Why do fewer women than men apply for financing to grow their businesses? While the World War II poster of Rosie the Riveter saying “We Can Do It” may seem a bit outdated, perhaps it’s not when it comes to women and business financing.
A survey by the National Association of Women Business Owners shows women appear to be relying on themselves, rather than commercial lenders, and they are likely to turn to personal sources of income.
About half say they have relied on credit cards to better their businesses. Others cite personal loans, personal collateral and personal guarantees.
In addition, a substantial portion of women surveyed were unfamiliar with Small Business Association loans as a popular avenue for growing a small business. An astounding 65 percent said they were unfamiliar with SBA 504 loan programs as well as a suite of other SBA offerings, according to the NAWBO survey.
FINANCIAL KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Some businesspeople do not have a complete understanding of what they can afford.
There are many small-business owners – men and women – who have little to no exposure to this type of financial skill. Many don’t have a full understanding of equity or the difference between cost of goods sold and an expense on their income statement. They may rely heavily on a QuickBooks program or friends to guide them.
But it appears the financial literacy gap is wider for women. A George Washington University study found that female college students are less enthusiastic about financial topics, less confident and less willing to acquire financial skills than male students. These differences also have been observed in high school students.
WHAT TO DO
While it may take time for the gender gap to close as more women pursue careers in business, there are things that businesswomen and lending partners can do now:
< Leverage the right financial tools
When a loan partner encounters a business owner who could use support in financial skills, it should be part of the job to take the time to assist. Whether it’s a referral to the local SCORE or Small Business Development Center or just taking the time to walk her through her balance sheet, this support can make a major difference and benefit everyone involved.
One of the best things about assisting businesses with SBA 504 loans is that the process requires a business to get its affairs in order.
When was the last time you updated – or prepared – a business plan, mission statement or company vision? Do you have financial projections? Do you have enough working capital to take on a downturn, or grow sales faster than you’ve ever dreamed?
These are financial essentials that can be tackled together.
< Connect with the right loan partners
A loan partner should be a businessperson’s guide through the loan process – a liaison between the bankers who will fund the senior loan and the federal, state and local agencies that fund the subordinate loan or guaranty.
A good loan partner is there for you, supporting your project and moving it toward approval. A really good loan partner should explain that your project will be scrutinized and to ensure your story is told accurately in the loan application.
By addressing issues or concerns, a good loan partner shows how the business owner is ready to tackle change when it arises.
GETTING ON TRACK
Do women perceive financial help as a sign of weakness when running a business? Are they trying to balance so much that there seems to be no time to go through the detailed process of obtaining a government loan? Is financial literacy a contributing issue?
It only takes one of these factors to get off track.
By recognizing them, the course can be corrected, and current and younger generations of savvy businesswomen can be put on the path to entrepreneurial success.
Marie Shires of Wyomissing is a vice president and relationship manager for Seedcopa of Exton, a private nonprofit company that works with lenders to help small to mid-sized businesses in Pennsylvania obtain government loans. She works with economic development partners throughout Pennsylvania and can be reached at mshires@seedcopa or 610-321-8245.