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!

Business Solutions – The Business Owner and the Internet

Small medium sized business owners and directors always seek quick and cost effective solutions to their problems; however, from time to time some problems are encountered in achieving this goal.

Some issues may be easy to fix and may be a ‘pleasant’ experience, such as addressing business growth, where to invest excess cash and so on. Others cause much concern, perhaps because of their complexity, urgency or their potential long term adverse impact on the business.

Understandably it is not uncommon to find that small business owners are technically capable in their area of expertise, but when challenged to find solutions to business related problems outside of that area they must turn to experts or professionals in other fields.

Particularly in a start up company the accountant, solicitor or bank manager may be a source of help. However, it may be found that not all answers are available from that source. So to whom does the business owner turn? It may be trade associations, chambers of commerce, network groups, other entrepreneurs, friends and so on.

All may offer some advice but this may be an uncoordinated approach and costly in terms of time. This source of knowledge may be of significant value and should not be totally overlooked. However, start-up companies and small and medium sized business owners usually seek business solutions immediately. After all they do wish to succeed in their business venture and issues that jeopardize that success require resolution at the earliest opportunity.

Consequently any delay in securing help from independent bodies or friends may be perceived as aggravating the problem to be overcome.

Unfortunately not all problems can be resolved quickly.

Some, perhaps many, business problems may be caused through a lack of planning or maybe lack of knowledge and understanding on the part of the small medium business owner. This may require investigation into the root causes of the problem in question, before action can be taken rather than develop a solution only to counter the ‘effect’ of the problem.

Also in the business world, the level of government ‘red tape’ may be burdensome to the business owner or director, and adherence to all aspects of their legal obligations is usually mandatory. However, governmental influence may delay resolution of problems, and ignorance of the law is not be an excuse should serious consequences arise through non-compliance.

In addition should cash constraints exist within the business, it may not be possible to ‘buy in’ the required level of expertise. This may burden the small medium sized business owner with gaining knowledge or learning skills alien to himself.

Today the business owner without adequate or reliable access to, knowledge of leadership, business management, business development, marketing, accounting, financial management, IT, business planning, ecommerce, employee relations and so on is seriously disadvantaged.

What alternative sources of business advice are available?

The internet may provide the help needed to overcome some if not all of these gaps in the business owners’ knowledge. This solution may not be satisfactory to everyone; the fear, uncertainty, reluctance in using the internet may still be an overwhelming barrier to some, but without doubt access to knowledge is much easier using this medium.

Understandably the early content based websites were dedicated to providing knowledge much biased towards sharing internet technology with others. This situation continues to change with many webmasters now committed to providing content for all niche areas, including those applicable to the small business owner.

Whether the business owner is in ‘fire fighting’ mode or being proactive in planning to avoid problems help and advice can now be found on the internet.

Up to date, easy to read newsletters on specific matters of interest, such as general business matters, taxation, are freely available; together with articles and e-books are available to help solve or prevent business problems.

This fount of knowledge continues to expand and many experts and entrepreneurs within the business sector continue to offer visitors to their websites valued help and assistance.

How should the business owner react to this plethora of knowledge?

Be positive.

The owner should continually research for sites that offer the business content that is being sought and is presented in an acceptable style. Actively participate in forums if available; this will raise awareness of your concern and afford the opportunity to other site participants to offer their advice freely in the matter.

Use the content on the internet as a valued tool in resourcing solutions to your business problems. Remember it is available at all times, easy to access and very cost effective.

How To Create A Small Business Marketing Strategy That Will Triple Your Profits This Year

What does a small business marketing strategy mean to you? Some people automatically think in terms of their company’s long-term goals. When they start their small business, they create a long-term business plan, including a marketing strategy, that will help them develop their company over time. Others think of a small business marketing strategy as a single campaign. They create a marketing campaign for one product or service they offer, and create a series of marketing tools that will help them sell that product or service.

While both may technically be correct, there is a distinct difference between the two. One creates a stream of income for a short period of time (typically a few weeks to a few months), while the other ensures you have a stream of income coming in on a regular basis.

In order to ensure an effective small business marketing strategy, you must have three things in place.

1. Multiple marketing tools in place. Every day a person is marketed to 60-100 times. You see banners on the sides of busses, advertisements in newspapers and magazines, and coupons in your mailbox. It’s easy to see why marketing tends to become almost non-existent in our minds.

But the thing that a good marketer realizes is that he has to use different marketing tools to reach different target audiences. Everyone has a different attention span. Everyone is searching for different products and services at different times. A good small business marketing strategy has multiple tools in place to capture a prospects attention when he or she is ready for our product or service.

The key is to knowing who your ideal clients are. The more you know about them, the more you’ll be able to reach them in a manner that’s best for them. Good marketing tools are:

* direct mail postcards

* direct mail letters

* advertisements in magazines

* advertisements in newspapers

* neighborhood postcard packs

* door hangers

* flyers

* brochures

* promotional products

* tradeshows

* billboards

* bus stops

* school buses

* regional transportation systems

* sponsorship of school athletics

* and much more

An ideal small business marketing strategy will encompass many of these types of tools, and have campaigns set up using select tools at different times throughout the year.

2. Use those marketing tools over long periods of time. Once you have your marketing tools in place, continue to use them again and again. Probably the biggest mistake a small business owner makes is to grow tired of his own marketing campaign, and abandoning it before it’s realized its full potential.

The average campaign takes a person 8 – 12 times of viewing the same material to recognize the information and take action. If you quit running a campaign before you reach the 8 – 12 times average, you won’t achieve your desired results.

An ideal small business marketing strategy will provide goals to seek out longevity in marketing campaigns. While nuances of a campaign can change (i.e. changing ad advertisement to showcase seasonal products) the structure of the campaign should always remain the same.

3. Use those marketing tools in many different places. Your prospects come from a variety of different sources, and have a variety of different interests. Mailing your brochure out to prospects is a great way of marketing; but you may also do well by placing your brochure in offices of complimentary businesses. Advertisements may work well in your local newspaper; but they may do just as well in an industry trade publication. Direct mail postcards may inspire a lot of people to pick up the phone and call you; but it may motivate more people to visit your website.

Creating a handful of tools to use in your campaigns provides you with the resources. Getting those tools into the hands of your prospects is what requires a plan.

An ideal small business marketing strategy will be a long-term plan that involves creating marketing tools, putting them into the appropriate places, and leaving them in place long enough to let them work.

Copyright 2006 Vision Business Concepts Inc

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