Erin Andrew, managing director of Live Oak Bank’s government contracting lending team, was recently interviewed in the book Leapfrog: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs by Nathalie Molina Nino. In her interview, Andrew discusses understanding debt and how to leverage it in the government contracting space.
Below is an excerpt from the book that provides Erin’s insight on using debt to grow your small business.
Acquisition is a capital double whammy. With Erin’s help, an army veteran with an IT contracting firm was able to get a loan to acquire a $4 million dollar business with only $15,000 of his own money. Say what?!
When you acquire a business, Erin explains, you now have the entire cash flow of that business at your disposal. What you do with that cash is up to you. You can invest it in that company, you can invest it in your original company. Either way, it’ll allow you to grow and have more control over what that growth looks like.
It also immediately makes you more creditworthy, which is why the army veteran needed so little of his own money to access millions in financing. Also, by leveraging lending programs like SBA’s 7(a) program, entrepreneurs aren’t required to put as much cash down, allowing them to leverage the cash they have for larger deals. When Erin, with the help of the SBA, considers granting you a loan, she doesn’t only take your balance sheet into account—she takes any acquisitions, specifically the balance sheet of the seller, into account as well. When it comes to lending, you’re now in an entirely different weight class. “Women are decades behind in business because capital hasn’t been available to us. How do we buy back those decades? Through acquisition. That’s where you find the cash to grow fast,” she says.
Keep your eyes open for companies or competitors that could make your own businesses stronger. Don’t assume, at the start, that anything is “out of your league.” There are lenders who can boost your buying power.
Know when you need short-term vs long-term financing. Recently Erin helped a woman who needed $1.2 million to take on a contract opportunity, with the majority, $800,000, to be spent in one month. Her local bank suggested a long-term loan. “The products she was looking at were 10-year term loans when she only had a 10-month need,” Erin says. She was able to direct her to a short-term loan product that saved her $90,000. “If she had taken out a long-term loan, she would have had her assets tied up for ten years,” making it harder to get another loan.
Bankers can educate you—to a point. Your banker should be a helpful source of information, but some are trying to sell certain loan products or services and it is important to understand their commission and incentive structure. “You get terms and fine print thrown at you and there’s not enough education to really know your best option,” Erin warns. Before you take out a loan, visit women’s business centers and tap the resources of the local SBA. Find a counselor whose only goal is to educate you on every option out there, and shop around to make sure you’ve found the best loan partner. Your banker should not only provide you with capital, but also with value-add advice and long-term strategic solutions to help your business grow.
“There are sometimes more doors available in the debt space than in equity, but entrepreneurs think, ‘I don’t have capital; I don’t have anything that’s worth anything now; debt isn’t an option.’ The trouble is that folks don’t understand debt well enough to leverage it,” said Erin.
To learn more about becoming an entrepreneur and steps to success, purchase Leapfrog: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs here.