Starting a business from scratch isn’t easy under any circumstances. But for members of the millennial generation, many of whom still sit atop a mountain of student loan debt, it can seem virtually impossible.
Student debt has risen dramatically in recent years to become the largest single debt source among those under 40. In fact, the average class of 2016 graduate will be saddled with $37,172 in student loan debt—enough to crush the entrepreneurial spirit of any would-be business owner.
Even so, if you have a business idea you believe in, there’s no reason to put those dreams on hold. With some careful planning and financial management—and a bit of luck—you can overcome your debt burdens and turn that killer idea into a reality.
Learn some essential business basics
Call it common sense, but the first step toward creating a viable business is ensuring that you understand the financial basics. You don’t need to be Warren Buffett to succeed in the world of business, but you’ll be working at a serious disadvantage if you can’t handle the basics of day-to-day business operations.
From creating a coherent business plan to constructing and managing a budget and leveraging advantageous tax laws, you’ll face many tricky financial decisions right out of the gate. If your knowledge and skills could stand to improve, consider taking advantage of the many free business training resources that are available both online and in-person. The U.S. Small Business Administration is a particularly valuable resource, offering courses that cover virtually every important aspect of creating and operating a business.
Seek out business financing
If you’re carrying significant student loan or other debts, you probably don’t have an abundance of free cash to invest in your business.
To remedy that, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the many financing options available to fledgling businesses. Traditional bank loans, SBA loans, microloans, and alternative lenders are all popular options, but each comes with its own set of pros and cons. Angel investors and venture capitalists are also worth exploring, and they may come with secondary benefits such as guidance and mentoring or access to industry connections. Small business grants are also made available to businesses in certain fields related to science and research, though they may be difficult to obtain and come with strict requirements and oversights.
Taking the time to thoroughly research the financing routes available to you can help you secure the money you need while taking on as little interest and debt as possible.
Explore your loan payment options
When it comes to handling your student loan obligations, you may be surprised at the number of choices you have.
If you have federal loans, you may be able to consolidate and extend your loan term. Consolidating your student loans helps simplify the payment process and may also help lower how much you pay each month. For more information about the federal loan consolidation process, the U.S. Department of Education’s website offers advice as you consider whether loan consolidation is the best option for you.
While consolidation will result in greater interest totals over the life of the loan, it’s an easy way to significantly reduce your payments in the short term. A “pay as you earn” or income-based repayment plan may also ease your monthly payment burden depending on your income level, while applying for deferment or forbearance can temporarily postpone payment altogether.
Private loans are a slightly different story—and typically offer far fewer choices—though it’s still worth reaching out to your lender to explore your options.
Banks, angel investors, and other financing sources are great, but they aren’t the only ways to fund your venture. For millennials moving quickly up the entrepreneurial ladder, there are numerous alternative resources that help the cash start flowing in. From crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to grant search databases, getting good funding can be as simple as going online and sharing your story with others.
It often pays to get creative in your search for funding, whether it’s persuading friends and family to invest in your idea or selling off any unneeded valuables you happen to have sitting around. A business credit card is also a worthwhile consideration. In fact, nearly four in every five new business owners turn to credit cards to cover at least some of their early expenses.
Though it’s important to be mindful of high-interest rates and other penalties, responsible use of a business credit card can provide convenient access to funds while also helping you establish and build business credit. Many business cards also offer strong rewards programs and other incentives, and you can even deduct interest payments and late fees come tax time.
Create a debt plan
Whether you’ve deferred your loan payments or not, it’s critical that you have a plan for managing and ultimately paying off your student loan debts.
Before jumping headlong into entrepreneurship, take some time to review your debts and overall financial situation and decide on the best course of action for paying them down. Depending on your particular financial situation, it may make sense to put off forming your business for a few years while you work to build some savings. These savings can provide a valuable safety net to help cover your loan payments even if your business venture struggles to generate income right away.
Leverage the expertise of others
Ask nearly any successful business owner and they’ll tell you that they didn’t get there on their own. No matter your level of education or expertise, you can always benefit from the knowledge and experience of others. Family members and friends may not always give the best business advice, so it’s up to you to forge a relationship with a coach or mentor who knows the ins and outs of the entrepreneurial journey.
Whether it’s reaching out to established business people you admire, working with commercial advisors, or contacting governmental or academic institutions, you should never be afraid to ask for help. Leverage the network you have, and build from there. Social media sites like LinkedIn and even Facebook can play a key role. Just be clear as to why you’re reaching out, and don’t be shy as you talk about what your own business goals and objectives are.
By surrounding yourself with experts and leaders, you can draw from their successes and failures to navigate the many pitfalls of entrepreneurship and chart a better path toward your goals.
Take on a cash-ready partner
Your idea may be your baby, but that doesn’t mean you need to raise it alone. Depending on your situation, finding and taking on a partner who can provide a steady, interest-free cash flow may be your best way forward.
Many investors will expect to become an equal partner in return for bankrolling your venture, but if you’re fortunate—and confident in your odds of success—you may find a friend or family member willing to invest without expecting any stake in the company. Proceed with caution, however, as a business deal gone sour can quickly ruin meaningful relationships if both parties aren’t on the same page from the beginning.
Manage your personal expenses
As an aspiring entrepreneur, you may often feel as though you are your business. Nowhere is this more applicable than in your personal finances, where you may need to make difficult choices and sacrifice for the good of your business.
From the start, you should cultivate the habit of routinely reviewing your personal budget with an eye toward reducing your non-business expenses. In addition to freeing up funds that can be reinvested into your business, this may also allow you to pay off your student loans and other debts more quickly. A wide range of budgeting software programs can assist you as you try to create and implement a budget strategy.
For many people, smartphone apps are the best way to keep a constant watch on their daily budget and bank accounts. Consider downloading an app like Mint or Every Dollar to help you stay on track. While sticking to a budget isn’t easy, making a few extra sacrifices now can pay off in a big way later.
Embarking on an entrepreneurial venture can be a tremendously rewarding experience, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s an even greater challenge if you’re weighed down by student loan debt, but that’s no reason to give up on your aspirations. If you have a business idea worth pursuing, and if you’re willing to work hard and make sacrifices, following the simple steps above can put you well on your way to success and financial freedom.