6 Tips for Small Businesses Preparing for the Holiday Season

  • 23 Nov 2020
  • Posted by ccrossen
It should come as no surprise that small businesses have struggled throughout the pandemic. No one could have foreseen the lingering effects beyond the initial impact. There is no doubt that this year will look different for consumers and small businesses; and with adversity comes adaptation. So as the holiday season approaches, we’ve outlined some tips for small businesses in preparing for the holiday shopping season.

1. Keep Safety Top of Mind
As the pandemic evolves, people want to feel safe before entering stores. Make sure your patrons are following all CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Depending on each merchants’ situation, this may call for limiting the number of shoppers inside at one time, requiring face coverings, offering hand sanitizer, and social distancing markers on the floor. This might also mean designating different doors for entering versus exiting, implementing touch-free payments, or offering curbside pick-up, to name a few.

2. Create an Online Presence
There may be patrons who still don’t feel safe enough to shop in person. So having an active online presence is imperative. An online store is ideal, but not your only option. Social media and online business directories are simple alternatives to keep your name top of mind and allow consumers to connect with you easily. And keep in mind, the “holiday rush” typically comes with an increase in customer inquiries. Plan to have extra representatives available for customer service needs and be sure to train them accordingly. The customer experience is a critical part in gaining and retaining new customers.
3. Opt for Products Over Experiences
Consumers often enjoy exchanging experiences as gifts. This year, more people will be purchasing products over experiences. If your business’s main source of revenue comes from selling experiences, find a way to offer products or increase your product offerings. For example, travel agencies, spas, and boutique hotels might struggle this holiday season. However, offering a “Destination Gift Box” might help offset the struggles. The idea is that the gift boxes would be filled with restaurant gift cards, candles, spices, recipes, books, etc. to give the thrill of travel while at home.
4. Partner Locally
Piggybacking off of #3, small businesses are getting hit hard by the pandemic. If there is a way to partner with other local, small businesses – do it! At Howard Bank, we believe in the power of community. Forget the competition; we’re better together! And supporting other local businesses ultimately helps the local economy.
5. Add Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals
The big guys are doing it, and so should you. Don’t stress about trying to make your prices as low as the ones seen on Amazon. Your products there are made right here, locally, and that’s what makes them unique and great. People understand the value of local. Even a 5% discount can go a long way for a consumer wanting to shop small but still maintain a budget.
6. Assess and Re-Assess
The fact of the matter is, no one has ever had to navigate something like this before. We’re all learning as we go. Assess your current operations and offerings to come up with a plan. And after you get through the holiday hurdle, re-assess. Determine what worked well, what didn’t, what people liked, what people disliked, and plan again. A habit is formed anywhere between 18 to 254 days depending on the person. That means, on average, it will take 66 days for a new behavior to become an instinctive one. We’ve been in this pandemic far longer than 66 days. Track the trends to stay relevant. And if you’re ever looking for a second opinion, local market expertise, or small business solutions, we’re here to help!


The information contained herein is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute financial, tax, legal, or business advice.

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5 Customer Retention Strategies

  • 16 Nov 2020
  • Posted by ccrossen

It's not a secret that the cost to acquire new customers is far more expensive than the cost to retain an existing one. Smart business owners understand the value of repeat business and how it affects their bottom line. And while losing a customer isn’t as detrimental to a big business as it is a small business, every business – from big to startup – should have a customer retention strategy in place.  Here are a few strategies that can help you retain your customers.

1. Get to Know Your Customers
It is critical to form a relationship with your customers. At the very least, try to greet them by name. Forming a relationship creates a sense of trust with your customer. Going a step further to better understand their shopping habits will ultimately provide them with a more meaningful shopping experience. Customers are equally as motivated by their emotions and by the experience you provide as they are by the products or services you supply.

So go beyond their names; try to find out their likes and dislikes, and even some of their personal life! Ask questions to answer the following: What are the reasons behind their purchase? What other items could be purchased to support their need? Is anything missing? Why did they choose your business for their needs? These questions help you understand your clientele, better serve them for their future needs, and ultimately retain them.

