In 2002, Alan and Lara Baldwin entered a bank and left nearly $500,000 richer and fully armed to take their full-scale event production company to the next level. Before then, their main focus was making ends meet, operating Landmark Event Services Inc. for a year with personal capital and credit cards. The bank's cash infusion let them finally invest in their New York City-based business: They bought trucks and equipment and moved into an 11,000-square-foot warehouse.
But Alan and Lara, both 40, didn't go to the bank empty-handed that day. Prior to asking for money, they sought out free counsel from their local Small Business Development Center and prepared a solid business plan with five-year projections. "We were able to really clearly define what we needed and why and how we were going to proceed with the business," says Lara.
Getting a bank loan in 2008 isn't as easy as it was five years ago, but Nick Crocetti, a director at CBIZ Accounting, Tax and Advisory Services, says it's still doable--with the right amount of preparation. "If you have a formal, written business plan, that goes a long way in convincing the bank you're very serious about your business venture," he says. Banks also look at entrepreneurs' previous experience in the industry and the collateral they're willing to place on the line. Crocetti also suggests finding an accountant, attorney and insurance professional, and demonstrating your seriousness to the banks by forming an advisory board of experienced industry professionals.
For the Baldwins, seeking a loan has meant gaining the opportunity to design and execute unforgettable events for high-end clients like Microsoft--and not-too-shabby projected 2008 sales of $2.5 million.