Tag Archives: Business Planning

How to get a bank loan – Part Two

Since most businesses have been deleveraging post-2008 financial crisis, you could be forgiven for getting rusty at how to ask for a loan from bank. But as the economy picks up and you need growth capital, it’ll be handy to brush up on your banking skills.

Last time, I used the customer qualifying process as an analogy for how to work with your banker to get a loan, and offered the first three of six loan request factors: Who makes the decision, what do they need and how do they want it? Now let’s talk about the last three.

What motivates them?

All banks need to make loans, but all banks don’t like the same kinds of loans. Some banks make working capital loans, and some don’t. Most banks make real estate loans, but each one has its own profile of what kind of real estate they like. And all banks like to loan money for things with serial numbers, like vehicles and equipment. In your first meeting, what the banker says about your proposal should indicate their level of interest in your type of loan. But if not, it’s okay to ask.

Banks will fight for loans, but they’ll kill for deposits. Checking account deposits are virtually free money to a bank, a portion of which they use to make loans. They like personal checking accounts, but LOVE business accounts. A bank’s motivation increases with your daily deposits if you place your operating account with them. You should know the value of your deposits to a bank and use that information to negotiate rates and terms.

How motivated are they?

You can tell how motivated a bank is by how helpful the loan officer is.  Her excitement is no foreteller of success, just of motivation.  But if she seems indifferent or unmotivated, that’s probably not a good sign.

A deal that couldn’t get through the front door of Bank A this morning, could be received with a red carpet at Bank B this afternoon. So be prepared to take your proposal to more than one bank. And be sure at least one of the banks you make a loan proposal to is an independent community bank.

What do I have to do?

Bankers love field trips. Give your banker a demonstration of the new equipment the loan is for, or take them to see the real estate you want to buy. Show them how the object of your loan request will help you grow your business, profits and deposits.

The best way to get a business loan is to do your homework, anticipate what your banker needs and get them what they ask for. And if the bank that was loyal to you when you needed them doesn’t have the best deal — but it’s a deal you can live with, “dance with the one that brung ya.”

Write this on a rock …

Understanding how banks make business loans will improve your chances of getting one.

Jim Blasingame is the award-winning host of The Small Business Advocate Show and author of “Three Minutes to Success.” Find Jim online at www.jbsba.com.

 

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.”

Five Things to Do for a Successful Referral Strategy

For as long as businesses have tried to get customers to buy their stuff, a referral has been the holy grail of prospecting. Like the mythical chalice, a referral is golden.

To emphasize the power of referrals, allow me to introduce “Blasingame’s Prospect Entrée Spectrum” (BPES), which is a way of valuing the method used to get in front of a prospect.

CC Photo via Pixabay

CC Photo via Pixabay

The BPES is on a scale of 1-10, with a cold call being a 1, and the unqualified referral a 10. The difference between scoring a referral and making a cold call is, to borrow from Mark Twain, like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Let me put a sharper point on that: In the Age of the Customer, cold calling is a fool’s errand.

Asking for and getting an appointment is a 5. From 2 to 5 on the spectrum are varying degrees of quality of connection that you attempt without a referral, like networking. From 6 to 9 represents varying quality of referrals. For example, a 6 is a casual referral with one of two qualifications attached: either the referrer doesn’t know you well, or doesn’t know the prospect well. The goals is to demonstrate you’re worthy of a full-throated, unqualified referral — 10 — which is almost money in the bank. When you hear someone say they’re working smarter, not harder, it means they’re earning lots of referrals, including an increasing number of 10s.

Here are five things to do to sustain a successful referral strategy:

2. Help customers give you referrals by teaching them how to tell others about you and your business. Instructions must be short and sweet, like an elevator pitch.

3. Be worthy of a referral. Take good care of the referred prospect, even if you don’t make a sale.

4. Thank the referrer every time, in person if possible, regardless of the result of the referral. Remember, getting a referral is success.

5. If you want to get referrals, give them to others.

On that last point, in Ecclesiastes 11:1, King Solomon wrote, “Cast your bread upon the water and in time it will come back to you.” Three millennia later, Ivan Misner, my friend and founder of Business Network International (BNI) gave us a handier way to remember the law of reciprocity. Ivan simply says, “Givers gain.” Beautiful.

In the Age of the Customer if you’re not asking for and getting referrals, you’ll have to work much harder than is necessary just to survive.

Write this on a rock … Seek the holy grail and Perfect 10 of prospecting – the unqualified referral.

Don’t be stupid — eliminate barriers of customers to your small business

A while back, I needed to reach an acquaintance who worked in a local branch of one of the national banks. When I looked for the local number in the phone book, all I found was a toll-free number that connected me to a computer answering system. That’s right – a local business didn’t publish a local number in the phone book, and here’s the stupid part: The answering system didn’t offer an option to connect to any branch or person.

Brilliance, Stupidity Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.From this one encounter stemmed a powerful story and four equally powerful lessons I thought worth sharing to big and small businesses out there.

Lesson 1 - Don’t create barriers to customers and prospects.

If you have any, take them down NOW! I know you think you don’t, but in the name of efficiency and the advent of new technology, you might.

Undaunted, I called a local board member of that bank who gave me the local number (yes, they had one). When I called, I was told that my acquaintance, a loan officer, had recently been laid off.

“Why was he laid off?” I asked. Since the bank was losing money and, for the sake of the stock price the CEO needed to impress the stock analysts with his guidance on the next quarterly conference call. So an edict came down that almost 2,000 employees across the company would have to hit the bricks. Never mind how valuable they were, or what such cuts would ultimately do to the bank’s long-term ability to compete, “We’ve got to cut costs and the quickest way is to cut payroll.”

Lesson 2 - Quarterly goals are important for planning.

