family
If you can’t persuade professional investors to put money into your business at this stage – or you just don’t want the loss of control that comes with a venture capital injection – you could turn instead to the people who already believe in you.
If you’re lucky enough to have family or friends with cash to spare, and it looks like you really do have a winning idea, they may be willing to back your efforts and share in your success.
According to a US survey as many as 38% of businesses are started with money from family and friends, and an Australian survey in 2016 found 28.8% of startups received funding from friends and family. It can have many benefits – including lower interest rates and flexibility about when and how you repay the loan.
But there are risks too, if an informal loan isn’t handled carefully. Mixing money with friendships often leads to disaster – and can end up destroying relationships. So if you decide to take this option it’s important that you take a professional approach and draw up a clear legal agreement setting out the terms of the loan and your repayment plan.
While you’re obviously starting your new venture with optimism and determination, it’s extremely important to address, up front ,what you will do if your business does not succeed and you find you can’t repay the loan as planned. Build terms into your loan agreement covering what recourse your friend or relative will have if you have to default, to reassure them that their precious nest-egg is safe in your hands.
Free family and friends loan agreement template: Download
If you’d prefer to get a loan, but a business loan is out of reach, you may be able to get a personal loan instead. As mentioned many lenders are reluctant to lend a new business money, but this doesn’t mean they will not lend you money, especially if the amount you’d like to borrow is small and you have a good credit record.
Many personal loans do not require collateral. Personal loans are given to the individual, the lender will look at your personal credit history and finances when assessing how much you can borrow.
If you’re planning to give up your day job to work on your new business you’ll have to declare that when you apply for a loan, which means the lender will discount your earnings from that job when calculating ‘serviceability’. If you’ve already quit, you may find it hard to secure even personal funding unless you have income from another source such as investments or rent.
Another way to harness the goodwill of your family and friends – and maybe even some random well-wishers – is to try crowdfunding.
This means taking to the internet and asking people to make contributions, however small, to help you get started. It can be staggeringly successful, and if you have enough people out there who believe in you or your idea, it can be a great way to raise a decent sum without asking any one person to risk a lot of money. There are no guarantees, though, that you will raise the funds you are looking for.
There are several platforms you can use, each with a slightly different focus – and a range of fees, terms and conditions. Before you select one, make sure you look into:
Some platforms only allow people to make contributions by credit card. The easier it is to make a donation, the more likely people are to do it – so choosing one that allows one-click payment via a trusted system like PayPal may increase your chances of raising the funds you need.
Both the platform and the payment system providers make their money by taking commissions from the money you raise. Some will charge your donors an extra fee on top of their contribution – which can lead to bad feeling – and others take a percentage of each gift so that you receive less. These are the current published rates for some of the top crowdfunding sites. Payment processing costs tend to come it around another 2.5% – 3% on top.
Some platforms allow you to set rewards to encourage people to donate specific amounts. The rewards can be anything – for example, early access to your product, discounts, free accessories, VIP status.
What happens if you don’t reach your goals?
Some sites allow you to keep the funds you’ve raised no matter how close you get to your goal (less the fees, of course). Others use an ‘all-or-nothing’ fundraising model where, if you fail to reach your target, all the money is returned to the people who pledged it.
(The logic behind this is that if you don’t reach your target, you don’t have to complete the project – which means you don’t have to honour all the rewards you’ve promised in return for pledges. Only getting half of the money you need to start your business but still being obliged to deliver on the rewards could leave you in a sticky situation.)
Crowdfunding platforms are designed for different purposes and audiences, so as well as checking out the features, make sure you choose one that suits your particular goals. There are scores of new sites popping up all the time, so it’s worth doing your research and carefully weighing your options. These are some of the most popular:
|GoFundMe||GoFundMe is perhaps the most well-known crowdfunding site, originating in the US. It’s used for any purpose, there’s no need to set a deadline for your campaign, and they don’t charge penalties for missing your target.||
|Kickstarter||Kickstarter is a US site designed for funding specific projects. with a time limit and a specific goal. It uses the all-or-nothing model of fundraising and enables you to offer rewards to contributors.||
|Indiegogo||Indiegogo describes itself as a ‘launchpad for entrepreneurs’. It’s geared towards the development of innovative products, and offers the option to continue raising money after your target is met, as well as a built-in ‘marketplace’ to help you sell your product.||
|Pozible||Pozible is Asia Pacific's largest crowdfunding platform. Most of the projects it hosts are creative, but it’s also used for startups and technology-based projects. It offers an 'all-or-nothing' system.||
3% - 5%
Due to the success business owners have had using Pozible’s platform, Pozible has just launched Birchal, a dedicated crowd equity fundraising platform. Alan Crabbe, Co-Founder of Birchal provided us with his best three tips when trying to secure funding through crowd equity;
3 crowdfunding tips from Alan Crabbe, Co-Founder of Birchal
Tell your story
Investors need to connect with your team and believe in your idea. Demonstrate your knowledge of the problem you’re solving or the product or service you’re creating. Sell your brand and mission – and stir emotions with your online pitch.
