Given the challenges of working with a big bank, many entrepreneurs are taking a different tack. Instead of wooing the big commercial institutions, they're courting community banks, where "relationship banking" is the rule, not the exception. Even given today's banking climate, it's easier to get a startup loan from community banks, according to the Independent Community Bankers of America. They can be a little more flexible, don't have a bureaucracy to deal with, and are more apt to make character loans.
But don't get the idea that obtaining a loan from a community bank is a snap. You'll still have to meet credit and collateral requirements just as you would at a larger institution. The difference: Smaller banks tend to give more weight to personal attributes. If the business is located in town, the banker likely already knows the entrepreneur, and the family has lived in the area for years; these things count more in a community bank.
Whether the bank you target is big or small, perhaps what matters most is developing relationships. If you've done your personal banking at the same place for 20 years and know the people with authority there, it makes sense to target that bank as a potential lender. If you don't have that kind of relationship at your bank, start to get to know your bankers now. Visit chamber of commerce meetings; go to networking events; take part in community functions that local bankers or other movers and shakers are a part of. A banker with a personal interest in you is more likely to look favorably on your loan application.