Typically, when the topic of resources For small businesses is discussed, you might think of transactional interactions, such as financing or banking products that can help with day-to-day activities. When small businesses approach banks, it’s usually to investigate funding and determine the terms of a loan — that makes sense, that’s a core part of what banks do. But that’s just the surface value and, as a small-business owner, you could be missing out on access to valuable resources that could help your business grow.
One way to find out what more your financial lender can do for you is think about your bank as a long-term business partner. You wouldn’t bring on partners without interviewing them first — so think about your banking relationship as building trust and get to know them. In a sense, you want to interview your bankers and find out what they can do for you beyond financing.
As you start your relationship, here’s what makes for a good meeting:
• A full understanding of your issues. Your banking partner should leave the meeting with a complete picture of your business’s history, goals, challenges, and opportunities — not just its finances.
• Different questions depending on whether your business is new or mature. If your small business is new, your banking partner should take the time to understand what the company plans to do and how it fits into the current marketplace. If your business is established, questions about near-term and long-term planning, expansion, and how the business is responding to changes are all important to convey.
• Knowing your banker’s qualifications. Does your banking partner really have the experience and background to understand your business? Don’t leave the meeting without knowing this — it’s an important part of making good recommendations for your business. Ask your bankers about their experience in your industry and find out what they know about the bigger picture of how the industry works and how it connects to other sectors. This doesn’t mean that if you are a baker, your bankers have to be able to bake artisan bread, but it does mean they should demonstrate a solid level of understanding of the challenges and opportunities of these business lines.
Any business owner knows that connections can lead to the best outcomes. Another way to ensure you get the most from your banking partnership is to consider your bank a key link to the introductions you need to be successful. Local banks have deep community connections and can introduce you to the right partners. Do you have recruiting concerns? Perhaps there is a local employment pipeline your banker can help you tap into. Looking for a professional services referral? Your bank likely partners with a number of professionals right in your community.
As I mentioned, you want a long-term partner. So, make sure to think about your future. Whether you call it planning ahead or dreaming big, consider where you want to be with your business in two years, five years, or even 10 years down the line. Finding a bank that can expedite relationship building by making connections, and a bank that can grow with you, makes a big impact on forward planning.
If you want to expand within a region or even out of state, does your bank have the capacity to meet what you’ll need? Will you need access to physical bank locations? Answering these questions will help you find a banking relationship that will grow with your company.
A financial institution that takes the time to understand what your business does and what its long-term plans are is a partner. Its banking staff are thinking about you and they check in with you, even when you don’t reach out to them with a specific question. They connect you with people and organizations that can help your business to become established in the community and to grow.
Think of your bank’s employees as a resource — these professionals have years of experience in the community that make them invaluable partners. They are super-connectors who know your town’s movers and shakers; they are human encyclopedias of knowledge of the community and its business sectors.
If all of this sounds great, but you’re not sure where to start, just contact your local business bank and ask it for guidance. The way the bank respond to your request will likely be an immediate indicator of whether it has the qualifications to be a true business partner.
Alicia Brockway is responsible for management of NBT Bank’s Mohawk Valley Business Banking team. She joined NBT in 2018 and has nearly 30 years of experience in the financial services industry, including positions in commercial and business banking leadership. She currently serves as a board member and executive committee member of the Herkimer College Foundation, a board member, treasurer and executive committee member of Arc Herkimer, and a board member, officer and executive committee member of the Cedar Lake Golf Club.