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Published: Friday, 10/29/2004

Business plan is the key, entrepreneurs told

Compile a thorough business plan, expect to personally come up with roughly 20 percent of start-up expenses, keep your credit report clean, and wisely leverage your time are some pieces of advice offered to local entrepreneurs yesterday during a conference for small businesses.

Entrepreneurs have a variety of options for financing their ventures from banks and governments at all levels, and Toledo's Regional Growth Partnership can help figure out what is available, said Laurie Cantrell, loan program administrator for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

"There's a lot of programs out there, and you can combine them," she said at one workshop during the daylong conference organized by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland at the Hilton Toledo.

Financial options for entrepreneurs, experts said, include various federal Small Business Administration guarantees on bank loans, such as one program offered through the port authority for the purchase of equipment and other fixed assets.

Others include loans, grants, and other incentives through the state and city, as well as loans from banks, some said.

Those who pursue bank loans should compile a thorough business plan, including three-year sales projections and a listing of competitors, and most lenders will expect an entrepreneur to come up 20 percent of the investment, said Beth Ann Miller, an assistant vice president at Sky Bank.

An entrepreneur's credit score, a representative from KeyBank said, is critical to getting a loan. Entrepreneurs should check their credit bureau reports annually to make sure there are no mistakes and outdated information is removed, said Veronica Fish, community development lender at the bank.

"Your credit score is very important because you are your business," she said.

Author Melvin Gravely, one of the conference's keynote speakers, said successful entrepreneurs know what they want when they see it, prioritize their time, and are disciplined and determined.

They also need to start with what they have and keep making progress, which will help convince others to invest in their plan, said Mr. Gravely, president of the Institute of Entrepreneurial Thinking in Cincinnati.

Ms. Miller, meanwhile, advised entrepreneurs to stay updated on Small Business Administration programs because they periodically change. Recently, fees were raised and guarantee amounts lowered on administration programs, she said.

"If a bank's creative, there's ways to even finance the fees," Ms. Miller said. Still, "there may be a few that fall through the cracks."

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