Whether you are a small business owner — or are thinking about starting a small business — there are various factors to consider before applying for a loan.
1. Get organized
Before visiting a bank to discuss the possibilities of a loan, make sure you fully understand the market you are going into and the complexities of the project you are initiating. What banks look for in a candidate goes much further than numbers. For instance, can you prove you know your industry well, and how to manage and grow the business? Seattle was voted among the top five Best Places for Business and Careers, according to a 2016 study from Forbes — that means competition can be tough. Exemplifying organizational skills early on will prove to your loan officer you have the skills to manage both good and bad times that naturally occur when running a business.
2. Make banking a priority
For many owners or potential business owners, banking becomes a last resort rather than a first stop. Instead of seeking financial advice from a multitude of lenders, people will dive head-first into the option that seems best without conducting their research. In turn, there is an influx of loan requests that correlate with debt. There should be no rush in starting a business. Remember to slow down, weigh the options, and seek financial advice from a few lenders before moving forward.
3. Understand your options
The relationship with your lender should be equally as important as the terms of the loan. You will likely spend a lot of time speaking to and meeting with your provider over the course of your loan. Therefore, there is immense value in choosing a bank that is right for you, with a banker that understands your individual needs. For example, getting a “good price” doesn’t always compare to the greatest value or lowest cost over time. Simply put, you can’t put a price tag on a best-fit loan officer. Having a trusted advisor that understands your financial needs and goals will help you determine the best option for your individual situation.
4. Know your team
Once you feel organized and have selected the right team members to achieve your business goals, I always advise my clients to spend time getting to know them and their skillsets. Their expertise is integral in moving your project forward, and each person typically offers diverse talents that complement the entire team’s skillset. While your banker’s job is to understand your goals, and make banking easy through offering products and services, your CPA provides you with the tools to reduce costs, improve your bottom line, and mitigate risks. Likewise, it’s important to remember that each person on your lending team should be utilized to his or her fullest.
5. Keep banking personal
In the age of ever-changing technology, it is easy to take a very personal conversation to text and email. However, finances are an intimate matter and should often be treated as such. Don’t hesitate to set up face-to-face meetings with your lenders — especially in your business office space. It’s a great opportunity for the team to get a better feel for your business and projects that lie ahead. What it all comes back to is personalization — banks and business owners should feel a mutual respect for their relationship and assets.
Dwight Phillips is senior vice president, commercial loan officer at Columbia Bank. He previously served on the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce and remains actively involved through Columbia Bank’s sponsorship of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy and the Chamber Luncheon Series. He also is a member of the University of Washington Board of Rowing Stewards. With more than 40 years of bank management and lending experience, Phillips’ area of expertise resides primarily in banking solutions for businesses of all industries.