Owning your own business is the single most exhilarating and challenging job there is.
In exchange for more autonomy than you could ever imagine (the exhilarating part), you also become the head of human resources, marketing, legal, accounting, and business development, just to name a few (the challenging part).
However, as a woman business owner, you have the added challenge of operating in a particularly difficult lending environment as compared to your male counterparts.
According to studies, women own nearly a third of businesses in the U.S., but their companies only receive 4.4 percent of loans.
While there are a number of initiatives underway to overcome this obstacle -- currently, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State is introducing legislation to make it easier for women to receive funding -- it's no secret that you will likely face some challenges when it comes to accessing capital to grow your business. The good news? There are more places for female small business owners to turn for guidance than ever before.
Whether you're a new business owner or a seasoned veteran, there are several trustworthy resources that can help you find the right lender for your business as well as help provide general business guidance so you can create your very own "board of directors." And best of all, these secret weapons are free.
Angel Investor Networks
An angel investor is an individual or group of individuals who provide startup or growth capital in exchange for a stake in your business. In recent years, a number of women-led and -focused angel funds have cropped up with the sole purpose of connecting female business owners to capital. Such organizations as Golden Seeds, Belle Capital, and Texas Woman's Funds are known for using a hands-on approach to providing guidance and mentorship to women business owners.
Women's Business Center
Backed by the Small Business Administration, Women's Business Centers represent a network of nearly 100 educational centers specifically geared toward helping women -- including those who are economically or socially disadvantaged -- start and grow their business. Through training and counseling on a variety of topics such as access to credit and capital, WBC seeks to "level the playing field" and empower women business owners. To find a division near you, click here.
Senior Core of Retired Executives, also known as SCORE, is a nonprofit association of thousands of former business owners and executives who volunteer their time to support aspiring and established small business owners. (Disclosure: OnDeck is currently a sponsor of SCORE.) There are hundreds of SCORE chapters throughout the U.S. that encompass urban, suburban, and rural communities. SCORE donates more than 1 million hours every year to help local small businesses succeed, and has served more than 10 million small business owners since its inception in 1964.
Depending on your schedule and preferences, there are a number of ways you can connect with a SCORE mentor, including emailing, in-person trainings, online workshops, and more. Although SCORE isn't specifically geared toward woman, it's an excellent resource to help you navigate the lending landscape. To connect with a SCORE mentor near you, click here.
As a business owner, your time is both limited and extremely valuable. And as a woman business owner, you're also dealing with being part of an underserved subset of the small business industry, which is why it's so important to ask for help when you need it. But even if you have experienced difficulty finding the right financing partner in the past, or are completely new to the financing world, the resources outlined above can help you put your best foot forward when it comes to searching for financing.
Will you be reaching out to any of these free mentors? Tell us in the comments below.
About the Author
Andrea Gellert is Senior Vice President of Marketing at OnDeck, where she brings more than 15 years of small business marketing and client service experience. Most recently, she was VP of Client Services/Operations at Group Commerce. Andrea also spent 15 years at American Express, holding key leadership positions in both the OPEN small business and Merchant Services divisions. Andrea graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and received an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern.