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Coronavirus Update

Keep Covid Stress Out of Your Customer Communication

By May Habib

communicationPandemic stress-related toxic communication can creep into your customer communication. Don’t let it! Set the example, nip toxicity in the bud, protect your team from incoming, build in rest, celebrate the good stuff, and codify that positive voice in your company style guide.
As we think about healthy communication at work, we’re reminded of the saga of Away. The direct-to-consumer luggage company experienced such massive growth that it couldn’t keep up with demand. As customer requests piled up despite the customer service team’s 16-hour workdays and canceled vacations, executives blamed the team for not keeping up. They reportedly became so toxic that the team virtually imploded, service quality plummeted, and the story unfolded in an unflattering media exposé.

This moment finds us with a different kind of anxiety. Pandemic-related stress is at an all-time high, and people are bringing it to work. It can show up in ugly ways, too. In a survey we conducted of 1,000 professionals, 38 percent said they experienced toxic workplace communication since shelter-in-place began. Yikes!

What about when that nastiness starts to seep into your interactions with customers? Even if underneath the surface, unhealthy customer communication can damage your satisfaction scores…and your brand.

Here are 12 steps you can take to help your customer success team stay positive and put all kinds of good vibes out into the universe.

1. Acknowledge the stress

Your customer success team are people, too. They’re dealing with the strain of a deadly pandemic, economic anxiety, and lots of “togetherness” with family members at home. Even if you can’t fix these problems, simply acknowledging the stress they’re under goes a long way for their state of mind.

2. Care for your employees

Maybe it’s quaran-tinis every other Friday. Or a well-timed “wellness day.” Or a cupcake delivery to employees’ homes. Whatever your flavor, invest in ways to remind your employees that you value and care about them. In turn, they’ll value and care for your customers.

3. Be ground zero

As a leader in your company, you set the tone. Consider yourself “ground zero” for the kind of communication you want your customers to experience. The empathetic, upbeat, and kind words and messages you model to employees are the same your employees will use with customers.

4. Know what it sounds like

Know what unhealthy and toxic communication sounds like. Unhealthy communication includes words and turns of phrase that are exclusive, condescending, or passive-aggressive and toxic communication includes comments and writing that are sexually-explicit or suggestive, bullying, racist, or discriminatory.

5. Tool for it

There’s a raft of new tools out there to measure customer interactions, including Gong, Chorus, and Writer. Outfit your teams so you can address unhealthy or toxic communication. But give them a heads up so they know you’re doing it, and approach the oversight with sensitivity.

6. Nip it in the bud

As soon as you see or hear ugliness, call it out immediately. Approach the person in private. They may not be aware of their behavior, so be specific and help them understand the customer impact. Later, anonymize the example and discuss the topic more broadly with the team.

7. Enforce the rules

If the toxic communication persists, take action. Taking a hard line right away sends a clear message and ensures compliance from the rest of the team. Let them know that, even if they are on the receiving end of ugliness, it needs to stop with them – no exceptions.

8. Protect them from toxicity

Any customer-facing team knows what incoming feels like. Equip yours with the appropriate responses and escalation processes to remove themselves from an abusive situation. They need to feel empowered to set boundaries and know that you have their back.

9. Create a pressure valve

Acknowledge the absurd and lower the team’s stress. Bill Gates describes a “Mail Merge couch” from Microsoft’s early days. Team members sat (or laid) on it while taking support calls related to the product’s frustratingly complex feature. The inside joke helped them blow off steam and laugh at their situation.

10. Let them rest

As we learned from Away’s cautionary tale, the stress of being on the front lines is exacerbated by lack of sleep. Prepare and plan for people to get the rest and downtime they need, even if you have to bring in temporary reinforcements or other teams need to chip in.

11. Recognize key moments

Just as you suss out the nastiness, find and recognize the good stuff. Amplify and celebrate examples – large and small – of the behavior you want. Especially call out positive responses in the face of negativity. Create a “good karma” award and make a big hoopla out of it.

12. Make it stick

Make healthy communication a thing in your company culture. Get on the same page with the other executives about the voice, tone, and behavior norms you want to promote internally and externally. Then, make them stick by codifying them in your employee guidelines and brand style guide.

May Habib is co-founder and CEO of Writer, an AI writing assistant for teams. 

Cupcake stock photo by Marharyta Kovalenko/Shutterstock

The Pandemic & Recession Could Cause a Huge Tax Debt Spike in 2021

By Mike Brown

pandemic

Here’s How Small Business Owners Can Prepare

The coronavirus pandemic triggered a global economic crisis, and placed the United States in an official recession as of June 2020.

Hardest hit by this pandemic recession have been American workers; in April 2020, the U.S. unemployment rate skyrocketed to a staggering 14.7% before eventually dropping to a still-high 6.7% in November 2020.

These were the highest unemployment rates since the Great Recession in 2009 and even mirrored jobless rates not seen since the Great Depression in the early 20th century.

After the devastation to the American worker, the next hardest economic blow caused by the coronavirus pandemic and recession was dealt to small business owners.

As of September 2020, the U.S. has lost nearly 100,000 small businesses because of this unprecedented and harrowing pandemic.

For the small businesses that are still alive today, the going has been anything but easy this last year, and they are still not out of the woods yet.

Further, these small businesses face another looming challenge born out of the coronavirus pandemic and recession.

Tax debt

There are a few reasons U.S. small businesses might be facing a tax debt crisis when 2020 taxes are due in April 2021.

First and foremost, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that countless small businesses took on to survive the coronavirus pandemic and recession could lead to a surprisingly high tax bill when tax season rolls around this year.

On the federal level, these forgivable loans and the expenses they covered can be written off as tax deductions.

But on the state level, the tax code is not as uniform, and many small business owners will have to pay taxes on their PPP loan, which have gone upwards of $1 million, even if it is forgiven.

A second reason small business owners should be concerned about tax debt in 2021 simply pertains to the drastic declines in revenue that so many of these small businesses have dealt with throughout the pandemic.

With people strapped for cash and stuck in doors, small businesses have struggled mightily to generate revenue, and they very likely will not have the funds to meet their 2020 tax commitment this April.

The third cause for tax debt concern may not apply to as many small business owners, but certainly will for a good number of them. To keep their small businesses afloat, some small business owners had to do things like liquidate their stock holdings or draw from their own personal retirement accounts to meet payroll and keep the doors to their small businesses open.

LendEDU conducted a survey in December that found 78% of adult Americans are concerned about tax debt in 2021 due to drawing from a retirement account to stay afloat during the pandemic.

The LendEDU study on tax debt also found 72% of Americans are worried about tax debt in 2021 after selling stock holdings to bolster their finances during this trying time.

In summation, small business owners are set to face a challenging tax season in 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic and recession and the actions it forced them to take.

But, there are ways to prepare for what figures to be a harsh tax season when 2020 taxes are due.

First, small business owners need to get an early head start on preparing their 2020 taxes for this April. Seek out professional tax advice now and make them aware of anything financial moves you made during the pandemic to keep your business alive.

If you reach out today, you won’t be rushing to figure out your 2020 taxes right before the filing deadline, which is when tax professionals will become super busy and may not have time for you.

Second, if you do anticipate you are heading towards tax debt because of the pandemic or eventually wind up with tax debt, the worst thing you can do is ignore it and ignore the IRS.

Reach out to see if you can settle your tax debt with the IRS through something like an offer in compromise or installment agreement.

Or, you could employ a tax relief service if you do not want to deal with the IRS directly, and want a team of experts by your side when figuring out how to handle your tax debt.

The coronavirus pandemic and recession has been unimaginably harsh on people and businesses, and the negative impacts it will have on tax season this year is not yet fully known, but figures to be harsh as well.

By getting ahead of the competition and preparing yourself early for the 2021 tax season, you can keep your small business up and running.

In his role at LendEDU, Mike Brown uses data, usually from surveys and publicly-available resources, to identify emerging personal finance trends and tell unique stories. Mike’s work, featured in major outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, provides consumers with a personal finance measuring stick and can help them make informed finance decisions.

CTA: LendEDU helps people compare and learn about student loans, personal loans, mortgages, home equity loans, credit cards, insurance, small business loans, and more. At LendEDU, our goal is to help consumers and business owners make educated decisions when it comes to financial products and strategies without having to do all the legwork themselves.

You can follow LendEDU on Facebook @LendEDU & on Twitter @goLendEDU.

Tax debt stock photo by Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

How to Talk to an Audience With Pandemic Fatigue

By Dana Herrapandemic

Empathetic marketing is the key to reaching customers sick of pandemic messaging

“Pandemic” was the word of the year for 2020.

And frankly, people are tired of it.

We may be done with COVID-19, but COVID’s not done with us. As small businesses look ahead to their 2021 content plans, one question rises to the fore:

How do you market during a pandemic to an audience that’s tired of hearing about the pandemic?

Customers Are Still Feeling The Pain

COVID-19 rocked the business world. It disrupted supply chains, decimated foot traffic, and decreased income for millions of people.

The virus’ toll on both lives and livelihoods dominated headlines. Misinformation and high-profile debates about COVID’s severity contributed to information overload. A recent study found that COVID-19 news, real or fake, led to months of fear and uncertainty.

People became emotionally exhausted. Depression rates skyrocketed.

This leaves businesses in a delicate situation. Talk about the pandemic too much and people will zone out or switch off. Don’t mention it at all and risk appearing insensitive to people who are suffering.

People don’t want to talk about the pandemic, but they don’t want to ignore it either.

Drop The Phony Empathy

Many of COVID’s impacts on business will fade with time. The shift to empathetic marketing is likely to be one that remains. With so many people feeling afraid and vulnerable, it is vital for brands to come across as human.

The brands that will win in 2021 will be the ones that connect with their customers on an emotional level. Lip-service sentiments like “we’re all in this together” felt phony last spring and are downright stale now. Be real. Look at your brand’s personality and the messages your customers need to hear and connect the dots.

Your audience wants your understanding, not your platitudes.

Verizon was a great example of this early in the pandemic. In April 2020, with lockdowns in full swing, the telecom company offered free access to e-learning resources. This went beyond recognizing the pain of parents thrust into the role of homeschool teachers. Verizon acknowledged its customers’ needs and offered help.

Empathy is listening and responding from a place of compassion. For businesses, that means understanding what your customers are going through. How has the virus affected them, if at all? Examine your analytics to understand your audience’s journey. Reference what you know about your audience against your content and SEO strategy.

When the virus pushed the holiday shopping season out of malls and onto laptops, Tommy Hilfiger recognized that for many of its customers, Christmas shopping isn’t just about buying gifts – it’s a beloved experience. In response, the brand launched an interactive online store that went far beyond the typical ecommerce site.

Navigation inspired by choose-your-own-adventure games led visitors through the virtual departments. As they explored the store, shoppers discovered digital versions of the little bonuses one would expect in a store at Christmas, like hot chocolate recipes and tutorials for DIY gift wrap.

Regularly take the pulse of your customers’ priorities. As interest in the pandemic wanes, so should your COVID-focused content. But you can’t go back to the same messaging you used in 2019. The world is not the same. Even as the virus fades to the background, your content should still be sensitive to its long-term effects on your audience.

Help Customers Move On

Audiences will respond positively to companies that help them move past the pandemic without pretending it never happened.

In May, as KFC began reopening restaurants in the U.K., it launched a humorous social media and ad campaign. The ads reassured customers that they no longer had to figure out how to recreate the Colonel’s fried chicken at home. At a time when hopeful, inspirational pandemic ads were still the norm, KFC reaffirmed its tongue-in-cheek brand voice even as it acknowledged the lockdown.

Focus your 2021 strategy on being customer-centric. Recognize where your customers are in their lives and point the way forward. If you strayed from your brand voice during the pandemic, now is the time to reassert it in a sensitive, human-first way.

Dana Herra is a copywriter and strategic content marketer. Her company, Herra Communications, specializes in helping small businesses express the unique edge that sets them apart. Before turning to marketing, Dana spent 10 years as an award-winning journalist. Connect with her on Twitter @DanaHerra. Learn more at her website, danaherra.com.

Pandemic stock photo by Tomas Ragina/Shutterstock

The Small Business Lessons We’ll Take With Us Into 2021

By Jasen Stine

business

As we close the book on 2020, there are a lot of takeaways and lessons to be learned from this challengig year. But, there are also a lot of inspiring stories, especially within the small business community, to be proud of. All over the country, small businesses adapted to the pandemic and made appropriate shifts in business models, products, accessibility, and more to best meet their customers’ needs.

As we head into 2021 and look at the road to recovery, it is important to take these hardships with us, but also not forget about the millions of ways small business owners stepped up and adapted to new, constantly changing circumstances.

Intuit Quickbooks conducted a recent study on what’s next for small businesses, surveying current and future small business owners. The most promising statistic? Almost 1 in 3 (29%) small business owners surveyed said the current state of the economy has had a “positive” or “very positive” impact on their company’s innovation, demonstrating that small business owners are embracing the challenges of the year and are  confident in their products and services moving into 2021.

So, as we look head to the new year, it’s important to embrace new technologies and trends we predict to see in the next 12 months. Including:

  • Increase in online accommodations, with 28% of small businesses selling more products and services online this year.
  • Small businesses continue to adapt with changing environments, in fact 86% of small businesses that have developed new products and services this year have done so as a result of COVID-19.
  • Growing industries, as the fastest growing industries for small businesses over the next 12 months are predicted to be: accommodation and food services, arts and recreation, and retail.

It’s also essential to take advice and learnings from people who have been there. 69% of people who own a small business recommend writing a business plan. They also agree that the top priorities for small businesses they wished they invested in sooner include expense tracking, inventory, and invoicing. According to small business owners, the first thing new businesses should get help with is setting up financial systems correctly. This is a great opportunity to ask your tax and accounting professional about their advisory services offerings so you can work in tandem to set business goals and create a path to achieve them, on top of advice about the financials.

If this year has taught us anything, it’s that small businesses are resilient and can adapt to their environment to help benefit their customers and communities.

Jasen Stine has worked in the tax and accounting profession for more than 20 years, and is currently Intuit’s Tax & Accounting Education Leader, implementing strategy and education on the tax and accounting industries. He is a thought leader on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and recently worked on a team to implement natural language processing technology, currently patent pending, in educational programs.

Employee Engagement Solutions, Safety Signage and More Tools and Resources

By Rieva Lesonsky

business

COVID-19 Business Update

Tools & Resources

Safety Signage

As businesses reopen and businesses, there is now a heavy focus on safety, hygiene, and distancing protocols. A great way to deliver those messages is with eye-catching and affordable COVID-19 safety signage from Indiesigns.

The colorful, upbeat signage follows the latest safety regulations from the Centers for Disease Control and are designed by independent artists. They can be customized to include logos, company language and titles.

 

Two Employee Engagement Solutions

1—From Zenefits:

Zenefits, the HR, benefits and payroll platform, recently added to its product suite with the launch of People Hub and Employee Engagement Surveys. These powerful people-enablement tools offer enterprise-grade HR technology solutions built for SMBs.

The drastic changes in the world of work since March has put a spotlight on a company’s ability to understand the sentiment of its workforce and to effectively communicate with them. Under normal circumstances, employee engagement and workforce communication are tough challenges for SMBs. But effectively addressing these issues when employees are working from home and adhering to social distancing recommendations is seemingly impossible. It’s no surprise that a June 2020 Gallup poll showed the largest decline in U.S. employee engagement in the 20 years they have been tracking the metric.

The new tools help businesses centralize communications with a distributed workforce, easily gather and analyze employee sentiment, and support employee well-being. And they help level the playing field for small businesses via tools that were previously only available to large companies.

Small businesses can now access:

  • People Hub: People Hub is a company collaboration tool that helps organize and centralize HR activities. Employees and admins can efficiently communicate and collaborate directly from one system, which even sends push notifications to mobile. It’s easy to manage communications for key HR activities such as open enrollment, broadcast important company information and critical updates like new safety procedures or location openings/closings, and automate announcements for company milestones like new hire announcements, birthdays and anniversaries, holidays, and more.

Testament to the changing work landscape, some early users of the People Hub have used it to share information on new company processes around wearing masks and supporting customers as they reopen their businesses.

  • Employee Engagement Surveys: With the massive upheaval across work, home and family in 2020, understanding and adjusting for employee sentiment is crucial.

The engagement survey tool comes with a variety of preconfigured survey types to gauge worker satisfaction, collect a pulse check on employee net promoter score, or even conduct a full review of the employee engagement. The tool also helps easily visualize areas for improvement across departments, teams, locations, and more so employers can share results —and planned actions—with managers and employees while safeguarding worker anonymity and promoting inclusivity.

The new tools are now available to existing customers in the Zen HR package. A comprehensive suite of helpful tools for navigating a remote workforce, including COVID testing integrations, distributed compliance training and helpful COVID documentation, can be found here.

 

2—From Paycor

Human Capital Management (HCM) company Paycor recently launched Paycor Pulse, an employee engagement solution that utilizes Natural Language Processing (NLP Artificial Intelligence) to immediately turn written data into valuable insights around Employee Sentiment, enabling leaders to get ahead of potential problems like turnover and low morale and giving them the tools they need to navigate the new reality of work.

As COVID-19 continues to sweep the nation, there are new distractions, stressors and fears employees and employers are facing. This has also led to new concerns HR and business leaders are having to address surrounding the employee experience, engagement and workforce management. Today, it is critical for HR and business leaders to have a pulse on their workforce to understand the overall sentiment of their employees to plan and build a strategy that addresses their needs.

Occasional employee satisfaction surveys are lagging indicators of persistent concerns. According to a recent Gartner poll, only 16% of leaders are satisfied with the way they currently measure the employee experience. Antiquated processes like annual reviews can be long and cumbersome for the managers and employees and often times response quality can be low. To better understand the employee experience, it’s important to continuously gather employee-centric data that analyzes factors such as engagement levels, satisfaction with career/personal growth and relationships with management.

Paycor Pulse allows HR and business leaders to:

  • Build trust and action plans based on the employee sentiment
  • Analyze what employees are thinking and feeling in real time
  • Go beyond average employee engagement and help team members process their experiences
  • Build a comprehensive HR strategy that builds trust in leadership and drives business performance
  • Cultivates leaders who listen and promotes accountability
  • Allows leaders to make data-driven decisions so employees feel empowered and valued

Paycor Pulse is available for prospects and current clients. For more information, please click here.

 

Market Research Tool that Boosts Economic Recovery

Market research tool expert RavenCSI, has pledged to help organizations of any size, in any industry, anywhere to chart their course to economic recovery by offering its solution free of charge to the end of 2020.

The tool helps you find out how factors such as social distancing and travel may have impacted your markets. It uses drag and drop survey functionality to help you quickly design branded research questions to gauge market expectations.

Check out this video for more information.

 

Polls & Surveys

How Many Small Businesses Have Shuttered So Far?

At this point determining the breadth and depth of the COVID-19’s impact on small businesses continues to be a challenge. It’s particularly difficult to accurately gauge exactly how many small businesses have closed, because once they shut their doors for good, the owners can be hard to reach.

According to Alignable’s July State Of Small Business Report, in which small business owners self-reported the status of their own businesses, 16% haven’t reopened yet and 3% had closed for good. Based on these statistics alone, as many as 900,000 small businesses could have shuttered so far.

A recent Alignable Opinion Poll asked small business owners for their views on SMB closures. Specifically, Alignable asked: “In your estimation, what percentage of the local businesses in your industry have already permanently closed?”

The results were striking—the average estimate is that 15% of businesses have shuttered nationally. Results vary by state and industry, but the numbers are quite high nearly everywhere.

Here’s a snapshot of their perspectives on specific industries, with travel, gyms, entertainment, and bars/restaurants topping their list of categories that they believe are really hurting.

“Unfortunately, it’s no surprise to see many of these industries on this list,” says Eric Groves, Alignable’s CEO and cofounder. “But these estimates need to be a call to action for business owners, community leaders, and influencers in these industries. While consumer perceptions around personal safety will enable many of these industries to start down a path towards recovery, we’re also going to need a concerted effort to encourage a shift back to purchasing from local businesses for real recovery to begin.”

73% Of Small Businesses Call For Federal Funding Beyond PPP

With the threat of more business closures on the horizon, short-term relief provided by the PPP program, and the significant amount of time needed to change consumer perceptions, the focus may soon shift towards another round of financial relief.

In fact, in this poll, 40% of small business owners say they’ll be out of cash reserves in a month or less.

When asked if they believe the federal government needs to launch another major funding effort for small businesses, a whopping 73% of those polled say, “Yes.”

Many also note the crisis has continued longer than they originally anticipated, and resurgences have set them back. And 54% say their communities have experienced a new round of outbreaks.

 

Remote Work

JDP recently surveyed Americans who typically work in offices but are now working from home full-time to try and learn more about this pandemic-spurred era of remote work.

Findings 

  • 77% say they are working different hours from home than they would at the office. 66% say they are more likely to work nights and weekends than before
  • 67% say their productivity is the same or better when working from home, although 54% report more distractions working from home
  • 42% say they are working less than usual from home.; 33% report working more and 25% report working the same
  • Those who are working more say it’s hard to keep boundaries between work and home life as the main reason. Those working less report having less work to do
  • A whopping 92% of respondents say they believe their boss trusts them working from home…and 86% say they’ve taken advantage of their freedom while working remotely.

