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How to Find the Best Bank for Your Business

Business banking isn't a hot topic -- but having a good bank is crucial to your business's success.

Small business banking is a topic that sometimes gets short shrift. With interest rates only just beginning to rise and business services at big banks closely resembling one another, small business media coverage tends to focus on more interesting topics such as technology, operations and company culture.

Because the banking news is static, it's easy to forget how critical banks really are in the day-to-day of a small business. However, trying to differentiate competing banks is a difficult task. National banks tend to match one another too closely in the pricing and structure of their small business products, while local banks vary too widely based on local conditions. Still, there are a number of basic qualities that make a bank the ideal choice for a small business:

Banks are the main source of funding for many entrepreneurs, providing loans and credit products suited to many different needs. A bank that is serious about pursuing relationships with small businesses will offer financing options for every stage of a small business's development.

The easiest way to determine which local banks are active supporters of small businesses is to speak with their bankers in person. Brick-and-mortar banks have a significant advantage over online banks or lenders in this respect. If you're interested in banks that participate in government-backed financing, the Small Business Administration also provides information on the most active SBA 7(a) lenders through its online resources. One example of a highly active small business lender is Wells Fargo, which has $459 million in outstanding SBA loans as of January 2017.

However, smaller banks tend to offer better service than national banks like Wells Fargo because they're able to concentrate more of their attention and resources in their immediate neighborhoods. Though they may not have as much capital available, you'll find that local banks tend to be more flexible and accommodating towards your business's specific circumstances. While online lending has made great strides in recent years, your best chances of getting a competitive loan rate are still with your local banks.

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Why Tech Should Behave More Like Finance

Tech executives in particular should take a page from top financiers on how to build efficient, competitive, and successful companies.

The financial industry often gets a bad rap, thanks in part to world-shattering events like the 2008 recession. It’s tough for an industry to appear on the up-and-up when a few legacy companies upend the global financial system.

But not all finance organizations are Lehman Brothers or Bear Stearns — in fact, most of them aren’t. The most pure markets in finance are incredibly sophisticated and arguably result in the most level playing fields of any industry. This is largely due to the fact that legislation forces transparency, so the sector must be vigilant about plugging holes and rooting out corruption.

Leaders in other fields can learn a great deal from studying leading finance companies. Unlike tech companies, which maintain relatively friendly relationships with competitors, finance is a dog-eat-dog world. Finance companies refuse to permit bloat and inefficiencies because they can’t afford such distractions when billion-dollar decisions are on the line.

Finance’s Finer Points

Not all business leaders desire a house in the Hamptons and a private yacht, nor do they thrive on the fast-paced, 24/7 work ethic that finance demands. But founders and executives of all stripes could stand to cultivate some of finance leaders’ most effective qualities.

Here’s what distinguishes the leaders — and winners — in this industry:

They take management seriously.

Major finance corporations conduct extensive management trainings that yield standardized processes and well-trained leaders. Executives in the tech industry would benefit from more intensive training, for ourselves and our staff members, before diving into or doling out management positions.

They recruit talent aggressively.

Finance companies know how to entice the brightest analytical minds, and they hook them before they’ve even started their careers. Much like talent scouts pursue college athletes for the big leagues, top finance organizations operate strong recruitment programs. They visit the best universities in the country, promoting their grade-A internship opportunities to promising would-be investors.

They’re data-driven.

Finance professionals rely on high-level, high-quality data information to stay on their competitors’ trails. Minute alpha advantages make the difference in billions of dollars in profit, which is why you see finance companies using predictive tools that are years ahead of those in any other industry.

Finance is a zero-sum game.

Professionals in this field either win big or lose big, and they’re keenly aware of what’s at stake. That mindset creates a hyper-focused approach to delivering results.

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How to Get Elite Status on Business Flights

There are a few simple ways to greatly improve your next business trip, and one is gaining elite status.

If you want to get the most out of your business trips, elite status perks significantly improve your traveling experience and, consequently, your productivity. While perks vary from airline to airline, they often include a faster line to your security checkpoint, complimentary access to airport lounges, priority boarding and more comfortable seating. You can also save money with free checked bags, in-flight Wi-Fi and meals.

