While most small business owners think of their bank as a place to hold their money and, when needed, a means to a line of credit or a loan, your banking partner can be a far more valuable ally than that, especially if it specializes in small business growth.

The right bank can help you address immediate business needs and plan for the future. Too often, small businesses don't expect enough from their banking partners, perhaps due to time constraints or because they think this level of support is reserved for larger companies. But, the right bank can help your business thrive in at least five surprising ways.

1. Manage cash flow better.

Small business owners often wait to call their banker until they have a cash flow challenge. That is a mistake. Michele Livingston, director of small business at Umpqua Bank, a Portland, Oregon community bank, explains that she and her team work with clients to "peel back the onion" before they have a cash flow problem. From examining accounts receivables and payables to find ways to get paid faster to identifying tools and strategies to manage seasonal or other irregular cash flow, she and her team dive into the business and make their best recommendations for its success.

2. Streamline payroll and payments.

Using today's powerful digital and online platforms, small businesses can also work with their banks to automate functions like payroll and recurring payments to save time. Careful planning also keeps cash in the business until appointed to be transferred.

With digital payroll solutions, employees' pay is conveniently deposited directly into their accounts. This also means businesses can manage their day-to-day cash flow more effectively, since they are not waiting for checks to clear. Payroll services providers also handle tax withholdings and assist companies with state and federal law compliance.

3. Facilitate relationships.

Whether you're looking for the best marketing agency in the area or an accountant who specializes in your industry, a good business banker will have a robust network of community contacts, including other organizations within your industry. Your banking representative should be willing to leverage them to help your small business, says Jeffrey Tischler, managing director of Conway MacKenzie, a financial and operational consulting firm. He suggests providing your banker with a list of your company's sales prospects to see if he or she can make any warm introductions or suggest other companies to contact. Additionally, reach out to your banker when you need additional professional recommendations, such as an HR consultant, attorney, accountant, or new vendor.

4. Align your banking and tax goals.

Don't let your tax minimization strategy inadvertently undermine your banking needs. "With your taxes, your goal is often to show the least amount of income so you can pay the least amount of taxes. But when you come to the bank and need that emergency line of credit, your banker is going to look at your tax return," Livingston explains.

She suggests an annual meeting in which the small business owner, banker, and tax accountant discuss the company's goals and how they can work together as a team to manage them. If your business has an attorney, he or she should also attend this meeting.

5. Work as your knowledgeable advisor.

Meet with your banker at least annually to discuss your plans for growth. Tischler suggests asking the bank to perform an annual account review in which it evaluates the business's expenditures and identifies ways to save money.

Your business banker should be responsive and available whether you have a quick question or need a strategic session. "Look at the commercial world: Bankers are trusted advisors who help business owners build and grow their companies. Small businesses should see bankers the same way and expect the same sort of support," Livingston says.

A good business banker can help you identify and pursue important growth opportunities. Involving your banker in your business not only strengthens your relationship with the financial institution, but gives you an important advocate, ally, and representative in your community and beyond.

This article was created and commissioned for Umpqua Bank, Member FDIC.

Published on: Sep 22, 2017