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How to get a bank loan: Part One

One of the markers of this post-recession, so-called recovery has been the practice of deleveraging. Across the economy, from consumers to businesses large and small, debt has become something to get rid of.

Out here on Main Street, this trend has manifested in a dramatic drop in bank borrowing by small firms. Indeed, for more than a half decade, survey after survey has shown that less than 5% of business owners report their borrowing requirements have not been met, while the majority say emphatically they don’t want or need a loan. Consequently, there’s a pretty good chance your business hasn’t made a loan request to a bank in a while.

But the economy will eventually kick into an expansion phase, and what has become no less than a de facto moratorium on borrowing won’t last forever. And since most small business growth capital comes from bank loans, even for well-capitalized firms, it’s always good to revisit a few banking relationship fundamentals.

But don’t worry. If you’ve never asked a banker for a loan, or if it’s been a while, getting a bank loan is a lot like the process of qualifying a prospective customer. For example, you want to know these three things:

1. Who decides?
You have the right to ask who is going to make the decision on your loan. Can your loan officer decide, or will it go to the local loan committee or somewhere else? Why do you care? The more people involved in the loan approval process increases the scrutiny of your deal, which means more questions and more time for you to budget from proposal to answer.
2. What do they need?
Your banker will ask for personal and business financial information. They might accept last year’s business numbers, but they could also ask for an interim report. Depending on the size of your request and what you’re using the money for, they may ask for a business plan. If the loan is for real estate, a current appraisal will be required.

Don’t give the bank more than they ask for, but give them everything they ask for. Remember, the quicker your banker gets the information, the quicker you’ll get an answer.

3. How do they want it?
Ask your banker what information can be presented verbally and what needs to be in writing, whether hard copy or electronic. Whether you’re borrowing $5000 for a computer, or $5 million to buy out a competitor, knowing as much as you can about the loan approval process will significantly improve your chances of not only getting a quick answer, but a yes.
Next time, Part Two: What motivates your banker.

Write this on a rock … Qualify a bank like you do customers, and be sure to do your homework.

Replace worry & fear with business performance

In his book, Blue Highways, William “Least Heat Moon” Trogdon said his Osage Indian grandfather, William “Heat” Moon, taught him this about worry: “Some things don’t have to be remembered; they remember themselves.”

Owners are justified in worrying about their small businesses, but sometimes they waste emotional energy worrying about things over which they have little or no control, or aren’t likely to happen.

In the movie, Bowfinger, Eddie Murphy played Kit Ramsey, an action movie star also famous for being a pathological worrier. He leads a frightened and miserable life because he worries about strange things that would never happen.

Ramsey’s greatest worry was being captured, killed and eaten by space aliens. He also worried about being crushed by a gigantic foot, or that his body might burst into flames. Pretty silly, huh?!

Watching Murphy play this unstable character is hilarious. But it’s not funny or silly when you and I worry about things that, like Ramsey’s obsessions, probably will never happen.

·  Instead of aliens, how much do you stress out about your business being killed and eaten by the dreaded Internet competition?

Stop obsessing about online competitors. First, you should be an online competitor yourself. Second, without a fixed base, online-only competitors may have what customers need, but you have something more powerful: You know what customers want.

·  Instead of being stepped on by a giant foot, do you obsess about being squashed by one of the Big Boxes?

In The Age of the Customer, prospects often rule you in or out before they know how much you charge. You can establish a level of relevance with prospects and customers that no Big Box can, as they continue to focus first on being competitive.

·  Instead of bursting into flames, do you wake up in the night obsessing that your business might go up in smoke if customers abandon you?

In The Age of the Customer, you actually should obsess about customer expectations, otherwise they won’t really leave, you’ll just become irrelevant.

Instead of living a frightened and miserable life like Kit Ramsey, put that energy into performing so well that any competitor would be hard-pressed to take customers away. Build relationships with customers to the degree that when something they want pops into their heads, as Trogdon’s grandfather would say, your company remembers itself.