Did you know there is a “Get to Know Your Customer Day” observed each quarter? For 2021, those days fall on January 21st, April 15th, July 15th, and October 21st. Consider using those days to plan a promotion, either by special discounts, giveaways, sending personalized thank you cards – the options are endless! Network with other businesses and share best practices. Use the #GetToKnowYourCustomersDay hashtag on social media as a starting point.

2. Stay Connected
Consistency is key, especially when it comes to communication. Your prospective customers and loyal customers want to know about your new products, services, discounts, and events. We think social media is a MUST, so whether you pair it with snail mail, an email, or a newsletter – just remember to be consistent! When you use social media, you’re able to share timely information while also engaging with your customers. Tied back to our prior section, the more you know your customers’ likes and dislikes, the easier it is to keep them coming back for more.

3. Ask for Feedback
Assuming your customers are satisfied is a poor practice; instead, ask them! Capturing feedback in the moment is critical, but you could also conduct a survey by email or telephone to allow customers to provide top-of-mind insights. Getting feedback immediately after a transaction has taken place is truly the best. Be sure to have customers attempt to identify any employees that may have assisted them or who provided the service. This will allow you to follow up with praise for work well done or corrections for issues that might have arisen. Furthermore, converting verbal compliments into digital reviews can be extremely helpful to gain new customers. As more and more people use online platforms to research before making a purchase, seeing positive reviews helps them feel at ease to try your business!

4. Quality Control
It’s common knowledge that customers seek out quality products and services. One bad product or one service gone wrong can cause you to lose a client indefinitely. Be sure to have quality assurance measures in place. But don’t fret – it’s inevitable that something can and likely will go wrong at some point or another. In this instance, be sure to respond and immediately in an effort to make it right. If someone posts a negative review, responding in an accommodating and prompt manner can create a sense of comfort for prospective clients as they know that you will rectify any issues.

5. Loyalty – Loyalty – Loyalty
No matter the type of business you own, the goal is to generate customer loyalty. You can help create loyalty by offering your returning clients a special deal, access to exclusive sales, discounts, coupons, or rewards. In some cases, it could even call for hosting customer appreciation events. Doing any combination of these things will go a long way toward making customers feel special. In turn, it will encourage them to keep doing business with you. Since 2004, Howard Bank has been helping businesses grow and prosper in the greater Baltimore area. We help business owners succeed in our local market. Today, we’re the largest bank headquartered in Baltimore with an array of product offerings that allow you to take control of your finances. Contact us today for more information on how you can make Howard Bank work for your business and build your legacy.1



( 1 ) The information contained herein is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute financial, tax, legal, or business advice.

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Virtual Onboarding Tips

  • 09 Nov 2020
  • Posted by lmoeser

Onboarding has always been a key component of the success of a new employee. A company only has one chance to make a first impression once someone joins the team. Traditionally, onboarding is done in-person and includes an orientation with Human Resources, a tour of the new office, a series of meet-and-greets with various teams or colleagues, and perhaps some initial training!

Many companies have faced challenges this year with pivoting onboarding practices to a virtual format or a combination-approach. Human Resource teams have learned many tips and tricks to ensure onboarding can still be a success in a virtual environment. Consider the following tips below:

1. Define, align, and communicate the first day/week.
When you have a new hire, your HR team must establish a start date and begin planning what the first day and week will look like. Onboarding a new employee is a team effort between human resources, hiring managers, IT and security departments, as well as others in the organization. Defining roles and expectations will guarantee a seamless onboarding process. Once roles and responsibilities have been defined, it is important to make sure everyone involved in the process knows exactly how they will contribute to your company’s onboarding success. Aligning internal expectations will help make sure that all involved are familiar with the technologies and systems used, along with any additional resources needed for success. While the HR team leads the charge in the overall planning process, hiring managers should outline and communicate a plan for training in a remote environment. Communicating a clear plan of what the new hire can expect on their first day, what they need to bring or send to you, who they will be meeting with that day, and what technologies may be used will help the new hire properly prepare, reduce confusion, and encourage a positive experience.

