There is a lot of money to be had for small-business development in the U.S., with banks, the government and private lenders making loan promises. Women-owned businesses have traditionally had less access to the loan money available, but with that awareness, more entities are marketing their loans to women.
According to the “21st Century Barriers to Women’s Entrepreneurship” report from the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship [http://awbc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/21st-Century-Barriers-to-Womens-Entrepreneurship-Revised-Ed.-v.1.pdf], women-owned businesses is the fastest growing segment of business in the U.S., but only 4% of the money lent in conventional small business loans is for women entrepreneurs; although 57% of U.S. Small Business Administration microloans go to women-owned businesses.
There aren't very many women-specific loans to be had in the ag-business realm—most women-specific loans are for businesses in urban areas or those in the technology and engineering industries. (Union Bank [https://www.unionbank.com/small-business/loans-lines-credit/diversity-lending/small-business-loans-women.jsp] on the West Coast is one institution that does have a specialized lending program for established woman-owned businesses.)
For the most part, you'll hear lenders tell a story similar to SBA's: “We serve everyone, so you don't have to be a woman-owned business, but we definitely encourage women to apply,” said Erin Andrew, assistant administrator for the SBA Office of Women’s Business Ownership.
Four to Try
Your financial institution might offer the right loan package for your business. Also look into these borrowing opportunities:
* The SBA's wide-ranging loan programs [https://www.sba.gov/content/sba-loans] offer everything from microloans up to $50,000 (Andrew says the average microloan is $13,000) through loans for $5 million.
* The U.S. government offers the BusinessUSA Financing Wizard [http://business.usa.gov/access-financing] tool to help you find government-sponsored loans that your business might be eligible for.
* The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency offers a host of loan programs [http://www.fsa.usda.gov/Internet/FSA_File/fsa_br_01_web_booklet.pdf], including microloans, and may be able to extend credit in situations where commercial lenders have not. Some FSA loans are earmarked for “socially disadvantaged applicants [http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=home&subject=fmlp&topic=sdl],” which includes women.
* The Association for Enterprise Opportunity [http://www.aeoworks.org/index.php/site/page/category/find/] members support entrepreneurs with financial services and business training. Some of these institutions put an emphasis on assisting woman-owned and rural businesses.
“Do your research, but also understand there is a risk,” said Andrew. She suggested talking with multiple lenders and other business owners to best understand your loan options.