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Contrary to popular belief, business loans aren’t just for companies that are struggling, according to Lois Miller, small business loan manager for the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project (SERCAP). Instead, loans are tools that can help a business — any business — grow and thrive.
“At SERCAP, we provide the best route to move a business forward — everything from working capital, purchasing inventory, finance management systems, green initiatives, property acquisitions and more,” Miller said. “We believe we are empowering entrepreneurs who want to use their knowledge and passions for making the world a better place.”
Small businesses can face a lot of challenges. Too little working capital or cash on hand can prevent the owners from accepting new contracts or engaging in new business opportunities, for example, even if those activities would help in the long run. Marketing the business can be costly as well.
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Since 2018, SERCAP, a nonprofit organization, has been delivering loans to small business owners and entrepreneurs that primarily serve rural populations across a seven-state service region. Its Small Business Loan Program focuses on serving existing businesses looking to grow or expand.
The organization also offers an Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative program for residents living in rural communities. The four-to-eight-week development training provides individuals with intensive coursework geared toward building an entrepreneurial mindset. Curriculum concepts include Creating Wealth, Building Your Brand, Ideas into Action, and Recognizing Opportunity, among others. Graduates of the program can then qualify for SERCAP’s Small Business Loan Program to start their own new business.
Miller explained that as a Community Development Financial Institution, SERCAP extends opportunities to businesses not served by traditional banks, and they do so with the goal of making these businesses bankable, meaning that in the future, they can be served by traditional banks.
“Our prime interest rates and free business development services, coupled with the fact that we lend to small businesses that are unlikely to acquire a loan elsewhere, means that we are in a unique situation to help entrepreneurs and the surrounding communities,” she said.
Before applying for a small business loan, Miller said, businesses should have accurate financial data that can be used to create a thorough business plan and financial forecast, as well as ensure there are enough funds allocated for marketing and growth. SERCAP provides assistance in this area to help entrepreneurs create their business plan or improve their existing one.
“Every business needs a plan,” she said. “Identifying who their customers are and what their target and existing markets are is crucial to maximize the efficiency of marketing funds. And all of this goes back to having good data to base decisions off of.”
SERCAP offers permanent financing in terms of fixed-rate loans over, in most cases, a 10-year term. However, the organization can amortize loans for the useful life of the collateral, as well as offer a line of credit financing.