2. Provide a warm welcome & communicate.
Starting a new job in a new company can make even the most confident of candidates feel nervous or anxious at times. And starting a new position in a virtual environment can be even more challenging! Consider sending a new hire a welcome package to their home with a personal note and some branded merchandise to make them feel excited and welcomed to the organization. Help to break the ice by scheduling meet-and-greets to introduce the new hire to the team they will be working with. Notify your team, who may also be working mostly remotely, that you have a new team member joining the organization and invite them to extend a welcome to your new hire.  

3. Check-in with new hires frequently.
Checking in with new hires frequently goes a long way. It provides the new hire an opportunity to communicate any additional needs and helps to define areas for improvement for future onboarding exercises. HR should plan to touch base with the new hire after 90 days to gain feedback on what worked well during their onboarding experience and where there might be an opportunity for improvement. Based on the feedback provided, common themes might suggest process adaptations. Checking in also helps new hires to feel connected while in a virtual environment. Beyond the onboarding period, it is always best practice for hiring managers to schedule rhythmic check-ins and yearly performance reviews. 


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6 Virtual Hiring Tips

  • 07 Oct 2020
  • Posted by lmoeser

The year 2020 has been a year of learning and adapting in many ways for businesses large and small.  In March, many companies pivoted to remote working environments and began to learn what the “new normal” would be for the foreseeable future.  Among many challenges, companies have had to figure out how to navigate their hiring practices in a virtual world.

Hiring professionals have faced hurdles such as being able to continue to connect with job seekers virtually, keeping candidate pipelines open as well as engaged, glitches with technology during online interviews, and ensuring that the hiring process still feels like a personal and positive experience.

Virtual Hiring Tips

Through these challenges, a great deal has been learned regarding the keys to success in hiring in a remote world.  Consider these key components as you continue to shape your company’s virtual recruiting and hiring process:

  1. Personal Connection

In a world of video chats and conference calls, ensure your hiring process continues to have the personal connection it used to have when recruiting was an in-person process.  Ensure the candidate feels valued and comfortable during phone conversations or video interviews.  Many job seekers may feel apprehensive about being visible on video interviews, so try to make them feel at ease through conversation and your online presence.  This will allow for a more authentic view of who the job seeker is and what skill sets they can bring to your team.

  1. Communication

Strong communication has always been an important factor in the recruiting process but it is now more than ever.  Hiring professionals should ensure that the recruiting process and expectations are clearly outlined for the candidate so they know exactly what to expect.  Frequent touch points and updates throughout the hiring process will ensure the candidate feels engaged and interested in the opportunities your company has available.

  1. Technology

Technology is a great tool to be leveraged, but it’s important to ensure that you’re using a platform that has proven to be conducive to successful virtual interactions such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or WebEx.  In addition, hiring professionals should ensure that all parties understand how the technology works.  Hiring managers should be well-versed in using the technology and candidates should be provided step-by-step instructions on how to use the platform your company has elected to utilize as a reference.  Setting both hiring managers and candidates up for success from the beginning will ensure a smooth virtual interview process each time and will make a big impact in identifying the right candidate for your opportunity.

  1. Employer Brand and Company Culture

During a normal recruiting process a candidate typically gets to experience the physical office environment that they will be working in if they’re selected for the opportunity as well as the company culture in the office setting.  This is a chance for the employer to showcase what they have to offer - whether it’s a modern workspace, amenities the company offers, or just the atmosphere or vibe in the office.  While recruiting practices are being conducted remotely, it’s important that your company’s website and team members that the candidates are interacting with truly embody and promote the company brand and culture.  The candidate should come away from the experience with a good understanding of the company's brand promise, mission, vision, and overall culture. A great way to accomplish this is to ensure your company website is strong as well as boosting your online profiles on popular job sites such as Glassdoor.com and Indeed.com.  Candidates may look to these sites for reviews on your company and this is a great way to solidify the culture you have conveyed throughout the recruiting process.