Take a look at the full report.

 

The Impact of “Paused” Travel on Small Businesses

SAP Concur recently released new survey data revealing 90% of U.S. SMB travelers believe their companies will experience negative outcomes due to pausing travel during COVID-19.

Key findings 

  • Globally, SMB travelers recognize that travel is important to success, and while they expect to experience a mix of emotions during their next trip, many are excited to get back on the road (31%). U.S. SMB travelers are the most likely to be excited (45%), followed by those from France (34%) and the UK (32%).
  • However, 72% of U.S. SMB travelers plan to take action if businesses do not implement long-term safety measures. In fact, 23% will look for a new position, within or outside the company, that does not require travel.
  • U.S. SMB travelers feel they’d most benefit from trainings about protecting their health and safety (55%), maintaining healthy habits (47%), and travel preparation best practices (26%).
  • 98% of U.S.SMB travel managers were not fully prepared to manage travel during COVID-19.
    • When compared to U.S. enterprise travel managers, they were less prepared to get travelers home safely while following quarantine rules (64% versus 49%), provide safety guidelines (64% versus 38%), and determine if it is safe to travel in the absence of government guidelines (60% versus 32%).
  • The good news is SMB travel managers are quickly catching up.
    • More U.S. SMB travel managers report their companies will implement mandatory travel safety trainings (60% versus 53%), mandatory personal health screenings for travelers (55% versus 36%) and required pre-trip approvals for business trips (53% versus 36%) in the near term.
  • 98% of U.S. SMB travel managers expect their companies to implement long-term safety measures for traveling employees, including easier access to personal protective equipment like gloves or masks (49%), travel safety information (49%), and tighter monitoring of individual itineraries (49%).

Also, to help travelers make informed decisions for their trips, TripIt (an SAP Concur travel app) has launched several new features and resources with health and safety in mind:

  • Nearby Places: Search feature that makes it easy to find places close to travelers’ hotel, rental car, activity, or restaurant. Starting this month, the tool will also make it easy to find nearby hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies.
  • Traveler Resource Center: Online resource that provides public health and safety advisories, booking cancellation and travel policies, and more to help travelers make the best decisions for their next trips.
  • Neighborhood Safety Scores: Safety feature that scores neighborhoods from 1 to 100, representing low to high risk, including a Health and Medical score that factors in COVID-19 data.

You can find more information in this blog post.

 

Customer Experience Drives Brand Loyalty Through the Pandemic

Prior to COVID-19, 54% of consumers say they had a better experience shopping online; however, after enduring nearly three months of COVID-19, 76% of consumers moved to online shopping for items they would typically buy in store. And, 57% of those consumers plan to continue shopping online after the pandemic ends, signaling a potential for permanent change in consumer shopping behaviors. All this according to Sitel Group’s COVID-19: the CX Impact study, which analyzes consumer sentiment toward customer experiences, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shopping is not the only area where consumers have increased their desire for digital customer experience (CX) throughout the pandemic. When experiencing difficulty with a product or service, 35% of consumers would now rather find the solution themselves online than reach out to customer service, up 7% since early March. Plus, 43% of both Gen Zers and  millennials are nearly twice as likely as baby boomers (27%) to want to find the solution themselves. Additionally, 14% of consumers feel a digital company representative (e.g. chatbot, IVR, etc.) would best understand their request and assist them properly during the COVID-19 pandemic, up 6% since early March, proving tech is key to CX through a crisis.

“The last three months have challenged consumers and brands like never before, and we are all faced with understanding a new reality: How do we shift from adapting to the crisis to driving a success strategy in this future world?” says Martin Wilkinson-Brown, Global CMO at Sitel Group. “In this quickly changing world, customer experience is truly one of the only ways for brands to stay competitive within their industries and now more than ever it’s critical to meet consumers where they want to interact with brands. Our COVID-19: the CX Impact study reveals that brands have a short window of time to construct their plan for the future, and consumers are rewarding innovation over passive action.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the CX industry on its head leaving brands questioning how to move forward and struggling to keep up with consumer demand. While consumers have been more forgiving of brands during the pandemic—only 14% have submitted a complaint, down 18% since early March. And when asked how long it took for the company to get back to them and resolve the issue, 22% never had their issue resolved, up 6% since early March.

Additional findings:

Consumers are Sensitive to the Current Climate When Leaving Negative Reviews

  • Just 10% consumers have left a negative review for a brand/company during the COVID-19 pandemic, a dramatic decrease of 30% since early March
  • 63% of consumers spoke with a customer service representative (e.g., a human being or digital representative) about the problem they were having before leaving a negative review
  • 37% of consumers left a negative review during the pandemic because the product/service didn’t meet their expectations
  • 43% consumers would stop doing business with a company during the COVID-19 pandemic if they received poor customer experience, down 30% since early March

Consumers Appreciate the Need to Implement Policies That Negatively Impact Their CX

  • 36% view brands more positively because of policies the brand implemented (e.g., longer shipping times, limited hours of operation, etc.) due to COVID-19 that may negatively impact their experience
  • 49% have not changed their opinion of brands for implementing these policies, and just 9% view brands more negatively for implementing these policies

Retail Has Been Hit Hard by the Pandemic and Economic Downturn, But Consumers Applaud Their Innovation to Create Better Experiences

  • 27% think the retail industry has been the most innovative when it comes to using emerging technology to provide positive customer experiences, up 12% since early March, compared to:
  • Banking and financial services (16%), down 11% since early March; telecommunications (15%), down 4% since early March; travel and hospitality (8%), down 6% since early March; and insurance (3%), no change since early March
  • The majority of consumers think that order online, pick-up curbside (48%) has most improved their customer experience with brands/companies during the pandemic, compared to virtual experiences (13%), membership freezes or discounts (13%) or corporate social responsibility initiatives (6%).

To learn more about Sitel Group’s COVID-19: the CX Impact study and view additional findings, download the full white paper and supporting reports here.

 

Americans are Shopping Small

Seven in 10 Americans have experienced a wake-up call to avoid big corporations and shop small during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research from OnePoll for Canva.

The study asked Americans how they’ve handled the coronavirus’s impact on their local communities and how they’re supporting each other in this difficult time.

Findings

  • 71% of those surveyed say they’re now shifting their shopping habits to supporting small and local businesses rather than big corporations or chains
  • 79% says the COVID-19 pandemic has changed their perspective on just how important small businesses are to their communities

During their time sheltering in place, respondents shared they’ve supported an average of 10 small businesses

  • 43% say they’ve mostly been supporting local businesses by ordering take-out and delivery
  • Over half of those surveyed also say they’re tipping their delivery drivers more than they normally would—up to 28% of their bill
  • 40% say they’ve been supporting their local businesses by shopping online
  • 38% have been donating money
  • 30% are writing online reviews and sharing their local businesses’ social media posts to support them during this time.

Despite their individual support of local businesses, 74% of those polled are worried their favorite local spot may not financially survive the pandemic. And perhaps because of this worry, 77% say they plan on supporting more local businesses once things return to normal.

“Recent months have stressed the importance of acting with kindness and compassion – especially when it comes to supporting our local communities in a time where small businesses are struggling to break even and keep their employees,” says Canva’s Trends and Data Analytics Lead, Dr. Tim O’Keefe.

For most (58%) the business they can’t wait to visit again after the pandemic is their local coffee shop. Another 51% can’t wait to book a reservation at their favorite restaurant and 31% can’t wait to sit down and have a drink at their local bar.

Other top stops after COVID-19 included paying a visit to the hair salon, nail salon and local clothing store or boutique.

O’Keefe adds, “Around the world, we’re seeing millions of small businesses quickly adapt so they can continue operations. We’ve also seen a surge in the use of Canva’s free small business templates, with the creation of takeout menus growing by 66% as restaurants pivot to offering delivery-only, new marketing material to promote how distilleries are now producing hand sanitizer, and the adoption of personalized Zoom background designs for personal trainers running virtual classes. It’s incredibly inspiring to see this positive trend towards innovation, determination and camaraderie across the globe.”

Top ways to support local businesses during COVID-19

Ordering delivery/take-out – 43%
Shop online – 39%
Donating money – 38%
Buying gift cards – 34%
Writing reviews online – 31%
Sharing their social media posts – 30%
Posting about them on my social media – 26%

Top businesses Americans are most excited to visit again after COVID-19

Coffee shop/cafe – 58%
Restaurant – 51%
Hair salon – 37%
Gym/fitness studio – 36%
Local clothing store/boutique – 33%
Bar – 31%
Nail salon – 23%

 

Are Gen Z & Millennials Able to Save Money?

Travis Credit Union recently surveyed Millennials and Gen Zers to learn more about their money-saving habits and how Covid-19 and the looming recession has impacted their savings.

Findings

  • 39% of young Americans have dipped into their savings during Covid-19, using on average 1/3 of their total savings
  • The top reasons for using savings during Covid-19:
  1. Food (70%)
  2. Utilities (48%)
  3. Mortgage or rent payments (41%)
  4. Credit card debt (25%)
  5. Student loans (22%)
  6. Car payments(22%)
  7. Health care costs (19%)
  • 73% of respondents say Covid-19 will shape their financial habits moving forward.
  • Young Americans plan to improve their financial habits by:
  1. Curbing their spending (45%)
  2. Contributing more to savings (43%)
  3. Building an emergency fund (39%)
  4. Contributing more to 401K (28%)

Check out the full report.

 

Small Businesses Relying on Personal Funds During Pandemic

Over one-third of small business decision makers (35%) say they or the business owners have dipped into their personal funds to keep their businesses afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new CreditCards.com report. That includes 24% who say they or the owners used a personal credit card and 21% who say they or the owners tapped a personal savings account since March (10% did both).

In addition, 30% of small businesses received Paycheck Protection Program loans from the Small Business Administration, 24% accessed cash from a business savings account, 20% used a business credit card for financing and 9% took out another type of loan. That means 70% of small businesses depended on at least one of the aforementioned funding sources over the past five months.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to guarantee their continued survival—53% of small business decision makers say they’ll require an increase in sales and/or some manner of assistance to remain in business through the end of the year. Examples include increased sales (32%), government assistance (19%), a loan (13%) and something else (8%).

To meet their growth targets, 64% of small business decision makers say they’ll need at least one of those factors. In this case, 44% are banking on increased sales, 15% are looking for more government assistance, 10% are hoping for a loan and 9% said something else.

“It’s such a tough time for small businesses,” laments Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “It’s commendable how far these dedicated business owners are willing to go in search of their dreams. I worry, however, about the debt they’re taking on, and how they’re potentially putting their personal finances at risk.”

The survey found 70% of small businesses have small business credit cards. Among them, the most popular benefit is rewards (45%, including 28% who said cash back and 18% who said travel), followed by convenience (23%) and a low interest rate (10%).

