3 ways to get a small-business loan

Teller going over new paperwork © racorn/

The recovering economic environment has meant that small businesses have had to be more creative when looking for loans.

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However, companies with sound business strategies still can borrow. Options include loans from traditional banks and institutions affiliated with the Small Business Administration, as well as financing from Internet-based lenders.

"For creditworthy, high-scoring small businesses, there is money available," says George Cloutier, CEO of American Management Services, a consultant to small businesses.

Bank loans

The best place to get a small-business loan is still a bank, says Cloutier. Banks typically offer the lowest interest rates and many have established reputations as trustworthy lenders.

"Many small businesses try three or four banks and then stop looking," Cloutier says. A more persistent approach has better odds of success.

"Take out the phone book, target 10 banks and work through that list," he says.

That strategy worked for Michael McKean. He is founder of The Knowland Group, a company that helps hotels fill up their meeting space.

A few years ago, as the success of The Knowland Group grew, McKean began searching for a bank that would give the growing company expanded access to credit.

"We talked to every bank in our area, at least a dozen," McKean says. "Many came back with proposals, but the terms were very onerous. Or sometimes they shifted terms."

Finally, M&T Bank came through.

"They just wanted to get our business," McKean says.

McKean says his company did not approach M&T any differently than it had approached the other banks. It was just a matter of being persistent until the right deal came along, he says.

"We did everything right, approaching the right person at each bank," he says. "We're a profitable business. I think it was just the ... credit crunch that prevented us from getting a loan."

Cloutier says the key to success with banks is to show past profitability, and to describe a well thought-out plan for future profits.

"If you aren't making a profit now, you must be able to tell the bank how you will change that in the short term, or you really won't be able to get a loan," he says.

He also recommends that businesses start small in their loan requests.

"If you need money for four trucks, ask for two," Cloutier says. "The bigger the loan request, the harder it is to get it approved."

SBA loans

Another way to find a bank loan is through the Small Business Administration, or SBA. The SBA can direct you to banks that offer loans guaranteed by the agency. This way, you'll have the advantage of approaching banks specifically interested in lending to small businesses.

Interested businesses should contact the SBA office nearest to them, which can be found on the agency's website. Jeanne Hulit, the SBA's acting administrator, urges businesses to seek a bank that is an experienced SBA lender.

Banks granting SBA loans place increased emphasis on business plans, cash flow and profit forecasts in deciding whether to lend, she says. The SBA also can refer businesses to free counseling centers to improve their performance.

Online opportunities

Another source for loans is the Internet. There are several sites where businesses can seek alternative lenders, such as individuals and small companies.

Interest rates are generally a little higher than what a bank will charge, but it's much less than what you'll have to pay on many credit cards.

Look around at different sites, some may charge a one-time fee to list your business, while others are free to list but might have fees reflected in loan rates.

If you're going to list your company on one of these sites, describe your business in clear and concise language.

Lastly, make sure to investigate the company you are looking to post your business on. These kinds of companies were successful in 2008 and during the recession, but times have changed. Many have since gone out of business. Before paying for anything, make sure the company is legit.


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