12 Months to Startup

Month 6: Identify sources of startup financing.

Many entrepreneurs self-finance their businesses through personal savings, loans or credit cards. You may also be able to match your qualifications with a microloan: Private and SBA-backed agencies make loans from a few hundred dollars to $25,000. You can find a local microlender through the SBA's Web site.

You may also qualify for a niche or specialty loan. A new lending and learning organization called Count Me In makes loans from $500 to $10,000 to women entrepreneurs. Wells Fargo and Bank of America offer special loan programs for women, minorities and small-businesses.

Although there's no such thing as "free money" for small businesses, there are some cash awards, prize money and minigrants offered by a dwindling pool of organizations. Begin your search in Awards, Honors & Prizes, a publication by the Gale Group that should be available at your local library.

Whatever your funding source, remember to incur any debt in moderation. You'll make better business decisions when you're not under the pressure of heavy debt.

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