May 8, 2022 By Max Freedman

The word debt strikes fear into the heart of most consumers and business owners. But all types of debt are not created equal. Taking on debt can help your small business grow.

If you’re pouring your heart and soul into your small business and are ready to expand, review our advice to prepare for getting your first business loan.

Pre-qualify in minutes

7 Tips on Getting a First-Time Small Business Loan

Your first time applying for a small business loan can come with lots of questions. Which types of financial statements and other paperwork will you need? Will you really be able to afford the loan? The below tips on getting a first-time small business loan answer these questions and plenty of others.

1. Determine why you need this loan

Lenders will ask your reason for seeking funding and you should have your answer nailed down. Answers likely fall into one of these categories:

  • To start your business
  • For cash flow to manage day-to-day expenses
  • For business expansion
  • To build savings

Your purpose for seeking a loan will help you identify whether you’re trying to fill a short-term or a long-term financial need. You’ll also need to determine when you would like to repay the loan. Long term loans generally have the lowest interest rates and 10 years or more to pay off resulting in low monthly payments. If you’re in it for the long haul, long term is best. If you plan on early payoff, check with your lender about penalties.

2. Prepare your business plan

According to the small business mentoring organization SCORE, a business plan has two primary purposes. First, it acts as an organized roadmap to help you analyze your plans for marketing, sales, production, distribution, etc.

The second purpose is the reason many entrepreneurs put together a plan-seeking funding from a bank, credit union, or other type of lender. Some financial institutions or other lenders will not invest in your company unless you present a business plan that demonstrates your steps to success.

SCORE reports that banks want to mitigate their risk of default and private investors, such as angel investors, want a realistic forecast for when they will get a return on their capital. (NOTE: SmartBiz® does not require a business plan when you apply for a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan or a bank term loan through a bank in our network.)

Your business plan will also indicate when you need funding and help you determine the amount you can responsibly borrow to meet your short and long-term goals.

A good business plan includes the following elements:

  • Executive summary. This introductory paragraph gives a broad but succinct overview of what your business plan will include.
  • Company description. This elevator pitch summarizes your business’s backstory and what it provides. It names the problem your business will solve and states your future goals.
  • Target audience. In this section, you’ll state which customer segments your business intends to reach. Informed consumer research is the bedrock of this section.
  • Market analysis. Here, you’ll detail your industry and market and whether your products and services could make a reasonable impact.
  • Organization and management. In the organization section of your business plan, you’ll detail who reports to whom and name your departments, managers, and leaders.
  • Services or products. Here, you’ll describe what you’ll sell and how you’ll sell it. Be sure to discuss your pricing, marketing, sales, website, order processing, equipment, and any potential legal issues.
  • Marketing and sales. In this section, you’ll explain your marketing plan without giving away its core details.
  • Break-even analysis. This analysis pinpoints when your sales and expenses will reach an equal amount. Thereafter, if you sell more products at your base price, you’ll profit.
  • Financial plan. Your income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement comprise this section. It’s the easiest way for lenders to assess your financial standing and risk as a borrower.
  • Operations. Here, you’ll list the facilities, stock, and equipment you need and detail their costs.
  • Competitive analysis. How does your business compare to its competitors? How can you keep up? You’ll answer these questions in this section.
  • Objectives. Here, you’ll break down your goals into smaller objectives and explain how you’ll reach them. This way, lenders can know you have a plan to get where you’re going.

In short:

  • A business plan is an organized roadmap for planning sales, distribution, marketing, production, and more.
  • Your business plan also doubles as an important document when applying for small business loan programs. That’s because certain funding options are unavailable to small business owners who lack a formal business plan.
  • A good business plan can help you determine when to seek financing options and how much you can afford to borrow.
  • Your business plan should include roughly a dozen sections that detail your products, services, marketing, competitors, target market, and more.

For more information, review Do I Need A Business Plan To Get A Small Business Loan?

3. Speak to a financial professional

It’s always a good idea to have a financial professional help you crunch the numbers before you seek financing. If you don’t have an accountant on your team, review our article to determine if you need to hire and in what capacity: How to Hire an Accountant for Your Small Business.

 See if you pre-qualify

4. Decide which type of loan is right for you

Your reasons for needing the loan will help you decide on the type of loan to apply for. It’s important to note that if you’re starting a business, it’s almost impossible to get a loan in your first year of operation. Lenders require cash flow to support repayment of the loan, so startups are typically disqualified from financing. Instead, starting entrepreneurs can rely on business credit cards, borrowing from friends and family, crowdfunding, personal loans or a microloan from a nonprofit lender.

For businesses with a year or more of history and revenue, you have more financing options, including SBA loans, bank term loans, business lines of credit, and invoice factoring.

5. Determine the best small-business lender to work with

Unfortunately, not all small business lenders are on the up-and-up. Confusing language and calculations can result in paying much more than you think you signed up for. Make sure you work with a lending professional who is responsive and answers all questions clearly. Stellar customer service support is key.

6. Check your qualifications

Go into the loan application process with a thorough understanding of the financial situation of your business. Check the following details:

  • What is your credit score? It’s important that every small business owner is aware of their business credit scores and actively monitors them so they can quickly address any errors on their credit reports. Both business and personal credit scores are important and will determine which loans you’ll qualify for.

Banks, which usually offer the least expensive small-business loans, want borrowers with credit scores at least above 680. If your credit score falls below that threshold, consider online small-business loans for borrowers with bad credit or loans from a nonprofit microlender. You should also find a lender who does an initial soft credit pull, also called a soft inquiry.

  • How long have you been in business? In addition to your credit score, lenders consider how long you’ve been operating your business. You need to have been in business at least one year to qualify for most online small-business loans and at least two years to qualify for most bank loans and SBA loans.
  • Do you have enough income? Many lenders require a minimum annual revenue, which can range anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 annually.
  • Can you make the payments in full for the life of the loan? Look carefully at your business’s financials — especially cash flow — and evaluate how much you can reasonably afford to apply toward loan repayments each month. Some online lenders require daily or twice-monthly repayments, so factor that into the equation if that’s the case. To comfortably repay your loan each month, your total income should be at least 1.25 times your total expenses, including your new repayment amount.

7. Gather documents

Each lender will have slightly different paperwork requirements. In general, documents required include:

  • Business tax returns
  • Income statements (year-to-date)
  • Balance sheets (year-to-date)
  • Schedule of liabilities (list of all business debt)
  • Personal tax returns
  • Personal financial statement

Benefits of getting a small business loan

Small business loans provide convenient access to large sums of money you might otherwise need several years to earn. Their interest rates are typically lower than other forms of funding such as business lines of credit or business credit cards. And though you might be inclined to choose alternative online lenders for their convenience, most of them have unreasonably high interest rates. An online SBA lender is just as convenient at much lower rates.

Better yet, there are six types of SBA loans, so you can find the one best suited for your needs. These loans include small-dollar loans like the SBA microloan program and million-dollar loans like SBA 7(a) loans. Where microloans can help you obtain inventory, 7(a) loans can help you purchase commercial real estate. You can use other SBA loans to recover from disasters, expand your services into exporting, and do plenty more.

In short, small business loans are:

  • Convenient
  • Large in size
  • Low-interest
  • Flexible in terms of use cases, especially if you choose SBA loans

Additional resources

The SmartBiz Small Business Blog was created to support entrepreneurs with up-to-date information about running a successful business. From credit to marketing, we cover the important business topics to help you thrive. Visit the SmartBiz Small Business Blog.

See if you pre-qualify