Yet many women business owners encounter difficulty obtaining financing for their enterprises, or don't bother trying because they fear that they don't qualify or that the process is too difficult to navigate.
A survey of women business owners, sponsored by National City Corp., found that nearly 41 percent of respondents reported that they do not have credit services with any bank or financial institution. One out of three of this group attribute their lack of credit to being a start-up business, while 26 percent don't pursue financing because they don't believe they would qualify. Just over 20 percent believe that the credit process is too difficult or too cumbersome.
National City has made a five-year commitment to a campaign to lend $3.5 billion to women business owners and lent nearly $550 million to women-owned businesses in 2003, yet making funds available is only part of the battle.
Linda Stevenson, vice president and director of National City's Women Business Owner Initiatives, says the financial services industry needs to mount an effort to educate women business owners and induce them to engage in relationship-building and networking to increase their opportunities for getting credit and financing to grow their businesses.
"We need to work harder at encouraging women business owners to apply for credit instead of them thinking they are not worthy of it," Stevenson says. "The credit process is simpler than they realize."
Deborah Moses, executive director of PowerLink, an organization that provides advisory panels to women-owned businesses, urges women to prepare and be proactive when it comes to dealing with lenders.
"When approaching your existing bank or a new bank for a loan or other product, be as knowledgeable about the process as possible so that you are not intimidated," says Moses.
Moses says her organization is finding bankers more eager to work with women business owners.
"PowerLink is experiencing increased interest from local and regional banks who want to work with us and who want to get to know our established women business owner clients better," Moses says.
Moses suggests that women business owners keep the following in mind when it comes to their banking relationships.
* Don't be afraid to ask for special treatment. If you have been a good client to the bank, you can sometimes strike deals, get lower prices or rates and secure extra services.
* Don't forget alternative financing sources, such as the Community Loan Fund, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and community development organizations.
* Contact your banker periodically to see if there are new products or services that you haven't been offered. Banks are not always proactive in offering new products, particularly if they cost less.
* Shop for rates or services. Visit other banks you are not currently working with, and you are likely to find a lower rate. This gives you several options, including renegotiating with your banker or moving your business to another bank.
* If you're not getting the service you believe you deserve from your banking officer, request a new one or ask a respected peer for a referral to another banker.
Moses says stereotypes about women-owned businesses persist; they are start-ups, they are small, they are predominantly retail. In any case, your chore is to convince your lender that your enterprise is viable and worth funding.
"Remember that first impressions can be lasting," Moses says. "Cast your business in the best light."