From the September 1998 issue of Startups

Norma Teran saw a need in Fresno County, California, for an employment agency that specialized in part-time and temporary dental personnel. After preparing a business plan, she determined she'd have to borrow $5,000 to finance her venture.

With business plan in hand, Teran visited the Valley Small Business Development Corp. in Fresno. "Getting a microloan was a snap," says the veteran dental assistant. "They helped me complete the paperwork that day, and 45 days later, I had the money." Teran bought furniture, supplies, a computer and software, using the balance of the loan for operating capital and marketing expenses. Today, she's celebrating the first anniversary of Dental Team Coordinator, serving Fresno and Kings counties from her home office in Sanger, California.

Like 34 other private, nonprofit organizations across the country selected by the Small Business Administration (SBA), Valley Small Business Development Corp. lends to small and start-up businesses that can't get loans from most banks, says Elizabeth Fields, management and technical assistant loan specialist for the Fresno agency.

Microloans ranging from about $100 to $25,000 have terms of up to six years and are available to all types of business owners, though some agencies target specific groups, such as women, low-income or minority entrepreneurs. For the microloan intermediary nearest you, call your local SBA office.


Paul De Ceglie is a former staff reporter for Journal of Commerce and American Banker. He can be reached at MrWritePDC@aol.com.

Fiscal Fitness

"Put and call options" aren't obscure football plays, and "Treasury bills" aren't invoices from the government. Unfamiliar with such terms? Competence Software Inc. has a new CD-ROM called Investment Competence that spells out virtually everything you need to know to invest for retirement.

Ideal for small-business owners new to investments, the interactive CD promises a thorough, basic education in seven easy lessons. "People can't rely on Social Security to finance their retirement years," says Larry Brennan, vice president of the Pittsfield, New Hampshire, firm, "but most are ill-equipped to make informed decisions on investing retirement funds. Competence Software provides the education needed to help achieve a worry-free financial future."

Brennan says the $99 multimedia tutorial "covers everything from market and financial terms to various [investment] instruments and how to use them.

Lesson One, for example, focuses on investments and explains returns, capital, future value, accrued interest and compounded returns.

Lesson Two looks at the stock market; subsequent lessons explain bonds, mutual funds, precious metals, real estate, commodities and virtually every other investment opportunity and its risks.

The tutorial ends by helping you prepare a financial plan tailored to your goals, administering a quiz to test your learning, and notifying Competence Software when you've earned a certificate of completion.

For more information, call (603) 435-5098 or visit http://www.competencesw.com

On Account

End collection problems before they start with the straightforward advice in Ed Halloran's newest book, Credit and Collection Letters Ready to Go! (NTC Business Books, $14.95, 800-323-4900).

Halloran presents dozens of readily adaptable letters (you just fill in the blanks) designed to exact payment from deadbeats. More important, he shares cogent insights on how to avoid such deadbeats in the first place. "Learn as much as possible about the people and businesses to whom you grant credit," he urges, "and walk away from anyone refusing to provide a financial statement, credit bureau report, copies of tax returns, and banking and personal references."

A reporter and former credit investigator, Halloran cautions start-ups in particular: "Don't be humbly grateful to those who provide business to you. Too often, new business owners are so thrilled to get an order, they don't check out [the client]."

Should your courteous yet increasingly firm letters fail to elicit payment, Halloran advises retaining an attorney. "I have no qualms about paying attorneys' fees," he says. "After you've written it off as a bad debt, anything recovered goes to the bottom line. So let an attorney pursue it while you're out generating more business."

Contact Sources

Dental Team Coordinator, P.O. Box 131, Sanger, CA 93657, (209) 875-1985

Valley Small Business Development Corp., (209) 271-9030