Write this on a rock - 

Don’t live a frightened and miserable life. Replace worry with action and performance.

Jim Blasingame is author of the award-winning book, The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.

The Blasingame Translator for Small Businesses and Banks

Once upon a time, a storm caused two ships to sink in the same area. All on board were lost at sea, save one from each ship, and those poor souls were alive only because they swam to a small island nearby.

As luck would have it, the two men hauled themselves up on the beach at the same time and within sight of each other. But survivor’s elation soon became pensive as they realized that each spoke a language unknown to the other.

Immediately both men had the same unspoken thought, “I don’t know this man or the language he speaks, but if we’re going to survive, we have to find a way to communicate and work together.”

In many ways, this tale actually plays out every day. But instead of on the high seas, our story takes place in the marketplace. And instead of mythical shipwreck survivors, our real life players are small business owners and bankers.

Female banker sat with investor

Like the survivors in the first story, the excitement of the latter-day castaways about their future prospects turns pensive when they both realize that: 1) they need each other in order to be successful; and 2) they don’t speak each other’s language very well, if at all.

With so much common interest and so little mutual understanding, can these two create a successful survival story?  Absolutely, but only if they have The Blasingame Official Translator for Bankers & Small Business Owners. Here are a few examples of how The Blasingame Translator works.

For small businesses to understand banker, they must:

  1.  Identify their banker as a success partner and their business’ best friend.
  2. Stay close to their banker when things are going well, and even closer when things aren’t going so well.
  3. Believe that an uninformed banker is a scared banker, and a scared banker cannot, and will not, behave like a partner.
  4. Pay attention to what motivates and impresses a banker, like attention to detail.
  5. Understand pertinent bank rules and regulations, so you don’t ask for something that can’t be done.
  6. Reward banker loyalty with small business loyalty.

For bankers to speak small business, they must:

  1.  Understand Blasingame’s 1st Law of Small Business: Starting a small business is easy, operating a successful one is not.
  2. Understand Blasingame’s 2nd Law of Small Business: It’s redundant to say, “undercapitalized small business.”
  3. Understand Blasingame’s 3rd Law of Small Business: A small business is not a little big business.
  4. Explain bank rules and regulations, and recommend services and products.
  5. In the credit scoring process, always find a way to give small business owners credit for character, past performance and best efforts.
  6. Reward small business loyalty with banker loyalty.

Write this on a rock … To avoid becoming marketplace castaways, small business owners and bankers must speak each other’s language.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”

Mobile computing will dominate your future — are you ready for it?

Remember all the years I’ve said every small business MUST have a website? It’s still true, except now that’s not enough. Today you also have to be ready for the mobile customer.

Once only wizards and fairies had magic wands. But in The Age of the Customer, hundreds of millions of Earthlings now have one in the palm of their hands. Here are the U.S. numbers:

According to Statista, this year over 180 million Americans will own a smartphone, and that number will grow by 10% to almost 200 million in 2016. That’s just about every American between the ages of 16 and 80. Here’s another way to say that: Essentially all of your prospects and customers.

In a recent online poll we took of our audience, slightly more than half either had a mobile site or were acquiring one. Good for them. But that means almost half didn’t and had no plans.

technology-512210_1280Tough love alert: If your business isn’t ready for mobile primetime, it’s a dinosaur waiting to become extinct. Any questions? But there’s good news: You can avoid death-by-mobile in less than a month. Stay with me.

Where we once converted our analog lives to the online digital world with a personal computer, the shift is now to the small screen of the smartphone. And we’re integrating these new light sabers into our lives and businesses even more than the PC including, but by all means not limited to:

  • Download and use productive and fun apps
  • Read newspapers – even books
  • Navigate on foot and wheels
  • Record and share our lives with photos and video
  • Connect to others on social media
  • Shop for, buy and pay for stuff

You can get ready for mobile customers with these two steps:

1.  Hire someone to help you get your online information optimized for local search. This is important for a comprehensive online strategy, but mandatory for mobile primetime. Mobile users are often literally trying to find your business.

