Small business owners face many challenges right from the start, but for many women entrepreneurs, financing options seem to remain an issue throughout the life of the business. Whether it’s cash flow fluctuations or money to buy new office equipment, women business owners often struggle to find equal opportunities for small business funding.
According to the latest Biz2Credit Annual Women-Owned Business Study 2022, the effects of the pandemic in 2021 were especially significant for women-owned companies, many of whom have been historically less well-financed compared to male-owned firms. The cost of doing business rose significantly in 2021, especially labor and fuel costs and raw materials and inventory prices, which hit the roof because of supply chain disruption. Economic pressures such as these hurt women-owned firms especially hard.
If you’re a female entrepreneur, keeping up with the best financing opportunities available to you is crucial. From the Small Business Administration to business grants, here are six top funding options you should explore.
- Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans
The SBA offers several types of loans for small business owners. Here are the specifics:
Remember, the SBA doesn’t directly lend small business owners money. Instead, it backs small business loans made through approved SBA lenders. The SBA sets the guidelines and qualifications for SBA-backed loans and guarantees the loan, reducing the risks for its financial partners. Use the SBA Lender Match tool to find an SBA- approved lender in your area.
Here are the different SBA loans available to women entrepreneurs:
- SBA 7(a) Loan. The SBA’s most common loan program, the 7(a) loan, can be used for short- and long-term working capital, to refinance current business debt, and to purchase furniture, fixtures, and supplies. The maximum loan amount for a 7(a) loan is $5 million.
- SBA Express Loan. SBA Express Loans are part of the 7(a) SBA loan program. Applicants for Express Loans receive an answer within 36 hours. The maximum loan amount is $500,000.
- Community Advantage (CA) Loan. For a limited time, the SBA is offering a pilot loan under the 7(a) loan program called the Community Advantage (CA) loan. With a maximum loan amount of $350,000, CA loans are available from community-based, mission-focused lenders to meet the needs of small businesses in underserved markets. The pilot program is set to expire on September 30, 2024.
- SBA 504 Loan. The 504 loans are long-term, fixed-rate loans of up to $5 million for “major fixed assets that promote business growth and job creation.” Funding must be used for the purchase or construction of buildings, land, and new facilities; long-term machinery and equipment; or the improvement or modernization of land, streets, utilities, parking lots, landscaping, and existing facilities. SBA 504 loans are available through the SBA’s community-based partners called Certified Development Companies (CDCs).
- SBA Microloan. Microloans up to $50,000 provide startup and expansion funding. Intermediary lenders are nonprofit community-based organizations, and each lender sets its own lending and credit conditions.
- Bank Loans
Although typically a long, arduous application process, traditional bank loans are still worth pursuing, especially with the financial institutions offering initiatives to support women business owners. Some banks publicize their women-based initiatives, but others don’t, so ask your bank about their offerings for women-owned companies.
Also, check with the smaller community banks and credit unions where you live, as their mission is to support local businesses.
- Alternative Online Lenders
Referred to as “fintech” lenders, this class of digital financiers specializes in quickly putting personalized loans into the hands of entrepreneurs. The interest rates and repayment terms of loans, business lines of credit, invoice financing, and other forms of small business financing from online lenders will most likely be higher and longer than those from traditional lenders. Still, with less-strict standards and fast funding times, they’re a viable option.
Some popular fintech lenders include:
One sector of business financing where women are more likely to receive funding than men—is crowdfunding. Websites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and women-only crowdfunding ventures, such as IFundWomen, feature reward- and donation-based financing, peer-to-peer lending, and equity crowdfunding.
Business-debt-based crowdfunding platforms, such as HoneyComb Credit and KIVA US, offer a typically easier and quicker application process than a traditional bank loan. However, before you accept a loan, check the interest rates since low-interest rates are not offered by all debt crowdfunders. Typically, debt crowdfunders expect the businesses they lend to have a steady and predictable cash flow, so they’re assured of getting repaid.
- Credit Card Financing
A business credit card can be a smart financing tool for women business owners and additionally helps build a strong business credit history. Business credit cards also offer a cash advance option where you can borrow up to the cash advance limit by using the credit card at an ATM or directly depositing the money into your business bank account. Although a credit card advance is a quick solution to access funds, cash advance interest rates are typically higher than the purchase rate, and an additional loan fee is usually tacked on.
- Grants for Women Entrepreneurs
Grants fall into two main categories: 1) federal grants and 2) nonfederal grants. Federal grants are a way the government “funds ideas and projects to provide public services and stimulate the economy.” Federal grants typically support important recovery initiatives, new research, and other programs. Projects supported by federal grants are listed in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) which has now merged with the Sam.gov website.
Nonfederal grants can be awarded by state or local governments, private companies, and nonprofit organizations. Many are listed at Grants.gov, or you can sign up to receive notifications about grants for women through the IFundWomen Universal Grant Application (UGA) Database.
Other grants expressly set aside for women entrepreneurs include:
- The Amber Grant
- Cartier Women's Initiative Awards
- The Tory Burch Fellows program
In addition, GrantsForWomen.org is an online directory with a searchable database of grants available for women anywhere in the world. Grants are a woman business owner’s “pot of gold”—not only does the money not need to be paid back, but grants typically come from organizations that also offer valuable resources, such as mentoring and training.
After nearly 30 years of women entering the entrepreneurial world in full force, they’re still chronically underfunded. But the good news is that there are more funding opportunities available for women today, so explore all your options to find the best solution for your small business.
The Glenn W. Bailey Foundation serves Florida, New York, Connecticut and DC area organizations working to help us realize our vision and continue our mission of fostering pathways to success in STEM careers and entrepreneurial opportunities. Our Foundation’s focus also includes solving complex environmental and high-mortality disease research funding issues.
Copyright © 2023 SCORE Association, SCORE.org
Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.