How to Impress Your Banker


With surveys showing the majority of small-business owners are optimistic heading into the new year, many may be thinking about new projects and expansion in 2005. Rebecca Macieira-Kaufmann, executive vice-president and small-business segment manager for Wells Fargo, says the key to landing that much-needed cash infusion is building a close, ongoing relationship with your banker. Providing financial products and services to more than 1 million businesses with annual sales less than $20 million, Wells Fargo is the nation's No. 1 lender to small businesses in total dollar volume, according to 2003 Community Reinvestment Act data. Since 1995, it has also loaned more than $23 billion to women and minority business owners.

BusinessWeek Online reporter Erin Chambers recently spoke with Kaufmann and asked her to share the top five things she looks for as a lender -- and why small-business owners in search of capital should keep them in mind over the next year. Here Kaufman's tips:

1. Small-business owners should be personally in the game. Stay close to your customers and markets. As a large business focusing on small business, we want to feel connected as a financial-service provider to our customers. To survive and thrive in 2005, we sponsor industry research to get at what's on our customers' minds. Small businesses can do that too, by getting out and talking to customers, assessing their needs, figuring out where they're going.

2. Keep people in mind. For small-business owners, it's critical to hire and retain good people who are focused employees. We know this is one of their biggest challenges, but hanging on to your best people is critical. Focus on new ways to attract and retain qualified employees. We believe people are a competitive advantage, and from our research, this is an area small-business owners find challenging year in and year out. Keep at it.

3. Always keep profitability and cash flow in mind. Cash flow is king, and those who manage it carefully succeed in long run. Small-business owners are very optimistic about future, and I would say that they are particularly optimistic about cash flow. But they need to continually monitor their business plan to focus on sales and keep up the cash flow. At Wells Fargo, small business is big business for us. It's profitable for us. So we're doing the same thing.

4. Be proactive. One of the things we've seen from successful small-business owners is that they meet more people and are proactive in meeting and discussing their individual needs with their banker. Go to your banker and have a conversation. Also reach out to your network of peers, industry specialists, or local chamber of commerce. Just get out there. It's all about relationship-building.

5. Lastly, persevere. It's a very common notion among entrepreneurs, but it's good to be reminded. We talk to a lot of small-business owners on a daily basis, and a common theme is that they persevere. They maintain financial flexibility and that entrepreneurial spirit no matter the conditions. They are agile and flexible, and they stay the course. That's what keeps us excited about and committed to small business.


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