 

Get informed—Advice

The ‘Musts’ To Make Meetings Safer in the Age Of COVID-19

Guest post by Dr. Richard Arriviello, Chief Medical Officer, InHouse Physicians

Corporate meetings and industry events, so much a part of the American business ecosystem, remain on hold, have been postponed, or have been cancelled altogether. When they will happen again is anybody’s guess.

COVID-19’s spikes in many states have prompted pauses and rollbacks to business re-openings and put large gatherings farther into the future. But at the same time, the uncertainty gives event planners and business leaders more time to learn how they can protect and monitor the health of large numbers of people when it is deemed safer to hold such events.

By nature, travel and mass gatherings at conference centers or hotels are high-risk for getting sick. The ultra-contagious coronavirus, resulting in a world-wide pandemic that now finds the U.S. as the epicenter, continually reminds us that there is no definitive playbook to combat it. And there is a palpable anxiety and outright fear people have now, and will continue to have, until an effective vaccine is approved.

So, whenever meetings finally resume, planners will need to have a plan in place for protecting their attendees, reducing the risk of infection spread, and providing every stakeholder with the resources they need without fearing for their health. Essentially, we need to re-establish health security in the meetings industry and doing so means applying three main principles from which a sound plan can be formed.

Prevention. There are certain things you must do to prevent illness at a meeting. They include seating configurations that allow for social distancing, sending out communications about all the protocols, encouraging frequent breaks for hand washing, and disinfecting surfaces more frequently in heavy-traffic rooms. Hotel staff should guarantee the cleaning of each meeting room between each meeting, including the cleaning of all chair/table surfaces and spraying the room before the next group arrives. Also, you need the ability to provide PPE or work with a vendor to procure masks and gloves for those who will still be on edge about attending.

Detection. If you’re a forward-thinking company that’s going to hold meetings this fall or in the winter of 2021, you will have to deal with sick attendees. They may have the seasonal flu, a cold, or they may have COVID-19, and you need to plan accordingly. It starts with giving temperature checks at the beginning of each day, temperature checks at general sessions, and temperature checks when people are registering at the conference.

If there are people at the meeting showing flu-like symptoms, it’s a must to find out whether they have COVID-19 and providing access to rapid COVID-19 testing. The testing doesn’t necessarily have to be on site; if not, find a local resource to do the testing.

Response. If some attendees are sick, meeting organizers need to know how they will handle that. It’s advisable to come up with a strong sick-attendee policy that’s enforceable and that can be monitored. That means if one is sick, they don’t attend the meeting, or if at the meeting they must go back to their room. If testing is positive for COVID, they have to be quarantined. Who did they come into close contact with while at the meeting? Those people, too, will need to be tested.

Remember, communication is extraordinarily important at a large meeting – now more than ever. You may want to have somebody dedicated to that role, putting informative and honest content together. Attendees must be told the facts, such as what the COVID situation is at that time in the U.S. and in the city where the meeting is held. Give people the opportunity to ask questions and address them. Conference planners are not medical experts, so it’s helpful to guide attendees to appropriate websites that can update them on the virus and safety precautions.

What the meetings industry needs to start accepting is that pandemics now happen more frequently – we’ve had two in the first two decades of the 21st century. It’s an industry always vulnerable to illness. Therefore, the industry should adhere to the principles above and develop consistent strategies to reduce that vulnerability, and in future pandemics we won’t have such a decimation as we’ve seen with the industry in the past few months. It will take an industry-wide effort of getting leaders to work together and create standards.

How Long til “Normalcy” Returns?, The Impact of PPP, Challenges of the Lockdown

By Rieva Lesonsky

business

Coronavirus Business Update

Programs

Micro-Grants for Women of Color Small Business Owners

Women on the Rise NY, Inc. dba HerSuiteSpot in partnership with the Yva Jourdan Foundation, Inc. have provided micro-grants to women of color entrepreneurs since 2017 as a way to assist them in starting or growing a business.

Now they’re helping the HerSuiteSpot community with a micro-grant fund called HerRise Micro-Grant. HerRise Micro-Grants will award 20 cash grants at $500 each to qualifying women of color owned small businesses experiencing financial hardships due to COVID-19 in a three round micro-grant giving event.

Applications are open through August 31, 2020. See the website for a full list of eligibility criteria and more details on the application process.

The 7th Annual Women on the Rise Forum & Expo is now going virtual and is scheduled for 10/10/20.

The Yva Jourdan Foundation is seeking to raise funds for the micro-grants totaling $50,000. For donations and sponsorship please contact Marsha Guerrier.

 

Tools & Resources

Check out the Small Business Booster Kit from AdRoll. It’s full of free tools, resources and content.

 

Reports, Polls & Surveys

BizBuySell Insight Report

Small business transactions dropped 39% in the 2nd quarter of 2020 according to BizBuySell’s Insight Reportthe largest year-over-year decline since the Great Recession, when transactions dropped 50% in the 2nd quarter of 2009.

According to the Report, “The second quarter of 2020 began with government mandated shutdowns postponing deals as owners focused on maintaining operations while buyers waited for the dust to settle. Lack of clarity over which businesses were ‘essential’ versus which were required to close and for how long made for an especially challenging market.”

During the first week of July, BizBuySell surveyed thousands of small business owners and buyers to learn how the pandemic had impacted their business or buying decisions. According to the survey, 20% of business owners closed their doors as a result of the pandemic and another 32% suspended partial operations.

Fearing the worst, many buyers paused their search. Others who wanted to move forward couldn’t because lenders froze loan approvals. BizBuySell says, “This dynamic combined with dried up cash flow for impacted businesses complicated short-term exit plans and resulted in some owners pulling their businesses off the market.”

Jay Offerdahl, President of Charlotte based Viking Mergers & Acquisitions, described the situation as a “giant pause”, with fear of the unknown paralyzing all parties. “Buyers and lenders didn’t want to close, while sellers would panic at any hesitancy and immediately want to find another buyer,” says Offerdahl.

By July 71% of the surveyed owners who were forced to close have resumed operations. BizBuySell says, “Entrepreneurs are pivoting, adapting, and seeking opportunity amidst the disruption brought on by the pandemic, and as a result, acquisitions are steadily bouncing back from April lows.”

After a 51% year-over-year decrease in April transactions, consecutive 12-point gains in May and June shrank the deficit to 39% and 27% respectively. Over the same period, the number of buyers searching and inquiring about businesses on BizBuySell recovered then eclipsed pre-pandemic levels.

“The panic changed toward the end of May. At that point, we understood what we were dealing with, and the appropriate way to view financials in light of it,” says Offerdahl. “Demand recovered, listings started to return, and deals were happening again.”

There’s a ton of great info in this report. You can read the whole report here.

 

For Many Businesses Normalcy is a Ways Off

More than half of business leaders (53%) expect their companies to return to normal in the next 12 months, according to JPMorgan Chase’s Business Leaders Outlook Pulse Survey. They remain hopeful even though most (83%) are running at a reduced capacity, 68% are confident their businesses will thrive and only 2% are concerned their businesses may not survive.

Looking ahead to the next six months, 56% are optimistic about their companies, but confidence dwindles on broader levels. They’re optimistic about their local economies (33%) and the national economy (35%). But their confidence in the global economy is considerably lower at 17%.

According to the survey, as a result of this year’s disruptions, these are the top five actions business leaders are taking:

  • Conserving capital for unforeseen needs:87% of business leaders have already built up their cash reserves or plan to do so in the next three months. Not surprisingly, 71% have either reduced their spending on capital expenditures or are planning to do so.
  • Learning from the crisis:With continued uncertainty around economic conditions and a potential second wave of COVID-19, 82% have already prepared or are planning to prepare for a similar event in the future.
  • Managing business finances digitally:59% have either already increased or plan to increase their use of digital banking and treasury management tools to manage cash flow, send and receive payments, and streamline operations.
  • Implementing permanent changes to operating models:As a result of turning to remote working solutions, 56% have already made permanent changes to their operating models or plan to do so in the next three months.
  • Shifting the business online:54% have also shifted more of their operating models to be online or plan to do so, as a result of pandemic-related closures and shifting consumer habits.

While many business leaders are cautiously optimistic about the future, they’re faced with the realities of an unpredictable operating environment. Their top three challenges are:

  • Uncertain economic conditions:70% of business leasers cited economic uncertainty—both domestically and globally—as the leading challenge facing their business operations.
  • Revenue and sales growth:59% of business leaders are concerned about growing sales, though with certain industries seeing an uptick in demand, 47% reported that they’re expecting an increase in revenue and sales within the next six months.
  • Shifting consumer habits due to COVID-19:The pandemic saw more consumers turning to e-commerce technology for purchasing, in addition to spending more conservatively overall. Changing consumer habits is a leading concern for 33% of business leaders.

Businesses should keep the following top-of-mind when navigating the rest of 2020:

  • Harness the power of workplace technology.COVID-19 has accelerated the evolution of remote working, and now is the time for businesses to implement digital tools to enhance productivity. Learn more here.
  • Enhance digital security protocols.Business email compromise (BEC) is among the most serious threats that face businesses—particularly in times of crisis. Learn how to prevent BEC and other types of fraud here.
  • Proactively prepare for future disruption.Recent events have reinforced that businesses across industries and of all sizes should have solid business resiliency plans in place before crises happen. Learn more here.

Read more about the 2020 Business Leaders Outlook Pulse Survey.

 

State of Small Business

Alignable’s State of Small Business Report for July was released earlier this month.

Here are a few highlights:
National Fear Of Re-Closing Up 41%:  The fear of needing to re-close again due to outbreaks has skyrocketed to 41%, up from 17% in May to 24% in late June. And while that fear is higher in FL & TX, those small business owners are even more worried about customers being too afraid to return.

Impending July Cash Crunch: Though fears about re-closing and apprehensive customers are pervasive, the No. 1 worry among SMBs is running out of cash.

  • 43% of PPP loan recipients say they’re almost out of money.
  • Worse yet, a whopping 69% of small businesses that never got federal funding say their cash reserves could be gone by July’s end.
  • For many minorities, those numbers are even higher.

Hiring’s Up, But Revenues Grow More Slowly

  • 77% of small business staffers are back on the payroll (up 19% from May). That’s a great sign.
  • But 49% of the owners say they have less than half of the revenue they had prior to the pandemic.

Those are just a few insights shared in the July report. Read the rest here.

 

Top 50 Cities Seeing the Most E-Commerce Adoption

Square recently released the Rise of eCommerce report, exploring how sellers in cities large and small embraced e-commerce in an effort to continue serving their customers in recent months. The report lists the top 50 cities that saw the largest percentage increase in new ecommerce sellers, includes insights from businesses on the front lines of this transition, and shares predictions about the road ahead from Square’s head of eCommerce, David Rusenko. The key takeaway—e-commerce is here to stay.

