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Women's Business Centers

One of the first places you should look for assistance with start-up funding is a Woman's Business Center.

These nonprofits exist all over the country in both cities and rural areas; their mission is to help support women entrepreneurs with financing and other helpful support services such as classes and one-on-one consulting. Many of these organizations obtain their lending dollars from the federal government, so their lending programs are less affected by bad economic conditions than commercial banks.

Since Woman's Business Centers are dedicated to helping women succeed, you'll have a much higher chance of getting the start-up funds you need--as well as support to improve your chances of success. At the very least, you won't likely be outright rejected as you might with a big commercial bank. If your business idea has flaws or your business plan needs development, there's a good chance that a woman's Business Center will work with you to tweak your idea or plan so that it does qualify for a loan. Of course a woman's Business Center won't fund just any harebrained idea a woman brings in, but if you're serious about your venture you'll likely get valuable support.

Some Woman's Business Centers even help you write your business plan from start to finish. Many of these centers offer intensive, multi-week classes and workshops that guide you through the business planning process, with the goal of completing a business plan by the end of the sessions. They may provide additional support through one-on-one consulting, providing feedback to your business plan drafts.

For example, the organization that I've worked with for the last several years, WESST (for Women's Economic Self-Sufficiency Team), offers loans up to $10,000 for start-ups, and up to $50,000 for existing businesses. In addition, it offers a wide range of classes on business topics such as a six-week business plan workshop. Other classes cover strategy, and more. Fees are extremely affordable, often in the $25-per-class range. WESST also offers one-on-one consulting to help new entrepreneurs with specific issues, as well as a business incubator that leases office and manufacturing space to small businesses at affordable rates, in a beautiful green-certified building. In some cases, loans are contingent on an entrepreneur taking certain classes.

Resource: For help in finding a Woman's Business Center near you, go to the Association of Women's Business Centers website at www.awbc.biz. You'll find a list of Woman's Business Centers nationwide.

An excerpt from Women's Small Business Start-Up Kit: A Step-by-Step Legal Guide by Peri Pakroo, J.D.

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