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!

Four Steps to Open a Business Bank Account

In today’s market, companies need someone to serve as back-up should they encounter economic hardships. Whether the business is large or small, a veteran company or a business newbie, the best way to get ensure financial backing is to acquire a business bank account. These accounts serve to keep personal and business finances separate and are an important part in establishing a financial relationship that will help your company grow and succeed. There are several factors to consider before opening a business account and each step should be well-researched and investigated before final decisions are reached; with the right financial institution as a business “partner,” a fitting foundation is established that will allow the company to prosper.

Evaluate Financial Institutions

Most business owners typically have their business accounts with the same bank as their personal accounts. Although this is convenient, unless the institution offers some type of interest rate reduction, or other incentives, this often is not the most beneficial option available. Compare the financial institutions in your area to determine which best fits your company; some things to consider are:

1. Multiple Accounts – If opening more than one account, or if you choose to use the same bank for both personal and business accounts, look into special rates and discounts; some institutions offer relationship pricing that can add up to big savings.

2. Fee Structures – Not all banks charge the same rates for the same services.

3. Additional Products/Services – Business debit cards, on-line statements, courier services, and automatic bill pay options are not necessarily included; be sure to ask if these options are built-in or are available at further costs.

Compare Business Bank Accounts

Financial institutions typically offer numerous forms of business accounts that accommodate various business needs. Starter companies benefit from small business accounts that do not accrue interest but require a low minimum balance whereas larger companies require a more complex account to meet its specialized needs. This step can get quite confusing so it’s often profitable to contact a customer service representative at each institution and schedule appointments to discuss how each bank can best benefit your company.

Don’t Forget the Paperwork

Yes, the bane of every business’s existence – paperwork; a necessary evil to establish any account. This step can be disheartening since each financial institution requires different types and amounts of credible paperwork to open a business bank account. Contact your chosen financial institution to determine precisely what information is needed and in what form it is accepted. Generally speaking, most financial institutions require:

1. Previous year’s business tax forms (if applicable)
2. Previous bank statements (if applicable)
3. Business EIN number
4. Owner’s social security number
5. Maintain the Account

Many business owners forgo this last step, but it is crucial to maintain a solid relationship with your financial institution. Keep the account in good standing by checking activity and balances daily and by paying any accrued fees in a timely manner. Contact a bank representative immediately with any questions or if you notice suspicious activity. A healthy relationship with your financial institution will open the door to additional resources in the future (i.e. business credit cards, payment processing options, loan opportunities).

At the end of the day, a strong relationship between your company and its financial institution is vital to keep your company afloat. The business bank account you choose should provide a stable foundation that allows for growth and expansion opportunities.

Ingredients of Small Business Marketing

A business may be small, but the efforts of operating it is not. Small business owners often wear many hats – financing, product development, marketing, sales and customer support. While major corporations have sufficient resources to kick off a thoroughly planned marketing campaign, small business marketing is often on a budget. Marketing a small business should not be limited to a single channel because of the size of your business. Customers will always go through the three phases of a purchasing decision making: 1) aware of the products or services, 2) collecting enough information before the purchase, 3) and action of purchasing. The ingredients of effective small business marketing provides the information they need at each stage of a purchasing process.

Reach the Customers

Most small businesses target local market. Your business, of course, should be listed on local phone directories. Ads on local newspapers and flyers will bring you business from your local communities as well. Distributing business cards is always one of the most popular and inexpensive ways for small business owners to market or advertise their services and products. For instance, some landscaping companies distribute business cards door-to-door in newly constructed communities. If your services involves with artistic design (interior design, web design etc.), color business cards or custom business cards are more effective. They show the artistic tastes of the designers.

Provide Information About Your Products and Services

Awareness of a product or service is the start-point for customers to make a purchase. They will further research and compare similar services or products before they make contact for possible purchase. Now that you need a brochure or a website to present your business with product details, testimonials etc.. If business card design makes a good first impression, brochure design and brochure printing (or booklet printing if you prefer) are effective for converting leads into sales. Brochures that you send out will get more attention if you enclose a personal note with personal touch to introduce yourself and your company. A professional Web site serves as an online brochure to promote your products or service so that the prospects can get the information about your business 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. Affordable Web hosting costs as little as $25-$50 a year.

Call for Action

Once customers have made up of their mind to purchase your services or products. The brochure or the website should offer clear direction for further actions. The advantage of a website over brochure is that you are able to update as frequently as you want, offer discount or incentives for customers who make purchase in a certain timeframe. When they’re ready, a transaction is just a few clicks on a website powered with online shopping carts.

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