Plan for early traction
Everything you do before you launch a raise online will reduce the risks of failure. By locking down the first 20-30% before you go live, you will set the campaign up for success early. It’ll create confidence in your company, build momentum and get people talking about you.
Talk to people that have done it
Listen to people that have been successful (or not successful) with Equity CF. They’ll provide you valuable tips to save time, money and effort. They’ll also ask the right questions – to ensure you know that you don’t make the same mistakes as them.
You may have heard that earlier this year (2017) the Senate passed a bill allowing Australian companies to seek crowd sourced equity funding. This allows companies to raise funds using an online platform by offering investors shares in the business, rather than paying interest on a loan.
At the moment this is only available to public unlisted companies limited by shares, so unfortunately it is not yet an option for funding a startup business. But the government is currently consulting on draft legislation to extend CSEF to private companies – so it may become a valuable funding source in the future.
An increasingly popular alternative to seeking professional investors is peer-to-peer lending. Fintech sites like, SocietyOne, MoneyPlace and Harmoney, are designed to cut out the financial institutions and “connect investors who want a better return on their money with creditworthy individuals and businesses who want a simple, competitive loan.”
While these sites appear to bring lenders and borrowers together, they actually perform the same function as a bank. The relationship is not direct – the platform acts as an intermediary and charges fees to both parties.
To borrow from a peer-to-peer lending platform you’ll have to apply for a loan and pass a credit check, just as you would with any other finance provider, to prove that you can afford to repay the loan. You’ll also have to make a convincing pitch for your business as these investors are looking for high-potential investments to compensate for the risk they are taking.
You can, however, expect the application process to be much faster than it would be through a traditional lender, and you will probably be offered lower interest rates than you’d get from a bank.
If you decide to explore this route, make sure that you thoroughly check out the terms and conditions of any loan, as well as the fees and any other hidden charges, before you commit to anything. Peer-to-peer lending isn’t subject to the same rigorous regulation as financial intuitions and it’s wise to know exactly what you’re agreeing to.
Using a credit card to fund your startup costs may seem like an easy solution – but it’s a very, very risky one. Business credit cards typically come with high interest rates – often close to, or even exceeding, 20% – and with the interest piling on top of your borrowings every month your balance can quickly spiral out of control if you’re not careful.
14.9% of startups used credit cards to help cover expenses. If you do take this route, make sure you pay as much off as possible each month.
If you switch credit cards regularly you may be able to take advantage of 0% interest introductory deals on purchases and transferred balances – but if you’ve given up regular work to start your business you may find it hard to get new credit facilities when the interest-free period runs out, and find yourself stuck paying higher interest.
Whilst unlikely you also need to be aware that the terms of most credit cards state that the lender can withdraw the facility at any time, without notice, for any reason – potentially leaving you with a hefty debt and no way to repay it.
Home Equity Loan
If you own a property and have built up equity over a period of time, you may be able to release that equity and use the funds to finance your business.
What that means in real terms is that you’ll be taking out a mortgage – or extending an existing mortgage – over your property. It’s basically the same as taking out a secured, long-term personal loan. Mortgage rates are generally lower than most other types of finance so it can be a cost-effective way to get your hands on a decent amount of cash with a long repayment period.
There are three main issues to consider:
- You won’t be able to release equity from your home unless your lender believes you can service the repayments – so you’ll need proof of a steady, ongoing income in order to qualify.
- A mortgage is a long-term loan, and many don’t allow early repayment without substantial penalties. This means you could you can end up locked into a long-term loan, paying interest, long after your business becomes profitable and you no longer need the funding.
- If you use your house as collateral for a loan and something goes wrong, you could lose your home.
As part of its National Innovation and Science Agenda the federal government is actively seeking to encourage entrepreneurship and grow small business in Australia.
As well as various tax breaks and initiatives to attract investment in innovative and high-potential startup businesses, they are offering funding and support to ‘incubator’ services that “help innovative startups to rapidly transform their ideas into globally competitive businesses”.
The incubation support initiative is part of the Entrepreneurs’ Programme, which also offers accelerating commercialisation grants to small incorporated businesses. These grants provide “expert advice and matched funding of up to $1 million to cover eligible commercialisation costs to help them take novel products, processes and services to market.”