To see which cities made the list (the #1 city surprised me), and learn more about how online selling is helping sellers of all sizes adapt to  COVID-19, click here.

 

Impact of PPP

Gusto released an initial impact of PPP on small business in America (the analyzes hiring trends through mid-June).

Key Report Findings from Gusto’s PPP Report:

  • Hiring rates are ramping up: Hiring and rehiring rates in late April through early June were nearly twice as high for companies that reported receiving PPP loans compared to those that did not (34.2% versus 18.4% hired at least one employee during this period).
  • Bridging the gap: Federal loan programs helped small businesses with their April and May hiring efforts, but not enough to make up for the deep job cuts they made in March. Businesses that reported receiving a PPP loan were more than twice as likely (+139%) to rehire at least one employee from the last week of April through mid-May than businesses that did not. However, these companies were also still 65% more likely to terminate at least one employee during that same period.
  • The first cut is the deepest: Businesses that received PPP loans were those that made the deepest job cuts before the CARES Act passed in late March ‘20. Despite higher rehiring rates for employees that were terminated between the onset of the COVID crisis and the beginning of PPP loan payouts, the percentage of employees that were out of work is still higher for PPP-receiving companies (86.9% of employees were still employed as of mid-May versus 89.6% for companies that did not report receiving a PPP loan).

Summary of Report: In their analysis of the report Gusto says that PPP aid has helped to provide stabilization from the initial free fall in March, with strong increases in hiring and rehiring beginning in the second half of April.

But the report also shows PPP aid has not yet been enough to create a return to pre-COVID-19 employment levels. New legislation passed by Congress extends the timeline and eases restrictions on how funds are used, which may help to speed up initial recovery efforts.

Even with these changes, small businesses remain in a race against the clock to set up shop, rehire employees, and take care of fixed costs beyond payroll. And they still must navigate varying timelines for full reopening. In addition, most of the businesses that received PPP funding will have spent their PPP funds within the next few weeks while many of these businesses are still only able to partially operate.

Other recent Gusto data of interest:

  • Wages are being cut at a high rate. According to specific data they shared with the Washington Post, (see this article on wage cuts): “Pay and hours have been cut in nearly every sector, according to payroll processor Gusto, but white-collar industries such as finance, tech and law have seen things turn south most rapidly….Both small and large companies have been cutting pay. In data shared with The Post, Gusto found almost a third of small businesses had cut some workers’ pay or hours by at least 10 percent in May. That includes 9.5 percent that reduced pay for at least one employee, and 22 percent that cut hours.”

 

Effects of Lockdown

Tech.co surveyed small businesses about how they’ve managed during the lockdown. As the initially started to ease they were interested in investigating the challenges small businesses have faced due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Findings:

  • 80% of small business owners said Covid-19 has had a negative impact on their business, yet 55% are feeling very positive for the future
  • 100% of respondents have been using lockdown to build their businesses, with the majority focusing on marketing, connecting with customers, and upskilling.
  • 76% have upskilled during the lockdown—with SEO, social media, learning a new language, and data analytics as the most common new skills to learn.

The businesses surveyed were from a mixture of industries, but the most common sectors were B2B services (28%), beauty, health & wellbeing (18%), retail (18%), software/ tech (7%), and travel (5%).

Challenges faced

The most common challenges to businesses were fewer sales (54%), followed by having to reschedule product launches and events (54%), struggling to pay staff and business costs (18%), and affecting investment opportunities (18%).

Business activities

All respondents surveyed say they had used their time under lockdown productively to grow their business.

Most have focused on what they can offer online, and building up their digital marketing strategies, with creating new content (88%) and online offers (60%), holding or attending online events (60%), connecting with customers (57%), and upskilling (55%) as the most common things to do over lockdown.

Some had positive outcomes as a result of COVID-19, including an increase in online sales, having more time to focus on marketing, growth in their mailing list, learning new things, new product launches, and getting to know their customers better.

The most common new skills for people to develop were learning SEO (25%), social media (13%), learning a new language (3.2%), data skills (3.2%), and PR (3.2%).

Using technology 

Technology has played a crucial role in business success over this time. Zoom, WhatsApp, and email were the most common ways to communicate with staff, and social media marketing, email marketing, web conferencing, and having an online website or store were the most beneficial forms of technology. The majority have used lockdown to update their website, with 60% tweaking their current site and 25% building a new one.

For advice from some business owners, see Advice section below.

 

Financial Consequences for Businesses Suffering COVID-19 Related Data Breaches 

Since the onset of COVID-19, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, the IC3, reported a significant uptick in cybercrime targeted at individuals, businesses and government agencies. To better understand consumer sentiment around data security amid the pandemic, PCI Pal®, the global provider of secure payment solutions, recently conducted a survey of North American consumers. The research found that a staggering 64% of Americans and 68% of Canadians would avoid buying from a company that had suffered a COVID-19 related data breach for up to several years. Another 17% of Americans and 24% of Canadians said they would never return to the business.

“Cybercriminals are shamelessly opportunistic and growing alarmingly sophisticated. Capitalizing on the remote working situation and growing consumer fears around the pandemic, hackers are working around the clock to steal data for profit. With North American consumers rightfully holding businesses accountable for lax data security practices, businesses must meet the highest compliance and security standards if they want to build and maintain customer loyalty,” says Geoff Forsyth, Chief Information Security Officer, PCI Pal.

Surprisingly, only 38% of Americans and 40% of Canadians expressed more concern about companies handling their personal data securely since COVID-19. And 57% of Americans and 56% of Canadians report having the same level of concern around data security as they did before the pandemic hit. With the Identity Theft Resource Center reporting a 17% spike in data breaches in 2019 from 2018, these figures suggest that North American consumers are experiencing data breach fatigue.

When it comes to shopping with businesses operating remotely as a result of COVID-19, 76% of Americans and 83% of Canadians expressed concerns around sharing payment details or conducting financial transactions. As COVID-19 related scams proliferate, these figures suggest that businesses must be vigilant in protecting consumer data, in particular, bank account details and credit card numbers—further evidenced by data from Experian which found that 31% of data breach victims have their identity stolen.

“As organizations continue to adapt to the changing business and threat landscape, it’ll be crucial to prioritize data security,” says Forsyth. “This will include adjusting business models to meet the highest standards of security and compliance across all customer engagement channels.”

 

Are You Future Ready?

While the COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous effect on companies globally, today’s leading businesses (of all sizes) are adaptable and people and purpose focused, according to a major new study from Vodafone Business. The Future Ready Report identifies the attributes of the most resilient ‘future ready’ organizations and their responses to common business challenges before, during and beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

For example, while nearly half of all businesses studied report profits are down now compared to last year, 30% of “future ready” businesses report an increase.

“Future ready” businesses (FRBs) can be identified by six unifying characteristics, including adaptability, an openness to technology, and clear transformation goals. The report also found:

  • Employees have taken center stage, particularly for FRBs:
    • 44% of all businesses now prioritize employee wellness and mental health, up 10 percentage points since before Covid-19, but for FRBs this is 77%.
    • 90% of FRBs reported supporting their employees further during the pandemic.
  • Societal attitudes and consumer expectations have changed, and businesses have moved to focus on ethical behaviors or to find a purpose beyond their core offering:
    • During COVID-19, 81% of organizations reported taking some form of action to support those outside their business, compared to 94% of FRBs.

As businesses continue to adapt to new challenges, Vodafone Business also recently launched V-Hub, a resource service for SMEs looking to digitalize, to support small and medium businesses as they rebuild. The service offers SMEs access to articles, guides and live help covering topics such as website construction, cyber security, remote working and digital marketing.

You can read the full report here.

 

Consumers Upbeat About Travel Post COVID-19

Flywire recently released new research showing very strong consumer demand for travel post coronavirus crisis. The interactive report, Bouncing Back: Consumer Views on Traveling Againis based on an independent survey of adult leisure travelers from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Japan. The research looks at the impact of the coronavirus crisis on consumer travel plans and their expectations of travel providers to encourage more travel.

Few industries have been hurt by the coronavirus crisis as much as travel. Worldwide GDP loss could be as much as $2.7 trillion in 2020 according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. Direct travel spending in the U.S. alone is expected to decline by $519 billion.

Despite a bleak financial outlook, travelers are optimistic about the industry, according to Flywire’s new survey. This suggests a resurgence of the industry when travel options return; 93% of respondents are confident the industry will still be here after the pandemic is over and 69% plan to travel again when it does. For 74%, just thinking of traveling again while they are self-isolating is keeping them going.

Additional findings from the report include:

Consumers are ready to spend on travel again. Over half of the travelers surveyed say they will spend the same on travel for the remainder of this year/next year as they did last year, while one in five will increase their budget. 55% plan to stay in their own country for their first trips. The types of vacations planned include the beach (38%), visiting family and friends (36%) and city vacations (23%).

Adventure travelers are looking for more adventure. Of those consumers who have traveled for adventure in the past 12 months, nearly half say their first trip will be another adventure experience. Specific preferences vary widely—from exotic (13%), camping (13%), hiking (11%) and general adventure (7%) to skiing (4%), safari (3%) and biking (1%).

The payment experience matters to consumers. 88% of those surveyed say ease of payment is important to their overall travel experience with almost half (48%) saying it is very important. 66% said that the payment experience impacts their choice of travel agent or tour operator. This suggests that ensuring a seamless payment experience can directly impact revenue for travel agents and operators as they try to bounce back.

Travel correlates closely to well-being. 73% of travelers across all countries had a negative feeling as a result of not being able to travel, and 70% say not traveling means they are not able to make new and/or special memories. Being stuck at home is taking an emotional toll. Over one-third (35%) of consumers surveyed say not traveling now makes them feel sad and/or depressed while one-quarter said it makes them feel isolated and/or anxious.

On the positive side, over four in five (82%) say traveling is a way to calm their soul and 72% say the opportunity to travel again gives them something to look forward to.

Consumers are pleased with the travel industry’s response, but they also expect more.
Overall, consumers feel the industry has responded well with 77% saying the industry is doing a great job considering the circumstances. On the flip side, 88% of those surveyed say the travel industry needs to be more flexible in dealing with changes and cancellations. Hotels received the highest grades for their response while cruises and airlines were viewed as the least responsive.

 

How Tech Leaders are Handling Leadership and Influence

Americans are now spending an additional 30% of their day online, according to a study from Search Engine Land, (up from 25% of their day in 2019, per Pew) and CEOs need to adapt to reach them,.

Sutherlandgold tracked 10 influential CEOs from Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list to see how they went about raising their visibility and engaging their digital audiences (both before and after the pandemic).

