Depending on where you are in your life and your career, you might have incurred some personal debt. Many would-be entrepreneurs owe money on credit cards, student loans, mortgages and cars. These heavy outstanding balances could put their dreams of business ownership on hold.
Though quitting your day job to start a business when you’re already in the red is ill-advised, debt shouldn’t prevent you from getting your business going. Although it’s not easy, it is possible to become an entrepreneur under tough financial circumstances.
If you’re in debt and want to start a business, take these eight steps to minimize startup expenses and keep your cash flow steady:
Here is more information on each step of the process:
If you’re carrying a lot of personal debt, your monthly cash flow is probably not optimal for funding a business. There are some options for business owners in your position, including alternative lenders and credit card financing. However, each comes with pros and cons, and you should thoroughly understand what they involve before moving ahead.
Ethan Senturia, chief fintech officer at Housecall Pro and author of Unwound: Real-Time Reflections From a Stumbling Entrepreneur, said affordable financing options, such as loans and lines of credit with low interest rates, almost always require a personal guarantee from the business owner.
“Even though you can get a business loan with a heavy personal debt load, most small business lenders will ask that you personally guarantee repayment of the loan in case your business can’t make the payment,” Senturia said. “This could add a heavier burden on your already-heavy debt obligations and could add stress to your personal life. Financing that doesn’t require a personal guarantee … is very expensive and can significantly strain your new business.”
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You can probably also secure additional personal credit cards for your business, but Senturia doesn’t recommend this, as these cards will not help you build business credit. Instead, they will hurt your personal credit. [Read related article: Small Business Financing Options That Bypass Traditional Banks]
Business loan options for formal financing
If going into business debt as you launch your operation sounds like the right call, look into these options:
Not sure where to start when looking for business funding? Our list of the best business loans can give you an idea of what to look for, whether you’re in need of conventional financing or an alternative lender.
If you go with a loan, research to decide if a revenue-based or cash flow lender would be better for your business. Revenue-based lenders, also known as subprime lenders, care more about your business revenue and personal credit score than your personal debt. Senturia noted that these lenders are often expensive, but less stringent in their underwriting. Cash flow-based lenders, on the other hand, look at your business’s ability to pay your business debt from your cash flow, including your personal living expenses and debts, he said.
“Cash flow-based lenders will also consider outside personal income as a positive addition and will give you credit for this in their cash flow equation,” Senturia said. “Since many business owners rely on the business to cover their personal expenses as well, the impact of personal debt loads oftentimes will be factored in.”
You may not have the money to bankroll your business right now, but someone you know might. Leslie Tayne, financial attorney and author of Life & Debt: A Fresh Approach to Achieving Financial Wellness, said finding someone with a ready cash flow can help you get more done sooner. She suggested turning to a relative or friend to borrow money.
“If you want interest-free cash and are confident that you will have success from your business, then ask a family member [or friend] to give you a loan,” Tayne said. “I don’t always recommend [it], but in this situation, you can consider it and have a time frame set in when you can pay them back.”
You might also see if family members and friends are willing to invest in your business, said David Walter, CEO of Electrician Mentor. If you go this route, make the process formal. When Walter took this approach, he drew up a written formal agreement with each investor to avoid conflicts and potentially damaging arguments – or worse – down the road.
“All of my agreements [included specifics on] how much money was invested and what rate of return was expected,” he said. “Overall, it turned out to be a very positive experience.”
Another possibility is finding a business partner. However, you should take this approach only if you’re willing to cede some control of your business.
Matt Scott, owner of Termite Survey, said it’s best to hire an attorney to develop a partnership agreement that includes an “exit plan for the relationship,” along with financial details, expectations and a specific breakdown of who will control which aspects of your operation. [Read related article: Business Partnership Agreement Writing Guide]
Getting a loan from a friend or family member and finding a partner are viable alternatives to funding a new business with a bank loan or business credit. These options require a detailed written agreement.
Even if you do secure a monetary loan from a friend or family member, or persuade someone to partner up with you on the venture, you may also be able to get help from an angel investor. Angel investors typically offer capital for business startups in exchange for convertible debt or equity in the business. Many angel investors belong to networks where they share investment capital. [Read related article: Why SBA Loans Differ From Conventional Loans]
Other funding sources include the following:
Microloans – which usually range from $5,000 to $20,000 – are also worth exploring.
“Minority business owners, in particular, can qualify [for microloans] if they don’t need a lot of money,” said Ty Crandall, founder and CEO of Credit Suite. “These are often good loans in terms of interest rates.”
