The creator’s guide to getting funding for your business

Business Models Take Yourself Pro
13 min read
In this Article

Some people think success only counts when they do it all themselves.

You know the old trope. Roll up your sleeves. Wipe the sweat off your brow. Build a business out of your own garage. If you fail, take out a second mortgage.

But cut through the mythology, and you’ll see success usually looks quite different. Making it as a full-time creator requires all sorts of help, especially in its early stages.

Most creators don’t start out with a pocketful of cash. For example, before Jeff Jenkins of Chubby Diaries ever got his plus-sized travel community off the ground, he needed small business loans. These loans helped him keep the community alive until 2020, when the opportunities started rolling his way more organically.

ChubbyDiaries
Image via ChubbyDiaries

For creator Tracey Hicks of All Things Real Estate, a successful business still wasn’t enough to cashflow her upgrade to a bigger office. She relied on outside capital to get to the next level.

The problem for creators, however, is that outside capital sounds invasive. You started your creator business for independence, after all. Will outside funding mean signing that independence away?

Fortunately, there are all sorts of funding types available for creators, and many of them don’t require giving away too much of what you’ve built. Let’s explore.

Why would a creator be interested in funding?

Getting funding as a creator can mean all sorts of great things. Scaling. Boosting online reach. Upgrading equipment. Moving into a bigger office space.

It’s not always about instantly boosting a creator’s business’s bottom line, either. In fact, many creators got out of the traditional nine-to-five because they valued creative freedom and flexibility more than the zeroes at the end of a paycheck. But making that career path sustainable long-term sometimes requires a cash infusion.

Take Nick True of Mapped Out Money. Even though his job as a coach and creator is to help other people better manage their money, he didn’t go into this line of work to get rich. Instead, he wanted the freedom to explore and live life on his terms.

mapped out money
Image via Mapped Out Money

“It wasn't about money for money's sake. It wasn't, ‘Oh, I want money so I could buy a car or buy this or that.’ What attracted me to [a creator business] was this idea of, ‘Oh, I could save a little bit, and then I'd be able to do all these other things,’” he said.

Again, some creators recoil when they hear the phrase outside funding. There’s a myth that receiving funding from someone else means surrendering control. Then, rather than living as an independent coach or creator, you might feel you’ve only created a new job. And wasn’t leaving the old job the whole appeal of being a creator in the first place?

And that is indeed what equity funding, like venture capital (VC) funding, is all about. But there are different forms of funding. For example:

  • Local grants. Grants are just like they sound—someone “granting” you money without asking for equity in return. There’s more grant money than you might think. The Chamber of Commerce alone lists 56 grants for small businesses.
  • Scholarships. Help with funding for school can free up your time. In this way, it can feel like a blank check for starting your business.
  • Crowdfunding. Even GoFundMe wouldn’t be here without some outside funding in its early stages. Now, about $17 billion annually flows to businesses in North America alone. Crowdfunding platforms can generate massive amounts of cash without giving away equity in return.

If you don’t have to sell a piece of your creator business, there are all sorts of benefits to outside funding, including:

  • Scaling the business. More money means more possibilities. You can use the money to purchase inventory, extend your marketing reach, add ecommerce platforms to monetize your content, or even hire help.
  • Paying off debts. According to Square funding, about 9% of people who receive funding tackle this first when they get the help they need. If it helps you pay off debt, outside funding can make you more independent.
  • Marketing. If your business isn’t self-funded yet but does have an audience, your problem might be simple. You just need more customers and clients. Investing in influencer marketing can introduce your business to massive audiences in one fell swoop.

Once you’ve established you need some outside help, the next question becomes simple. What kind of help? Fortunately, the list of funding options is long.

Other types of business funding for creators

There are several other types of outside funding for creator-led businesses. Understanding which is right for you will require knowing how they work—and whether their advantages line up with your specific needs. Let’s tackle the basics of each.

Venture capital

Image via NVCA
  • What: Venture capital (VC) is direct funding, typically from wealthy investors or institutions, to buy a piece of a startup company with growth potential.
  • Who: As the name suggests: venture capitalists. Sometimes these are individual investors who want a piece of a company. But VC can also come from banks, institutions, or groups of investors who pool their money together.
  • Why: For starters, venture capitalists have a lot of connections—and a lot of money. Research shows there was over $73 billion of VC in the U.S. alone in 2021. That means a lot of capital for a startup. And since this comes as an investment and not a loan, venture capitalists won’t typically require monthly loan payments in exchange. They will ask for a stake in the company itself.
  • Where: Check out the National Venture Capital Association to get a lay of the land. If you plan on turning your creator business into something bigger, you’ll have to approach it like a direct sale. You’re pitching your business to investors. Think PowerPoints and pitch decks, presentations, and detailed business plans.
  • The bottom line: For creators, giving up a chunk of ownership may not be the ideal situation. But if your business has a chance at becoming something truly big, giving up some ownership may be the only way to acquire the capital needed to scale your business into something new.

Angel investments

  • What: Much like a venture capitalist, an angel investor is looking to swap seed money in exchange for equity.
  • Who: “Angel” investors are dubbed so because it’s like VC, but for an individual (“angel”) who swoops in and saves the day.
  • Why: Angel investments have the same advantages as VC. You don’t have to pay back a loan, for example. However, angel investors might typically ask for big chunks of the business, as high as 10-50%. A relationship with one investor is simpler, but you have to ask yourself: is this person really the angel you’re comfortable partnering with?
  • Where: Although an angel investor can be just about any qualified individual, you can also check out the Angel Investors Network. With about 200,000 investors on the platform, there should be plenty of opportunities to network. You can also try platforms like AngelList or Gust. As with working with VCs, you’ll want to prepare as though you’re selling the concept of your business to someone. Prepare materials like your business plan, a pitch deck, and information/whitepapers you can email to any angel investors who might express interest.
  • The bottom line: An angel investor is a bit like having a personal version of a VC. Ideally, they’ll end up more like an angel on your right shoulder than a devil on your wrong one. Although you’ll give up some equity with an angel investment, a good partnership with an angel investor can yield all sorts of benefits in mentorship, networking, and business resources.