2.  Hire someone to build a mobile site (might not be the same person as #1). When your URL is requested from a smartphone, the mobile site presents automatically with your regular website offerings netted out and with fewer graphics for the smaller screen – form follows function. Mobile sites cost less than mobile apps to create, update and maintain, and a mobile site icon looks just like a mobile app. Most small businesses don’t need a mobile app.

Here’s that good news I promised: You can complete these two tasks in a month. How much will it cost? Not as much as you think, but that’s not the question. How much will it cost if you don’t get ready for mobile primetime?

Write this on a rock … Mobile computing wasn’t any part of your past, but it will dominate your future.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”

Leave the Age of the Seller behind for the Age of the Customer.

Your customers kn

The gold mining tool of professional salespeople

A few decades ago a 27-year-old, shiny, new Xerox sales representative was minted.

Already a sales veteran, it wasn’t his first rodeo. Indeed, he worked his way through college selling on commission.

Commissioned salespeople, like entrepreneurs, work the marketplace high wire. Observing this act, a salaried employee once remarked that commission selling was “living by your wits.” In the vernacular, business-to-business sales professionals know, “You eat what you kill.”

Starting out this salesman received rubber-meets-the-road sales training from the small business owner who gave him his first commissioned sales job. Then there was a six-year stint with Sears, where he first received sophisticated sales training.

But in those days, Xerox Professional Selling Skills was recognized globally across all industries as the sales training gold standard. Consequently, becoming a Xerox salesperson wasn’t easy and, once achieved, was a big deal at that career moment and an invaluable influence for the rest of your life.

Not long out of the Xerox classroom, our young salesman called on the local installation of a national manufacturing firm. His head was packed with product, pricing and strategy. Plus, he was now a fully converted, Kool-Aid-drinking disciple of the world-class Xerox sales fundamentals. And so it was that on this particular day, sitting in the office of Mr. Keener, the plant accountant, any listening skills and probing techniques he had learned were no match for the cargo of content that was determined to be dumped right there on Mr. Keener’s desk.

Mr. K was a tall, stern and stoic journeyman manager whose gray hair was not premature. He suffered no fools – gladly or otherwise – and took no prisoners. But for longer than most would have expected he allowed himself to be the victim of what was no less than a sales assault. Finally, he stood up and stretched his arm toward the Xeroid in front of him as a way to move the proceedings toward the door, whereupon he demonstrated his rapier wit with, “Well, Jim, you’ve certainly given me the business.”

Now you know, I was that sales assaulter. And my memory includes standing outside Mr. Keener’s office with his words detonating in my brain. In a career-defining moment of self-analysis and clarity I turned and knocked on Mr. K’s door again. Assuming my most contrite and chastened countenance I said, “Mr. Keener, I’m sorry about what just happened. May I please start over?”

To which he said, “Hello, Jim – come in and let’s talk about business.”

Those two sentences – one to haul me up short and one to redeem me – are the ones I remember more often than thousands of selling interactions since. By the way, Mr. K and I did business for years afterwards.

Write this on a rock … The gold mining power tool of successful professional salespeople is the ear, not the mouth.

It’s never too early to greet your customers.

Have you said hello to your customers-2

Does your business use lights or gauges?

Trick question: If your business were a car, would the dashboard have warning lights or gauges? The correct answer is gauges because they provide incremental information, while a light is either on or off.

Business gauges are financial statements, numbers and ratios that anticipate attention; warning lights often don’t reveal a problem until it’s too late.

Let’s take a look at these two different dashboards addressing the same three issues:

Inventory warning light: Check Inventory!

