While the small business lending landscape has been steadily improving over the past year, challenges still remain, particularly for companies that have less than stellar credit histories. Many banks are not willing to provide capital to small business owners who have below average credit scores.

There can be valid reasons why a company might have a poor credit history. During the Great Recession of 2009-10, many small businesses fell behind in payments to vendors or simply could not correct their cash flow issues quickly enough. After all, the hardest time to secure credit is when you are desperate for it. The black marks on a company's credit history can take months -- even years --  to erase.

Fortunately, there are lenders who are willing to take chances on a small business owner who may have run into some short-term financial problems and startup companies that have no credit history whatsoever. However, remember the lenders are usually not "brand names" in the financial services industry; and the interest rates and fees can sometimes be higher than those offered by traditional banks.

Here are some financing options available to business owners with lower than average credit scores:

Merchant Cash Advance is a short-term loan paid in a lump sum to a business owner in exchange for a portion of a company's future credit-card sales. Companies involved in this type of financing offer quick access to cash without requiring excellent credit or substantial collateral. Some cash advance companies will approve funding requests and forward money in as little as 48 hours. Interest rates are often a bit higher than what traditional lenders charge, however.

Business Credit Cards can provide business owners with poor credit histories access to debt financing. Opening a credit rebuilding credit card is one of the best ways for a business owner to repair previous credit damage.

Microloans are made by non-profit organizations, such as Accion (http://www.accionusa.org), which will grant small loans (up to $50,000) designed to help startups owned by women and minorities, as well as companies that are established in economic empowerment zones. Loans are also available through the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Microloan Program, which lends funds through non-profit community-based intermediary lenders. Microloans are a great option for businesses with bad credit or no credit histories because their credit requirements are typically more lenient.

The good news for small business owners is that there are ways to improve credit scores. Here are some tips for repairing damaged credit scores:

Check business credit reports periodically

A business’s credit score is derived from a complex mathematical equation designed to predict the likelihood of default. Credit ratings agencies, such as Equifax and D&B, examine:

  • company size and business structure
  • industry risk
  • outstanding accounts payable balances
  • payment habits and credit utilization
  • length of credit history
  • public records (judgments, liens, bankruptcies)
  • other factors

Pay bills on time

Late or missed payments negatively impact credit scores. The most important thing is to remain current. Fortunately, recent payment history counts more than older credit problems. Thus, negative issues will eventually fade, and credit problems fade with the passage of time. However, a collection account will remain on your credit history for seven years.

Be cautious with credit cards

Even if your personal debt is problematic, building a positive history of business transactions can enable you to establish a track record of creditworthiness. For this simple reason, it is wise not to co-mingle business and personal bank accounts. Once accounts are separated, be sure that company payments are in order.

My advice to someone who is just starting to build a business credit history is to open a business credit card and make consistent, prompt payments. Some people open numerous credit cards in an effort to increase available credit. In fact, if you open too many credit accounts too soon, the impact will be negative. It is more effective to have one card and to pay it off in full each month.

Incorporate your business

Incorporating makes your business appear more serious. Once you have legally established your business, set up bills (phone, electric, etc.) in the company's name. If you need small business loan, banks are more likely to make grant funding to a company that has an established address and pays its utility bills each month than they are to a freelancer working at home.

Pre-pay bills when possible

Vendors may offer discounts for pre-payment. If your company is in a position to pay early at a reduced rate, you can cut your operating costs and ultimately improve cash flow. As an added bonus, vendors whom you pay early will likely serve as credit references if you need them in the future.

Run a lean, profitable business

Every company's goal is to be profitable. Manage staff schedules wisely, particularly when business is slow. Keep inventory at reasonable levels.

Banks are taking a risk by providing capital to small companies. When you apply for a small business loan or a line of credit, lenders want to be assured that you are a good credit risk. That means being fiscally prudent, paying bills on time, and building a solid credit history. These tips seem rudimentary, yet they are very important. For more information, you can visit Biz2Credit's credit improvement page.

Rohit Arora is co-founder and CEO of Biz2Credit, an online credit marketplace that connects small- and medium-sized businesses with a network of 1,200+ lenders, service providers, and complementary business tools.  Having arranged $1 billion in funding, Biz2Credit is a leading resource for loans, lines of credit, working capital and more.  Follow Rohit on Twitter @Biz2Credit and on Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/biz2credit.