Money is always on the minds of small business owners, whether it’s earning it, spending it or using it strategically. In this economy, money is a particularly hot topic for those looking for financing, for money to start a business, expand one or keep one afloat.
Unfortunately, financing for a small business is not like going to the grocery store — there are not endless options and instant gratification. If you are hoping to secure financing, especially in this lending environment, it will be more like farming, where getting what you want takes time, effort and an understanding of the big picture.
In June, the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center sponsored a panel called “R U Bankable” which included representatives from different banks across the Willamette Valley. They answered questions about whether their respective banks are currently lending to small business, what lenders are really looking for, and what if they deny someone access to capital, what then? While the panelists certainly mentioned credit scores, collateral, equity and other numbers related criteria, the strongest theme of the discussion was the need for small business’ to develop a relationship with their bank.
What does having a relationship with your small business’ bank look like? If you think about how much you trust your business’ attorney, CPA, or insurance agent, you want to know and trust your banker in the same way. You want them to be a part of your team, a key part of your business’ success.
Here are some tips on how to build a relationship with your banker:
-Let go of the notion that banks are just institutions that keep your money for you and then won’t let you have any extra when you need it the most.
-Pick a bank you want to have a relationship with — bigger isn’t always better, nor is smaller. Choose the bank that makes sense for the success of your business.
-Start slow. You don’t need to approach your banker with a loan application during your first meeting. Ask them for recommendations and let them know that you value their role in your business.
-Spend the time to allow your banker to know you beyond numbers in an Excel spreadsheet. The more your banker knows about your business, they better they will be able to help you. Keep your banker
informed and allow them to be a strategic advisor for your business.
-Ask your banker to visit your business. Give them a tour or a sampler. This will make your business real for them and help them value what you do.
-Be willing to share both good and bad news with your banker. This will build credibility and trust and allow your banker to help when they can.
-If your bank turns you down, don’t think of it as rejection. Find out what their expectations are, what you can do to get a “yes.” When your bank says “no,” they may mean “not yet.”
Joanne Scharer is a business adviser at Chemeketa Small Business Development Center and owner of All Writing Matters. She can be reached at sbdc@chemeketa. edu. The Small-Business Adviser column is produced by the center and appears each Sunday. Questions can be submitted to SBDC@chemeketa.edu. Visit the SBDC at 626 High Street NE. in downtown Salem or call (503) 399-5088.