  1. Employee Safety

2020 has proved to be a very trying time for many people and employee safety among the ongoing pandemic has been a top priority and focus for companies.  During the virtual recruitment process, hiring professionals should clearly articulate what steps the company has taken to ensure the health and safety of its employees. Whether the company is operating completely remotely or having employees report into a physical office space, this a great time to reveal the transparency, culture, and character of your company.  Key topics to highlight are how your company has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and what your company continues to do to keep employees safe.  This is an opportunity to have honest conversations with candidates about any challenges your organization is facing and how you’re overcoming these challenges.  These discussions will help candidates feel at ease when deciding to join your organization.

  1. Feedback

One thing most can agree on is that this year has been a year of adapting and learning.  As you navigate recruiting and hiring in a virtual environment, feedback on the candidate’s and hiring manager’s experiences are more important than ever.  Seek feedback from all who are involved in the process and work to make improvements based on the feedback received.  Touch base with new hires frequently as they are beginning their employment with your company and learn of ways to improve their new hire experience. The more adaptive and creative you become, the better the experience will be for all who are involved.

The recruiting and onboarding experience is a key component of a new employee’s happiness and success working for your company.  Navigating and adapting to the remote hiring world will ensure you are hiring top talent and key contributors to your organization!

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A Q&A with Howard Bank's President and COO on Helping Family-Owned Businesses

  • 11 Aug 2020
  • Posted by ccrossen

Since its inception, Howard Bank has been helping family-owned businesses in Greater Baltimore meet their lending needs and solve their most pressing issues from liquidity and cash flow to building the business for future generations. Family-owned businesses are Howard’s bread and butter. That is why we are proud sponsors of The Baltimore Business Journal’s 2020 Family-Owned Business Awards. To find out more about the bank’s work with family-owned businesses we sat down with Rob Kunisch, Howard Bank’s President and COO with 34 years of banking experience, to hear what he had to say.

Q: What makes Howard Bank an exceptional family-owned business partner?
We are a true partner in the way we work with our customers. We take the long view and are always looking forward. Whether a business is just starting out, growing and expanding, or working on succession plans, we have banking experts to help in every stage of a business. In fact, we have one customer today that is up to their third generation. We’ve helped the company transition from one generation to the next which means that they don’t have to explain the ins and outs of their business over and over again to a new banker. That speaks to the bond we create with our

Q: Why are family-owned businesses so important to the bank?
Its family-owned businesses that make the world go around. They are key to our economy. Working with them allows our bankers the opportunity to interact with the company on a different level. I enjoy working with entrepreneurs, risk-takers. They take chances that other people aren’t willing to take to pursue their passion. We’ve grown up in the same culture, taking risks to build
a great bank.

Q: Howard is not a mega-bank based in another city, does that play to your advantage?
There is no doubt about it. The big regional banks have to cover a large geographical territory, while we are focused on the Baltimore region. This is our home, not our “Mid-Atlantic Market.” We are right here, headquartered in Baltimore, right in the middle of our banking territory. All of our decision-makers sit within 100 feet of each other. So, these family-owned businesses actually meet the people who are making the ultimate decision on their loans. It’s a lot easier for us to drive two miles up the street, look at a project say ‘OK, we get it,’ than it is for decision-makers who may be sitting in Charlotte or Buffalo or somewhere else out of town. That makes a huge difference. We also don’t have a lot of account officer turnover. Consistency is key.

Q: What should people know about the products and services you offer family-owned businesses?
As a bank our size, we can provide all of the products and services and technology that is equal to banks that are significantly larger than us. In most instances, our products and services are better because we can upgrade them quickly. We provide treasury management products, online banking, remote deposit captures, sweep accounts, letters of credit and derivatives. At the
same time, I am not trying to sell you things that you don’t necessarily need, like insurance policies or wealth management. We are 100% focused on commercial banking and supporting the goals of family-owned businesses.


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A Q&A with Howard Bank's Director of Marketing on their Recent Rebranding Efforts

  • 07 Aug 2020
  • Posted by ccrossen

Months after completing its merger in 2018 with 1st Mariner Bank, Howard Bank’s marketing team embarked on a major initiative to rebrand the entire company. The rebrand was meant to deliver a consistent and relevant brand experience no matter when, where, or how Howard engaged with customers or colleagues. The team completely revamped the look and feel of the Howard Bank brand across all assets and mediums. It was an extensive undertaking, but it is paying off as the bank continues to grow and attract customers.

Erica Starr, Director of Marketing at Howard Bank, provides insight into the steps taken, challenges faced, and the results. Could your company benefit from a rebrand? Read more below.

Q: How did you determine Howard Bank was in need of a rebrand?
A: After merging with 1st Mariner in March of 2018, we felt like we might have a bit of an identity crisis. Howard Bank has always been focused on small business banking and traditionally didn’t put a lot of emphasis on branding and advertising, while 1st Mariner had been focused on personal banking and had spent over 20 years positioning themselves as Baltimore’s Community Bank. On top of that, we had two similar-sized companies coming together so we knew it was important for us to help foster a culture and brand that was something our colleagues at both companies could get behind and call their own. The merger also allowed Howard to expand our focus and physical reach while gaining the capital to support medium-sized business banking.  

Q: How did you decide when and what to change for the rebrand?
The rebrand was something we knew we would need to do, but we wanted to make sure the dust had settled, so to speak. We wanted to align our external branding with our internal culture but we didn’t want it to get lost in the mix. So that meant we needed time to figure out our internal culture. Our approach to the rebrand was “inside-out.” We didn’t really have a set list of things we wanted to change. We just felt like we needed to start looking inside to see what would resonate outwardly.

Q: What steps did you take for the “inside-out” approach?
A: We wanted our brand’s voice to be authentic - meaning no matter who, how, where, when, or why, our voice would be consistent. We also wanted to avoid the redundancies of other banks’ marketing efforts. With the “inside-out” approach, our first step was researching. We spent months confidentially interviewing and surveying employees from every department of the bank and the executive team, and even some of our own customers. Whatever we came up with needed to be genuine and authentic.                                                                                        

Q. What was the biggest challenge in making your advertising authentic?
A: We wanted to avoid being redundant at all costs. We wanted our ads to be fresh, positive, and tell a story. The biggest thing in advertising is convincing someone to buy your product and establish credibility. If potential buyers see the same photo of a product in five different brands, you begin to question what is legitimate. So, for us, it was all about avoiding redundancy and creating our own footprint in the mark. We are Howard Bank, we aren’t Wells Fargo or M&T, so we work hard to make our own images that reflect what we value at Howard Bank, which are businesses in Greater Baltimore and the people who live and work in these communities.

Q: Was it easy to rebrand the bank as a local institution versus a large regional bank?
A: It was definitely easier to rebrand ourselves as a local bank. We aren’t a “plug-and-play” bank, meaning that megabanks from other cities likely use a template to create ads that they can plug and play in markets across the country. There is often little feeling behind them, no real caring. It is based on completing a transaction and them moving on with business. In our case the framework of our business is built upon our Baltimore roots. We are local, which made it that much easier to tell a story we and our customers could believe in. We knew we had a good story to tell so we let it roll. It wasn’t forced like some of the ads we see running in the market from larger institutions.

Q: Did anything from the interviews or surveys surprise you?
We were pleasantly surprised to know what we thought of ourselves was consistent with the views of our customers. At the end of the day, we want to help our customers. As a local bank, we’re focused on supporting our communities. And that’s really what differentiates us from the other banks. We’re Invested, Insightful, Passionate, and Agile – because we’re a community bank. Those four differentiating factors have become our core values, which we lovingly refer to as our “Double-IPA”.

Q: Who was the creative genius to come up with the “Double-IPA” acronym, and what exactly do each of them mean?
 I actually came up with the acronym myself, but defining them was a joint effort between our marketing team and our rebranding partners over at Gigawatt Group. We don’t just work here, we’re from here, so we’re invested in helping our communities succeed. Being from here means we’re insightful – we don’t rely on algorithms to make decisions on the local market; we’ve got the local market knowledge right here in our backyards. And that makes us agile – we’re not hopping on planes, trains, or buses to make decisions. Our executives are at arms-length. And we’re passionate, simply because we know what we do matters. We want to be a place where we are making a difference. Whether we're making someone’s dreams come true, making their dollar stretch a bit further, or simply making their day a little brighter.

Q: What exactly ended up changing and why?
 Our name obviously didn’t change and that’s because our name is our legacy and holds sentimental value denoting our humble beginnings. Our logo remains the same with its red, yellow, and black color palette to represent Maryland, where we’re from. But pretty much everything else ended up changing! Our tagline “We care about here” points simply to our local dedication. Our mission and vision statements were adjusted to expand on the fact that we’re literally helping to fund people’s dreams and helping to build their legacies. Once we ironed those details out, we were ready to start getting into the visuals.

Q: Do you think being known as a local bank gives you an edge over more large scale national or global banks that have set up shop in the Baltimore area?
A: No question about it. I think being a local bank for sure gives us a competitive edge over large national or global banks that are in Baltimore. It’s got that home team-feel. We’re run by Baltimoreans, for Baltimoreans. Your banker at Howard could be your neighbor or a parent you’ll see on your kids’ back to school night. Our motto is “We care about here,” because we mean it. I just don’t think that a bank that has set up shop in countries across the world can have that same connection to the community.”

Q: How important was it to you to rebrand yourselves as a community bank that serves small businesses?
That is what we do, serve small and medium-sized businesses. We live, breathe, eat, and sleep small and medium-sized businesses. In the Baltimore market, there are thousands of small businesses. It is what makes Baltimore go. Being known as a bank that serves that market is critical. So, when we are contemplating rebranding, the small and mid-size business market was front and center.

Q: What was your biggest challenge throughout the entire process?
To be honest, we had the help of great partners. The Gigawatt Group really helped to guide us and helped harness the creative. I’m not really sure there’s been any challenge in the discovery portion. Although, we did try to capture footage by drone out on a customer’s tugboat in the bay during an Orioles game which turns out to cast a pretty wide “no-fly” zone – but we made it work. That was fun though! But in all seriousness, the entire process was smooth. We had so many customers willing to let us shoot footage of them and in their facilities (or on their tugboats), our colleagues were supportive and involved, and it was all happening right here, at home.

Q: Where do you go from here? How do you measure success?
Right now, we’re focused on helping our customers maintain their legacies during this difficult time. The pandemic has caused so much disruption and we’re dedicated to making sure our communities are equipped to bounce back stronger than ever.  In March of this year, we opened a new Bel Air branch that reflects our new look and we’re currently working to revamp the rest of our branch network later this year. Since launching our new brand we’re seeing success from everything we’ve done.  We’ve seen a lift in customer engagement, we’ve attracted some top-tier talent from some of the larger-name banks, and according to a recent market research analysis, we’re seeing an impressive lift in both aided and unaided market awareness. To top it off, Howard Bank recently received two MX (Marketing Excellence) Awards from the AMA Baltimore chapter for Best New Brand Identity Campaign of the Year and Runner-Up for Grand MX Campaign of the Year. We’ve been really thrilled with the results and are appreciative of the recognition from the AMA. 

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Operation: Shop Local

  • 06 Apr 2020
  • Posted by ccrossen

At Howard Bank, we care about here. That’s more than just our tagline; that’s our commitment. And it was made to the people, businesses, and communities we serve. We know how difficult this time is for everyone, especially for small business owners, so we wanted to find a way to help.

Together, with WBAL NewsRadio, 98 Rock, and WBAL-TV 11, we are proud to launch the Operation: Shop Local program. This program was put in place to help support the small business in the Baltimore region as they navigate these uncertain waters. Operation: Shop Local will allow local small business owners to submit direct links to their non-essential company’s website to purchase gift cards able to be redeemed at a later date.

If you know of someone who belongs on this list, please share this information with them. If you have a business that should be included, head over to this website to submit your information.


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We're Here To Help: A Message From Our CEO

  • 24 Mar 2020
  • Posted by Mary Ann Scully

Welp, it’s another beginning of another week. Except this work week looks distinctly unlike any other we’ve experienced. We know it is a difficult time for many and we’re committed to doing what’s right for you. Your health—physical and financial—is a top priority for us and informs all of our actions in these unprecedented times.

Each and every day, our team meets behind the scenes to discuss ways that we can make sure that you have access to our financial services, but more importantly to the insight and the advice that you need to get you through the upcoming days. While many things seem to have changed overnight in our world, some things stay the same. Our commitment to address each customer as the unique person and business that they are is one thing that has not changed in the last three weeks.

First and Foremost, Call Your Banker

While some banks have lists of accommodations that they are making for some clients, we are solely invested in this community and we know that a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work for many customers. With that in mind, the biggest piece of advice we can give you right now is what it has always been, to call your banker.  Whether it’s your Relationship Manager or local branch, we’re here to get you through this no matter what potential issues you’re facing. From Payment Modification Options, to helping you access your line of credit, to walking you through the details of the many current State and Federal Relief Programs, we are working with customers on these and other options. Let your banker help you cut through the noise and advise you on your best options.

Utilize Our Resource Center

To continuously keep you informed, we are actively updating the Coronavirus Resource Center located on our website. This includes information on the bank's safety measures, alternate banking tools, and additional public resources. Please use this to your advantage as we continue to get more information.

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National Entrepreneur's Day: A Q&A with Howard Bank's CEO, Mary Ann Scully

  • 18 Nov 2019
  • Posted by Mary Ann Scully

Mary Ann Scully

Q1: What made you decide to start a bank?
The decision to start a bank was in part opportunistic. I had chosen to leave a larger bank upon consolidation and had become firmly committed to the need for a local business focused bank to provide family-owned businesses in the region with a committed and experienced alternative to the growing number of financial institutions neither commercially focused nor headquartered close to their clients. Like all entrepreneurs, I combined a passion with a purpose at the time of a competitive opening in a market.

Q2: What was the hardest thing you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?  
A: My hardest experience as an entrepreneur was starting with nothing – no capital, no clients, no locations. It is a rush of reality that all formerly successful entrepreneurs inside a larger company experience when they leave that nest. It is a time of great uncertainty and significant risk. Asking others to join you on that early journey is an awesome responsibility.

Q3: What was the most rewarding thing you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?
A: The list is too long, but all the rewards for me revolve around three things: Creation - of the names, logos, products, and teams; Impact - making a difference for employees, customers, communities, and investors; Relevance - achieving sustainability.

Q4: What was the best piece of advice you ever got? The worst?
A: The best piece of advice I ever received was to go for it - believe. The worst piece of advice (which I did not take) was to lead with emotion rather than hard facts.

Q5: Looking back, what would you have changed on your road to success?
A: While my journey through entrepreneurship has brought many successes, it also had painful moments and failures. I am a firm believer that our path forward is completely dependent on the setbacks and failures. They allow us to be better risk-takers. They provide us with a roadmap of how to be better in general. And they make us much more empathetic along the way.

Q6: Why are entrepreneurs so important to our city/community?
A: Entrepreneurs are a major source of new ideas, whether that be products or delivery models; they are job-creators and seek out similarly innovative thinkers. They show the path to managing risk vs. reward at an exponential level. And because they are often so dependent on specific local or virtual communities, they focus on enriching those communities that are their lifeblood. They are sincerely invaluable.

Q7: Who are the types of individuals that should make up an entrepreneur’s sounding board?
A: It truly takes a village to sustainably launch a successful new business. In addition to traditional advisors, you need trustworthy accountants, attorneys, technology platforms. Every successful entrepreneur needs some devil’s advocates too; those who will honestly tell you what may not work so that you really can fix it even if it is not yet broken because at the end of the day, that’s what distinguishes entrepreneurs - they fix it even if it is NOT broken.

Q8: What advice would you give an upcoming entrepreneur today? Are there things a Baltimore entrepreneur should leverage that entrepreneurs in other markets don’t have the opportunity to leverage?
A: My best piece of advice for entrepreneurs is to leverage your connections. Baltimore is intensely relationship-oriented, from neighborhoods to school associations to grassroots organizations. Those relationships form the best kind of networks for capital raising, awareness raining, client introductions, advisory sounding boards. They provide a stronger basis of trust. This relationship orientation is one of the primary reasons why we initially looked north to Baltimore when we started Howard Bank.

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What is the Small Business Administration?

  • 06 Aug 2018
  • Posted by estarr

And what do small business owners need to know about the SBA

As a small business owner, you may be familiar with the Small Business Administration or SBA. Rosa Scharf is Howard Bank’s SBA Expert, and in this post, she talks about the SBA, its role in small business lending, and various SBA programs.

Why SBA?

The SBA is a government agency that was started in the late 1970’s to enable banks to make loans to businesses that would not otherwise be eligible for regular financing.

When a business owner applies for a loan, the banks typically look at things like historical cash flow to gauge the ability of the business to repay the loan requested. Banks will also look at the quality of the collateral supporting the loan.

Many smaller startup companies, as well as businesses that have been around a while but are more service in nature and don’t have collateral, have a harder time getting those loans. So, the SBA provides a guarantee on the loan, reducing the risk to the lender. The bank makes the loan to the borrower and then applies to the SBA for a guarantee of that debt. The SBA facilitates a loan product where a traditional bank might not be able to make that loan based on lack of history.

SBA-Preferred Lenders

As Rosa notes, “Technically, any bank can make an SBA loan if they follow the rules that the SBA dictates. Again, it’s a government program, so there are a lot of rules. And if they follow them, they can make a loan.”

“What I would recommend, and of course I have a bias because this is my area of expertise - is getting an expert on your side; make sure that the bank has some expertise. If a bank makes enough SBA loans and has a good track record with SBA, the bank can become a preferred lender.”

The SBA-preferred designation means that the SBA is comfortable with the bank, and the bank has enough experience to do a number of these loans, and it's a more streamlined process. The expertise is important; you want to make sure that the company has experience doing SBA lending because there a lot of rules and processes.

Howard Bank has been an SBA-preferred lender since 2005, and that experience and expertise is what streamlines the process and makes it less painful.

Rosa points out, "There are a thousand rules. I can't change any of the rules, but my expertise and experience navigating the process can make it a little less painful. So early on in a loan process, the borrower(s) can know what's expected of them. And I make sure it's eligible and that the SBA can do it.”

Specific SBA Programs

The names of SBA programs, like 7A and 504, refer to the specific government statute. There are a lot of SBA programs and a lot of different purposes for those programs. It’s not the responsibility of the borrower approaching the lender to know what these programs are – it is the bank’s responsibility to have the experience and expertise and understand which loan program is best for the particular business.

Here Rosa outlines a few examples of situations for specific SBA programs.

Law Practice

Let's say you're purchasing a practice, you are an existing accountant or attorney, and there’s a business/practice and you want to buy it. There’s no real collateral, so we know we want to go SBA. That kind of transaction is probably going to end up in the 7A loan program where you get a 75% guarantee of that amount. Depending on the collateral, that loan can go up to 10 years, which is an advantage because that can yield lower payments up front.

Commercial Real Estate

Let's say you're buying commercial real estate to move your business; you’ve decided you’ve paid rent long enough and you are going to buy a building and move your business in there, and own and operate the real estate. That would be more of a 504 loan program, which is a real estate driven loan program supported by the SBA. Those loans can be up to 20 years.

As you can see, there are SBA products and solutions for longer term financing needs. In addition, a borrower can couple two different loans to meet the business’s needs. For example, if you are a contractor and you’ve gotten an SBA loan to buy the business, but you need short term working capital because you’ve got a contract but it’s not going to get paid for 30 days, and you have people and equipment on site, a line of credit is going to support that business. SBA Express offers a line of credit with a 50% guarantee.

Graduating from SBA

Another interesting point regarding SBA loans is that businesses can “graduate” from an SBA program. The SBA helps businesses get started, and in two or three years, that loan could be refinanced or restructured. This happens frequently; the nationwide statistic under SBA, and business loans in general, is that the average life span is four years.

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