October 14, 2020 By SmartBiz Team

October is National Women's Small Business Month celebrating the creative entrepreneurs who took the plunge to start a small business despite gender barriers.

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In 1972, women only owned 4.6% of all businesses in the United States. Now women own 42% of businesses in the United States. Here’s more good news about this important sector of the U.S. economy:

  • There are nearly 13 million women-owned businesses in the United States, employing 9.4 million workers and generating revenue of $1.9 trillion.
  • Women-owned businesses generate $1.9 trillion annually.
  • Women of color account for 50% of female business owners.

During the economic downturn, take advantage of business resources available for women-owned businesses and celebrate the outstanding progress female entrepreneurs have made over the years. Here are resources to explore:

Women’s business resources

WBE Certification

Two women’s business organizations certify WBEs: the WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) and the NWBOC (National Women Business Owners Corporation).

WBE certification is necessary if you wish to participate in programs that require tracking the amount of business done with women-owned enterprises. Most local, state and federal government purchasing agencies have programs for woman-owned businesses. To become WBE certified, you must show:

  • Woman Ownership: You must prove that the business is 51 percent owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a woman or women.
  • Time in business: Your company must have been in business for at least six months.
  • US citizens: The owner or owners must be US citizens or legal resident aliens.
  • Contribution of capital: The woman business owner or owners must show that the contribution of capital is real and in proportion to the ownership interest in the business.

Grant options for women-owned businesses

Here are some good places to start your search for public or private grant opportunities:

  • Grants.gov
  • Challenge.gov
  • SBIR.gov
  • GrantsforWomen.org
  • The Eileen Fisher Women in Environmental Justice Grants
  • The SBA's InnovateHER Challenge
  • The Girlboss Foundation Grant
  • The Amber Grant for Women

Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)

The SBDC program offers management and business counseling services. The SBDC are the SBA’s largest non-financing program and is a collaboration of SBA funding along with state and private resources. Currently, more than 950 service centers handle counseling and training needs of roughly 650,000 clients annually.

Manufacturing, procurement, technology transfer, disaster recovery, technology, market research and international trade are emphasized. To learn more about the SBDC program or to locate an SBDC near you, visit the SBA's website.

Office of Women's Business Ownership

The Office of Women’s Business Ownership’s mission is to enable and empower women entrepreneurs. Economically or socially disadvantaged women are offered training and counseling in many languages to help them start and grow their own businesses.

Office of Entrepreneurship Education

Here’s the mission statement of this office:
“The Office of Entrepreneurship Education's mission is to provide entrepreneurial information and education, resources and tools to help small businesses succeed. The office is an integral component of Entrepreneurial Development's network of training and counseling services.”

Loan options for woman-owned businesses

Although these loans are not specifically earmarked for women, they can provide the funds you need for your business.

SBA Loans

If you qualify, the Small Business Administration’s low-cost loan programs can be your best option. SBA loans have low rates, long terms and very low payments to fuel stability, growth, and savings.

There are three types of SBA loan programs available for business owners, the 7(a) Loan Program, the CDC/504 Loan Program and the Microloan Program.

The 7(a) Loan Program

An SBA 7(a) loan can be used for a variety of purposes.

  • Working Capital: Purchase equipment, increase inventory, add marketing programs, for operating expenses to hire additional staff.
  • Debt Consolidation Loans: Refinance merchant cash advances, short-term business loans, high interest business loans, daily or weekly payment loans or business credit cards.
  • Commercial Real Estate: Refinance an existing commercial real estate mortgage, buy an office building or other owner-occupied commercial space.

For in-depth information about the popular SBA 7(a) loan program, visit the SmartBiz Small Business blog and review our comprehensive article: What is an SBA Loan?

The 504 Loan Program

This program was created to give small businesses low cost funds for expansion or modernization. Typically, up to 50% of project costs are funded by a lender backed by the SBA. CDCs (Community Development Corporations) usually fund up to 40% of the project cost. The final 10% is a cash down payment expected to come from the small business owner. A 504 SBA loan might be a good fit for small business owners interested in purchasing a commercial real estate property and if their unique business circumstances fit with the public policy goals of your local CDC. Find a CDC here.

The Microloan Program is for very small businesses, including start-ups and provides loans of up to $50,000. Requirements to qualify for a microloan can vary depending on the lender. Proceeds from an SBA Microloan can be used for most business expenses but not for paying down debt or real estate purchases.

Non-SBA Loans

There are plenty of non-SBA loan options available although they may have higher rates, shorter terms and larger payments.

