Are you unsure of how to approach raising capital for your business? You are not alone! To help you prepare for the journey, we’ve talked to two experts who have wise words for women business owners.
- Although traditionally women business owners have received less funding than their male counterparts, emerging research suggests that women-owned startups are good investments for lenders.
- Your business and personal financials are very important to your success of achieving funding. Learn what lenders look for.
- Compare financial institutions. Ask how they work in their local communities to bring solutions to women business owners.
Raising Capital: How to Position Yourself for Success
Whether you are starting a business or growing it, most owners will need to raise capital at some point along their business journey. You are in good company if you don’t know where to start and the process alone makes you feel a bit queasy. Read on for information from those who have helped hundreds of women get the capital funds they needed so they could go on to fulfill their business ownership dreams.
Before we dive in, it’s important to look at the lending landscape ‒ its challenges for women and minority business owners ‒ and how this affects current lending practices. Also, note that there are lenders who interpret the need for the success of women-owned business with varying levels of attention and programming.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the adverse impact on women’s careers and businesses has received a lot of attention. Fields heavily populated by women have experienced greater layoffs, with a McKinsey analysis showing women’s jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable than those of their male counterparts. The greater need for care of children and relatives led to even more women dropping out of the workforce.
Also, according to a Harvard Business Review article, “women-led startups received just 2.3% of venture capital funding in 2020.” The all-time high of venture capital funding in 2019 was 2.8%. That’s funding that can be described as “running on empty.”
According to our research, it’s clear that the gender investment gap continues to be real in the lending community. Data also prompts the question: Are enough women asking for help? The good news is that some financial institutions and women-centric organizations are stepping in to help women and minorities develop the confidence and know-how to raise capital for their businesses.
Looking at a Glass Half Full
There are many reasons why women make strong team members, leaders and business owners. And although less is known about the gender investment gap, data is emerging that points to women business owners as solid investments for lenders. According to an analysis from the Boston Consulting Group in 2018, “Why Women-Owned Startups Are a Better Bet,” businesses founded by women ultimately deliver higher revenue – more than twice as much per dollar invested – than those founded by men. Data similar to this continues to emerge.
The analysis points to two plausible reasons for the outcome above: 1) Women-led startups may be getting heavier pushback by investors, and thus their business plans are well prepared and strong, and 2) Going through the capital-seeking process may be helping women owners build resilience and adaptability, two crucial business skills for successful entrepreneurs.
Another relevant data point published in the Journal of Entrepreneurship & Organization Management found that women-led businesses are more likely to be focused on making a social contribution and building good relationships with employees. In other words, women-owned businesses are likely to contribute to building strong communities and aid in economic recovery.
Gloria Ware of JumpStart Weighs In
“We need female- and minority-owned businesses now more than ever,” said Gloria Ware, director of inclusion and principal at JumpStart, “and if you look for it, there is help out there for women with their business challenges, like preparing to ask for capital funding.” With a banking background and a passion to create pathways for women and minorities in business, Ware uses her skills and deep knowledge to work with hundreds of small business owners, advocating and educating them on everything from business planning and raising capital to hiring the right accountant.
“Most regions of the country now have local chapters of affinity groups like JumpStart, National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and the Small Business Association that are women- and minority-friendly. Some lenders also have Women in Business advocacy groups, like Key4Women®. These organizations often partner together to create amazing resources for business owners in general," Ware said. “If women don’t know where to look, start with the Small Business Association. Most chapters of this association have women-focused education and programming.”
Ware shared a recent example of like-minded organizations coming together in Dayton, Ohio, to share synergies and resources for the benefit of women and minority business owners. The Bankers Roundtable series offered small business owners and entrepreneurs access to a strategic network of lending experts and resources to help them build their businesses and create new jobs in the area. The program offered high-impact assistance to those who have struggled to find access to these services in the past. The effort was powered by JumpStart and the Dayton Chamber of Commerce and funded by a grant from KeyBank.
