The Search Is On
When it's time to find a larger bank, take the time to find the right one. For starters, you'll have to determine what your long-term needs are and carefully assess how well a particular bank can meet them. For instance, if, like Cirrincione, you plan to expand into a neighboring state, you will probably need a bank that has branches there. Likewise, if you're interested in eventually buying or selling overseas, it may be necessary to have a bank that can handle letters of credit and provide financing to support foreign trade.
At the same time, assess how well a prospective bank understands your business. Does it have experience lending to businesses like yours? If not, does it appear to be willing to take the time to learn about you and your industry? A knowledgeable banker is more likely to support your long-term financing needs than someone who does not understand what drives your business and the factors that contribute to its challenges and successes.
One of the best ways to evaluate banks is to talk to other entrepreneurs. Most banks have some kind of reputation in the business community, and many entrepreneurs are more than willing to share their personal banking experiences--the good, the bad and the ugly.
Once you've chosen a bank, make an effort to develop relationships with more than one person at the institution so that if your banker gets promoted or leaves the firm, or your bank gets acquired, you'll still have ties to someone there.
Finally, avoid getting too comfortable--and complacent--in your banking relationship. Tom Nist, senior vice president of PNC, suggests that business owners solicit proposals from other banks every couple of years to see if there might be a better fit. "One way of realizing it's time to change is not to feel a specific pain," Nist says, "but to have a checkup and have other people spot things that you might not have seen."
Crystal Detamore-Rodman is a Charlottesville, Virginia, writer who covers the small-business finance market.