Business Lines of Credit

A business line of credit allows you to borrow funds up to a limit based on your credit, typically smaller than a term loan. You only pay interest on the amount you use, and you can continue borrowing as necessary until you reach the set maximum. These loans are usually unsecured, meaning that you won’t have to provide collateral to qualify. For in-depth information, read this post from the SmartBiz Blog: Small Business Lines of Credit Pros and Cons.

Business credit cards are revolving lines of credit. The main distinction is that they don’t terminate once the predetermined limit is reached. They work like personal credit cards, with varying spending rewards and offers depending on the lender. Learn more here: 5 Business Credit Card Myths.

Merchant Cash Advances

A merchant cash advance (MCA) is most often used by small businesses that accept credit and debit card sales. You receive a specific sum in advance that is repaid either by a percent deduction from daily transactions or through daily or weekly payments.

Keep in mind that MCAs often lead to extremely high annual percentage rates. Even the minimum within the range can be several times larger than term loan annual percentage rates and can reach up to well over 300%. For more info, read What You Need to Know About an MCA.

Bank Term Loans

If you need funds quickly, consider applying for a bank term loan. SmartBiz currently offers term loans through its network of banks for working capital, debt refinance, and new equipment purchase:

  • $30,000 to $500,000 loan amounts
  • 2 – 5 year repayment terms
  • Fixed interest rate*
  • Monthly repayments
  • No pre-payment penalties

*Interest rate depends on loan term and the applicant's credit and financial profile.

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Women owned-business assistance

If you need help launching, running, or expanding your business, free or low-cost assistance is available. A Women's Business Development Center or a Small Business Development Company offers all kinds of programs and assistance for small business owners. Locate assistance centers here: Find local assistance. SCORE is also a fantastic resource, pairing entrepreneurs with seasoned business professionals. Locate your local SCORE office here.

How to support other women-owned businesses

1. Share your experience women in business.

When you work with a woman-owned business, share you experience on a review platform like Yelp. You’ll be lifting up another entrepreneur. You can also offer to give a testimonial for use on their website or in an email blast to their customers. If you are a woman entrepreneur, here’s ideas to help you get valuable customer reviews: How to Get Customer Reviews for Your Business.

2. Get certified as a woman-owned business.

It’s the perfect time to get certified as a woman-owned business. The Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program helps female business owners get a fair shot at government contracts, and the more businesses compete, the better. Learn how one woman business owner took advantage of this program on the SmartBiz Small Business Blog: Incipio Workforce Solutions.

To be eligible for the women’s contracting program, your business must:

  • Be a small business. The SBA’s size standards determine whether or not your business qualifies as small.
  • Be at least 51% owned and controlled by women who are U.S. citizens.
  • Have women manage day-to-day operations and also make long-term decisions.

3. Volunteer or become a mentor.

Female role models are more important than ever. If you’re an experienced entrepreneur, consider giving back by either volunteering with organizations that support women in business or becoming a mentor. Nonprofit organizations like the well-known Big Brothers Big Sisters of America are great places to start, but you can also begin at work, or by joining an online community like Fairygodboss or Girlboss. To mentor within your business, get tips here to mentor those on your team: Mentoring In The Workplace: Best 6 Types Of Mentoring Programs.

4. Invest and donate to help women in business.

You can support female-owned small businesses by investing, donating or patronizing.

There nonprofits that empower women, like Dress for Success, which helps women in need get appropriate attire for interviews and navigate the professional world with confidence. The Center for Women & Enterprise helps women in the United States start their own businesses by providing them with valuable guidance and resources.

5. Network with other women in business.

Build your small business network. Meaningful connections are important for business owners and can lead to partnerships, cross-promotions, or mentoring opportunities.

Female entrepreneur success stories

Despite the success and growth of businesses owned by women, a troubling blanket of unfairness still exists. A 2016 study showed that female-owned businesses receive loan approvals 33% less often than male-owned businesses.

At SmartBiz however, about 30% of SBA 7(a) funded loans go to women-owned businesses compared to the national average of only 14%. From 2017 to 2019, SmartBiz increased the dollar amount facilitated to African American Women owned businesses by 45%.

We love to speak with our female customers to learn about their entrepreneurial journey to successful business ownership. Read about them on the SmartBiz Small Business Blog:


School for the Dogs - New Yorkers love their dogs. And if you’re in Manhattan’s East Village and come across a well-trained pooch, they might just be a student of Annie Grossman.


Rosemarie Collections - This Ohio based small business had humble beginnings but has blossomed into a successful venture co-owned by Jubal Douglass and Rosemarie Bauer.


Wonder Years - Christy Miranda started working for the business she now owns when she was just 15. She is expanding to a new commercial real estate property to expand her successful child care business.


Los Gatos Ballet & Pilates - Marcie Ryken is a former professional ballerina who opened a studio to share her passion with children and adults. Learn about her growth strategies.

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