Q: I'm a 21-year-old massage therapist who's decided to open my own business with two other therapists. The problem is that I've never gone to a traditional school and taken business courses. Being young has the disadvantage of making it almost impossible for us to get a sizable loan from a bank. Is there any funding out there for young women interested in starting a small business?
A: This is an exciting time to be a female business owner or a young entrepreneur. Here's why: 9 million American women own businesses, employing more than 27.5 million people and generating more than $3.6 trillion in sales. Additionally, one out of every five small-business owners is under 35-with more young people starting businesses now than ever before. So your dual status puts you in good company.
There are terrific resources, programs and organizations now dedicated to helping both types of entrepreneurs grow and prosper in their efforts. From financing and discussion groups to mentoring programs and networking opportunities, here are a few sources to help you along your way:
Consider a variety of funding sources. Without a doubt, women and young people starting businesses have a tougher time getting investors and bankers to untie their purse strings. Fortunately, women are beginning to form their own old girls' network. A new lending and learning organization called Count Me In has created a national loan fund for women. The organization's small-business loans range from $500 to $10,000; they also provide scholarships for business training and technical assistance.
More banks have begun to market specialty loans. Wells Fargo, for example, has teamed up with the National Association for Women Business Owners to assist creditworthy females nationwide. If you have good personal and business credit records and have been in business for two years, you may qualify for a $5,000 to $100,000 loan from this program.
You may also be able to match your qualifications with a microloan. Private and SBA-backed agencies make loans to qualified individuals from a few hundred dollars to $25,000. Check out "Brother, Can You Spare $10,000" in December's HomeOfficeMag.com for more information on microlenders. For a listing of microlenders, go to the SBA's Web site.
Avail yourself of a mentor-prot�g� program. Business success can happen a lot faster if you have someone to guide you. Check out the Women's Network for Entrepreneurial Training Mentoring Program (WNET) in which seasoned women business owners act as mentors to their less experienced counterparts. In a year-long, one-on-one program, mentors share their knowledge, skills and support. There's also an off-shoot program: WNET Roundtable. You can receive the same mentoring and support but in a group setting. Learn more about both programs at www.sbaonline.sba.gov/womeninbusiness/wnet.html.
Visit a local Women's Business Center (WBC). There are about 93 centers nationwide that provide assistance or training in finance, management, marketing, procurement and the Internet. All WBCs provide individual business counseling and access to the SBA's programs and services. A number of them are also intermediaries for the SBA's Microloan Program. Many are business incubators offering start-ups low-cost office space, equipment and services. Visit http://www.onlinewbc.org for more information.
Schmooze with your peers. There are situations you'll face that only other young businesspeople will understand-like getting carded when entertaining clients. Align yourself with other twentysomething folks through associations like the Young Entrepreneurs Network, Young Entrepreneurs' Organization, GenX Startup and Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization. These groups have an online community of discussion boards, newsletters, archive of articles as well as networking and educational opportunities. Another helpful resource is The Young Entrepreneur's Edge: Using Your Ambition, Independence, and Youth to Launch a Successful Business by Jennifer Kushell and Steve Mariotti.
Follow through on these resources, and you may be the next cover story about a wildly successful entrepreneur.
Kimberly Stansell is an author, entrepreneur and businesswoman in Los Angeles. She has a knack for turning her desires into reality with little or no money and helps others do the same in her book Bootstrapper's Success Secrets: 151 Tactics for Building Your Business on a Shoestring Budget(Career Press). For more business-building tips and resources, visit her Web site, www.kimberlystansell.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.