Funding Your Side Hustle
Every business needs funding to get off the ground, but no two businesses have the same funding needs. Even established, successful businesses often need outside funding in order to expand their services or facilities. Again, how much and what type of funding is right for you depends on what you do and where you are in the process of doing it.
If you’re a startup, you may find it difficult to get traditional bank loans unless you, personally, have a strong credit history or have significant collateral. Established businesses with a history of profit will likely find an easier route to such loans, but they still are not a sure thing.
While grants don’t need to be repaid, they tend to have strict application requirements and the competition is stiff. Loans and outside investors can offer stable funding. Unlike most grants, however, investors and banks want something more than goodwill in return, meaning you need to repay with interest or equity.
While some grants are there specifically for women-owned small businesses, be aware they can change or end at any time.
At Challenge.gov you’ll find a list of US government grants for businesses already in full swing and tackling a specific problem. Tech, biochemical, healthcare, data storage, environmental innovation, and other science- or industry-specific companies will find plenty of interesting funding paths here: in weather forecasting, GPS signaling, prenatal healthcare, and more.
The annual $100,000 Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program has been running since 2004, but the company pressed pause in 2018. Organizers say they want to reevaluate their portfolio but hope to be active again in spring 2019. Put it on your calendar.
In the meantime, the associated Eileen Fisher Community Partnership grant is still active. It’s a cash grant of up to $2,500 awarded quarterly. The money can go to programming, operating expenses, or event sponsorship. Organizations applying for the grant must:
- Focus on the issues and needs of the community in which they are based
- Demonstrate commitment to fostering community development
- Align with one or more of the company’s core funding areas: environment, human rights, women and girls, diversity and inclusion
- Be a US-based 501(c)3 organization
- Be located within 25 miles of an Eileen Fisher office, retail store, or showroom
- IdeaCafe: This program grants $1,000 to small business owners. The grant program is not exclusively for women entrepreneurs, but the majority of recipients are women. This is a well-recommended grant for women entrepreneurs with startups underway and in need of funding.
- Chase Bank Mission Main Street: JP Morgan Chase awards $150,000 each year to 20 small businesses through this grant program. Your business must have been in operation for two years or more to be eligible, and you must have under 100 employees. This grant program is not exclusively for women, but women entrepreneurs are encouraged to apply.
- Small Business Technology Transfer programs and Small Business Innovation Research: Both award grants to small businesses that contribute to the US government’s technology research and development programs. The Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Defense all post grant opportunities for small businesses on their websites. The Small Business Administration (SBA) facilitates both programs. Competition for these grants is strong.
The federal SBA offers access to long-term, low-interest loans specifically for—as you might expect—small businesses. These loans are partially guaranteed by the government, so banks are at less risk if the borrower should default. To qualify, borrowers generally need to have been in business longer than two years, have $100,000 or more in annual revenue, and have a credit score of 620 or better. There are other criteria as well.
Small business term loans are what probably come to mind when you think of business funding. They pay a lump sum that you must pay back with interest. While these are most often bank loans, there are other lenders out there offering low-rate, long-term financing. As expected, the term, amount, and interest rate depend on your credit history.
Both traditional term loans and those partially guaranteed by the government are great options for established small businesses. They might not be right, however, for very small businesses and true startups that have yet to prove themselves.
- Pro: Thousands of banks offer different options for different borrowers, so it’s fairly easy to find the right fit. Also, with federal oversight, you can be sure these lenders are scrupulous.
- Con: There’s no getting around the interest you’ll need to pay on your loan. Furthermore, some loans actually penalize you for paying them off early.
Silly campaigns to fund cat photos or someone’s breakfast have given crowdfunding a bad name recently, but it’s still a very useful option for both fundraising and developing a rapport with potential customers. Essentially, you’re turning prospective customers into active supporters. The concept is easy: Using a reputable platform like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Fundable, you set up a campaign goal. By pledging at a certain level, your funders might get some extra, such as a gift or a version of the product. If you reach the goal, you get the money—minus a percentage for the platform. If you fail to reach the goal, everyone gets their money back.
Crowdfunding is ideal for startups. It’s advertising in the form of fundraising. Larger or better-established companies should, in general, shy away from crowdfunding. It may give the impression you aren’t on good footing.
- Pro: It couples customer outreach with raising money.
- Con: It can come off as a little desperate, especially if you aren’t able to meet your goal.
Venture capitalists are looking to invest early in emerging companies that show great potential but lack the needed startup capital. They want to get there first, get in on the ground floor. They’re the Shark Tank type. Venture capitalists realize they’re taking a risk on an unproven idea. They like it. But they aren’t crazy. You’ll need to have your idea spelled out clearly and be ready to answer some hard questions. They might also have some specific criteria you must meet. Maybe it’s changing the logo or name; maybe it’s something more substantial.
As we said, venture capitalists are ideal partners for new companies ready to sink or swim.
- Pro: A shot of capital from these folks does wonders for your confidence and bank account, especially for businesses struggling to get going.
- Con: That capital may come with demands and almost certainly an ownership share.
It’s a hopeful title, and for many businesses it’s the answer to a prayer. But angel investors are not fairy godmothers. Usually the funding they provide comes with partial ownership. They are looking for a big payout in a short period—usually by growing the company’s worth as quickly as possible in less than 10 years and then selling their share for a big profit. Still, if giving up a percentage of ownership and control means remaining in business, you might see this means of raising capital as angelic. And looking at it from the investor’s point of view, they’re taking a huge risk. You’ve already proven your business isn’t a money maker or doesn’t have the ability to expand as necessary. The angel investor is betting on you, so don’t be surprised if their money comes with strings attached.
Angel investors are attracted to businesses big and small, but always with an eye for rapid growth.
- Pro: Suddenly you have the capital to move to the next level.
- Con: You better be prepared to move to that next level—and the one after that—quickly.
There are creative ways to raise capital yourself. Some people have the luxury (and liability) of borrowing from friends and family—but that’s probably not ideal for your relationship with them. We know a magazine publisher who spent his cash inheritance and started selling off his family’s property to keep his failing business going. Others rely on other ‘side hustles’ to keep a business venture afloat—driving a taxi, waiting tables, bagging groceries. It works, but it also eats up a ton of time and energy.
When visual artist Basil Kincaid first committed to making his art his full-time job, he found a novel way of making ends meet while expanding his business. People were interested in his work but were reluctant to pay what he thought it was worth. Rather than sell cheap and undervalue his work, Kincaid kept his originals and instead sold a limited number of prints of each work. The reproductions were affordable and helped raise interest in his work. His originals now sell for the price he sets.
- Pro: You do it yourself. You’re forced to get creative and find a way to make it work.
- Con: Working additional jobs can take a lot of focus off your enterprise.
Getting your project funded properly requires some risk and—most likely—getting out of your comfort zone. IAW can help you meet and learn from other professional women on this same road, as well as experts on paths you haven’t yet ventured down.