At some point, most small business owners will visit a bank or other lending institution to borrow money. Understanding what your bank wants and how to approach it properly can mean the difference between getting a loan for expansion or scrambling to find cash from other sources.
Understand the Basic Principles of Banking
It is vital to present yourself as a trustworthy businessperson, dependable enough to repay borrowed money, and to demonstrate that you understand the basic principles of banking. Your chances of receiving a loan will greatly improve if you can see your proposal through a banker’s eyes and appreciate the position that the bank is coming from.
Banks are responsible to government regulators, depositors, and the community in which they reside. While a bank’s cautious perspective may irritate a small business owner, it is necessary to keep the depositors’ money safe, the banking regulators happy, and the community’s economy healthy.
Each Bank Is Different
While banks in general have a cautious attitude toward lending, they differ in the types of financing they make available, interest rates charged, willingness to accept risk, staff expertise, services offered, and attitude toward small business loans.
Selection of a bank is essentially limited to your choices from the local community. Typically, banks outside of your area will be more reluctant to make loans to you because of the higher costs of checking credit and of collecting the loan in the event of default.
Furthermore, a bank will typically not make loans, regardless of business size, unless a checking account or money market account is maintained at that institution. Ultimately your task is to find a business-oriented bank that will provide the financial assistance, expertise, and services your business requires now and is likely to require in the future.
Establishing a favorable climate for a loan request should begin long before the funds are needed. The worst possible time to approach a new bank about a loan is when your business is in the throes of a financial crisis. Devote time and effort to building a relationship and goodwill with the bank you choose and early on get to know the loan officer you will be dealing with.
Bankers’ overriding concern generally is minimizing risk. Logic dictates that this is best accomplished by limiting loans to businesses they know and trust. One way to build rapport and establish trust is to take out small loans, repay them on schedule, and meet all loan agreement requirements in both letter and spirit. By doing so, you gain the banker’s trust and loyalty, and the banker will consider your business a valued customer and make it easier for you to obtain future financing.
Provide the Information Your Banker Needs
Lending is the essence of the banking business, and making mutually beneficial loans is as important to the bank’s success as it is to the small business. This means that understanding what information a loan officer seeks and providing the evidence required to ease normal banking concerns is the most effective approach to getting the financing you desire.
A sound loan proposal should contain information that expands on the following points:
- What is the specific purpose of the loan?
- How much money is required?
- What is the source of repayment for the loan?
- What evidence is available to substantiate the assumptions that the expected source of repayment is reliable?
- What alternative source of repayment is available if management’s plans fail?
- What business or personal assets, or both, are available to collateralize the loan?
- What evidence is available to substantiate the competence and ability of the management team?
You need to do your homework before making a loan request because an experienced loan officer will ask probing questions about each of these items. Failure to anticipate such questions or providing unacceptable answers is damaging evidence that you may not completely understand your business and are incapable of planning for its needs.
What To Do Before You Apply for a Loan
1. Write a business plan. Your loan request should be based on and accompanied by a complete business plan. This document is the single most important planning activity you can perform. A business plan is more than a device for getting financing; it is the vehicle that makes you examine, evaluate, and plan for all aspects of your business. A business plan’s existence proves to your banker that you are doing all the right activities. Once you have put the plan together, write a two-page executive summary. You will need it if asked to send “a quick write-up.”
2. Have an accountant prepare historical financial statements. You cannot discuss the future without accounting for your past. Internally generated statements are OK, but your bank wants the comfort of knowing an independent expert has verified the information. Also, you must understand your statement and be able to explain how your operation works and how your finances stand up to industry norms and standards.
3. Line up references. Your banker may want to talk to your suppliers, customers, potential partners, or team of professionals. When a loan officer asks for permission to contact references, promptly answer with names and contact information; do not leave the officer waiting for a week.
Walking into a bank and talking to a loan officer will always be stressful. Preparation for and thorough understanding of this evaluation process is essential to minimize the stressful variables and optimize your potential to qualify for the funding you seek.
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