“Organizations like KeyBank, specifically Key4Women, and others are joining forces at the grassroots level to help minority- and women-owned businesses thrive. These efforts make small businesses, and the surrounding communities, stronger. I encourage women to find these opportunities in their area and take full advantage of these services,” Ware commented.
Ware also shared the following tips as you prepare for raising business capital:
- The process of raising capital can feel like a mystery, but there is a lot of good information out there and you can begin by educating yourself at home. Plug in to the Small Business Administration and local women-centric lenders. Read the information they have online. Many of these organizations offer online classes for members on a number of topics, ranging from marketing and finance to business planning.
- Identify a few lenders in your area and talk to them. If they are truly women- and minority-centric, they will meet you where you are. Get to know them and let them learn about you and your business, even if you don’t need funding right now. Lay the groundwork for a relationship.
- Know your numbers. This is a big task for any business owner and can be intimidating. Dig in with an accountant who does more than prepare financial statements. You need solid advice and counsel. If you need help finding a certified public accountant, reach out to a banking partner for help. This partner will help you understand what lenders look for when considering a business loan application.
Twenty years of working in financial services has given Yvonne Wilder, Senior Business Banking Relationship Manager, KeyBank, perspective on the kind of support – and knowledge – women need when they enter entrepreneurship. “It is no secret that starting and managing growth of a business is full of unknowns,” Wilder says. Among other things, gaining knowledge from a lender about how personal finances can impact an owner’s ability to raise capital is critical. This should be one of the first conversations you have with a lender.
“While it’s recommended that these two sets of finances remain separate, many entrepreneurs underestimate the importance of the relationship between the two,” Wilder said. “When we know enough about your finances – both personal and business – then discuss your business plan and goals, together we can create a plan for future funding when it is needed.” A lender may make suggestions to help an owner frame a solid forward-looking strategy, including:
- Assigning yourself a salary as you would other employees and stick to the pay schedule.
- Improving your personal credit score by routinely checking it and correcting any errors on the report. Pay attention to the amount of debt you have vs. assets that can be used as collateral.
- Calculating and understanding the debt-to-income ratio of your business and what impacts it. Understanding this ratio and others shows the owner and the lender the proportion of profits, or incoming funds, that are currently being used to service existing debt.
- Building credit for the business by utilizing a business credit card, not a personal one. Ask your vendors to report payments to credit bureaus.
Building a Team of Experts
“A banker should also help an owner build a solid support system. This means they need to be deeply rooted in the local community and the talent located there,” Wilder said. As a Key4Women Certified Advisor, Wilder helps women build their team and coaches women on a wide variety of business issues, including raising capital.
According to Wilder, there are four additional advisors that women need on their team. They are:
- A certified public accountant (CPA) who knows your goals for the business and helps you create a financial plan to reach them. This business advisor helps you put together your pitch and financials for raising capital.
- An insurance agent (not your homeowners’ agent) with deep experience in a specific business niche. This is not a one-size-fits-all insurance agent. Look for an agent who specializes in your unique business needs. Note that different types of businesses need customized coverage. For example, an IT company would require different coverage than a restaurant or a construction company.
- An attorney is one of the first consultants a business owner needs to appropriately establish the structure of your company (LLC vs. S Corp, etc.). Choosing the appropriate structure of your business early on is critical to avoid any problems, and expenses, as your business grows. Your attorney will also write various contracts and agreements you will need as you take on new employees, vendors and clients.
- A supportive significant other who helps a business owner navigate all the other aspects of a busy owner’s life. A supportive partner is essential to the overall success of your company.
“If a woman owner has the support of a committed banker along with these four advisors, running a business a raising capital will be a smoother process." As for selecting your banker, Wilder says to look for a relationship-focused financial institution. “Select a banker that cares deeply about lifting up communities and business owners,” Wilder commented. “That is the kind of banker women business owners need.”