Applying for an accelerating commercialisation grant can be a lengthy and complex process. There are lots of criteria to meet – including that you intend to trade beyond the boundaries of your state or territory, and that you have the rights to a sufficiently ‘novel’ product or service – so it won’t be suitable for many businesses. It’s important, too, to note that this is ‘matched funding’ – which means you’ll have to prove you can fund at least 50% of the project expenses yourself.
Christopher Gardner, a small business grant veteran says the most important part of a grant application is “A concise but comprehensive project summary that clearly responds to the program’s objectives. This will “capture” the Assessors attention leading them to actively consider the project.”
There are many other government grants available to small businesses for specific purposes such as conducting market research and testing your business model or hiring staff, or to help cover startup or expansion costs. Many of these are state or local government grants that only apply to particular regions or types of business.
If you don’t qualify for a government grant, some financial institutions offer grant programs for small businesses too, such as the St. George Kick Start program.
Out of 33% of startups that applied, 22% received funding through a government grant in 2016.
If you decide to apply for grant funding, expect to invest a lot of time and effort into the process. There’s no guarantee of success, which puts off many busy entrepreneurs, but if you do manage to secure a grant the reward of ‘free’ money, plus the advice and support that usually comes with it, is well worth the hard work.
This could be exactly what you’ve been saving for all these years – an opportunity to turn your nest-egg into a thriving business and secure your financial future. At the moment the interest rates on savings in Australia are exceptionally low, hovering at around 3%, so using your savings to fund your startup could end up delivering you a far greater return.
And since any sort of business loan will probably incur a far higher interest rate than you can earn on your savings, it makes total sense to use funds you already have rather than borrow to start your business.
Be careful, though, because the startup costs of a business can mount up with lightning speed, and there will always be expenses you didn’t expect. You could end up eating through your savings before you know it and be left with nothing if your business venture fails (but at least you won’t have debts hanging over you).
Poor cash flow is one of the top reasons Australian small businesses fail, so if you’re going to rely on savings and not apply for a loan facility as a back-up you’ll need to manage your working capital with extreme care.
‘Bootstrapping’ means starting your business without any external funding or investment, covering all your startup costs yourself. 70.6% of founders fund their business with their own money. Although this might seem like the toughest option, it can actually have many advantages, such as:
You won’t have potentially crippling loans to repay if something goes wrong.
No investor or finance company looking over your shoulder and calling the shots.
If your cash is limited, you are likely to make careful decisions about how to spend it, meaning that you’ll put off unnecessary expenditure until your business proves itself.
If you decide to take the bootstrap route there are several steps you can take to minimise your costs and boost your chances of success – such as recruiting people who are willing to work for an equity stake in your business rather than drawing a salary, and using social media to test and promote your idea rather than paying for advertising from the outset.
Pro tip: Find social media influencers who are happy to promote your product in return for free product.
Of course, if you’re going to self-finance your startup, and you don’t already have a large pool of cash at your disposal, then you’re going to need ongoing income during the startup and establishment phases to cover your living costs and startup expenses.
The best way to make sure you’ll have this is to keep working as usual, and then put in the time on launching and building your business out-of-hours. Many budding entrepreneurs continue working 9 – 5pm in their day jobs, and focus on their passion project from 6pm until midnight and at weekends.
Admittedly taking this route means you’re in for a long period of hard graft – but starting a successful business is always going to take hard work and serious effort.
R&D Tax Incentive Funding
Some Australian businesses may be eligible for the Research and Development (R&D) Tax Incentive program. We have left this one until last as you need to spend money before you can receive a refundable tax offset.
If your business engaged in eligible R&D activities within a financial year, your accountant can include the R&D expenses when they lodge your tax return for that year, and receive a 43.5% refund on R&D related expenses (38.5% for $20m+ turnover businesses).
Conditions apply and you will first need to register the R&D activity for approval with the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.
It’s recommended that you use a specialist R&D consultant who will help you prepare your lodgment in return for a percentage of the refund you receive.
Treadstone is a registered Tax Agent for the R&D Tax Incentive and participates with the ongoing AusIndustry’s State Reference Groups for R&D Tax. We spoke to Peter Nolle from Treadstone and asked him what tips he had for businesses looking to take advantage of the program.
Peter Nolle, Director of Treadstone shares his best 5 tips
- You must have a Pty Ltd incorporated company doing the R&D to be eligible, not a trustee or trust.
- You can claim your own salary if you are contributing to the R&D work. If you don’t pay yourself, you can’t claim it.
- You can’t claim overseas activities so best to use Australian resources to do the R&D.
- You can claim a proportion of overheads like rent and motor vehicles if they relate to the R&D activity.
- If you are in a loss position you will get the cash rebate up to 43.5%. If not your cash rebate may only be 13.5%.
