Online Small Business Banking

In the digital age every bank has an online presence, from my little credit union to the big national players. However, not all banks are geared toward serving small business via the internet and, while they all offer you a lot of promises and maybe a flashy new toaster oven, not all of them offer you the services that you need at a competitive price. Here’s what to look for and how to spot those that offer online small business banking from the poseurs.

Customer Service and Big vs. Small Banks

One thing that you may read is how important it is to “cultivate relationships” with your banker and how important your banker is in expediting and even deciding whether or not you get a loan. While this may still be true in the smaller banks, in larger regional or national banks you will never, ever meets the person who approves your loan. A buddy of mine who was a big shot at a major bank before ditching it all to go into the Peace Corps said that the big banks create a strong separation from the banker that you meet, who is basically a sales person, and the person who decides, who is basically an accountant. So skip bribing your banker with chocolate truffles or bottles of bourbon. In fact, if you already bought the “gifts,” just send them here and I’ll gladly dispose of them for you for free!

Similarly, once the recommendation for business people was to keep all their banking with one bank, in order to build up a relationship of trust with that bank. Now, however, the idea of relationship is breaking down and, thanks to the internet and the relative ease of online banking, small businesses can cherry pick the best services off a smorgasbord of banks just like the Bigs do. In fact, the biggest reason that I can see of deliberately keeping all services with a single bank is not having to remember more than one sign-on, password, and pin!

What Your Bank Should Be Able to Do for You

Business Checking Account

One of the essential elements of running your own business is treating it as a separate entity distinct from your own personal affairs or the affairs of your other businesses or investments. Failing to treat your business as a separate entity opens up numerous potential legal and tax consequences that could end up being very costly or even financially disastrous to you. Opening up a business banking account is one essential act that helps establish your business as a separate entity. For most business the key to the checking account is functionality, forget interest rates and a few dollars difference in cost. The key questions are:

  • Can you use the web site to pay pre-pay bills, transfer money, accept online payments and whatever other essential services that your business might need?
  • Are you able to easily download information from the online site to QuickBooks Online or whatever other accounting software that you might be using?
  • Do they have the highest level of online security that is convenient for you?
  • Are they relatively light on “hidden fees” that $5 and $10 you to death just to be able to perform regular, essential operations of your business?

Security

Small businesses run by new entrepreneurs often have lower standards of security and this is especially true when it comes to banking and banking online. The smalls just don’t have the expertise nor the payrolls stuffed with I.T. professionals to keep up with the Trojans and frauds that cyber-criminals use to prey upon the unfortunate, and the unwary. You want the highest level of security possible but without making it so inconvenient on yourself that you aren’t fully able to take advantage of the online services. For example, while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala I often had to do my banking from internet cafes, and not always with my laptop that was impractical to lug around. When Chase, my original bank, changed the security so that I had to go through a complicated and time-consuming process every time I tried to access my account from a different computer I had to change banks (rather, I added a new bank) because that just wasn’t doable for me.

Loans and Lines of Credit

Loans are a prime area of shopping around and using the power of the internet to shave a fraction of a point off the interest rate. However, if you can’t pay the loan through an electronic transaction between the bank of your checking account and the bank that services the loan and make that payment for free then who cares about a little reduction of the interest rate. I like to look around for the best deal and then ask my primary bank if they can match it, just to keep my life as simple as possible.

Credit Cards

One of the easiest ways to make payments these days is by credit card and you will want at least one that is exclusively used for business purposes. There is no “best” credit card for small business and usually your bank will be able to provide you one. Keep in mind that you want one that is easy to set up and maintain electronically, that is widely accepted (especially if you travel for business), and has a high enough limit for what you need. Remember that building up credit for your business is just like building up credit personally, the better your history the higher your limit will be.

In Conclusion

Starting up a small business can be intimidating and the days when you could have a banker hold your hand and guide you through the process are long gone. The flip side of that is the incredible amount of information available to you at your fingertips. Another advantage is that you are no longer geographically limited, a world of banks is waiting to serve you! Just remember to keep in mind the services that you need, those that you don’t need, and those that you need but could be found at another bank for a better price. Happy banking!

