How do you know which financing options are best for you?
There are a variety of strategies to choose from when looking for business funding, depending on the type, goals and stage of your business. — Getty Images/courtneyk

The growth of a business can be categorized in roughly five stages; each stage brings new financing challenges and opportunities for investment. There are several ways to get financial support at various points of growth, and what’s right for one merchant might be unsustainable for another business owner. There are many paths to success for businesses; here are some of the most common, organized by each growth stage.

[Read more: Need to Raise Business Capital? Know These 5 Funding Rounds]

Stage 1: Startup

In this phase, you’ve committed to making your idea a reality. Congratulations! This is where the hard work begins: Your business may exist, but as the owner, you’re responsible for finding customers, delivering a product or service and making enough money to survive.

At this stage, most business owners are bootstrapping their way to the next stage of growth. Bootstrapping means you are building the company using nothing but your personal savings and, hopefully, cash from your first sales. “More than 80% of startup operations are funded by the founders' personal finances; the median in start-up capital is about $10,000,” reports Investopedia.

In venture capitalist terms, this is also the “pre-seed” stage of financing. Merchants looking for pre-seed capital will draw from personal savings, friends and family members, and raise money through crowdfunding campaigns. Until you’ve verified that your business idea is something customers want, it’s generally not a good idea to take out a loan. Likewise, angel investors and venture capitalists will want to see some early business results before participating in a funding round.

Stage 2: Survival

A business that’s reached survival stage has verified that it has a workable business model. Your business idea is something that customers want and will continue to buy into. Now your challenge is to grow from simply existing to becoming a business with revenues, expenses, assets and employees.

Survival is also one of the hardest phases for new ventures. “It’s not uncommon for companies to grow broke at this stage. They don’t have enough money to cover the costs of building new products or hiring more people to provide more services,” writes American Express.

During the survival phase, your business will be in the seed phase of financing. In the venture capital world, the seed round is when business owners gather capital to get things up and running. Some venture capitalists and other investors may be interested in investing in your business at this stage, but there are a number of ways to get a quick injection of cash:

  • Angel investors: An angel investor offers financial backing to small startups in exchange for ownership equity.
  • Equity crowdfunding: Your business raises capital by selling securities, such as equity in the company and revenue shares.
  • Grants: Apply for a grant from federal and state agencies, as well as some private companies.
  • Micro-lenders: These very small loans, usually less than $50,000, are offered by individuals, not traditional lending institutions.

For most businesses in the stage, it’s too early to go for an SBA loan. The qualifications for an SBA loan include a certain number of years in business, a credit card score and at least $100,000 in annual revenue.

Bootstrapping means you are building the company using nothing but your personal savings and, hopefully, cash from your first sales.

Stage 3: Success

When your company can sustain itself profitably, it has reached the success stage. Ventures can stay at this stage indefinitely: Unless a natural disaster, economic downturn or other unforeseen catastrophe happens, this is the stage in which your business is stable and profitable.

Many entrepreneurs use financing in this phase to fuel even more growth. This might include launching a new product line, expanding to a new location or simply continuing to reach new customers and grow your profits. Investors will be seriously interested in your business’s track record of early success.

Financing options in this phase could include the following:

  • Venture capital, Series A: A Series A investor wants to take your business revenue into the millions. According to Investopedia, the Series A round consists of anywhere between $2 million to $15 million in funding.
  • SBA loan: It’s likely you’re ready for an SBA loan at this stage. Read more in our complete guide to SBA loans.
  • Short-term business loans: If you just need extra cash for a big equipment purchase, for instance, consider a short-term small business loan that can increase your working capital.
  • Bridge loans: Like a short-term business loan, a bridge loan can give you working capital while you’re waiting for more long-term funding to come. Read more in our guide to bridge loans.

[Read more: 3 Expert Strategies for Attracting Investors]

Stage 4: Take-off

Once you’ve committed to expanding, the next phase is the “take-off” phase when many entrepreneurs choose between becoming a big business or selling their venture and starting anew. The best funding strategy at this stage is to work with a venture capitalist. They will be able to take you through Series B and Series C funding:

  • Series B: This type of funding focuses on taking the business to the next level and meeting demand for your product or service. A Series B venture capitalist will ask for more market research and business development. Series B funding is typically between $7 million and $10 million.
  • Series C: This funding is for businesses that are very successful and need more capital to continue scaling. Some businesses use their Series C funding to acquire or merge with a similar venture.

Outside of Series C, companies might also go through Series D and Series E financing rounds that accomplish similar goals.

Stage 5: Maturity

A mature company is no longer a small business. At this stage, your biggest challenge will be controlling your substantial finances. Some businesses at this stage choose to offer an initial public offering (IPO). To go through that process, you will need roughly $100 million in revenue. Reaching this level of success takes years of hard work, a great idea and plenty of funding help along the way.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published February 12, 2020