How can you score those coveted elite status perks? You have a few options available.

Flying enough with one airline to reach an elite status tier is the simple way. If you’re traveling weekly or going on cross-country trips often, this method actually isn’t that difficult. For example, you could reach American Airline’s Platinum tier by traveling 50,000 miles or 60 segments annually.

Taking a status challenge accelerates the process. You pay a small fee to the airline, and then you can earn your way into elite status tiers by traveling a certain mile minimum within the challenge period. American Airlines charges a $200 fee to challenge for its Platinum tier, and you then have 90 days to travel at least 12,500 miles.

The problem with this method is that booking all those flights gets expensive, especially considering you only earn elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) when you pay with cash, not reward points or frequent flyer miles. Shooting for those elite status tiers may be worth it if you travel often or have a few trips coming up and can take a status challenge. Otherwise, it’s not the best option from a value perspective.

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7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Selling Your Business

Here are some key questions to consider before you put your business on the market.

So, you’re ready to sell your business? You’ve nurtured it from the ground up, into a venture that’s now successful enough that it will appeal to others, who will ideally pay your full asking price. But if you think that alone is the criteria that make a business sale-ready, think again. There are many things to consider before you put your business on the market if you hope to reap the benefits of a successful sale.

Here are seven key questions to consider before you put your business on the market:

1. Are you ready to hand over the reins?

First and foremost, you must ask yourself if you are really ready to step away from your company and whether or not it’s at a point that it can survive without you. As many entrepreneurs can attest, sometimes they are the sole reason their business is a success. This is particularly true in cases where client relationships have been built over a number of years.

Still, the reality is, buyers are generally more attracted to companies that can thrive without the current owner’s continued involvement. If you’re still handling the day-to-day success that makes your business thrive, you may want to put your sale aspirations on hold, and begin mapping out an exit strategy that removes you from key roles. Only then will you truly be able to determine whether or not a future sale of your company can be successful.

2. Is your business currently thriving?

Buyers won’t bite based on past successes. If your business has already seen its heyday, don’t expect potential buyers to line up eager to buy it. This is why smart entrepreneurs often sell their businesses at the height of its success and popularity — they ride the wave to the top and then get out.

Ultimately, an informed buyer is going to want to verify that your company has been successful within the past 12 months and that it has a sustainable future. It’s up to you to prove that.

3. Do you have your affairs in order?

Potential buyers are going to want to see all kinds of information, likely spanning years. This includes tax returns and balance sheets. They’re going to want to see financial statements spanning entire 12-month periods in order to gauge seasonal fluctuations in revenue.

Potential buyers will also want to see licenses, permits, leases, customer and vendor contracts and anything else pertaining to business operations. Having your affairs in order also includes taking care of any outstanding debts or other legal issues that could potentially derail the sale of your business.

4. Have you consulted with all of the necessary experts to ready your business for sale?

When it comes to selling a business, don’t try to go at it alone. You’ll want to retain the advice of experts, including accountants, attorneys and business brokers that are seasoned in selling businesses in your particular (or at least a similar) field.

Doing so will ensure no important details, such as obtaining non-disclosure agreements from potential buyers, are overlooked.

5. Can you prove business profits?

Always remember that buyers are interested in profits over revenue when considering whether or not to purchase a business. The two are very different, and while revenues can look good on the surface, informed buyers will understand the difference between profit margin and revenue.

6. Have you conducted a thorough business valuation?

There are myriad factors to putting a dollar value on a business, including some you may not be familiar with. Like the previous consideration, this one comes down to expertise. A professional valuation will not only provide an accurate estimate of what your business is worth, but it will also better prepare you to vet potential buyers.

A proper valuation can also expose weaknesses that need to be addressed before you officially slap that for-sale sign on your business.

7. Are you prepared to answer questions and be transparent?

For a sale to be beneficial to both parties, you must be prepared to answer any and all questions that your potential buyer deems important. This means being honest about the pros and cons of your business. Don’t hide anything. Tell your buyers about your challenges in the business along with the successes.

If handled correctly, the sale of your business can be the perfect final chapter to your entrepreneurial journey. By addressing all of these points, you’ll increase the chances that both you and your buyer walk away from the deal satisfied and in the best position for future success.