There will come a time in the life of every small business when you’ll need more liquid assets than you have on hand. You can plan your business strategy down to the smallest detail, create and maintain a budget that you treat like your bible, grow in a responsible and conservative way and still end up short on cash. Sometimes the market changes, or a new competitor shows up that pushes the pace. Sometimes you have unexpectedly massive success with a new product and can’t deliver on the huge influx of orders. Regardless of the reasons, you’ll have to find a way to get the money that you need. And many entrepreneurs continue on the road to success by taking out a small business loan. Banks love to work with entrepreneurs, but they won’t just give their money away. Here are some of the do’s and don’ts of small business loans you may want to consider before applying.

First of all, do consider your personal credit carefully before heading to the bank. While the loan officer will primarily judge the history of your business and your plan for the future, if your credit is shoddy that will raise a red flag. In many cases the small business owner has to use his own credit to guarantee the loan. So even if the lending institution signs off on your business as a solid investment option, if your personal finances aren’t up to snuff it could throw off the negotiations.

You must also take the time to organize your business affairs. The day to day of your company may be barely controlled chaos, but you never want it to come off that way. Growing pains are quite common, but what’s going to really get the lending officer’s attention is a package that’s tight and organized, and a company with a clear vision for success. Part of this will come down to understanding what about your company is an asset, but there are also several elements that must be in place. Come prepared with three full years of tax returns at the least, lists of all of your accounts receivable, accounts payable, your assets and insurance, and detailed cash flow records.

For the last ‘do’, make sure you involve your legal team before signing off on any loan. You may understand the general terms, but chances are there will be all sorts of fine print that’s almost unrecognizable to you. Remember, there are far-reaching ramifications to taking out any sort of loan, and you never want these things to be a surprise. Your attorney will take you through exactly what you’re agreeing to, and any potential consequences you should consider before signing off on the loan.

Don’t forget that your personal presentation is crucial to your success in the credit world. The loan officer will certainly consider all of your documents, but if he doesn’t feel you are knowledgeable and on the level, he’ll probably pass. Press your suit, get a haircut and shine your shoes. Come in with a professional approach, and practice your pitch with others to get feedback before your meeting. You’ll only have that one opportunity to make a first impression, and the goal is to come off as someone who is a small loan away from greater success.

Finally, don’t approach the process looking for the most money your business can possibly qualify for. If you pose your request this way, the loan officer will know you haven’t thought this thing through. You should have a clear and specific ‘ask’, and it should be laid out in detail how that money will be used. These aren’t payday loans, where you’re looking for everything you can possibly get. The money should already be earmarked in your mind, and more would just be taking on unnecessary debt. Keep it specific and clear, and you might just walk out the door with a deal.