From the workers you employ to the products and services you provide, as a small business owner you play an integral role in your community and help make up the backbone of the economy. And it’s highly likely you’ve felt the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic in one way or another.
Maybe you’ve had to find creative ways to adjust to social distancing, have had to furlough employees or have had to shut down temporarily. There’s no doubt you’ve felt the upheaval, but the bright spot is that your resolve has brought you through the toughest of times. If you’re a small business owner still trying to figure out how to pivot during this economic upheaval, read on for details in this small business survival guide about the resources available to you, strategies for moving forward and inspiration from other small business owners who have experienced the same challenges.
FINANCIAL RESOURCES AND LOAN OPTIONS
One bright spot is that federal, state and local governments, as well as community organizations, private corporations and foundations have provided some type of assistance for small business owners — and every little bit of financial aid can have a bearing on a business’ future.
Small businesses comprise 99.9% of all U.S. businesses.
What to Know If You Got a PPP Loan
If you were among the estimated 5 million small business owners who applied for a loan under the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), then you may be wondering what’s next.
Under the PPP, which was part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) that Congress passed in late March, small businesses had until August 8 to apply for aid — some or all of which can be forgiven if certain guidelines are followed. If you were successful in receiving funds, you may be wondering how to help ensure you receive as much loan forgiveness as possible. According to the law (which the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020 updated in June), to enjoy full forgiveness borrowers generally must:
- Spend 60 percent of their loan funds on payroll costs.
- Use the remaining 40 percent for other forgivable expenses including interest on certain secured business-related loans, rent and utilities.
- Have spent the funds 24 weeks after the origination of the loan (or until December 31, 2020, whichever is earlier).
- Have kept the same number of employees on their payroll, or rehired them or replacements by December 31, 2020. (If fewer numbers of employees are kept on or rehired, the amount of the loan that can be forgiven will be reduced.)
Any amount of the loan that is not forgiven is charged 1 percent interest and must be paid back within five years (loans made before June 5 must be paid back within two years unless the lender and borrower agree to extend it to five years).
Some observers expect the government to extend the PPP program, but so far Congress has failed to reach consensus on what provisions should be included. Proposed legislation includes the $3 trillion HEROES Act proposal from the House of Representatives, which includes provisions to further relax PPP loan forgiveness rules; the Prioritized Paycheck Protection Program Act, or P4 Act, which would extend the PPP loan period to the end of the year; and the HEALS Act, which includes a second forgivable loan for businesses that can show at least a 50 percent reduction in gross revenues during the pandemic, among other provisions.
PPP funds helped save between 1.4 million and 3.2 million jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.
Other Loan Options
If you weren’t able to secure a PPP loan, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers other loan options that generally have more flexible spending provisions and longer terms. These include a traditional 7(a) loan and Express Bridge loans. In addition, the agency’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Employee Retention Credit were expanded under the CARES Act.
- ECONOMIC INJURY DISASTER LOAN (EIDL)
The SBA’s EIDL program has long provided economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue. In response to the coronavirus, it relaxed some of its traditional stipulations, expanded the program, and streamlined the process. To qualify, your business must have fewer than 500 employees or meet the SBA’s size standards for certain industries. Generally, the maximum term is a 30-year loan and the maximum amount is $2 million; amounts over $200,000 require a personal guarantee.
- SBA 7(a)
The 7(a) loan program is the SBA's most common program for providing financial assistance to small businesses. The terms and conditions, such as the guaranty percentage and loan amount, may vary by the type of loan but can be used for a wide variety of purposes and have low interest rates. Loans over $25,000 will likely require collateral and may take more time to process than conventional loans. The maximum loan term is often 10 years.
In addition, the SBA Debt Relief program is automatically suspending payments for all current and new borrowers for a six-month period. This includes principal, interest and fees for the following: 7(a) loans, 504 loans (a different SBA loan program specifically for local economic development) and micro loans issued before September 27, 2020.