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers the SBA Microloan Program. Loans available under the program carry interest rates of 8 percent to 13 percent and have a maximum repayment term of six years. Our best pick for private microloans is Accion, which offers loans as small as $300 with transparent APRs and flexible terms.
While competition for them can be fierce, you can also look into government grants and grants from local agencies. Visit our guide to government grants to learn more about grants for women-owned, veteran-owned and minority-owned businesses.
Angel investors, microloans and grants are worth exploring as alternative funding sources.
No matter how you intend to finance your business, make a plan for how you will use the money, especially if you are looking for a loan, Senturia said. This plan should be detailed, but flexible enough to adjust as your financial situation changes.
“Don’t borrow more than you need, and don’t borrow without a specific use of funds,” Senturia said. “Taking that money when you don’t know specifically how it will make a profit for you isn’t a prudent decision, and it may actually hurt your business more than it helps. Borrowing with a clear sense of purpose will give you the best chance to productively and successfully deploy your new capital.”
Knowing exactly how you’re going to use borrowed funds may even help you obtain a loan despite your debt. Josh Eberly, owner of 717 Home Buyers, said sharing a five-year plan for how he was going to use borrowed funds was an invaluable strategy in procuring funds to start his business.
You should avoid borrowing more money than you need, and you should form a concrete plan for how you’ll use the funds.
Entrepreneurship often means making personal sacrifices for the sake of your business, and money is no exception. Nicole Pomije, the serial entrepreneur behind NB Talent Services and The Cookie Cups, was carrying a lot of credit card debt when she started her first business. She soon realized it was necessary to cut down on her personal expenses to grow her company.
“When you are starting a new business, you are going to have a lot of expenses to consider, which can be harder when you are in debt,” Pomije told Business News Daily. “By keeping your bills low, you will save yourself a headache and free up the extra cash you need to invest in the new business.”
While Pomije relocated from notoriously expensive New York City to Minneapolis to cut down on her bills, there are less drastic ways you can pare down your expenses. For example, smart meal planning reduces your reliance on pricey restaurants and takeout, and refinancing your car or home loans can lower your interest and payments. Eliminating or scaling back your use of subscription-based television services can also add up to significant savings, as can finding a cheaper cell phone plan.
You won’t get rich from a side gig, but taking on one or more can help you reduce your debt faster and provide cash to fund your business, said Peter Koch, co-founder of DollarSanity.
Consider driving for Uber or Lyft or delivering food through services like Uber Eats and Grubhub. You could also register on TaskRabbit to provide busy consumers with services in more than 50 categories. There’s a one-time $25 registration fee, but you get to keep all of your earnings.
Other side-hustle possibilities are child care, tutoring, pet sitting, freelance writing and web design.
Jessica Zweig, founder and CEO of personal branding agency SimplyBe and author of Be: A No-Bullsh*t Guide to Increasing Your Self Worth and Net Worth by Simply Being Yourself, suggests depositing money from side hustles into an account that is difficult to access. This way, you will not be tempted to spend the money frivolously and can build up your wealth.
“My accountant once said to me, ‘Stack your cheddar,’ and that’s one of my favorite pieces of advice about opening an account and putting money where you can’t touch it,” Zweig said.
A side hustle is a good way to chisel away at your debt and earn cash to invest in your business.
Your business doesn’t have to go full steam ahead right away. If you can’t afford to go all out right now, start slowly, Pomije said. Get the ball rolling with small, inexpensive tasks that establish your brand’s presence.
“Create a logo, set up your social media accounts [and] even buy the domain name for your business,” Pomije said. “These are all things you can do at a low cost that will help get your new business up and running.”
You can start marketing your business with some creative, low-cost strategies. Tayne suggests personable, memorable and eye-catching social media campaigns.
“Images speak louder than words,” she said. “Create a [visual] advertising campaign that makes an impression. This can be low in budget and gain you more clients.”
Although it may be tempting to use your profits to pay down your personal debts, Tayne said your business’s growth needs to come first.
“Don’t spend the money you make right away,” she said. “Invest your profits back into your business before paying off any debt. This is crucial and will keep your business going. It will also save you in the future. Wait until you are making a steady profit. Then you can put more money towards your debt and spending.”
Check out our guide for more tips on managing your business finances.
It’s not impossible to launch a business while you’re managing personal debt, but proper planning is key. Securing funding for your business or using a business credit card can help you get off the ground, but you’ll need to plan accordingly to ensure your debt load doesn’t get out of control. When building a business and paying off debt, it’s a marathon and not a sprint, so be sure to come up with a plan and stay consistent when executing it. Soon enough, you’ll be in a better position for your business to grow and succeed.
Tejas Vemparala and Max Freedman contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.