You can bank on it: before you pick your banker, do your homework.

Author:Sandlin, Eileen Figure

Small business owners sometimes find it difficult to find a bank willing to work with them. After all, their financial needs are generally modest. They probably don't have as much money to invest nor require as much capital as the multinational corporation down the street.

They also usually don't have the same track record as the big boys in their field. As a result, they may find themselves out of luck when it comes to finding banking services that closely meet their needs.

Never despair. If you're a small business owner, you can get the financing or rate of return you need by doing a little research to identify the bank that would be most receptive to working with you.

"Small business owners usually do better by selecting a bank with a community banking philosophy," says Robert Sisson, vice president and commercial business manager of Citizens Bank in Sturgis and author of "Show Me the Money" (Adams Media Corp., 2000). "These are the banks that support their communities and function almost as much as a consultant as a bank."

Once you've identified several prospective financial sources, you need to consider additional issues like convenience and choice of services. On the financial side, you should examine the bank's menu of services to find the ones that most closely match your business requirements. Most owners need standard banking instruments like term loans, lines of credit, merchant services, interest-bearing business accounts, commercial mortgages and equipment leasing. But before you attempt to borrow money, you'll also need to investigate the bank's policies concerning collateral, equity, cash flow, personal credit history and so on.

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