- SBA EXPRESS BRIDGE
Small businesses with a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender may be able to quickly receive funds to bridge the gap in its loss of revenue while applying for a direct SBA EIDL loan. The program originally provided loans of up to $25,000 to small businesses in communities suffering from disasters. On March 25, the agency expanded its program eligibility to small businesses across the country that have sustained financial loss because of COVID-19. These loans can be granted through March 13, 2021.
- CONVENTIONAL LOANS
Conventional bank loans are another option and generally carry fewer restrictions than most SBA loans. It can be more difficult to qualify, but if you do, the funding may come with fewer strings attached. However, rates are likely to be higher and you may have to put up collateral. If you’re not sure what type of loan would be the best fit for your situation, you can compare several on sites such as Fundera or Nav.
Finally, you may want to check out state, local and private organizations who are offering grants, microloans and other forms of financial aid for small business owners. Payroll and benefits services company Gusto has complied a blog of potential relief sources, which includes a regularly updated spreadsheet of programs across the country.
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Other Types of SBA Help
Beyond loans, the SBA also provides resources and advice that can help you explore other options. Rana Shanawani, the executive director of the Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship, one of the SBA’s official resource partners in Chatham, New Jersey, advises entrepreneurs to make the SBA website their first stop whenever they need help or information.
“The ‘Local Assistance’ link right at the top will quickly help you find an array of SBA-affiliated centers and resources, including trained counselors and available classes for all levels of owners,” she says. “All of us provide either free or almost-free services to small business owners — everything from a large range of educational classes to counseling to help with writing a business plan.”
Shanawani says that because of the SBA and other grants her organization receives, “we are able to hire really high-caliber experts as those costs are subsidized. We can save owners so much money. Eventually, they’ll need to hire a lawyer or an accountant, and we can provide referrals if needed. We are here to help small business owners in many different ways.”
Small businesses employ 58.9 million people, or 47.5% of the country’s total employee workforce.
SOURCES OF LIQUIDITY
Even if you did secure a loan, your business may still be in need of a bigger cash cushion. As a small business owner, you have several options you can explore — maybe even more than you think — even when income is uncertain. Here are some questions to ask yourself if you need to free up some cash.
Are there any bills you can put off? If you have bills that aren’t due immediately, say in 30 to 60 days, consider using all that time to pay it so that you have cash flow now. Be aware, however, that if you hoping to have a PPP loan forgiven, you generally must pay eligible expenses during the 24-week covered period, or by the next regular billing date after the covered period ends.
Do you have a line of credit you can tap? An existing line of credit or margin account could help provide access to cash quickly. And, based on today’s low interest rates, it’s likely you could borrow at a low cost. With a margin account, just be careful about borrowing he maximum permitted, as the stocks that secure the loan could lose value.
Do you have life insurance cash value you can borrow against? If you have a permanent life insurance policy that has accumulated cash value, in many cases you can borrow against the cash value to access cash quickly.
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Are there any employee costs you can lower? While you may be trying to avoid layoffs, there are other options to consider to help reduce employee overhead. Furloughs, work-sharing programs, temporary salary cuts, or cutting back on certain benefits (such as suspending 401(k) matches or gym reimbursements) can help free up cash when every penny counts.
Can you use credit cards to help cover bills? As a last resort, you could use your credit cards to help pay for necessities. It’s not ideal because credit cards tend to carry high interest rates. However, you may be able to use credit card points or take advantage of a 0 percent promotional offer. But be careful to check for balance transfer fees and make sure you can always make the minimum payments required or else your interest rate could shoot up. You may find that you have no choice but to carry a balance during this time, but if you monitor your balances closely and make a solid plan to pay down your debt as soon as possible, this could be an option to keep your business afloat.
Can you team up with fellow business owners to share costs? If you know some like-minded business owners in your area, you may be able to help each other during this difficult time by pooling your resources on rent and employee benefits. You may also be able to boost your purchasing power and reap cost-saving benefits if you can join a trade association or a buying group.
Working With an Advisor
You may also want to work with a financial advisor to help you pinpoint your options for liquidity or see how you can free up cash, whether it’s to cover personal or business costs.