Bank / Small business loans

Image via U.S. Small Business Administration
  • What: With a small business loan from a bank, you can access plenty of capital without trading anything in equity—if you can handle the interest and monthly payments.
  • Who: Private banks all across the world. You can find connections through SBA.gov (see below). You can also receive small business loans from individual lenders. Some investors even issue business loans from Self-Directed IRAs.
  • Why: The advantage of a small business loan is you can retain 100% equity in your business. But nothing is free. The trade-off here is that you’ll not only have to pay back the loan but add on a layer of interest. For instance, a $10,000 loan with an interest rate of 5% will cost you over $1,300 in interest over a term of five years. That’s a growing concern as of late, as 2022 has seen higher interest rates across the world.
  • Where: Check out the Small Business Administration, which offers funding programs and a lender match feature to help you find a potential lender. Prepare a detailed business plan with a keen eye on explaining how you make your money. Any lender is primarily interested in one variable: can they be confident that you’ll have the money to pay them back?
  • The bottom line: If you’re set on 100% ownership stakes, these are the most obvious alternative. If your efforts to scale and expand your business succeed, the relatively low costs of funding through a small business loan can be well worth it. You just need to make sure you can handle the dent in your cash flow from monthly payments.

Business incubators

  • What: Have you ever seen a hen protect her eggs? Business incubators are like that, creating a safe, guarded environment in which a business can grow. Some business ideas might not be money-makers from the start, requiring a softer launch. Business incubators are designed for ideas like that.
  • Who: According to Entrepreneur, there are over 1,400 registered incubators in the United States registered to InBIA: the International Business Innovation Association.
  • Why: Incubators are generally for businesses with a great idea or innovation to offer—with a special emphasis on long-term growth. There isn’t always much overlap with creator businesses, which tend to be less focused on technology. However, for the right business, an incubator can offer constant mentorship and networking. The downside? Turning control over to a company that will feel more like a straightforward business.
  • Where: The InBIA offers playbooks for engaging with incubators. Here you may notice some overlap with creator businesses. For example, “Elevating Women in Entrepreneurship” is a playbook for teaming up with other small businesses to encourage each other.
  • The bottom line: If you have an especially innovative idea, incubators can offer tremendous advantages. The competition to get into an incubator can be fierce—but rewards like mentorship and networking make up for the high barrier to entry.

Grants

  • What: A grant is a financial award designed to help businesses or individuals achieve their goals. Almost interchangeable with a “gift,” a grant doesn’t require paybacks, interest payments, or giving up any equity.
  • Who: The government, usually, in the form of small business grants. Typically, you’ll have a leg up on receiving government grants if you can demonstrate specific aims for your business, such as exploratory research. Sometimes businesses offer grants, as is the case for the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest.
  • Why: Grants have the downside of a lengthy and unpredictable application process. Free money can be competitive—who knew? But the benefits are well worth this tradeoff, given that you won’t have to pay the money back in the form of monthly payments or surrender any of your business equity. The catch is some grant programs may require a specific type of business that doesn’t always line up with what your business does.
  • Where: SBA’s grants, but also local and state grants may be available. You might also check out Growth Grants from the National Association for the Self-Employed.
  • The bottom line: If you can get one, a grant may be the best way to secure funding for your business. But they’re not always the easiest to achieve, especially for creators. You’ll have to demonstrate that your business is capable of achieving something that lines up with the goals of the grant program you’re applying for.

Crowdfunding

Image via GoFundMe
  • What: Crowdfunding raises money via large groups of people. People have used it to fund emergency medical expenses, attend college, or—yes—help procure funding for a business.
  • Who: Platforms like GoFundMe and IndieGogo show how common it is for creators and entrepreneurs to ask for help funding their business.
  • Why: The upsides? It’s easy to set up. You only have to meet the platform requirements, rather than prepare a full pitch deck presentation for a wealthy investor. People on these platforms are also used to the idea that you might be an individual creator who can’t offer a return on their investment. You won’t give up equity, you won’t have to pay back a loan. Your payback can be as simple as sending products back to investors—or, easiest of all, a simple note of your appreciation. But beware: you’re responsible for drumming up interest in funding your business. If no one’s interested, you may not get the funding you wanted.
  • Where: GoFundMe, IndieGoGo, Start Engine, or even creator platforms like Patreon. But don’t just go through the motions when you set up your funding request. Take the time to fill out your profile and sell your business pitch like it’s a product on its own. This is the open marketplace, after all—it’s up to you to convince others that you’re worth funding.
  • The bottom line: Crowdfunding is best suited for Creators and easy to start. The only downside is outreach. Since this is funding done piecemeal, you’ll have to attract attention with your funding request to generate any meaningful funding for your business.

Get funding, grow your career as a creator

You likely became a creator for the independence of running your own show. But you’ll soon find out that no business is 100% independent. You need customers. You need supporters. And if you want to scale, you may need some source of outside funding.

The good news is that you don’t have to give up everything in exchange for a chance to scale your business. Choose the best style of funding for your business, prepare your materials, and make the pitch. You may find that third-party funding is much more in tune with your values than you imagined.

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Kaleigh Moore

Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer who works closely with SaaS companies and marketing teams for content creation.

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