Here are 5 major insights:

  • Event cancelations hit CEOs hard: They found 7 of the 10 leaders shared their thought leadership primarily by speaking at events. Once the pandemic hit, 50% of the CEOs tracked embraced virtual events but did not significantly increase the visibility of their original thinking via byline articles, blog posts, videos, or podcasts.
  • Twitter was immediately leveraged: As soon as the pandemic was announced, 70% of the 10 high growth CEOs with Twitter accounts increased both their follower count and added to their total number of tweets. Having an active social media presence is an invaluable advantage in times of crisis. Leaders who transparently and consistently communicate the state of their business are able to build trust, loyalty, and visibility for their employees and brand.
  • Yet LinkedIn was forgotten: Surprisingly, only 2 out of the 10 CEOs tracked contributed articles or engaged audiences via LinkedIn. This is an open opportunity, as LinkedIn is the #1 professional network for B2B companies, and approximately 80% of the 100+ CEOs surveyed preferred LinkedIn for engagement and reaching investors.
  • Social media? CEOs do it themselves: Engagement on social media is mission-critical to CEOs at startup companies. More than 80% of CEOs from their online survey say they manage their own social media presence, while 18% say an employee or outside agency manages their social media engagement.

 

Get informed—Read it!

Will Americans Sue Small Businesses if Exposed to COVID-19?

A Yahoo-Finance Harris poll from Yahoo Finance shows less than a third of Americans say they would sue a business if they were exposed to COVID-19 while visiting the establishment, according to a new Yahoo Finance-Harris poll.

Almost one-third (30%) of those surveyed earlier this month say they would be likely to sue the business—18% say they’d be “somewhat likely” and 12% of people say they would be “very likely” to file a lawsuit. And 70% of respondents said they would not be likely to sue.

Americans are a little more likely to sue their employers: 34% of respondents say they would be likely to sue their employer if they were exposed to COVID-19 at work.

Read the report.

 

Battle Over Vacation Time

The Wall Street Journal covered the current battle between employers who want their employees to take their vacation time and workers who don’t want to take the time since they can’t really go anywhere.

Zenefits vacation data used in the report—it showed requests from 3,000 companies for vacation in April and May were significantly down compared to the same period last year—63,000, compared to 120,000 in 2019.

 

The Future of Sales and AI

A few stats from the Selling Forward: The Future of Sales & Marketing Research Report  were interesting:

  • 84% of respondents feel that teams are as productive or even more productive when selling remotely as they were in the office
  • 22% report there will “never be a complete return to in-office working”
  • More than 75% feel optimistic about their economic outlook in the future
  • 70% expect a rebound in 2020 or have not taken any hit to their revenue

Read the report from ringDNA.

 

What Gen Z Expects from Business During the Coronavirus Pandemic

There are a lot of reports worth reading from The Ambassadors Company, including one about what Gen Z wants from businesses in the age of COVID-19.

 

Get informed—Advice

Hotel Industry Releases Top 5 Requirements to Travel Safely

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) today released the “Safe Stay Guest Checklist” for guests on how to travel safely while also creating a standardized safety experience nationwide. This checklist is part of AHLA’s Safe Stay guidelines, an industry-wide, enhanced set of health and safety protocols designed to provide a safe and clean environment for all hotel guests and employees.

The Safe Stay Guest Checklist includes:

  • Require face coverings in all indoor public spaces and practice social distancing in all common areas.
  • Choose contactless options, where available, including online reservations, check-ins, and payments.
  • Consider daily room cleaning, only if necessary. Ask the hotel about your options.
  • Request contactless room service delivery.
  • Refrain from traveling if you have, or recently had, any symptoms of COVID-19 or contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19.

To further expand the hotel industry’s Safe Stay initiative, AHLA also recently launched COVID-19 Precautions for Hotels, an online course developed in partnership with the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute(AHLEI) to help hotels train their staffs on the enhanced safety and cleanliness guidelines.

 

Advice for Small Businesses

In the Tech.co report mentioned above, many small business owners offered advice to other entrepreneurs. Check it out below:

Pivot and prioritize: Prioritizing what you are good at and knowing what works was mentioned by several respondents:

Joseph Hagen, Streamline PR: “Use this time to sharpen what you are already good at”.

Dennis Vu, Ringblaze: “Focus on your strengths, don’t experiment too much. Do more of what works for you in terms of customer acquisition and focus on that. For us, that has been email marketing and we’ve doubled down on it.”

Sara Price, Coaching Service Actually: “Get the balance right between cutting costs and investing in the future. See this as an opportunity to engage, build trust and loyalty.”

Test new things & be agile: Others says now is the best time to be agile, and develop and test new things on your audience, particularly in a time of uncertainty.

Lottie Boreham, BOOST&Co: “Agility is key, things are moving so quickly all the time that you need to keep an eye on the news and trends and respond fast.”

Michaela Thomas, The Thomas Connection: “Take a step back and strategize, to use your time wisely. Test out new offers on your existing customer base, tweak them, and then do an imperfect first round.”

Kim Allcott, Allcott Associates LLP: “Look for opportunities that are unique to the situation. We’re making the most of the lockdown period by providing free building advice from the company partners”

Reach out and get to know your customers. The importance of knowing and understanding your customers and their needs cropped up a lot in the advice given by businesses. Use the  lockdown to really focus on building customer retention strategies.

Kim-Adele Platts, Executive Coaching: “It might seem counterintuitive but really lock down your niche, define your absolute ideal customer the one you are perfect for. Think about them and their current challenge. If you were in their shoes what would you be looking for right now? Then make sure your product or service clearly talks to that solution. We make the mistake of talking about us when we need to be talking about and to our customers.”

Jon Davis, Medius: “From a B2B perspective, I think it’s important to maintain contact with your customers and let them understand that you’re there to help and support them through this challenging period. So whether that’s producing helpful content to navigate the crisis, or reassuring clients services are at their disposal to help cope, it’s important to open dialogue early and to continue talking to your client.”

Calypso Rose, Indytute: “Talk and make connections with your customers. Find out what they want you to do to help their situation. Use this time to create content that is good for now and for the future as this period of time won’t be forever.”

Focus on Marketing. In times of economic downturns, companies often have to make cuts. Often, it’s the marketing and advertising budget that is cut. However, many respondents pointed to the continued importance of getting your marketing right.

Julia Ferrari, web designer: “People are more open than ever to have online conversations, use their social media, and connect with new people. Developing a good and effective website is more important than ever.”

Joe Binder, WOAW branding agency: “Step back from trying to grow right now and think ‘what conversations can I start now that could mature into a potential client-conversation in 8-10 months’ time?’. Lockdown is a great opportunity to work on long- term marketing projects.”

Chris Abrams, Abrams Insurance Solutions: “A good website is key. Make it your personal brand. Showcase testimonials from clients to build trust and show you know what you are doing. Use technology (video conference and screen-shares) to interact and present to clients. Strangers are getting more comfortable with doing business online. Show your face and provide solutions to their problems. If you don’t have expertise or need help in a certain area, find a virtual assistant. We use assistants to help with blog writing, creating graphics, and CRM management.”

All In Or Out? How Business Owners Can Deal With COVID’S Cloudy Future

By Michael Sipe

business

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, small business owners are reopening their businesses across the nation but certainty and optimism are a long way from being restored.

Spikes in infections in many states, double-digit unemployment, consumer and lender concerns, and steep economic challenges in the wake of a long shutdown make it difficult to forecast if and when many companies will fully recover. Small business owners – many of them baby boomers and in the retirement age range – are in a difficult position trying to decide whether to risk staying in business or sell and cut their losses, says Michael Sipe, author of The AVADA Principle and founder of the consulting firm 10x Catalyst Groups (www.10xgroups.com).

“We are in the early stages of a depression that’s going to go on quite a while,” Sipe says. “Many small business owners are in their 60s and 70s, and they’re tired and beat up. Some recovered from the financial collapse of 2008, but now they’re getting hammered again.

“Customers and employees are scared or nervous. The supply chain is a big problem, and there’s this crazy situation where prices are going up because of the shortages, but meanwhile we have a depression because there aren’t enough transactions.”Sipe offers the following suggestions to small business owners as they try to sort out their future amidst so much uncertainty:

  • Quit. “A lot of people are going to do that,” Sipe says. “And if that’s the decision, they should quit fast. Don’t drag this out. One of the things that happened in the recession of 2008 was people refused to face reality, and it cost them everything, their savings and retirement. If you’re 60 to 70 years old right now and don’t know if you can gut this out another 10 or 15 years, then cut your losses. You’ll have a little nest egg now as opposed to spending all of it trying to bail the business out.”
  • Reinvent. “If you’re not going to quit,” Sipe says, “then you’ve got to change. Just slugging it out and hoping it’s going to get better or that it will get back to normal – that kind of thinking is ridiculous. We have huge structural problems as a country. So if you’re going to reinvent, you have to come back to the fundamentals of business. The owner has to back up and say, ‘What are the fundamental concerns of customers we are actually trying to address here?’ And focus energy on those prime areas that are going to move people to pay a good margin for your product. Don’t ask why it’s not easier; ask how you can get better.”
  • Be flexible. Given the fluid state of our world, Sipe says changing some of your business model and processes may have to become a habit. “The next thing business owners have to do is realize what they changed today may need to change tomorrow,” he says. “The innovation has to happen every day. That has a lot to do with listening to customers and anticipating what they would respond to. Engagement with customers and engagement in the innovation process for owners is absolutely critical. If an owner is not willing to try and get that figured out with and for their customers, they’re going to fail.”

“The business has to be infused with a fresh energy and a fresh passion,” Sipe says. “If you’re not going to quit during these extremely difficult times, that means you’ve got to get back in the game. And you’ve got to play hard, because this is going to be tough.”

Michael Sipe, author of The AVADA Principle, is the founder of 10x Catalyst Groups (www.10xgroups.com), which helps entrepreneurs grow profitable and thriving businesses organized on a foundation of Biblical principles. 

Cloudy future stock photo by DimaSid/Shutterstock

 

New Programs from Visa, LinkedIn, Square & Facebook Help Small Businesses Get Through COVID-19 Crisis

By Rieva Lesonsky

business

Programs

Small Business for America’s Future: A New Coalition of SBOs & Leaders Launches

During the biggest small business crisis of our lifetime, a new survey of more than 1,200 small business owners shows they overwhelmingly feel our government leaders don’t understand small business needs and favor big business over small business, and 54% disapprove of the Trump Administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

Because of this, Small Business for America’s Future, a new coalition of small business owners and leaders, just launched to elevate the voices of small business to ensure policymakers put in place long-term plans that help small businesses recover and create a more equitable economy for all.

Small businesses across the country are suffering. COVID-19 put into stark relief the importance of small businesses to our country and highlighted the inequities that many entrepreneurs of color face. A recent poll of Black and Latino business owners found just 12% of the owners who applied for aid from the Small Business Administration reported receiving what they had asked for and nearly half say they will be permanently out of business by the end of the year. And the recent protests around the murder of George Floyd have placed a spotlight on long-term racial economic disparities.

