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In the driver’s seat, yes, but can a woman afford the vehicle?

There are many reasons women choose the path of entrepreneurship. One of the reasons is as an alternative to the much talked about “glass ceiling” on the traditional career path. A woman can rise part way to the top, close enough to see her way into the boardroom, but somehow not quite able to break her way in.

Founding one’s own company puts a woman in the driver’s seat from Day One. No need to burst through any glass ceiling into the boardroom. But even as more and more women are chipping away at the corporate glass ceiling, female entrepreneurs are discovering a much less talked about glass ceiling at their own companies: financing. Even more than the corporate boardroom, it turns out that start-up funding is still a male bastion. In the driver’s seat, yes, but can a woman afford the vehicle?

According to the SBA, women make up 36% of all business in the United States. But they get only 4.4 percent of small business loans and an even smaller percent of venture/angel money. Women start their businesses with about half as much capital as men do, according to the NWBC.

Something has to be done about the inequities in start-up financing. But until that “something” is done, women have to do something to access the capital now – today – to launch their businesses.

Here are some creative ways to finance your very own business.

Apply for a small business loan…but be strategic. Some banks are more likely to lend you the money than others. Scope out the bank first. You might stand a better chance where the branch manager or the person in charge of small business loans is also a woman. And if at first you don’t succeed, try again.

This might seem obvious, but make sure your business plan is prepared for maximum success. As with every sales pitch, the chance of success depends on pushing all the right buttons. If a bank rejects your pitch, do exactly what you would when being told you didn’t get a job: ask why. Open up your business plan and ask the bank manager what she would change to make a loan possible.

The result might be:

· “I don’t have the time,” in which case you are no further ahead or behind.

· Some great tips to improve your business plan, and make the next pitch more likely to succeed.

· If the changes are all feasible and you are prepared to do them, the chance to pitch again. “Thank you so much for the pointers. Let me rework this, and do you mind if I set up an appointment to apply again next month?”

· The chance to impress the bank manager, just by showing that you are willing to make the changes required to turn a profit.

One of the best ways to ensure that your sales pitch will land you a loan is to get a mentor (or a couple of mentors) to help you refine your pitch. Mentors will help you with every facet of your business. They are not there just to help with financing. But helping clinch a loan is certainly an important role they can play.

Many women seek to conquer the challenges of entrepreneurship by banding together. There are networking groups just for women, such as Everywoman and The Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network. These are safe places to discuss general challenges and challenges unique to female business owners, as well as to share solutions and compare notes. You could also choose a mixed networking group, where you can build relationships with both men and women in business.

Carol Forden, who has successfully raised capital for two companies, has this to say:

"My advice to anyone looking to complete a capital raise now or in the future is to invest in relationships, seek out others that have done a capital raise in the past for advice - not funding, attend local entrepreneur/startup meet ups or club meetings in your community, attend entrepreneur events that fit your company’s needs and network. It's critical to invest in building relationships that will assist in getting you positioned for a capital raise."

There are two very useful financing advantages you can leverage from a woman’s networking group:

1. You can gather intelligence on the banks. Find out who else got loans and what branch they used. Find out what their strategy was, what worked for them, what ideas you could borrow. Maybe you could even get the chance to peruse the business plans that succeeded in landing the loans.

2. You can find a mentor.

Start asking some of the more senior members questions. Learn everything you can from them. Their advice can help you refine your pitch for a loan. In fact, just the fact that you have a mentor might help you land the loan. With a mentor, the bank knows that you have seasoned advice, that you are not on your own, that you are more likely to succeed.

Hook up with an incubation center. Most cities have at least one incubation center. These are usually shared office space for start-ups. They come with access to standard professional services, such as printing and accounting, onsite.

At the very least, this means you have a team of other entrepreneurs to help each other, compare notes, motivate each other and run ideas by. They help you do things more efficiently and more effectively. In many cases, there are experienced mentors associated with the center. In some cases, the incubation center will bring in angel investors and help you pitch to them. It is worth finding out what’s available in your town. It might even be worth moving to a town that has what you need in an incubation center.

You could turn to the Internet for start-up capital. Many new businesses raise their funds on Indiegogo or Kickstarter. On these platforms, you need a very different type of pitch. You need to create buzz. It takes just as much preparation as planning a pitch for a bank or for an angel investor. However, gender bias is stripped from the equation. As the popular meme goes, on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog.

There are ways to break through the glass start-up funding ceiling. You don’t have to fund your venture on your own, or settle for a lemonade stand instead of the business you wish you could afford. Follow these tips for a better chance of hitting the ground running with the capital you need.

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