7 Small Business Marketing Tips

Small businesses do not often have large budgets. Thanks to the Internet, small business marketing can be a huge success, even without big dollars behind it.

Small business marketing can benefit from new trends in general marketing. These trends point to methods that are inexpensive, innovative, and online.

One of the key online options for small business marketing is search engines. The cost of submitting your Web site to a search engine is minor, but there are some considerations to be made:

1. Your site must be optimized with keyword phrases. Search engine optimization is achieved by including keyword phrases that apply to your company. These phrases must be present enough times to draw the attention of the search engines to your site.

2. Since most small businesses focus on their local market, you should aim your advertising efforts at your local audience. Users have recently begun pushing for better local search capabilities and most search engine companies are responding. Statistics have shown that 74% of Internet users perform local searches. Your keywords should reflect your locale and you should look into local search engines and directories, like your local Yellow Pages, Google Local, Citysearch and others.
If you are a local merchant and your intention is to sell products on the web, one of many tactics is to build your online ads around local content to increase your click through rate.

3. Speaking of local searches, newspaper Web sites have become the top portal in their local areas, especially among the coveted 18-34 demographic. Traditional newspaper advertising is generally beyond most small business marketing budgets, but the online versions offer more affordable ads on the “back” pages – those that are not visited as often but are rich in content.

4. Another exciting small business marketing method is the weblog, or blog. A blog offers your business a good way to have an inexpensive, two-way conversation with your customers. Write a blog for your Web site to give your customers and prospects an additional reason to visit your site.

5. Podcasts are among the newest small business marketing techniques. A podcast is a multimedia file (think radio broadcast) distributed by paid or unpaid subscription over the Internet. Podcasts offer you a direct way to tell your prospects how your product or service can benefit them.

6. Many small businesses can use online seminars or demos, also known as webinars, to demonstrate and promote their latest products. Online demos are an ideal tool for small business marketing because they are relatively easy to produce and allow you to reach a wide audience without ever leaving the office.

7. A strong online presence is a critical component of any small business marketing campaign. Why? Because the Internet offers advertising options that are relatively inexpensive. Because 87% of consumers research purchases online before they buy. Because 63% research online and then visit a bricks and mortar store to complete a purchase. And because demographic trends show that the most desired customers are most accessible through online means.

Credit Card Services for Business Merchants

If you own a business, whether large or small, you know the necessity of credit card processing for a successful sale. For products and services sold online, by mail or phone, or in person at a retail location, you need the most up to date credit card merchant services available. Internet savvy customers and people in this fast paced modern world do not like to be kept waiting. They also expect a flexible spending option like credit cards to be available anywhere they shop.

Most businesses with an online presence, or a website, require a way to gain online credit card approval. With this function, you can sell goods and services from your website. The credit card processing allows you to accept any charge payment from customers with online credit card approval. Some people are intimidated by this process, but with the simple online merchant services available on the internet, the success of your credit card business can be simple and hassle free.

Where to find credit card merchant services

When looking for someone to assist you in setting up credit card processing, start online by entering a search term that relates to your business needs. For instance, if you are a small business owner, you might enter something like credit card processing. But if you have an online presence for your business in the form of a website, you would need to search for online credit card approval. For all your credit card needs, search for credit card merchant services, and you will get an extensive list of resources.

Which service is right for you

After you have some search results, visit several different sites, even if they seem to offer the same services. You need to compare the options, prices, and customer services offered. One of the most important things to look for right away is how much you have to pay on a monthly basis to keep your credit card processing up and running. Most sites will represent their fees as fairly straight forward, but several companies charge hidden fees that can inflate your bill and put a kink in your operation. Keep an eye out for notices about late fees, a quota of credit card processing per month, and other limitations that could conflict with your needs. Also note what the company will charge you if you violate the terms of service. Remember that business can sometimes be unpredictable. If you get in a bad spot financially, you do not want your credit card merchant services to drag you down even further with high penalties or cancellation of service if you fail to meet a quota.

Also look for the extras that each service offers. For example, if you are processing credit cards on your website, you will need a built in way to accept card payments. This usually takes the form of a shopping cart that is written into your html code. The ideal merchant service will give you step by step instructions on how to set up your online shopping cart.

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