For a publicly traded company, quarterly guidance to stock analysts is a counter-intuitive and dangerous practice for long-term success. Small businesses have to remember that customers don’t buy based on quarterly schedules, so don’t let your quarterly pressure on sales people cost you lost business and, worse, lost relationships.

I learned later that even though my acquaintance was the top loan producer, he was the last one hired, and also the first to go. Now he’s no longer a payroll drain on this bank, but he is now kicking the backside of his former employer as a high-producer with a competitor.

 Lesson 3 - In the 21st century, seniority doesn’t trump productivity.

Today, this bank is one of those that had to be bailed out by the government. The bank CEO, who allowed blind devotion to stock price undermine the tried-and-true management practices of building a strong team and taking care of customers, is now no longer a drag on that bank’s payroll.

How much business did this bank lose because of that phone answering strategy? What would have happened if this bank CEO had simply installed an answering system that made sure anyone who wanted to call a local branch could not only find that number easily, but quickly connect to a local person? The answer might be that the CEO would still have his job, and so would my friend and several hundred other former employees. Who knows? By simply adopting a customer-friendly phone system, this bank might have actually needed to hire more employees to handle all of the new business.

Lesson 4 -  If you need more sales revenue, make sure your organization’s people, systems, and policies aren’t getting in the way

Recently, on my small business radio program The Small Business Advocate Show I talked about the potential dangers of quarterly policies with sales management expert and Brain Trust member, Skip Miller (m3learning.com), author of The Ultimate Sales Tool Kit. Take a few minutes to listen to what this smart guy has to say and be sure to leave your smart thoughts.

Businesses should plan for success while operating for survival

Blasingame’s 2nd Law of Small Business states: It’s redundant to say “under-capitalized small business.”

Growing small businesses operate in the narrow danger zone between the leading edge and the bleeding edge of the marketplace, and since our capital reserves and options are limited, every small business CEO makes decisions every day that are at once as much about survival as success.

Small business survival

 

Operate for Survival
Here are four “operate for survival” objectives to do that will serve you well this year, followed by four “plan for success” ideas.

1. Cash used to be King, today it’s the Emperor. Ask employees to find and cut waste. Get them involved in reviewing operational processes and eliminate or tighten up inefficient ones. What’s their motivation? How about job security? Watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.

2. Stay close to accounts receivables and cash management. Many tasks can and should be delegated, but in a small business, whether you’re growing or just holding on, cash management is not one of them.

3. Declare war on excess inventory. Inventory is cash you can’t spend until a customer pays for it. Practice Just-In-Time (JIT) inventory management, not just-in-case.

4. Stay close to customers. This isn’t complicated: Ask customers what they want and then give it to them. We’re in the Age of the Customer – know your customers’ expectations.

 

Plan for Success
Since opportunities will present themselves over the next year, here are four “plan for success” thoughts to consider as you take risks:

1. Eyes wide open. The marketplace we’re entering is going to look different than last year. That means opportunities – and threats – will look different, too.

2. Measure twice, cut once. Before taking a big growth step, apply the carpenter’s rule. Don’t scrimp on due diligence: check your assumptions, recheck your assumptions and then proceed with the best information you have, which might tell you to stop.

3. Mistakes are expensive. Can your capital picture support inevitable mistakes and/or surprises? Remember, there is a very fine line separating opportunity at the leading edge and the cash-eating bleeding edge.

4. Make your banker your partner. Keep him or her informed whether the news is good or bad – especially the bad. Remember this: An uninformed banker is a scared banker and no one ever got any help out of a scared banker.

Successful small business CEOs operate for survival while planning for success.

The Age of the Customer®, Part 2: The new Field of Dreams business strategy

Photo courtesy of Archer Creative

Photo courtesy of Archer Creative

In the movie, Field of Dreams, the lead character, Ray Kinsella, is a corn farmer who hears a voice that causes him to do strange things.

Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, first hears the voice say, “If you build it, he will come.” And even though Kinsella doesn’t yet know who “he” is, he determines that “it” is a baseball field, which he actually builds, and which, incredibly, attracts a bunch of formerly-dead major league baseball players.

Field of Dreams is a wonderful feel-good movie, best enjoyed by suspending all attachment to reality.

Unfortunately, some entrepreneurs believe what I call the Field of Dreams Myth, which is, “If I build it, they will come.” They think that by merely building “it,” which is a business, not only will “they,” the customers, come, but will consistently do so and in sufficient numbers to ensure success.

This will be on the test:  In the 21st century Age of the Customer, “If I build it, they will come,” is a fantasy and the business equivalent of a death wish.

Any questions?

The Field of Dreams strategy has never been an intelligent way to start a business. It’s always been prudent to identify how big the competitive pie is that’s being carved up by current participants, plus how prospective customers will accept the entry of your product or service into the marketplace. In the 20th century, it wasn’t difficult to identify all your competitors, which you could probably count on your fingers. Today you couldn’t do it with a supercomputer.

Every day of the 21st century, our customers have a virtually infinite number of purchasing options through the many competitive models in the traditional marketplace, plus the innumerable options available online. So as you develop your 21st century business strategy, the Field of Dreams voice in your head should be saying:

“If I build it, customers will only come the first time if I clearly and quickly identify what’s in it for them.  And even then, they won’t come back unless I make sure their experience is so exceptional that they choose to forsake all other options.”

There is one message the voice in Ray Kinsella’s head told him which tracks perfectly with our 21st century Field of Dreams business strategy.  When Kinsella was up against his most challenging obstacles, the voice said, “Go the distance.”

You must go the distance to determine who your customers are, what they want, why they’re doing business with you today and what they require to come back tomorrow.

Write this on a rock… Go the distance with what customers really want.