By: TED SHEPPE
Being your own boss is great — until it’s time to pay the rent and cut the paychecks. The fact is, running your own business is filled with financial stressors. About 64 percent of small business owners admit to facing financial challenges, according to the 2017 Small Business Credit Survey: Report on Employer Firms, with 67 percent saying they have used their own personal money to cover shortages instead of taking out a loan.
These struggles are even more pronounced for “smaller” small businesses, those with less than $1 million in revenue. Making matters worse, these businesses can have a tougher time securing a bank loan to help them thrive.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Smaller firms find more success obtaining loans at community banks than at large mega banks, according to the survey.
If you’re in the market for money for your small business, here are some tips to help you navigate the process and come out on the other side with a check:
1. Make sure SBA is the right fit.
If you’re aiming for a U.S. Small Business Administration 7(a) loan, your net worth must not exceed $15 million, and you can’t have earned more than $5 million in two years. Additionally, your business has to be considered “small” for your industry — and, as a business owner, you’re required to have tried everything you can, including using your own assets, before applying.
You also must be eligible to do business in the United States, operate at a profit and have equity to invest.
Programs exist for businesses in underserved communities, for businesspeople who have served in the military and for those just trying to meet short-term capital needs.
The loan allows up to $5 million to be borrowed. You can use the money to buy and build on new land, purchase a new business or expand your existing operation. You can also repair existing capital, refinance debt or buy equipment.
The SBA doesn’t directly fund these loans. Instead, the government offers guarantees to lenders that it will cover some of the funds should the borrower default.
2. Check the lender’s status with the SBA.
Seek out an authority on SBA loans. There are two classifications to consider in your search for the right SBA lender: preferred or certified.
Banks with a “preferred” designation do not need the SBA’s approval to sign off on a loan; the lender has the authority to decide independently. This option should be considered first because the preferred designation means the bank has earned expert status and the process is faster. Axiom Bank has earned this designation, allowing us to expedite the loan-approval process for our customers.
Banks with “certified” status must get SBA approval on a loan, but the application process is streamlined to minimize the amount of required paperwork.
3. Pick the right lender.
Bigger isn’t always better, especially when it comes to lenders. An estimated 98 percent of smaller banks — those with less than $10 billion in assets — offer small business loans, meaning this type of lending is a key part of their business plans, according to the 2017 Community Banking in the 21st Century report prepared by the Federal Reserve and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors.
Community banks have a highly personalized approach to working with you. They are adept at understanding the nuances of your specific situation — and your good entrepreneurial sense and the relationship you form with the lender could play a role in the process.
And there’s a bonus: Turnaround time tends to be quicker at smaller banks, so you’ll see the money faster.