Even in a still-recovering economy, financing may not be that hard to come by if entrepreneurs follow a checklist of items credit unions are looking for.
The $1.6 billion Apple Federal Credit Union in Fairfax, Va., recently offered that insight. The cooperative said its small business lending grew from $6 million five years ago to $96 million today.
“Now is a better time than ever to start a business,” said Sherry Sterling, Apple director of business services. “We have money to lend; the DC metropolitan area market is stable and offers vast opportunities for entrepreneurs.”
In addition to creating a business plan that includes timelines and clearly defined objectives, Apple suggested that new business owners really determine if they have the drive and personality to strike out on their own.
By identifying personal assets, applicants can determine if they have the financial resources and experience to start a business. Also, find out if family members will contribute to the start-up costs, the credit union advised.
Lenders also still look at the five Cs of credit: character of the person, collateral, current economic conditions, capital and capacity. The credit union said applicants should be sure all of the Cs align in their favor.
Finally, the better an entrepreneur can pinpoint customers, the more razor sharp their marketing plan will be to reach them, according to Apple. This can include networking functions, referrals and advertising.
Jill Cochones, assistant manager of member business services for Apple, said it’s important to meet face to face with entrepreneurs.
“I want to hear their passion, and how realistic they are. I liken this conversation to a job interview,” Cochones said. “I get to know them and their business and I represent them throughout the loan process. The local market is constantly changing; since we are a local credit union, we understand the environment here and make our decisions locally.”
Amanda Medders, a member of Apple, said she launched Tri-Ed Tutoring right out of college. Because school systems do not make new hiring decisions until August, Medders knew she would have to endure three months of unemployment following her graduation.
“I didn’t like waiting to find out if I would have a job or not, so I launched my tutoring company, where I could work one on one with kids, which is what I learned that I loved when I tutored in college,” Medders said.
She started Tri-Ed Tutoring in 2006 when she was the sole tutor. Medders said she now has a team of 60 who offer services throughout Northern Virginia, Washington and Maryland.
Medders offered the following tips for startups: write a business plan that includes goals. Take the time to get to know the potential employees you interview to determine if they are a good mesh for your company vision and ideas, she also advised.
Pierre Abuschacra, also an Apple member, is the owner of Firehook Bakery & Coffee House, which has several locations in the D.C. area. He said he started his business in the midst of the 1992 recession.
Abuschacra said he worked in banking – an industry that was suffering at the time. It made him feel like his future was uncertain, he recalled.
“I wanted to do something that was recession proof. Everyone wants bread and coffee,” Abuschacra said.
His top tips for entrepreneurs are to first, build a dashboard with the five most important numbers you need to watch such as daily sales or biggest costs and communicate those numbers to the people who need to know. For instance, if the gas bill is high, Abuschacra said he will let the bakers know so they can be mindful to turn off the ovens when not in use.
Know where your cash is, stay connected to customers and understand what they want, adjust what you offer and meet their expectations, Abuschacra said. Sales associates know customers best so get their input on what customers want, he pointed out, adding when they are included they are happier and the customer will get a better experience.