Small businesses created nearly two-thirds of new jobs following the Great Recession. The chairman of the Federal Reserve recently acknowledged small businesses as the “principal source of job creation—something we will sorely need as people seek to return to work.”

Unfortunately, an online survey of 1,211 small businesses in Small Business for America’s Future’s network found 81% of small businesses don’t think America’s leaders understand the needs of small business, 84% think our leaders favor big business over small business, and 57% believe the Trump Administration’s policies favor big business over small business.

Small Business for America’s Future, a network of small business owners and leaders, will advocate for policies that will facilitate the creation and growth of small businesses while leveling the playing field with big business. The organization evolved from Businesses for Responsible Tax Reform, which launched in 2017 to fight for small businesses during tax reform. Small businesses are facing a crisis and need a strong voice representing their needs.

“We’re committed to ensuring policymakers at every level of government prioritize Main Street by advancing an economic framework that benefits both small businesses and our employees,” says Dr. Erika Gonzalez, co-chair of Small Business for America’s Future, CEO of the South Texas Allergy and Asthma Medical Professionals and Chair of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Reducing the crushing cost of providing healthcare insurance will be important to ensuring small businesses are strong enough financially while maintaining coverage for employees.”

Small Business for America’s Future is asking policymakers to:

Create a fair and equitable COVID-19 recovery plan that supports Main Street. The survey shows 23% of small business owners have considered closing their business permanently and 12% are facing the possibility of having to declare bankruptcy because of COVID-19. Plus, 53% have new debt related to COVID-19—34% have more than $50,000 in new debt.

Of those small businesses that closed due to shelter-in-place orders and now have reopening costs, 40% are using a Paycheck Protection Program loan to finance those costs. However, 3 in 10 small business owners will dip into their personal savings to finance reopening and 20% will use credit cards to do so. Just 12% will use a bank loan, while 52% have no reopening costs because they didn’t have to close their business.

Correct market failures that have resulted in unbearably high healthcare costs and create affordable options for entrepreneurs and their employees. Most (71%) of the small business owners surveyed say lowering healthcare costs is their top concern.

Common-sense tax policies that put small businesses on a level playing field with large corporations and correcting the failures of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Post crisis, 69% say creating an equitable tax system is a top concern.

Create programs that promote the economic security of small businesses by addressing universal small business problems that make them less competitive with big business. Access to capital in particular was a top concern for 64% of small business owners.

“Small business owners are feeling abandoned by our leaders at the worst possible time. That’s shameful,” says Frank Knapp, Jr., co-chair of Small Business for America’s Future and President and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce. “ They did their part to help prevent the spread of the virus by closing down. It’s time for our leaders to do their part and address critical issues such as access to capital to make sure our small businesses survive, recover and grow.”

 

Visa: Powering the Digital Revolution

In an effort to get local communities back to business in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Visa recently announced a global commitment to elevate 50 million small and micro businesses globally. They’re introducing a range of locally-designed programs and solutions to enable SMBs to drive efficiency and sales through acceptance of digital payments, building online businesses and incentivizing neighborhood support.

As stay-home orders result in shopping online instead of in-store, COVID-19 is accelerating the use of digital commerce experiences. How much people spend online is also increasing globally, with spend per active card-not-present cardholder up by over 25% in April, compared to January.

Visa is initially focusing on four strategic areas to promote digital commerce and economic growth, with plans to continue to create products and services as the needs of entrepreneurs change over time. These areas include:

Empowering digital-first businesses: Visa has built localized online resource centers in more than 20 countries that provide tools, partner offers and information on how to start, run and grow digital-first small businesses. Visa is expanding its partnership with IFundWomen providing grants and digital training to U.S.-based Black women-owned small businesses.

Encouraging digital payments: Major shifts in consumer behavior have occurred around the globe, including the overarching need for a touchless experience at the point-of-sale as 90% of shoppers are hesitant to shop in-store due to coronavirus. Visa is working with a range of partners to increase the number of locations where consumers can tap their contactless card or mobile phone. Starting in July, Visa street teams will visit merchants to provide “back to business” kits with new point-of-sale materials, branding, educational resources and special offers. The program will kick off in the 50 largest U.S. cities and expand globally to 15 countries.

Incentivizing neighborhood support: Visa partnerships encourage consumers to shop local and remind them that where you shop matters. The Visa Back to Business Project—an online tool that helps consumers identify businesses that may be open in the wake of the pandemic or a natural disaster—is now live. Visa is teaming up with e-commerce platforms like Shopify, and restaurant delivery companies, including Deliveroo, to reward consumers for spending their money locally.

Developing positioning and policy:  The company also announced the formation of the Visa Economic Empowerment Institute (VEEI). This new institute comprised of Visa experts and partners will help address underlying problems and provide insights for SMB growth and closing racial/gender gaps. Key projects in the next six months will address topics including post-crisis recovery and resilience, urban mobility, closing equality opportunity gaps and insights into the gig economy.

 

LinkedIn: New Features for Small Businesses

Here’s a roundup of all the latest features and resources on LinkedIn for small businesses:

Stay connected to your community with LinkedIn Events

LinkedIn recently integrated LinkedIn Events into the Pages experience to help strengthen relationships with customers, colleagues, and communities by being able to easily create and join professional events. For small businesses especially, Events can be used to keep your customers current on how your business is doing and connect with your communities.

Access relevant LinkedIn Learning courses for free

The social platform is offering free LinkedIn Learning courses through the end of August to help SBOs navigate these challenging times. These courses can help you hone your skills in management, sales, marketing, finance—and most importantly, foster well-being. They’re also launching four new courses:

A new way to hire remotely and easily manage job applicants

With the rise of remote work, the location of where you find your next employee(s) may not be as critical of a factor. LinkedIn is rolling out over the next few weeks a new way to be able to set a job post’s location to ‘remote’ with LinkedIn Jobs. This new setting is a quick way to attract job seekers looking for remote work

Plus, they’re introducing a streamlined new candidate management system that’s fully integrated into your familiar member experience on Linkedin.com. If you are actively hiring, you will be able to rate and review job applicants all in one screen to quickly filter down to the most promising candidates. This includes a new video intro feature that helps evaluate a candidate’s communication and soft skills prior to the first live interview. And these hiring tools have been optimized for mobile and built into the LinkedIn app

The redesigned candidate management experience will become available to all LinkedIn Job Posts customers globally over the coming months.

And finally, LinkedIn is offering Talent Hub, their Applicant Tracking System, free of charge for two-years without any additional commitments or requirements.

There’s a lot more information on LinkedIn about resources and tools for small businesses.

Square: On-Demand Delivery for Square Online Store sellers

In this challenging new business environment, it’s more important than ever that sellers have access to the tools they need to sell online quickly, efficiently, and affordably. Square recently announced the availability of on-demand delivery for Square Online Store. Now, with on-demand delivery, Square Online Store sellers can dispatch a courier through delivery partners for orders placed directly on their website.

Traditionally, to enable delivery most sellers list their menu on food delivery platforms because the restaurant doesn’t have its own couriers. This approach is often expensive because these platforms charge a commission to fulfill the delivery. With on-demand delivery for Square Online Store, sellers can take control of their fulfillment process by offering delivery to their loyal customer base directly from their own website.

When an order is placed on the seller’s online store, a courier from the restaurant’s delivery partner is dispatched to the business location, picks up the order, and delivers it to the buyer. The buyer receives text updates with links to live maps to track delivery progress. Sellers pay a flat fee of $1.50 per order to Square, plus a fee to their delivery partner that is calculated in real-time based on distance and other factors. Sellers can pass this fee entirely to the buyer or offer custom delivery promotions. When applied across hundreds of delivery orders each month, sellers can save a significant amount on per-order costs.

Plus, when buyers place an order through Square Online Store, sellers receive their contact information in the Square Customer Directory and are able to maintain sales history for those customers.

Sellers can get started with on-demand delivery powered by Postmates now, with additional delivery partners coming soon. Processing is free on all on-demand delivery orders through July 8, 2020—up to $50,000 in sales.

For additional resources and updates on Square products, see the COVID-19 resource hub.

 

SHRM Provides Legal Resources

SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) launched a new product offering for human resource professionals working for small businesses. SHRM LegalNetwork provides businesses with affordable, legal resources during a time when many are especially concerned about legal guidance, compliance, and liability issues. The product will be supported through LegalShield, a long-time provider of legal plans for small businesses.

SHRM LegalNetwork is available to HR professionals representing businesses with 100 or fewer employees. SHRM notes that, “Across the COVID-19 landscape, smaller organizations are the most vulnerable business class, often with little-to-no guidance on managing complex employment laws and liability issues.” SHRM research found that, of the 7 in 10 small businesses seeking outside advice since the start of COVID-19, 86% sought legal help.

“Access to legal protection shouldn’t be a luxury,” says SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP. “As businesses reopen, smaller organizations will face many unprecedented scenarios and circumstances—where legal guidance will be needed now more than ever. This service enables HR leaders to fully support their employers on the road to recovery with real-time solutions and dedicated legal protection to manage these important issues.”

To learn more, visit SHRM LegalNetwork.

 

Facebook: Launches Summer of Support

Facebook just kicked off its Boost With Facebook Summer of Support, a 6-week program that features on-demand training courses, thought leadership lessons and advice from business leaders, small business owners and featured guests. Through the program, Facebook pledges to provide millions of people and small business owners the digital marketing skills and information they need to navigate through this economic crisis and bring their businesses online.

Each week, Boost With Facebook Summer of Support will tackle a new theme with relevant content, for businesses of any size—especially small businesses—and people who are working to get back on track or transition their businesses to digital in this new normal.

Event highlights:

  • Inspiring sessions from leading industry executives, celebrities and business owners.
  • Launch of the Facebook Online Business Guidea new resource to help small businesses transition online, get discovered and grow their online sales. The step-by-step guide offers instructions to help you set up your business from start to finish with advertising so you can reach new customers and sell your products online. Business owners can visit this page for more details.
  • Weekly themed courses to help businesses pivot their business models, build and online brand, connect with customers, and help their community including:
    • Resilience (June 29-July 5): The businesses that succeed are the ones that can reframe a setback as a new way forward. Find out how to stay resilient in moments of change and make your downturns work for you.
    • Reinvention (July 6- 12): These courses will show you how to remake your business to be more open to opportunity.
    • Re-Emergence (July 13- 9): Once a crisis ends, how do you enter into the new landscape? Successful re-emergence into the market means understanding which parts of your business to keep and what needs to evolve.
    • Customers & Commerce (July 20–26): Learn how to make your business essential, through customer-focused processes and smarter commerce.
    • Community (July 27- 1): Learn how to keep your business a vibrant and important member of your community—however you define “community”.

