100 Percent Financing
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100 Percent Financing

Q: I have a chance to get in on the ground floor of a new business. Although I don't have enough money to buy the business, the present owner will finance me 100% at 15% interest — about $100,000 total. I figure I can make that up pretty quickly once I get started. Am I right to think this is a great deal for me? — David

A: David my friend, you are about to make the No 1 mistake someone can make when starting a new business. No, not the No. 2 mistake, or even the No 3 mistake. We are talking about the granddaddy of mistakes, the big enchilada, el Numero Uno.

What is it, you ask? I'll get to that in a moment.

Your question reminds me of the story I read in my local paper not long ago. It turns out that a restaurant that I love is going out of business after only two years in existence. I was really surprised to learn this. After all, this place had been named the Best New Restaurant by a local, influential magazine, was always crowded, and the food was great.

But then, as I read the story about its imminent demise, the problem became all too obvious. The owner, the story said, had sunk — get ready for this — $250,000 into the place, and had done so using all available credit on his credit cards. I don't know about your business, but the average small business, mine included, would find it very difficult to repay $250,000 in loans.

Consider: If the restaurant owner's average interest rate of his credit cards is 10%, his yearly interest alone $25,000, or roughly $2,000 a month. When you add in labor, rent, cost of food, and overhead it is easy to see why the venture failed. You have to sell a whole lot of fish to cover a monthly nut like that, and that's not even accounting for the principal. What was he thinking?

The No. 1 mistake a new small business can make is to take on too much debt to get the venture off the ground. Especially in the beginning, you simply have to keep your overhead low if you want the chance to thrive.

Look, a lot of things have to go right for a new small business to succeed: You have to have a good idea, maybe a good team, a great plan, some smarts and know-how, possibly some contacts, and, quite frankly, some luck. If, on top of all that, you burden the venture with a huge debt payload that is going to gobble up all extra capital, you are hogtying your hands from the get go.

Starting a new business with too much debt is like putting a noose around your neck; you will feel restricted, frustrated, held back and worried from the get go. How are you going to be able to afford to advertise? Where is your monthly draw going to come from?

Needless to say, I am not advocating starting a business debt free. Most of us take on debt to get the thing going. That's understandable. The question is, is the debt you are taking on manageable? You know if it is if you can crunch some realistic numbers and everything pencils out.

Had the restaurant owner just done that simple exercise, had he made some simple business projections of income and outflow, he would have known that there is no way he could afford to charge a quarter million dollars and earn enough profit to make a go of it, especially in a notoriously low-margin industry like the food business.

The moral of the story is clear: Don't start a business if it is going to cost you so much to open the doors that you can't afford to keep them open. Keep your overhead low. Budget.

At the beginning of your business, especially, is the time to rein in your natural entrepreneurial enthusiasm and be conservative. Future you will thank present you that you did.

© 2010 Steven D. Strauss, www.MrAllBiz.com