Tools for Finding the Right Loan or Grant for Your Small Business

Whether you just completed your initial business plan or are looking to expand your growing small business, finding adequate funding under the right terms is an important part of setting yourself up for success. While a visit to the loan department at your local bank can get you the money you are seeking, there may be other less-costly options available. Thus, it is worthwhile to first spend some time learning about all your options. In fact, there are many government agencies, nonprofit associations and professional organizations dedicated to helping entrepreneurs access the funds and resources they need to be successful. The following are some of the best resources available for identifying and evaluating small business funding sources.

BusinessUSA Access Financing Tool

BusinessUSA is a website operated by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Its purpose is to provide a central point of access to information resources, training programs and other government services available to support American small businesses and exporters. The website’s Access Financing tool is one of the best resources available on the Internet to identify potential state and federal funding sources for small business. The tool collects basic information about you, your location and your business before returning a comprehensive list of loan and grant programs matching your characteristics. Links are provided for immediate access to official program Web pages.

The BusinessUSA Access Financing tool is useful for both startups and established businesses. In addition to general business loan programs, you can find special funding resources tied to green business practices, export-oriented activities, business training, natural disaster recovery and business investment in equipment or facilities. The tool also reports special funding opportunities available to women, minorities, veterans and other groups. The tool does not typically return information on local city- or county-level funding programs.

SBDC Tools and Resources

For help finding special loan and grant programs available only in your area, visit your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) online or in person. The national SBDC program, which is administered by the SBA, operates a network of over 900 service locations dedicated to providing local business owners counseling and training. Most SBDCs are located on university and community college campuses. Each location operates its own website, and most provide access to online resources and tools to help residents identify locally administered funding programs. Get in touch with local SBDC staff for additional assistance. In most cases, advice and counseling on business funding and other topics are available free of charge.

Other Local Tools and Resources

Many city, county and state governments across the country operate economic development agencies and business assistance offices designed to promote entrepreneurship and support expansion of business activity in the community. These agencies are typically excellent resources for learning about special loan and grant programs available at the local level, including nontraditional funding options such as angel investor groups. Most agencies have websites packed with information and research tools. Any SBDC location in your state can help you identify and contact your local economic development agency or business assistance office.

The nonprofit SCORE Association operates 320 local chapters nationwide offering training workshops, one-on-one mentoring, and free in-person or email counseling services to entrepreneurs. The Finance and Money section of the SCORE website also features a wide selection of tools and tutorials focused on finding and securing business funding.

Women entrepreneurs have a couple of special options for learning more about local loan and grant opportunities and business assistance programs. The SBA oversees a network of almost 100 Women’s Business Centers located throughout the United States. These centers deliver a wide variety of programs, services and information resources designed with women in mind. Another good option for women is the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), which is a membership organization for female entrepreneurs with local chapters across the country. The organization is an excellent source of local information and advice for women looking to start or expand a business.

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