Quick, what's your banker's name? When is her birthday? How many kids does he have?

If you're committed to the success of your business, you'll know that information. A friendly relationship with your banker is an important asset for your company--not only because capital is crucial for your success, but also because your business can benefit from free or low-cost services such as a line of credit with no collateral, checking accounts, safe-deposit boxes, credit cards, notary and other legal and paralegal services, no-fee payroll deposit (if you have employees), and even loans at preferred rates that often are granted on just a handshake.

How do you become more than a number to a bank? Once you've chosen a financial institution that provides the range and quality of services important to your business, make an appointment with the manager (if it's a branch or a smaller bank) or the officer in charge of your business account (if it's a major bank). At the meeting:

  • Provide the officer with your business plan, brochures, business cards and anything else that will give him or her a feel for your business.
  • Describe your business, financial situation and plans.
  • Welcome any feedback and advice.
  • Discuss what role the bank might play in your future.
  • Ask about the scope of the bank's services.
  • Broach the subject of consolidating both your business and personal accounts at that office.
  • Express interest in your banker's background. Ask about his or her family, hobbies and aspirations.

Follow up with periodic phone calls, visits and lunches. Make sure that all your dealings with the bank are totally honest. Once your accounts have been established, keep your banker fully informed of your financial situation--whether good and bad. (Bankers hate surprises.) Be aware, too, that not all banks like small businesses. Choose one that does, even if it means banking in another community or another state.

Paul DeCeglie (MrWritePDC@aol.com) is a former staff reporter for Journal of Commerce and American Banker.