It's almost impossible to get a loan based solely on an idea. But once you have your product (or service), a business plan, and a cash flow (no matter how small), you can start to look for funds to expand your business. You'll need to be clear about exactly how much money you need and what specifically you'll use the loan for. "We just lent to a woman who makes organic pet food," says Merlino. "She needed to buy a freeze-drying machine so she could ship her product." If you aren't sure how big a loan is necessary, you can contact an SBA Women's Business Center or SCORE counselor. Then seek funding at the following places:
For amounts under $500: "Put it on a credit card or borrow from friends and family," says Schoenfeldt, of Ladies Who Launch.
For $500 to $45,000: Contact a microfinance institution, which is more open to entrepreneurs. Accion USA gives $500 credit-builder loans to people with no credit history, META in Boise, Idaho (a local group), lends up to $2,000 to first-time business owners, and Make Mine a Million $ Business lends up to $45,000 strictly to women business owners.
For amounts up to $1,000,000: You can apply for an SBA-backed loan—where the SBA acts as a guarantor for small-business owners—available through a commercial lender; the SBA expects entrepreneurs to have enough equity to cover 25 percent of a start-up loan. If you need $10,000, then you must have invested about $2,500 in your business.
STEP 6: Staff Up Like a Pro
Know what you need: Is it someone with a highly developed skill, like website design? Or are you looking to train your employees from scratch? "I don't care about experience," says Cohen, co-owner of the Cocoa Bar. "I can teach someone how to make a great latte; I can't teach someone to be proactive or friendly."
Identify atypical hiring pools: If you're opening a doggy daycare, post a HELP WANTED sign at the local dog run. Want a professional voice for your answering machine's outgoing message? Contact a local acting school or high school drama teacher to see if they can recommend a student who might want to earn extra money.
Start with temps: "I always suggest hiring on a part-time or project basis," says Merlino, of Make Mine a Million $ Business. You can see if their skills match what you need, and if there really is enough work (and revenue) coming in to support a full-time employee.
Microfinance Institutions: For local or state microfinance institutions, go to MicroEnterpriseWorks.org. Under Members Only—scroll down to Member Directory. From there you can search by state to find a microfinance institution near you.
The following are national organizations. You can apply for loans from these organizations online: