20 Minute Tuesday: New Year and Fresh Start for Your Business

Wendy Northcross: Hi! I’m Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce and we’re here with you today for our fourth edition of our 20 Minute Tuesday. We do this in partnership with The Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod. And today’s theme is a new year a fresh start for your business. There’s been a lot going on the last 12 months. We are in a brand-new calendar year, and there’s some really important tips that we want to share with you so you can maximize a new year and some of the new relief programs, too. So, today to have this conversation on how to get a jump start on a new, fresh year is Donnie Robicheau and Mary Lenihan from The Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod. So, I’m going to start as I always do asking you to just introduce yourself again and tell us what you do for the bank. So, Mary you go first.

Mary Lenihan: Hi, Wendy, good to see you this morning. I’m Mary Lenihan. I’m a Relationship Manager at The Cooperative Bank of Cape for over five years. My primary job is to take care of our small and larger business clients and all their banking needs from lending to creating relationships with our partners, like Donnie.

Northcross: Donnie, tell us about yourself.

Donnie Robicheau: Sure, I’m Donnie. I’m a Branch Manager and a Small Business Specialist here at The Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod. I help the small business community in the Hyannis market, which includes their lending needs, helping them facilitate those specific cash management needs. I provide tools and tips to help with expense management practices and even introduce some operational efficiencies to them. And ultimately I try to be a business partner and helpful resource for my clients here on Cape.

Northcross: Thank you. My first question this morning is for you, Mary. It’s under the theme of planning and goal setting. So, when we think about business planning and setting goals for ourselves, it often seems really daunting. Businesses often ask us at the chamber, where do I get started? What’s the first thing I should do? So, can you just walk us through some of the best tips and processes that might help people with their planning, especially with some of these new products like the Payroll Protection Program loans and some of these other grants that have been coming down from the state? What tips do you have for planning and goal setting?

Lenihan: Well, Wendy, that’s a big question. So, I think the place I would start is really to take some time to look back a little bit. 2020 was an amazingly challenging year for all of us, both on a personal level and on a business level. We’ve learned a lot of lessons. We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles, but before jumping off into a new year it’s really important to make sure your house was in order for the prior year. So, you know for starting off, I recommend that people do that the standard things like getting your books in order, but also really reflecting on what worked what didn’t work because Covid is still with us. It’s going to be with us for a while, so the challenges that we experience as businesses in 2020 are going to continue. We’ve gotten better at things so it’s important to take those lessons and incorporate them into our planning. So, some of the things that are going to be important this year for businesses is to think about their needs in terms of everything from equipment to supplies and to hiring. Because what we saw last year there was a lot of interruption in supply chains, a lot of challenges with employees and that’s not going away. So, it’s really important that you anticipate those things and reach out to whether it be vendors or some of your staff to see what’s really going to work. One of the other big things for planning I think is technology. I think we all learned that in 2020 technology needed to be your friend and it’s important to improve that relationship this year. If you weren’t savvy, you’re going to get savvy even more this year because your clients demand it. Everyone demands it. And as far as the PPP goes, that’s with us as well and we strongly encourage that if you qualify as a small business, get your application in. I do have a little bit information the SBA. As of yesterday, it has reported over 900 000loans going through this new round with over $73 billion funded so far. So using those numbers there, appears to be, you know, money left to address those small business needs. So, I would recommend, you know, people get going on that.

Northcross: That’s excellent. You make a really good point about supply chain. I know many businesses that have said to me, ‘I have plenty of customers, but I can’t get the product that I need to, you know, fulfill the service … build the tool shed … make the patio.’ I mean especially in the construction trades. It’s been an interesting dynamic. They’re very busy, but they don’t have enough materials in some cases.

Lenihan: Yes, Wendy, and that just becomes a domino effect. That everybody’s waiting on everybody else, and that slows things down too. So to the extent people can anticipate and line things up, that will help things go a little more smoothly.

Northcross: Yeah, that’s great advice. So, Donnie, I’m going to ask you about record keeping. It seems that we are in a brand-new world of, you know, more digital information is being required of customers especially if they want to apply for some of these programs. So, what have we learned from even the Paycheck Protection Program this past year in terms of what people are going to need for forgiveness applications for filing taxes. Can you give us any tips that you would share with businesses on record keeping?

Robicheau: Yeah, absolutely, Wendy. I think I’ll start by you asked what we’ve learned from the PPP program this year, and I think what we’ve learned and what we continue to learn is how important it is to not only keep good records but to have those records available. With an opportunity like PPP, it makes your application process go more smoothly. There’s less chance that your, you know, the processors and underwriters who are working on your application are looking for new information. So we’re definitely been able to communicate with our clients better through what we’ve learned in PPP regarding what they need, and how important it is to stay organized. I think what I generally do with most of my clients, when I sit down with them from a record-keeping standpoint is I ask them to you know basically set the stage, you know, before we even get into the details of good record keeping. I recommend that they look at the resources they’re using and what resources do they have and how they’re being utilized. Do they use accounting software? How much of the software features and tools are they taking advantage of? And have they spent any time on that software really learning how to maximize its benefits. So, if they’re not, I would add this, if they’re not using any sort of software do they have a book? Do they have bookkeeper support and do they have an accountant that is available to support them with questions that inevitably come up about their business? And, you know, how is how are those resources helping them to achieve the goals that they’ve set on an annual basis?

Northcross: So, Donnie, does the bank have any data access that would help me as a business person? I mean can I download my bank statements into an excel spreadsheet and help, you know, send that off to my bookkeeper? What does the bank have that can help with that?

Robicheau: We do, Wendy. You can download an excel file, for sure. Regarding your statements, we can also, you know, import information to a, you know, a software of your choice. We can export information from that software back out. So, there’s definitely some technology opportunities to help our customers be more efficient.

Northcross: That’s great. That’s good to know. So, Mary, let’s talk about communications … outbound communications. Who we should be communicating to, you know, in terms of best business practices. I mean we know that all things in life communication is really key and important. Here at the chamber, we hear a lot from businesses who reach out to us to ask questions which is good that’s outbound communications. So, I’m sure you work with a lot of clients that you connect with over the years. What do you see that’s worked for people and what would you recommend people do in business?

Lenihan: Yes, Wendy. I couldn’t agree more that communication is key, and it’s increasingly so because during this last year we all have all been more isolated. Our businesses are isolated. We as individuals have been isolated. So, in order to stay relevant as a business and stay competitive, it’s really crucial that you take the initiative as a business to reach out and some of the folks that are important to reach out to. If you’re a renter, your landlord, you know, make sure you know what’s going on with them. And obviously if there’s any concessions or modifications to your lease, you take advantage of that. Vendor outreach is also hugely important. What comes to mind for me is contracts and changes in contracts. A lot has been talked about with the whole Covid, there’s, you know, legal things going on there. So you want to make sure that you’re writing in any of those provisions into your contracts because things that we didn’t think about a year ago are relevant, and they probably will continue to be. Any other service providers is also really important that you’re reaching out to make sure you’re not going to be disrupted in services or that you’re taking advantage of the best offerings because just like you as a business is trying to refine your offering so are some of your service providers. And I think there’s real opportunity for people to maximize on that. I think reaching out to your banking team – to Donnie and I – we’re here for you. And I know as Donnie just mentioned, we have a lot of products and services and the keyword being services that we’re really here for our customers to try to help them pull things together and make things go smoothly. Because from my perspective, your bank is one of the most important relationships because that’s where you live, that’s where you’re checking and savings account and loans are, and you want to make sure that’s all going smoothly. But also as a business, it is important the outreach to your clients. The world is becoming more competitive and again in Covid people have become isolated, and they’re sitting home so clearly social media and such and emails and phone calls are really important to keep your business front and center with some of your clients. That’s just a few of the things that come to mind, but I’m sure, you know, Donnie could probably add others.

Northcross: Well, I know one thing that the bank has started recently is something called Tech Ambassadors, and Donnie we were chatting a little bit about the Tech Ambassadors the other day. You want to just quickly touch on how that works with The Coop?

Robicheau: Yeah, absolutely, Wendy. Tech Ambassadors, you know somewhat new program to the bank or at least in the last year. And actually, you know, having our lobbies closed because of the pandemic for a period of time, a lot of our clients and customers have been forced to use technology and in some cases it’s for the first time. So, the Technology Ambassadors is a great example of what the Technology Ambassador can do for our clients: They step in and help them navigate our online resources. It could be something as simple as resetting a password, setting up bill payments for the first time, and really they’re there to help our clients truly understand what’s available to them. And we all know, you know, technology might be uncomfortable for some at first, but the amount of time it saves our clients and our customers overall is super beneficial. And, you know, big part of why we implemented this program and started training individuals to be our Tech Ambassadors.

Northcross: So, that’s great news. And I know that I think the takeaway there Mary is really be proactive, right, just don’t wait for the bank to call you or your landlord to call you. Just stay in touch with people, let them know how you’re doing, don’t let people guess.

Lenihan: Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I love when our clients call us because I always get a takeaway as well. So, when you open that door for a communication exchange, everyone benefits. And I often find myself, you know, one of the things The Coop does, and I find myself doing, is when it’s appropriate connecting my clients to other clients that they may be able to benefit from. You know that saying that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’ and if there’s some knowledge that I know one may have to help another. I certainly am going to make those introductions.

Northcross: Well, speaking of rising tides and getting information. Information needs to flow inbound to a business as well. And there seems to be in this day and age no end of resources out there but how do you sort through that? Donnie, what would you recommend businesses do to monitor current conditions or monitor for relief programs or you know what channels of information are do you think people should be paying attention to?

Robicheau: Sure, Wendy. Yeah the there’s just so much information right now that’s coming out and it’s coming out from so many different places. I think, you know, digesting that information and trying to catch the massive information that’s coming out from all these different sources on a daily basis is the biggest challenge for our clients. So what we encourage our clients to do is or really any business owner that I’ve had the opportunity to speak with is get involved in industry groups that are specific to their industry, visit chamber sites, sign up for newsletters, check out governmental sites like the SBA regularly to make sure they’re aware of any new opportunities or new information that specifically can support them. Or maybe it’s just industry news that can, you know, help them make decisions. They want to be aware at those sites to look for, you know, industry grants and, you know, against business support like the PPP program. There’s a number of other industry specific opportunities that are out there. So, yeah, it’s a lot of information coming from all different sources. I always recommend to try to, you know, pick a couple sources to use on a daily or weekly basis that you’re receiving via email notifications and whatnot, but, yeah, your chamber, your governmental sites, those are some of the best. And getting on a newsletter.

Northcross: So, I always advise people, you know, social media is great but you have to understand what is the source behind social media. Is it well-vetted information? There’s a lot of rumor, innuendo, out there, so try to get a trusted source and follow that including The Coop’s website. Right, do you have information for your business customers and your residential customers on the website?

Lenihan: I can speak to that. Our website is amazing, and we have a great team that keeps that updated with relevant information. I think of just the PPP platform, you know, we have a full suite of FAQs and directions and other resources, but it does go beyond that. There’s definitely great information on our website, and I do I think recommending even if you’re not a customer of The Coop check out our website. You’re going to get some good information about the PPP, and then maybe, you know, if we can help you we’d love to do that. I do think to add to what you guys were saying earlier. It’s so easy to just work, work, work all day as a business. There’s so many challenges being thrown at us, but if you can try to create a discipline where you lift your head up, whether it be an hour a day or an hour a week, whatever you can spare to see what’s going on out there and ask a co business or check a reliable source to see what the latest news. Because you never know, you know you could benefit from that.

Northcross: Well, thanks, I think that’s one of the reasons we do this 20 Minute Tuesday, you know, it’s 20 minutes, it doesn’t take a whole hour or two hours or whole day out of your life. Good, trusted information, and it’s been a shareable, too. So, we thank you, Donnie and Mary for participating today. This is a great series. We really appreciate our partnership with The Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod. We’d like to remind you that if you have any questions or suggestions for future topics, please share that information with us on the link that you’ll see below (bitly.com/20minutetuesdays). We also have a brief survey we would love for you to fill out. And thanks again for partnering with us. We look forward to future installments of 20 Minute Tuesday and just helping to keep Cape Cod businesses strong and healthy and enjoying a new year and a fresh start. Thank you.