Online Small Business Banking

In the digital age every bank has an online presence, from my little credit union to the big national players. However, not all banks are geared toward serving small business via the internet and, while they all offer you a lot of promises and maybe a flashy new toaster oven, not all of them offer you the services that you need at a competitive price. Here’s what to look for and how to spot those that offer online small business banking from the poseurs.

Customer Service and Big vs. Small Banks

One thing that you may read is how important it is to “cultivate relationships” with your banker and how important your banker is in expediting and even deciding whether or not you get a loan. While this may still be true in the smaller banks, in larger regional or national banks you will never, ever meets the person who approves your loan. A buddy of mine who was a big shot at a major bank before ditching it all to go into the Peace Corps said that the big banks create a strong separation from the banker that you meet, who is basically a sales person, and the person who decides, who is basically an accountant. So skip bribing your banker with chocolate truffles or bottles of bourbon. In fact, if you already bought the “gifts,” just send them here and I’ll gladly dispose of them for you for free!

Similarly, once the recommendation for business people was to keep all their banking with one bank, in order to build up a relationship of trust with that bank. Now, however, the idea of relationship is breaking down and, thanks to the internet and the relative ease of online banking, small businesses can cherry pick the best services off a smorgasbord of banks just like the Bigs do. In fact, the biggest reason that I can see of deliberately keeping all services with a single bank is not having to remember more than one sign-on, password, and pin!

What Your Bank Should Be Able to Do for You

Business Checking Account

One of the essential elements of running your own business is treating it as a separate entity distinct from your own personal affairs or the affairs of your other businesses or investments. Failing to treat your business as a separate entity opens up numerous potential legal and tax consequences that could end up being very costly or even financially disastrous to you. Opening up a business banking account is one essential act that helps establish your business as a separate entity. For most business the key to the checking account is functionality, forget interest rates and a few dollars difference in cost. The key questions are:

  • Can you use the web site to pay pre-pay bills, transfer money, accept online payments and whatever other essential services that your business might need?
  • Are you able to easily download information from the online site to QuickBooks Online or whatever other accounting software that you might be using?
  • Do they have the highest level of online security that is convenient for you?
  • Are they relatively light on “hidden fees” that $5 and $10 you to death just to be able to perform regular, essential operations of your business?

Security

Small businesses run by new entrepreneurs often have lower standards of security and this is especially true when it comes to banking and banking online. The smalls just don’t have the expertise nor the payrolls stuffed with I.T. professionals to keep up with the Trojans and frauds that cyber-criminals use to prey upon the unfortunate, and the unwary. You want the highest level of security possible but without making it so inconvenient on yourself that you aren’t fully able to take advantage of the online services. For example, while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala I often had to do my banking from internet cafes, and not always with my laptop that was impractical to lug around. When Chase, my original bank, changed the security so that I had to go through a complicated and time-consuming process every time I tried to access my account from a different computer I had to change banks (rather, I added a new bank) because that just wasn’t doable for me.

Loans and Lines of Credit

Loans are a prime area of shopping around and using the power of the internet to shave a fraction of a point off the interest rate. However, if you can’t pay the loan through an electronic transaction between the bank of your checking account and the bank that services the loan and make that payment for free then who cares about a little reduction of the interest rate. I like to look around for the best deal and then ask my primary bank if they can match it, just to keep my life as simple as possible.

Credit Cards

One of the easiest ways to make payments these days is by credit card and you will want at least one that is exclusively used for business purposes. There is no “best” credit card for small business and usually your bank will be able to provide you one. Keep in mind that you want one that is easy to set up and maintain electronically, that is widely accepted (especially if you travel for business), and has a high enough limit for what you need. Remember that building up credit for your business is just like building up credit personally, the better your history the higher your limit will be.

In Conclusion

Starting up a small business can be intimidating and the days when you could have a banker hold your hand and guide you through the process are long gone. The flip side of that is the incredible amount of information available to you at your fingertips. Another advantage is that you are no longer geographically limited, a world of banks is waiting to serve you! Just remember to keep in mind the services that you need, those that you don’t need, and those that you need but could be found at another bank for a better price. Happy banking!

Choosing the ‘Right’ Programming Language for Your Business Solutions

Most likely there are two reasons why you are reading this article at this moment. Either (1) you are starting a business and looking for the most apt software for the best price that will help you get ahead; or (2) you need to revamp your software and technology to stay ahead in this ultra competitive business world.

