How to Get Credit

Maintain a good credit rating and you’ll still find financing at a time when money’s tight.

How to Get Credit

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In a recent National Small Business Association survey, one-third of firms with less than $5 million in annual revenue and fewer than five employees said access to capital was the biggest challenge they faced. Fully 45 percent said their business had been “significantly or moderately” affected by tight credit. So where does that leave you?

The more you’ve done in the past to ensure a good credit record for your business, the better off you are likely to be now.

There’s a lesson to be learned here about the importance of business by relationship: You will have a much easier time with your banker if you’re an established customer, instead of just a stranger off the street who needs a loan.

“Banking has always been and will always be about relationships,” says Rose Oswald Poels, senior vice president and general counsel for the Wisconsin Banking Association. “You want to do business with a lender who does know you, knows the type of work ethic you have, and has a history with you.”

But neither your past record nor a good relationship guarantee you’ll get credit in the face of much tighter lending standards. They’ll get you in the door, but you’ll still need to make the case for the loan you seek when you seek it.


Write a Plan

That means focusing more than ever on the business plan you write to support your request for credit. And it means making sure the plan is well supported by facts you can back up, not just wishful thinking.

If you’re seeking financing for a startup operation, “You need to go into a bank with solid marketing plans, some demonstrated skill in terms of the people who will be running the business, as well as some kind of cash flow or collateral to prove that you’re a good credit risk,” Poels says. Elementary as it may sound, positive cash flow is crucial. Without it, your lender has no guarantee you’ll be able to pay back the money, no matter how good the terms.

If you get turned down, it’s not the end of the world. “You have to understand the reason for the denial and see if there are ways you can correct that,” Poels says. “If the turn-down for the loan is more tied to insufficient market research or insufficient proof that the business is viable, things like that are easier to correct.”

The solution: Beef up your research and the evidence that your business is operating on sound fundamentals, then go back and ask again. Some reasons for denial may be harder to overcome: for example, you’re already carrying so much debt that you have very little equity in your business free and clear.


Reality Check

That’s when you need to step back and look at the business with a much clearer eye. “The business has to have a reality check,” says Ellen Thrasher, director of entrepreneurship education for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The SBA has programs to guarantee loans made through private-sector banks. But you may need to accept the fact that you can’t get the credit you want now.

In that case, Thrasher suggests focusing on three aspects of the operation: overall sales performance, ongoing financial condition, and how you, as the owner, are functioning as the face of the business. She calls it “focusing on a plan for success.”

Trim expenses. Look hard, and enlist your workers in the hunt. “Sometimes employees are a pipeline for the best ideas,” Thrasher says. Streamline your operations any way you can that will help your operations.

Boost your savings. You can’t get more financing now? Then make the hard decision to lower your sights, but also look to the future. Take the money you would have spent repaying the loan and see if you can set aside at least some of it to reserve for down the road, when circumstances make financing more available. That way, you’ll have more seed money, which is likely to improve your chance at getting your lender to say yes.

Empower the workforce. Don’t stop with cutting costs. Meet with your workers daily and get them involved in communicating with your clients or your vendors. “Delegate smaller projects to them so you, as the business owner, can free up time to market overall,” Thrasher says.

Find free or inexpensive ways to promote your business and grow sales. Update your Web site or create a new one. Offer yourself as an expert to local community newspapers. Look into how you can use Internet social networking sites like Facebook to promote what you do.

Become your own best salesperson. Don’t just market to new clients — cultivate existing customers.

Ask for help. Successful small businesses often get help from an outside board of advisors who can lend strategic guidance. Others turn to groups like SCORE ( or Small Business Development Centers at their local college or university.


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