How to Start a Business Without Losing Your Shirt

Date posted: October 9, 2012

By Rieva Lesonsky

Do you feel like you can’t start a business because you’re not a born risk-taker? The myth that every successful startup business owner embraces risk a la Richard Branson is just that—a myth. You don’t have to be a daredevil to succeed at business ownership. In reality, minimizing your risk increases your chances of success.

So how can you start a business, especially in today’s tenuous economy, without putting it all on the line?

Start by focusing on financial risk. The number-one reason small businesses fail is lack of adequate capital. Today, when so many sources of financing—from home equity loans to bank loans to venture capital–have either dried up entirely or become harder to get, this risk is more real than ever. It’s crucial to make sure you’re sufficiently capitalized.

Instead of relying on outside sources (which you may or may not be able to access), minimize risk by figuring out how much money you can put into your startup. Begin by assessing your personal finances, including checking, savings and retirement accounts. Do you have any assets you could sell to raise cash for your startup? How much money can you realistically put in to your new business?

The flip side of raising money is cutting costs. Create a startup budget (SCORE mentors can help) and scrutinize it closely. Where can you cut back? What can you do without or do less expensively? Can you barter or get friends and family to help you out for free? I’m not suggesting you “cheap out” and make your business less robust than it should be, but it’s easier than ever to start a shoestring business today and still have it look like a big-time operation—so don’t spend money you don’t need to.

If there’s still a gap between the money you have and the money you need, you have several options:

  • Start part time by working on your business at night and on weekends. That way you’ll still have your regular salary to draw on until your business is making a profit.
  • Enlist friends and family for financing. Friends and family are the number-one source of financing for startup businesses. If they are willing to kick in capital, make sure you consult an attorney and treat the loan or equity as you would any investment from an outside source.
  • Consider how much you can sacrifice. If you’re young, can you move in with your parents and go without a salary while your business is getting off the ground? If you’re older, can you take money from a 401(k) or other investment? (Be sure you can afford to lose the money you use.)
  • Find a partner. A partnership with another person or business who has the money you lack can be a great way to not only finance your startup, but also bring additional skills, contacts and know-how on board.


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