There are an endless number of programming languages out there – Is java the best technology for your project or is it .Net, PHP or may be Perl? There are an equal number of databases to choose from – Access, mysql, SQL server or may be Oracle. But the question is – how to choose the ‘Right’ technology which is affordable and can cater to not only your current business needs but to its future requirements as well.

Ideally deciding on the best software programming language for your business solutions, should be a team activity which involves heads of IT and relevant departments and experts from your solution provider. But in case you are a small business owner or just starting-up on your own, evaluating the following factors can help you too, to take the right decision on the technology front.

Key Factors

Budget

The first thing to consider for your business is the costs and the possible return on that investment. Decide the budget based on the return, a product/service is expected to bring. If it’s a product with small shelf life and limited features, you might consider a boxed solution rather than a custom solution. It’s a quick and less expensive way to market. But if this application is the lifeline of your business then you need to evaluate the long-term business requirements and benefits of investing in custom build solution with a high-end technology.

– Choose the right features

What are the features you are looking in your software? What are the shortcomings in your business that can be resolved by having the right system in place? Identify the areas where technology can automate the processes, thereby improving business efficiency and productivity. What features would be required in the long run to accommodate more products or services when your business expands? Discuss these features with your solution provider to decide on a programming language which can handle your business for a long time without being outgrown by it.

– Time to market

If you are developing a time-sensitive product, the most critical factor in its success will be its timely release. It may be your best idea and you may have invested in the best technology, building an error-proof product. But if you are not able to market it at the right time, you may lose to your competition who would have captured the market impulse and brought the product at the right time. Quite possibly, you can lose out on a huge market share. Choosing the programming language which can quickly build the product is the key factor here.

– Scalability requirements

What is the intended life cycle of your product/application? If your business requires it for next 5-10 yrs, there is high probability that you might need to expand its functionality or increase usability. The technology used for such solutions should be scalable and upgradable, with or without vendor involvement. Imagine a situation where you have invested a good amount of money and time in training employees to use a software, which after 2-3 years needs upgradation to meet your business requirements but doesn’t has the capability to do so. Surely, you don’t want to land up in such a situation. So, a golden rule – always clarify with your solution provider about the future business requirements and capabilities of the chosen technology and programming language.

– Application demands

o Performance

If you application sees some peak traffic in certain time of the day which is crucial for your business, then performance is the key factor for your system. It will be important to choose a programming language with ability to handle a large number of simultaneous requests/transactions (supplemented by high-end servers) without affecting the speed and performance of the system.

o Security

If security of your application is of paramount importance, then short-listing a technology with focus on security features is what you need to do. For ex – Java security technology provides a large set of APIs (cryptography, public key infrastructure, secure communication, authentication, access control etc), tools, and security algorithms, mechanisms, and protocols. Zero-in on a programming language which provides the user or administrator with a set of tools to securely manage applications.

o Content change requirements

If your application requires a frequent change in the content or you need to change the look and feel of your website quite frequently, it’s good idea to go for a CMS with features and flexibility to be managed by the system administrator without vendor involvement.

E-commerce Solutions For Small Businesses

The use of internet is growing at a break neck speed. Everything from booking movie tickets to buying cars can be done online. Such business deals are enabled through e-commerce services. E-commerce is a term used describe the buying and selling of goods and services using electronic devices and the web. This is now a popular and successful form of doing business. Of late many small businesses are using this service effectively to boost their sales.

Using the web to showcase products and services doesn’t cost a lot. Plus, web is a good means to sell since a lot of consumers look for products and services online. Online payment facilities have further made this trend popular. The practice of online sales and purchasing is increasing with each passing day and the cost of online transaction is reducing. This is especially beneficial for small businesses for which cost of trade is a big concern.

In order to sell well online, your website should encourage sales. It should be user friendly and should address all the concerns of the consumer affectively. It is a good idea to include testimonials of some people who have bought your products or services. Another important factor is the software that you use. Use software that specifically caters to e-commerce requirements. Also, keep your website updated. Consumers look for change and you don’t want to bore them by presenting the same look every time they visit your website.

While you may be equipped to sell, you should also make sure that potential consumers are taking note of you. You can take up some e-mail marketing to notify consumers about your product or service.

By using these tips, small businesses can effectively use e-commerce solutions to sell their products and services online.

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