Monday, March 11, 2013

The stuff of dreams?

My cousin is married to a musician of some note in certain musical circles. A blues and R&B bassist, "Choppy" performs with several bands and we try and catch him at his local shows whenever we can.  This past weekend, he and friends played a gig in Hudson.

One of their pieces was a raucous, bluesy cover of the country standard "16 Tons" that segued into the Eurythmics' techno-pop hit "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," that they stripped down and rocked out.  They synthesized two seemingly discordant musical styles and schools into a jam that brought the house down.  Smartly, the bartenders chose this moment to pass around the tip hat.  Naturally, this got me thinking about finances.  Small business finances, specifically.

I have met with several business owners lately who have not taken advantage of opportunities that would accelerate their growth.   They each had reasons:  uncomfortable funding the investment from their equity, uneasy about diminishing their cash flow, unwilling to take on debt.  It made me wonder, have even entrepreneurs become too risk-averse when it comes to employing all options for financing growth?

In the aftermath of the financial crisis that began in 2007, debt has become a figurative four-letter word (it already was a literal one.)  There's no argument that we had a debt binge in this country (globally, actually) and that our economic challenges are attributable in large part to postponing working through the necessary deleveraging process.

As marketer Seth Godin once noted:  The guy who invented ships also invented shipwrecks.  Thankfully, the perils of sailing did not scuttle seafaring.  Has the pain of the debt bubble created a mindset that is too limiting where debt financing is concerned? 

Access to debt financing can be a powerful force for small business growth.  It has ever been thus.  It is called leverage for a reason:  small amounts can have a powerful effect.  If you've kept good books, are profitable with a history of good cash flows (and have good credit score), banks and community lending institutions will and want to lend to you. 

Capital is the essential lubricant of commerce and for small businesses it is practically the elixir of life. Yet some now view debt as if it were unicorn blood, extracting a terrible toll for its employ. Smoothing out the cyclicity of cash flows rather than being hamstrung by them is smart financial management.  And the right debt can often be cheaper and provide more operating flexibility than equity capital.

Tennessee Ernie Ford may have lamented debt "to the company store" as an unholy burden, but for smart business owners, it is the stuff of which sweet dreams can be made.

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