For instance, clients of financial advisor Marie O’Keefe checked in with her to assess their permanent life insurance cash value in case they needed to borrow against it for quick cash or to get a line of credit. She also suggests that clients “create a budget and track where they are spending their money. These days, they may realize they have $200 to $300 of extra money because they are spending less on eating out or traveling. Saving this now could have a real impact later.”
EXPLORING NEW OPPORTUNITIES
Since March, you’ve probably heard the word "pivot" used a lot to describe businesses that have managed to survive — and in some cases, thrive — during the pandemic.
Whether it was making new products or figuring out how to adjust to doing business virtually, here are a few ways businesses across the country have pivoted.
Being flexible with your product and service offerings. Figuring out how to adjust what you sell in the COVID-19 era was a matter of survival — especially in industries that relied on face-to-face contact, such as the restaurant business. For instance, True Flavors, a catering and events business in San Antonio, Texas, used its kitchen to create Heat & Eat offerings with servings for two to four people, which could be picked up curbside or via contactless delivery. The owners also applied for a market license and transformed their restaurant into a market where they could sell prepared meals and alcohol to go.
CLIENT SPOTLIGHT: These two restaurant owners, who previously relied on sit-down service, adapted their menus for takeout and delivery.
Expanding into new product lines. Is there a new product or service that you’re capable of offering now that is in demand in today’s coronavirus economy? To many small-business owners’ surprise, PPE was something they could actually provide based on the capabilities and supplies they had on hand. Woodchuck USA, a specialty gifts manufacturer in Minneapolis, for instance, used its facilities to make face shields for hospital workers. Dimo’s Pizza in Chicago also began making face shields for frontline health workers by molding acrylic in its pizza ovens.
Expanding virtual capabilities. A robust online presence is a must-have in the era of social distancing. Fitness studios, for instance, have had to figure out how to deliver classes and personal training without having to see their clients in person. Fitness chain US Fitness held classes over Facebook Live as well as via a new on-demand online platform. CrossFit One Shot, a CrossFit studio in Greenbay, Wisconsin, began holding classes via Zoom and let its members take equipment home. The Hot Room, a yoga studio in Indianapolis, flipped to virtual classes quickly and beefed up its online boutique.
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Creating a Robust Web Presence
If you’re a newbie to building an online presence for your business, there are a few key things to know first.
Don’t ignore search. Since 90 percent of people use Google, that’s a good place to start. Open a Google My Business account to create an information box for your business that will show up when people search for you on Google. You'll be able to include photographs, locations, hours and a brief description of your organization.
Make sure your e-commerce is up to snuff. If you do plan to sell products or services online, you will likely need to use an e-commerce platform and enlist a tech-savvy professional to set it up for you and incorporate into your website seamlessly.
Acquire a unique domain name. This is a must. Choose a domain that reflects your brand and, to look professional, make sure your email address includes your business domain versus, say, gmail.com.
“Social media has been our strength, especially during this time. I hired someone who took our Instagram page and private Facebook group to the next level. That’s where I release a lot of our video content for members.” —Will Hamilton, owner, Synergy Fitness
Be active on social media. Social media is a great way to communicate with customers, especially if you had to close but are planning to reopen. It can also be used for special promotions. Lorenzi Estate Vineyards in California, for instance, started hosting virtual wine club tastings with special events such as “Happy Hours with the Winemaker” on its social platforms as a way to engage customers. Meanwhile, Synergy Fitness in Georgia beefed up its social media presence via videos on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube that helped them keep up with the members in their fitness community.
CONVERSATION STARTERS WITH AN ADVISOR
Navigating your way through this unprecedented time can feel overwhelming. If you’re looking for help figuring out what’s next for your business, here are a few things you can talk through with a financial advisor.
1. What options do I have for accessing cash if I need to cover costs quickly?
2. How can I help lower overhead costs in the short-term?
3. How can I protect my employees’ pay when revenue becomes unpredictable?
4. How can I protect my income during these uncertain times?
5. What types of loans and financing am I eligible for?
6. Looking ahead, how can I prepare my business for growth opportunities?