From the December 2007 issue of Entrepreneur

Are bank loans still difficult for women to obtain? "Maybe 15 or 20 years ago that was the case," says Maria Coyne, executive vice president and national sales manager of community banking for KeyBank National Association.

"However, banks are now much smarter about serving their female clients and understanding their needs."

Coyne, who manages Key4Women, a resource for women business owners, says that in the past two years, KeyBank has loaned more than $2 billion to female entrepreneurs. That includes lending $150,000 to Sharon Thompson, 50, president of Ambience Salon Spa in West Chester, Ohio. The $2 million company was in business for six years before Thompson applied for an SBA loan.

"As you know, SBA loans can be very laborious," says Thompson. "Our bank representative kept in constant contact and guided us through the process." For Thompson, the process of obtaining a loan included preparing personal financials, submitting a business plan with an updated P&L statement and balance sheet, and completing extensive loan applications.

To land a loan, Thompson advises, "Be sure your financials are accurate, be organized, build a strong business plan and establish a good relationship with your bank."

Dana Spain-Smith took a different approach when seeking capital for her $3.5 million Philadelphia-based new media publishing company. "I bid three banks against each other," says the 38-year-old CEO of DLG Media Holdings LLC. "Bidding the banks against one another is like any business deal: Research and negotiation are key."

Spain-Smith recommends not jumping at the first offer you get. "Remember, you're offering the bank something they want just as much as they're offering you something you want. If your business is growing and your plan is strong, banks both want and need to lend to you."

After negotiations in which she leveraged her personal wealth and reputation to get a better deal, Spain-Smith ended up with a line of credit against accounts receivable and a loan against personal property. "In essence, I persuaded the banks that being associated with an 'award-winning' businesswoman with roots in the community and a public face would be beneficial to the bank beyond what interest rate I pay or how many points they get," she explains. The result? A below-average interest rate with no prepayment penalty and no required deposit balance.

The bottom line: Just because a bank uses boilerplate loan applications doesn't always mean you have to do it by the book. Get creative when you go for that loan.

Want more information for and about women entrepreneurs? Go to womenentrepreneur.com .