Online Small Business Banking

In the digital age every bank has an online presence, from my little credit union to the big national players. However, not all banks are geared toward serving small business via the internet and, while they all offer you a lot of promises and maybe a flashy new toaster oven, not all of them offer you the services that you need at a competitive price. Here’s what to look for and how to spot those that offer online small business banking from the poseurs.

Customer Service and Big vs. Small Banks

One thing that you may read is how important it is to “cultivate relationships” with your banker and how important your banker is in expediting and even deciding whether or not you get a loan. While this may still be true in the smaller banks, in larger regional or national banks you will never, ever meets the person who approves your loan. A buddy of mine who was a big shot at a major bank before ditching it all to go into the Peace Corps said that the big banks create a strong separation from the banker that you meet, who is basically a sales person, and the person who decides, who is basically an accountant. So skip bribing your banker with chocolate truffles or bottles of bourbon. In fact, if you already bought the “gifts,” just send them here and I’ll gladly dispose of them for you for free!

Similarly, once the recommendation for business people was to keep all their banking with one bank, in order to build up a relationship of trust with that bank. Now, however, the idea of relationship is breaking down and, thanks to the internet and the relative ease of online banking, small businesses can cherry pick the best services off a smorgasbord of banks just like the Bigs do. In fact, the biggest reason that I can see of deliberately keeping all services with a single bank is not having to remember more than one sign-on, password, and pin!

What Your Bank Should Be Able to Do for You

Business Checking Account

One of the essential elements of running your own business is treating it as a separate entity distinct from your own personal affairs or the affairs of your other businesses or investments. Failing to treat your business as a separate entity opens up numerous potential legal and tax consequences that could end up being very costly or even financially disastrous to you. Opening up a business banking account is one essential act that helps establish your business as a separate entity. For most business the key to the checking account is functionality, forget interest rates and a few dollars difference in cost. The key questions are:

  • Can you use the web site to pay pre-pay bills, transfer money, accept online payments and whatever other essential services that your business might need?
  • Are you able to easily download information from the online site to QuickBooks Online or whatever other accounting software that you might be using?
  • Do they have the highest level of online security that is convenient for you?
  • Are they relatively light on “hidden fees” that $5 and $10 you to death just to be able to perform regular, essential operations of your business?

Security

Small businesses run by new entrepreneurs often have lower standards of security and this is especially true when it comes to banking and banking online. The smalls just don’t have the expertise nor the payrolls stuffed with I.T. professionals to keep up with the Trojans and frauds that cyber-criminals use to prey upon the unfortunate, and the unwary. You want the highest level of security possible but without making it so inconvenient on yourself that you aren’t fully able to take advantage of the online services. For example, while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala I often had to do my banking from internet cafes, and not always with my laptop that was impractical to lug around. When Chase, my original bank, changed the security so that I had to go through a complicated and time-consuming process every time I tried to access my account from a different computer I had to change banks (rather, I added a new bank) because that just wasn’t doable for me.

Loans and Lines of Credit

Loans are a prime area of shopping around and using the power of the internet to shave a fraction of a point off the interest rate. However, if you can’t pay the loan through an electronic transaction between the bank of your checking account and the bank that services the loan and make that payment for free then who cares about a little reduction of the interest rate. I like to look around for the best deal and then ask my primary bank if they can match it, just to keep my life as simple as possible.

Credit Cards

One of the easiest ways to make payments these days is by credit card and you will want at least one that is exclusively used for business purposes. There is no “best” credit card for small business and usually your bank will be able to provide you one. Keep in mind that you want one that is easy to set up and maintain electronically, that is widely accepted (especially if you travel for business), and has a high enough limit for what you need. Remember that building up credit for your business is just like building up credit personally, the better your history the higher your limit will be.

In Conclusion

Starting up a small business can be intimidating and the days when you could have a banker hold your hand and guide you through the process are long gone. The flip side of that is the incredible amount of information available to you at your fingertips. Another advantage is that you are no longer geographically limited, a world of banks is waiting to serve you! Just remember to keep in mind the services that you need, those that you don’t need, and those that you need but could be found at another bank for a better price. Happy banking!

The Importance of Online Communities For Business

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” Albert Einstein. When it comes to sharing business content with your online communities, offering information to others that is of value will ultimately make your business successful.

There are many reasons why being a part of online communities contributes greatly to the success of your business.