In a recent survey conducted by Startup Muster, 22.6% of startups said they received funding through an R&D tax offset.The following graph shows different types of funding received by startups in 2016:
It’s also worth noting that you do not have to resort to locating investors in your own state. 36% of startups raised money from interstate and 22% from overseas, see the following graph.
The Top 13 Ways to Fund Your Startup:
Pros and Cons
|Startup Business Loan||Use your personal assets and credit rating to secure funding for a business that won’t yet qualify for a loan. Lots of options including banks and alternative lenders with a wide range of interest rates and terms and conditions.||If you use personal assets to secure a loan and your business fails, you could lose those assets. You’ll need to prove that you can service the repayments from ongoing income in order to qualify for a loan. Remember that interest rates may go up, impacting your repayment costs.|
|Sweat Equity||Avoid some of the greatest costs of establishing a business by enlisting professional help in exchange for equity. Equity partners share in both the risks and rewards of the business, so they are likely to be highly committed.||If your partners don’t share your vision and goals, internal disputes can derail your business. There are many different ways to value sweat equity, so it’s vital to agree in advance how large a stake each contribution will be worth.|
|Find a Professional Investor||Funding is usually offered in exchange for an equity stake, so there are no loans to repay if the business fails. Investors often contribute expertise and provide access to valuable networks.||Can be hard to secure – lots of up-front research, forecasting and planning to prove your idea is viable. Lengthy application process. You can expect to lose some of the control of your business to a third party who may not share your goals, vision and risk appetite.|
|Borrow From Friends and Family||Usually lower interest rates and more flexible repayment terms than a formal loan.||If your business fails, your friend or family could lose their investment. Relationships can be destroyed.|
|Personal Loan||Your personal credit history is used instead of your business history. Many lenders do not require you tie up security in a personal loan.||Can normally only borrow small amounts (up to $30,000).|
|Crowdfunding||Great way to harness the goodwill of family and friends – and potential random well-wishers – without asking anyone to risk a large sum.||Relies on finding enough people willing to support your new venture. Platforms and payment systems both charge fees that chip away at the funds raised. Some platforms use an ‘all-or-nothing’ model where all funds are returned if you don’t reach your target.|
|Peer-to-Peer Lending||Opportunity to access a business loan even if you’re in the startup phase where other lenders won’t consider you. Loans usually attract lower interest rates than offered by the banks.||Not a direct relationship with investor – platform acts as the middleman and charges fees. You will still have to pass credit checks and prove you have sufficient income to service the loan repayments, as well as making a convincing pitch for your business.|
|Credit Card||Easy access to cash, with interest only payable on the drawn balance. Many facilities offer 0% interest introductory rates so it can be a cheap way to finance early expenses, provided that you repay the balance quickly.||Credit card interest rates are usually substantially higher than other borrowing options if you use the facility after the low-rate introductory period. Credit facilities can be withdrawn at any time for any reason, making this a VERY HIGH RISK option (as well as a potentially expensive one).|
|Home Equity Loan||Use the equity you’ve built up in your house to access a substantial sum – potentially more than you could raise from an investor or lender – with a long repayment period.||If you use your house as security for a loan, you could lose your home if you can’t repay it. You’ll need to prove that you can service the repayments from ongoing income in order to qualify for equity release. Remember that interest rates can go up, impacting your repayment costs. You may be locked into the loan, paying interest, even after you no longer need it. Some mortgages have penalties for early repayments.|
|Grants||‘Free’ cash to help you get started or cover specific aspects of your business. No debts or repayments to worry about. Grants often come with other benefits, such as mentoring or professional advice.||Usually a lengthy and complicated application process, with no guarantee of success. Lots of eligibility criteria that exclude many businesses.|
|Savings||No loans to worry about and total freedom in how you operate your business.||If you spend all your savings, you’ll have no nest-egg to fall back on should your business fail. Not having a credit facility means no back-up to draw on if your cash flow fluctuates.|
|Bootstrapping||No external funding to repay if anything goes wrong Slowly build your business and customer base while retaining the security your regular employment.||Working and building a business at the same time can be exhausting No back-up cash to cover big up-front costs.|
|R&D Tax Incentive Funding||Receive 43.5% of your R&D expenses as a refund when your lodge your tax return. Can use a professional to help you, and only pay on success.||Need to spend the money before you can receive a refund. Need to keep track of R&D activities and document everything.|
How likely will your startup need additional funding?
If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that your startup needs funding, either at launch or later, but don’t worry, you’re not alone, in fact 72% of startups require additional funding.The following graph shows the percentage of startups that required funding and when they required it.
Whichever funding method you opt for, don’t forget that the cash isn’t infinite! It’s vital that you make prudent decisions about your spending and avoid unnecessary expenses like renting your own offices until your business is well and truly established.