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How I Got Lenders to Compete for My Business

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Nurse-practitioner Marian Kahn thought she had a pretty good idea of what she was getting into when she opened her own business, a wellness and weight-loss clinic in Michigan. A longtime bone marrow transplant nurse, she had taken a less-stressful job at a weight-loss clinic when her mother-in-law moved into her home in Atlanta. Though she had taken the job to reduce stress, she found she really enjoyed it.

Later, when she and her husband moved to Detroit, she wanted to open her own clinic. She calculated what she’d need and what she could charge based on her experience in Atlanta, and she was able to get a Small Business Administration-backed loan. The clinic opened in January 2013. Shortly after, Marian began getting lesson after lesson in what could go wrong. Her husband lost his job (he was out of work for 10 months and is now re-employed), she discovered the Detroit market wouldn’t bear the prices charged at the Atlanta clinic, and Marian herself was working three jobs trying to keep afloat (she was also working in home healthcare and telemedicine). Business was beginning to build, though, and she needed to hire a phlebotomist. “I severely underestimated my needs,” she says now.

She knew she needed a loan. She had learned of a new, independent social lending company that catered to military clients (Marian was in the Army Reserves) from a LinkedIn group for veterans, and she went there for a $15,000 loan. The company, StreetShares, is practically brand new. It allows would-be borrowers to make their own pitches that are seen by investors. Its CEO and co-founder, Mark Rockefeller, is a fellow veteran. He returned from Iraq in 2008, shortly after Lehman Brothers collapsed.

He said he saw a particular problem for vets, who were returning home and trying to launch businesses — and having trouble raising capital. StreetShares’ business model focuses on vets — both as investors and as borrowers. Rockefeller said the borrower crafts a “pitch” explaining why the loan is needed and how the business can use it to succeed, and investors then bid, in kind of a reverse auction in which the lowest bids “win,” and the borrower pays a weighted average of those bids, plus a “funding success” fee of up to 4.95%. Investors also pay a 1% loan-servicing fee.

It’s not exactly crowdfunding, nor is it a P2P platform. Rockefeller said the closest thing he has seen is Funding Circle, which originated in the U.K., and caters to small businesses and franchises. In the case of StreetShares, the target borrowers are military, though others may also apply.

Marian said it was a good experience for her, and she liked the idea of working with another veteran-owned business. She was also well-prepared in that she had an excellent credit score. Although it was a business loan, it required a personal guarantor. She said that even so, because her business was less than two years old, she didn’t get low interest rates. (Typically, people with higher credit scores get loans with lower interest rates.)

If you wonder about your own score, you can see it for free on Credit.com. It’s also a good idea to check your credit reports regularly; you can get a free credit report annually from each of the major credit-reporting agencies.

Marian says she feels good about her chances of keeping the business healthy. “We’ve been thrown a few curveballs, but I know it’s going to all pay off,” she says.

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