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7 Things to Know About Small Business Cost of Capital

7 Things to Know About Small Business Cost of Capital; Small businesses need to account for cost of capital (also called hurdle rate) in order to appeal to investors.
Susan Guillory
Susan GuilloryUpdated April 19, 2023
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Whether you plan to take out a loan or you’re looking for investors, one cash management concept to familiarize yourself with is cost of capital. You don’t need an MBA to understand it and why it matters to your business, and by taking a deep dive into the topic, you could make your business more appealing to investors. (Plus you’ll truly understand the cost of borrowing money!)

What Is Cost of Capital?

Cost of capital refers to, as you might guess, how much it costs your business to get access to cash, whether that’s through financing or equity.If you plan to take out a small business loan, your cost of capital (also called hurdle rate) includes the interest you will pay on that loan over time. Any trade credit you have with vendors that you pay in the short term also qualifies as your cost of capital.If your company has investors, your cost of capital includes the cost of the equity they hold. For example, if you receive venture capital in exchange for 25% equity, that 25% is your cost of capital.If your company is public and sells stock to raise capital, your cost of capital includes the cost of that debt as well as the cost of equity.Recommended: What Early Stage Investors Are & How They Work

1. It Matters to Investors

When you’re trying to learn about the cost of capital, you may see that there’s a lot to focus on from the business’s perspective. But it’s important to remember that cost of capital also matters to potential investors. When investors are selecting a business to put their money in, they typically want a good return, and the business’s cost of capital tells them the level of risk they might be taking on to attain that return. A high cost of capital signals more risk; a lower one indicates less risk.An investor typically wants to see a rate of return that is, at a bare minimum, equal to his or her investment. But ideally, the rate of return would exceed that initial investment. Having details on your cost of capital can go a long way to helping a potential investor make the decision whether to invest or not.

2. There Are Actually Two Costs to Consider

When you look at costs, there are two you’ll want to consider, depending on how your business gets capital. Both cost of equity and cost of debt factor into your cost of capital. Let’s look at the cost of equity first. When you work with investors, you’ll have a valuation of what your company is currently worth, and you’ll agree with your investors on what percentage of the company they’ll own. Down the road, if  your company is doing well and is valued higher, those investors can cash out on their equity and get a rate of return higher than their initial investments. The difference between what they invested originally and what they take out is your cost of equity.Then we have the cost of debt. When you take out a loan or line of credit, you pay interest and/or fees on that financing. The sum of the interest and fees is your cost of debt. Ideally, the cost of debt should prove worthwhile in the long run because the money you borrow can help you grow your business and thus make even more money.

3. Weighted Average Cost of Capital May Be Relevant

In the event that your company has both debt and equity, you may need to consider what’s called your weighted average cost of capital, or WACC. This calculates an average of both your cost of debt and your cost of equity together, weighted proportionally.The distribution of debt and equity makes up your company’s capital structure, and every type of debt and equity your business has must be considered to calculate your WACC, including both common and preferred stock, loans, bonds, and other financing. The formula can look intimidating, but basically it is a way to evaluate your cost of capital taking into account exactly how much of it is equity-based and how much of it is debt-based.                   Ultimately, the higher your weighted average cost of capital, the lower your business valuation and the greater the risk to potential investors.

4. WACC Relates to Your Discount Rate

When you look at your weighted average cost of capital in relation to a particular project, you’ll probably want to consider your discount rate. This refers to the current value of future cash flows (net present value). Simply put, it’s a tool to help figure out whether anticipated future returns justify the amount of money you’d need to put into a project.  Let’s say you’re thinking about spending $1 million to expand operations in Europe. How much might that investment net you five years from now? Ideally, it should be more than your initial $1 million investment.Similarly, an investor thinking about investing in your business will likely consider the discount rate. It provides the potential investor with insight into the risk level, as well as the opportunity cost, of your business. It also accounts for the time value of money.Here’s a simplified example. You have $100 and want to invest it in a savings account that offers 5% interest per year. At the end of the year, you would have $105. Because your ending balance is more than what you started with, you might consider that a worthwhile investment. Of course, when you’re investing in a business, your returns won’t necessarily be so clearcut.Weighted average cost of capital is a type of discount rate, and it’s the one investors will likely be keen to examine when they consider investing in your business. An investor may have a specific discount rate in mind that must be reached to move forward with an investment.

5. Cost of Capital Can Help You Evaluate Financing Options

All this talk of cost of capital may be making your head spin, but stick with me. Having an understanding of your business cash flow and the cost of the investment opportunities your company offers is essential, both for you and for any investors who might be considering your business.From your perspective, understanding the cost of capital, particularly the cost of debt, can help you decide whether taking out financing is worthwhile. If what you pay in interest or fees outweighs what you could see in increased revenues, it’s not worth it. On the other hand, if  paying, for example, 5% interest on a loan could help you realize a 15% growth in revenue, the cost of debt may be justified.This information is also valuable to investors.The equity you receive from an investor should be used to deliver the expected rate of return. (That will also be beneficial to you, since you are also an equity owner in your company.) If you aren’t able to deliver the expected rate of return, any shareholders you have will likely sell their shares of your company’s stock, which will devalue your company.That’s why it’s important to have a plan for how you’ll spend the investment capital you receive.

6. You May Be Able to Control Your Cost of Debt

There are many small business financing tools to choose from, and each comes with a different cost of debt. If you take out a loan, you may pay 4% annually. If you use a business credit card, your interest might be 16.99% on what you’ve borrowed.Carefully consider your financing options and your ability to repay the loan. The faster you repay it, the less you’ll pay in interest or fees. For example, with a business credit card, the annual percentage rate is divided by the days in your billing cycle that you carried a balance. If you pay your balance within a few days, you’ll pay significantly less interest than you would if you carried the balance from one month to the next.The bottom line is that financing can be helpful, but be mindful of how much you pay for it over time. Keeping down the unnecessary cost of debt can help you keep your cost of capital lower.

7. It’s Not an Exact Science

As you’ve seen, determining weighted average cost of capital can look complex and technical. But despite the formula, there’s no guarantee that an investor will receive a given discount rate for his or her equity. Many factors contribute to the return your business may see, including market conditions, how many competitors are in your industry, how your business is run, and more.Calculating cost of capital is a way to provide an educated guess on what sort of return an investment might bring. But it’s definitely not set in stone.Recommended: What Is the Business Cycle?

The Takeaway

With a solid understanding of what cost of capital means, you can make smarter financial decisions, whether about what type of loan or financing to take out or about how to attract potential investors to help you grow your business.The more appealing your company is, the more likely investors will be to give you capital in exchange for equity. Stay on top of your cost of capital so you can show your business in a positive light. And when you’re ready to look for small business financing options, Lantern by SoFi can help. With our online lending tool, it's quick and easy to access an offer from a business lender matched to your needs and qualifications.Check small business loan rates.

About the Author

Susan Guillory

Susan Guillory

Su Guillory is a freelance business writer and expat coach. She’s written several business books and has been published on sites including Forbes, AllBusiness, and SoFi. She writes about business and personal credit, financial strategies, loans, and credit cards.
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