Bank Agency Help Small Businesses

    GRAND RAPIDS — National City Bank kicked off the Small Business Tour last Wednesday and Thursday, along with numerous other sponsors, to offer helpful suggestions to small businesses on financial planning and other advice.

    Members of the U.S. Small Business Association, the City of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW), Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Kent Area MicroBusiness Loan Services, Michigan Small Business Development Center, the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and other local development organizations gathered to discuss the initiative in Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Kentwood.

    “We are going to do a lot of listening and directing,” said Steven Alexander, regional president of National City. “The mayor was correct when he said that a lot of small businesses may not know what they need and we are there to assess that for them.”

    He noted that several small business bankers, as well as representatives from National City that were well versed on small business banking options and National City services, would be visiting numerous businesses during the two-day tour.

    “Depending on the business needs, we are open to offering out services and to helping businesses discover what financial needs they might have and how to go about getting the right kind of money, loans or tax benefits,” Alexander said.

    Alexander said National City understands that a lot of the work sometimes needs to start with a proper business plan and — once that has been carefully established — representatives are then able to lay out the groundwork for the business and demonstrate different options.

    “We also want to teach the business to work with the resources they already have and to maximize the efficiency of those resources,” he said.

    “Often everything just needs assessment and it is our job to be the experts on what National City has to offer and what the financial community in general has to offer, and for us to then educate the small business community.”

    Alexander advises small businesses to take a “back to basics” approach in brushing up business operations and offers additional tips on crucial points of importance:

    • Financial Statements — National City advises businesses to become even more expert at understanding their financial statements and to get them far enough in advance to use in next month’s planning. The firm urges evaluating current financial trends in relation to historical performance: changes in sales level, gross margins and expense categories. Then address any positive or negative trends caused by the changing economy. Study the relationship between the operating statement and the balance sheet.
    • Cash Management — Manage the cash flow by creating a budget that isn’t hard to stick to. Establish an accounts policy that maximizes cash without harming a relationship with vendors and suppliers. When sales slow down, the first casualty isn’t profit; it’s cash flow. Keep in mind that a business can operate longer without profit than it can without cash.
    • Operations — There may be aspects of the current day-to-day operations that could be offered to save money. Look for ways to streamline the current process and become more efficient. Take the time to examine employee work schedules, delivery routes, hours of operation and review purchasing policies.
    • Financial Advice — Honesty is always the best policy when working with the bank and accountants. Talk to a broker and accounting professional. Use their experience as a guide. Their relationship with many different businesses and industries can provide valuable insight on dealing with the economy.

    “A wise man once said the only difference between extraordinary and ordinary is the word ‘extra’,” Alexander said.

    “ I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of our small business team,” he added. “Imagination, perseverance and precision exhibited by our small business bankers are the necessary ingredients that will continue to probe small businesses in Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Kentwood.

    “The concept of bringing resources alive to small businesses is a winning one,” Alexander said.

    “By year-end we will have reached 350 small businesses, and that is impressive. We will do what is right for our customers and go that extra mile. We are also proud to work with everyone here and all of the partners; in every sense of the word, you are extraordinary.”

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