We’ve spent much of 2020 in a fight for our lives while trying to protect our livelihoods. The COVID-19 pandemic that forced stay-at-home orders and other restrictions to help save lives also hindered many businesses – particularly the small businesses that make up the fabric of our communities.
During this period of uncertainty, we again had to confront the epidemic of racial inequity and social injustice that has plagued our country for centuries. Just as we were learning about the disproportionately adverse impact the pandemic has had on people of color, the unresolved and often-overlooked issues related to systemic racism these communities contend with were again brought to the forefront.
Many among the minority business community – men and women of color who lead and own businesses – have felt the brunt of uncertainty related to the COVID-19 and racial inequity epidemics, including difficulty accessing capital. They didn’t have the connections to help them pivot and adapt to a drastically changing environment, making it difficult to run and stay in business. And several didn’t know how their business partners would respond to the nationwide call to end racial inequity.
I’ve had the honor of supporting minority business owners to get the funding they need for their business, and my team and I helped several minority and women-owned local businesses get a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan to cover payroll for three months. This experience has highlighted the role a banker plays in an entrepreneur’s journey, especially as it relates to accessing financial and social capital.
Establishing a strong, beneficial relationship with your banker takes work. It’s not as simple as opening an account. Here are five tips to foster a strong relationship with your banker:
Establish a partnership with your banker
A true banking partner will look at your personal and professional goals and guide to identify a transaction that works for you, even if it doesn’t seem convenient at that time. It’s important to meet regularly and be transparent about your recent triumphs and challenges. This will build your relationship beyond transactions and allow you to strategize for a successful future with your banker’s expertise.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable
Share the good and the bad with your banker (even when it feels intrusive). Remember, banking is personal. Your banker needs to understand the positives and the obstacles prior to submitting any type of credit request to mitigate risks and identify the best financing solution.
Connect your team of professionals
Introduce your team of professional service providers — your banker, lawyer, CPA, and others — to one another. We’ve found this to be essential to working effectively during uncertain times.
Create a network with your banker
Your business banker likely has a number of connections. Ask them for recommendations when needed.
Get help identifying resources
Ask your banker what resources are available, such as local nonprofits offering loan and grant funding to businesses that meet specific needs. They can help identify these programs, determine if your business qualifies, and support you in the application process.
Following these tips will help ensure your email or phone call gets answered – in good times and bad.
Detra Miller is administrative vice president and minority- and women-owned business banking manager at M&T Bank in Baltimore.
This article is featured in the 2020 edition of The Daily Record’s Expanding Opportunities Resource Guide for Small, Minority and Women Businesses. Published in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs, Expanding Opportunities explores diversity, entrepreneurship and innovation in Maryland’s small business community. Read more from Expanding Opportunities on this website or read the digital edition.