  • Universal exposure: As part of an online community, you are able to reach people around the world and it is as though you are all in a room together, interacting on issues that are important and interesting to all of you. It is incredible that you are now capable (through social media) of reaching numerous people at once from one location. This allows you not only to market your business easily and successfully but also lets you do a large number of other things connected with your business. Remember that connecting with your online communities does not mean that you should be giving those people a hard sell. You should be sharing valuable information with them. You are educating the other people in your online communities about what you do and what you offer. You are allowing them to get to know you and your business.
  • Learning from others: As a member of an online community, you have the opportunity to learn new ways to market your business from other marketers. You should take advantage as much as possible of the expertise of other people who are members of your online communities and put their principles into practice, where appropriate.
  • Strategic partnerships: You will have many opportunities to form strategic partnerships with other members of your online communities. There will be a lot of synergies between you and others and if you find that your skills and expertise compliment those of people in your online communities, you should approach them and see how you can work together most effectively. Of course, you cannot form business partnerships with people unless you get to know them and they get to know you. Nobody will partner with another person unless they trust them and find them to be credible.
  • Make the most of your online communities: Remember that you need to market yourself and your business through your online communities. Make sure that your online profile is complete, which means that you need to include more details about yourself than your business. You should include a statement about your business but a more comprehensive discussion about your business offerings will occur after you have posted and syndicated your content.
  • Choose your online communities wisely: It is important to choose your online communities based on the members with whom you want to interact. It is not enough to choose an online community based solely on a demographic, ie, a geographic location or an age group. You should be very selective about your communities and make sure that the other members in your online communities have enough in common with you and your business and are really excited about interacting with you online.
  • Build your online relationships: It is very important to continue to develop relationships with those people with whom you interact online. A good way to do this is by continually sharing information with them that you feel they will find valuable and that will help them in some way. Not only will your online connections want to interact with you but they will also speak favorably about you to others online. The more comfortable and the closer your relationships with them become, the more opportunities you will eventually have of selling them your products and/or services. Make sure that you make the effort to not only establish the relationships but also make sure that you maintain them for the long term.

Conclusion

Being a member of online communities for business and continually establishing and maintaining online relationships is critical to the success of your business. With the extreme popularity of social media, many people are excited about interacting and developing relationships with others whom they feel they can trust and who they consider experts in their industry. At the heart of your success is the human element. Once people really get to know you and you get to know them, they will want what you are offering and will gladly tell others about what you are offering too.

Choosing the Right Business Brokers

Whether you’re buying or selling a business, having a broker on your side can make the difference between a successful outcome and a nightmare. However, not all business brokers will be suitable for your specific situation. Use the tips below to choose the right broker for your needs.

Start by asking for referrals from your inner circle of business advisers and colleagues. Have any used a business broker in the past? Were they satisfied? Does the broker handle the type of transaction you have in mind?

You may need to widen your net to find a pool of qualified business brokers that specialize in brokering deals such as yours. Once you have several potential brokers, it’s time to get down to business and narrow the field down. Below are several key factors to consider:

– Is the individual or firm professional? Professionalism shows in numerous ways including personal appearance, the presentation of marketing materials, website, language, mannerisms, and expertise. Use both objectivity and your gut instinct. Remember, the broker you choose will be representing your business so make sure you’re fully comfortable with the person and firm you choose.

– Does the broker have experience working with businesses like yours? While it’s not necessary for the business broker to have specific experience in your exact niche, it’s helpful for the broker to understand the nature of your business and have experience brokering deals with similar characteristics. For example, if you run a family-owned microbrewery, a broker with a successful track record brokering deals for small wineries, family-owned specialty food manufacturers, or small brewpubs may not know the finer points of brewing beers but could be an excellent choice thanks to experience with similar businesses.

– What qualifications does the broker have? Look for licensing, education, certification, experience, and membership in professional associations.

– Is the broker well prepared? In other words, did the business broker do his or her research prior to your initial meeting? Brokers use comparable sales, business and industry reports, and other tools to price businesses. Your business broker should be able to support any suggested listing prices, which should be presented in writing, with documentation.

– If you are selling your business, find out how the broker intends to market your business. Brokers have many marketing tools available to market their business listings. However, some prefer to use specific marketing techniques over others. Make sure to ask the broker to present a detailed marketing plan.

– What type of businesses does the broker work with? For example, if your business has annual revenues in the $50 million range, you’ll need a special type of buyer making it important to choose a business broker capable of attracting those high net worth individuals and investors.

– Check references. No matter how professional, personable, experienced, qualified, and prepared potential broker appear, cover your bases by checking references. Ideally, the broker should give you references from businesses with similarities to yours.

Choosing the right broker to sell your business or help you find a business to buy is a process. Do your part to ensure a successful outcome by choosing wisely.

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