Monday, 8 June 2020

Managing a small business takes on new dimensions when you're sheltering in place, especially if you're home with children, a spouse or others who share your roof.

Mix in unforeseen financial blows from the pandemic shutdown, and you have the recipe for a stressful combination of home/work life.

Even with the chaos and uncertainty, you can take steps to keep on track if you're managing business from your kitchen table or bedroom during the crisis. Here are a few ideas.

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Did your business have to close its doors suddenly, leading to a drastic drop in revenue? Depending on where you are and the type of business you own, you may be operating at a fraction of your usual capacity, if you're able to open at all, and facing a dire cash crunch. You're not alone.

While the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), overseen by the Small Business Administration, has captured the spotlight, a variety of government and private sector organizations offer aid to qualifying small businesses hit by the shutdown.

PPP loans arose from a massive law to support businesses, workers and consumers during the pandemic; lenders have approved billions of dollars in relief. If you've already received a PPP loan, be aware that you must apply for loan forgiveness and that cutting full-time employee hours or wages could lower the forgiven amount unless they're restored by June 30.

The broader measure, the CARES Act, offers other avenues of relief for small business owners as well, in part by allowing the self-employed to seek unemployment payments for the time being—a departure from normal policies. It also includes a payroll retention tax credit for qualifying businesses.

The SBA has long offered loans and grants through various programs, and is providing automatic debt relief for its regular loans during the pandemic. The agency, swamped with applications for its Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, also said recently it would accept new requests for EIDL loans and advances on a limited basis from agricultural businesses.

Depending on your location, you may find regional resources to help sustain your small business as well, through state and local governments or private sector organizations offering grants or disaster-relief loans.

The nonprofit Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund, for example, was launched to offer forgivable loans to state businesses with three to 30 employees disrupted by the pandemic. The nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance recently posted a long list with federal, state and local programs assisting small businesses.

Besides loans or grants, you're likely to find that creditors and utilities will work with you to defer payments and eliminate late fees to help rein in your expenses.

Homeowners with federally backed mortgages, and many with conventional home loans, can request forbearance, a temporary break in monthly payments. Those with student debt can seek similar relief, and renters may find a temporary break for payments under state or federal laws, or a combination.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers online resources to help individuals and small businesses manage their money during the crisis.

Note: You may have already received a coronavirus economic impact payment, available to most Americans under the CARES Act. If it hasn't appeared in your bank account automatically, check on its status at the Internal Revenue Service website.

Communicate

It's important to keep yourself and your business in front of customers, employees and vendors, whether you reach out through email, phone, social media, video chats or an old-fashioned flyer on your shop's front door. Let them know your status and what level of service they can expect.

If you're offering limited service or you've pivoted to a new product or delivery method, let your customers and the broader public know. If you have a Google My Business profile, Google suggests updating it with your new hours, or a temporary closure alert, along with other pertinent information. And be sure to tell customers how best to stay in touch and updated.

Support your employees

It's important to show support and concern for your staff and direct them to any resources available to help them through the shutdown. You may not be able to keep them on full-time or at all right now, but you can show that you value them and understand their situation.

Follow a routine

It's easy to lose track of the hours and days during quarantine and to become distracted by stir-crazy, Zoom-classing children, stressed spouses and your own restlessness. Following healthy work and personal routines can help.

Find opportunities to exercise, read, meditate, play games, call friends or take on other enjoyable activities while also managing a reasonable work schedule—even if work doesn't take up the usually 8- or 12-hour day.

However possible, set regular start and stop times for work and stick to them. And if you do use the dining table as a desk, find an alternative space designated for work, preferably in a room where your family isn't hanging out.

Whatever your circumstances now, remember that many small business owners are dealing with new realities and that help is available.


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