This light flashes when you’re out of stock. Oh, you’ve got plenty of inventory, but it’s poorly distributed across lines and you don’t have what customers want now.

Inventory gauge:  This is your balance sheet, which helps you see inventory creeping up in any month so you can immediately check stocking levels to get them back in line.

Inventory is cash you can’t spend until a customer pays for it. Can your cash flow wait for a light to flash before you make inventory adjustments?

Payroll caution light: High payroll!

A payroll light only comes on when this expense is already too high. By then you may have made hiring and compensation commitments you can’t justify.

Payroll gauge:  The needle on the payroll gauge identifies the payroll-to-sales ratio including a breakdown of how much you should pay sales, management, production, etc.

Payroll is likely your largest operating expense. Do you want to wait for a light to flash or manage it with the incremental movement of a needle?

Growth danger light: Excessive speed!

This light blinks when your working capital engine has reached redline operating levels. By that time, either your internal systems are over extended, you will have grown yourself out of business, or both.

Growth gauge: Certain financial ratios and a cash flow projection are the growth gauges that indicate if you have the working capital to expand or if you should slow down until you’ve acquired the capital to grow successfully.

With sustainable success depending on sound growth decisions, you need the incremental immediacy of a gauge, not the vagueness of a blinking light.

Business gauges are the numbers on your financial statements and the ratios they produce. Like gauges on a car’s instrument panel, when displayed accurately and checked regularly, they move in small increments to show positive trends or alert you to a specific dangerous direction.

Astute business operators not only manage the movement of their operating gauges but also understand the cause-and-effect relationship each gauge has with another.

Write this on a rock …

Businesses that survive long-term have gauges on their dashboard, not warning lights.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”

The best social media practices for the Age of the Customer

BLASINGAME'S LAW OF SOCIAL MEDIA FOR-2

Don’t slay your business alligators, starve them

Small business owners know all about that metaphorical business reptile — the ubiquitous alligator. They seem to pop up everywhere, continuously eating away at business performance and impeding work-life balance.

Best-selling author and friend, Marc Allen, introduced me to a way to minimize the impact of alligators. When he has a difficult challenge, he has “a word with himself” as follows:

CC Photo via Pixabay

CC Photo via Pixabay

“I will deal with this problem in an easy and relaxed manner, in a healthy and positive way.”

Clear your mind of other issues except the alligator at hand: negative cash flow, lost customer, etc. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and repeat after Marc with emphasis on the key words: easy, relaxed, healthy and positive. I found that saying it out loud seems to improve focus; perhaps hearing the words make them sink in better.

This affirmation is also a great way to start the day and fits right into a prayer.

As the CEO of your business, it’s your job to deal with business alligators because they don’t go away on their own. If your enterprise is to survive, let alone flourish, you have to deal with each alligator that pops up. To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, your business’s sustainability and organizational effectiveness depends on the ability to keep your head when all around alligators are trying to take it off.

To keep your head and at least stay even with the alligators you must do three things. This first two we’ve talked about in the past: show up every day and practice operating fundamentals.

The third thing is something even the most capable and professional manager benefits from: positive self-talk. For example, before you go best-two-falls-out-of-three with the next alligator, remember: easy, relaxed, healthy, positive.

Positive self-talk is important for your spirit — you know, the force that drives your protoplasm around. You probably take good care of your body: healthy diet, exercise, all that. But are you feeding your spirit?

Business alligators love a malnourished spirit; it’s their favorite food and they’re voracious eaters. But a well-nourished spirit reduces the size of alligators, which contributes to success. And a strong spirit is a confident spirit, and alligators hate the taste of confidence.

Confidence comes with experience, which you get by showing up every day, practicing the fundamentals, and using positive self-talk to remind yourself that you have the right to feel confident.

It takes more than positive self-talk to slay an alligator, but it will minimize an alligator’s impact.

Write this on a rock … Repeat after Marc: Easy . . . relaxed . . . healthy . . . positive.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”