In tandem with Summer of Support, Facebook is  premiering Tan France’s Boost My Business” show on Facebook Watch which features Tan, a former small business owner, help business owners grow their businesses online, even if their doors are currently closed using Facebook and Instagram.


Salesforce Care Grants Help Small Business Owners Reimagine Their Businesses

Salesforce recently announced the recipients of its Salesforce Care Small Business Grants to help small business owners get back to business. They partnered with Ureeka, a community that connects small businesses with tools, mentors and resources to help them grow and thrive to fulfill their mission—to provide $10,000 grants to 300 U.S. small businesses, totaling $3 million, to help them adjust to a new normal and adapt their business models.

Equality was one of their core values and 90% of the recipients are businesses led by a person from an underrepresented group, including women, racial minorities, veterans, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities. All funds have been distributed to grant recipients in hopes of relieving immediate burdens and in some cases, giving business owners the ability to bring staff back on as soon as possible.

There were over 7,000 grant applicants and Salesforce noticed several trends among them,  including:

  • Most hospitality businesses, especially those tailored to large-scale events, will take much longer to get back to normal, and will need a longer runway to survive.
  • Restaurants and bakeries that rely on corporate events and weddings have shifted to offering mini-wedding packages to adapt to a new normal. Other restaurants have tried shifting to offerings like virtual bartending classes, but their take-out and pick-up traffic does not cover high rent costs.
  • Professional services are facing decreased business but hope to use this time to reinvest in virtual offerings.

You can meet some of the winners here.

 

Expensify: Introduces Concierge Travel

Expensify recently introduced Concierge Travel, the first-of-its-kind virtual travel assistant. Concierge Travel puts safety first in a global environment brimming with COVID-19 concerns. Expensify cardholders can book flights, hotels, and rental cars for free by chatting with a Concierge on Expensify’s platform. All bookings include complimentary safety alerts and travel risk services from Global Rescue, as well as safety kits to keep travelers healthy during their journeys.

Those who book with Concierge Travel unlock a full suite of Global Rescue services—such as field rescue, emergency transportation to your hospital of choice, and medical and security advisory—worldwide, around the clock, available by phone or email. International travelers also receive a destination report containing health and security assessments, destination details, and entry and exit requirements for their country of travel.

David Barrett, founder and CEO of Expensify explains, “Concierge Travel just needs to know when and where you’re going, and it takes care of everything else. It learns what airline you like, which seat you prefer, and even automatically re-books canceled or missed flights. [Business owners] worried about compliance and cost can also specify fare classes for flights, star ratings for hotels, and other preferences, then Concierge will book according to company policy.”

To gain access to Concierge Travel, go here.

 

Tools & Resources

Free Signage

Small business lender, BFS Capital is providing a range of support for their members like a community chat board, articles and the recently-introduced ‘Free Signage’.

After walking neighborhoods in NYC and elsewhere, the CMO and her team came up with attractive signage that anyone can download in a PDF and customize for use in their stores, such as:

  • “Yes, we’re back in business, come on in…”
  • “Mask or face covering required inside. Thanks for understanding!”
  • “We’re taking orders for pickup or delivery…”

 

New Yelp Features Help Businesses Reopen

Yelp recently introduced new features to help businesses easily communicate health and safety information as part of their reopening efforts. They also launched updates to Yelp Waitlist, an online waitlist management system, to ensure a smoother transition back to dine-in service. There’s more info in this blog post.

Yelp data shows more than 143,000 total business closures from March 1st to June 10th. As businesses reopen, it will be critical for consumers to hear directly from the business if they’re open, what services they’re offering during the pandemic and what their health & safety protocols will be.

To help consumers can find a new COVID-19 section on business pages across all categories, which include:

  • Personalized message from the business: A way for consumers to hear directly from the business about if they’re open and how they’re operating during the pandemic.
  • Updated Services: Businesses can now share if they offer dine-in service, in-person visits or virtual service offerings. This will also help better surface if a business is offering takeout, delivery and curbside pickup.
  • Health & Safety Measures: Businesses can tell consumers if they are enforcing social distancing, sanitizing between customers, mandating staff wear masks and/or gloves, providing hand sanitizer or contactless payment, and more.

For restaurants, new Yelp Waitlist features, include:

  • QR code to join the waitlist: This new touchless solution provides consumers with an easy way to join the waitlist for a restaurant when they arrive.
  • Manual Wait Controls: Lets restaurants manually adjust wait time estimates during unexpected circumstances so diners have more accurate wait time expectations.
  • Capacity Monitor: Allows a host to set their maximum seating capacity and will alert them if they are approaching 90% or have exceeded capacity.

Yelp’s ”Curbside Pickup” attribute is now a search filter and they’ve launched COVID-19 relevant Yelp Collections in select metros on the iOS app.

 

Polls & Surveys

Remote Working Gap

There’s a gap between employer and employee views about remote work/return to work during COVID-19, according to a recent survey from HR and payroll platform Zenefits.

The survey, conducted by Zenefits’ resource WORKEST, received responses from a mix of HR managers, business owners and active employees at SMBs across the country. Here are some of the findings. For more details check out this blog post.

Employees

  • 35% of employees want to return to the office, even though 56% say their company gave them a home office stipend to work from home.
  • 34% say their productivity has decreased while working remotely, while another 34% say it’s remained the same. A smaller percentage say their productivity has increased.
  • 63% would support a daily test for COVID-19 symptoms.

Business owners/HR managers

  • 69% of owners and HR managers plan to require their employees to return to work when the office reopens. Of those who are not, they cited risk of exposure in an open office does not outweigh the benefits, followed by employee preference as the reason to continue remote work.
  • Owners and HR Managers say 38% of their workforce has refused to the office, with the majority of this group citing “making more money with unemployment benefits” as the reason why.

 

Small Businesses are Running Out of Money

The majority of small business owners who received loans from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) say it helped save their businesses. However, 43% also say they’re running out of cash and their reserves will last only a month or less.

Even more alarming, 69% of small businesses without PPP funding are worried their cash will run out in July.

These findings are based on the results of an Alignable Pulse Poll, conducted June 12-15.

PPP Loans Helped, But Not Enough: On the positive side, 52% of small business owners who received the PPP loans strongly praised the program and say it not only saved their businesses but helped with their early recovery. Most say they wouldn’t have survived without it.

While the PPP funding helped many small businesses, the majority respondents say they spent much of their federal funding during the first eight weeks of the loan on employee salaries to help ensure loan forgiveness. That’s the big reason they say they need more federal funding.

Most Agree, a New Round of Funding is Required: Though the Flexibility Act helped to loosen earlier PPP loan restrictions, several small business owners noted it came too late for them. Many want the government to create another round of funding for small businesses to keep them going until more business returns.

Minorities & Women-Owned Businesses Need More Help: “It’s clear from this poll the recovery is even slower than many had expected and the damage inflicted by quarantines on our members is widespread and long-lasting,” says Alignable’s President and cofounder Venkat Krishnamurthy. “But minority-owned and women-owned businesses appear to be suffering more than anyone—this problem is getting worse and needs to be addressed quickly.”

Based on poll results, minority and women own businesses are struggling more with cash reserves than other small business owners—whether they received loans or not. These groups of business owners say their cash reserves will last one month or less:

  • 52% of minority-owned small businesses that received PPP loans
  • 65% of minority-owned businesses that didn’t apply for loans
  • 76% of minority-owned businesses rejected by the PPP (and 52% of them already depleted their reserves)
  • 55% of all women-owned small businesses

While several nonminority small businesses also expect to be out of funds in a month or less, most of those numbers are less daunting, except for those rejected for PPP funding:

  • 40% of nonminority businesses that received PPP loans
  • 41% of nonminority firms that didn’t apply
  • 65% of nonminority businesses who were rejected for PPP loans

 

The Rise of E-Commerce

Advertising technology company Viant recently released a whitepaper, Behind the Rise of E-Commerce in America highlighting what e-commerce marketers need to know about lasting online shopping trends in the wake of COVID-19. The whitepaper delves into the marketing tactics e-commerce brands can employ to succeed in such a crowded marketplace, as well as the importance of looking beyond traditional marketing channels.

Prior to COVID-19 closures, consumers were already shopping online more than ever before, with 41% shopping online once a week, and 74% shopping online at least monthly. However, the pandemic  further accelerated this trend. According to Viant’s survey, now 59% of consumers shop online at least once a week, and 86% say they are currently shopping online at least once a month. And there are no signs of this trend slowing. Because of this, e-commerce marketers must explore new tactics to reach their target consumers.

“The acceleration of e-commerce adoption in the U.S. is staggering,” says Jon Schulz, CMO at Viant. “Consumer convenience, combined with advertising and transactional efficiency is a strong formula for retail success going forward.”

Viant conducted a survey in May and found:

  • Since March 2020, there was a 33% increase in those shopping online 4-6 days a week, a 54% increase in those shopping online 2-3 days a week, and a 39% increase in those shopping online once a week.
  • 82% of people who reported shopping online more during the COVID-19 pandemic say they plan to keep shopping online with increased frequency after the pandemic ends.
  • More than a third of people say they will be shopping online more in the future because of COVID-19.
  • 63% of those who said they bought groceries online since March 2020 said it was their first time doing so, and 69% of those who ordered groceries online during the pandemic said they plan to continue doing so even after the pandemic ends.
  • More than half of consumers surveyed who are purchasing goods online that they did not purchase online before the first quarter of 2020 are purchasing preventative health and wellness products and plan to continue doing so after the pandemic ends.

You can download Behind the Rise of Ecommerce in America whitepaper here.

 

State of Local SEO Report

Moz, Inc., the leader in search engine optimization technology, just released its The State of Local SEO: Industry Report 2020. The report details how marketers deploy local-SEO tactics and offers new insights for agile, future-forward strategies. The data includes current and pre-COVID-19 regulations.

“With many global social distancing orders still in place, new concerns over budget and other unexpected scenarios, many digital marketing professionals may be struggling to manage their local marketing initiatives. But today, connecting communities is paramount, as consumers are seeking new information on things like daycare, food delivery, healthcare and more,” says Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz. “There are new challenges, but there are also new opportunities for success. Brands can synthesize both traditional strategies with new techniques to ensure their businesses stay top-of-mind and accessible.”

Local search maps out real-world communities, connecting residents and travelers to businesses. How those connections happen is a constantly shifting puzzle which local marketers seek to understand and leverage. In this report, Moz uncovered how brands and the agencies that represent them are devoting resources and analyzed how organic search impacts success to deliver key takeaways, including:

  • COVID-19 reduced agency and marketing budgets, but companies can still succeed. 81% of agency marketers say marketing budgets have been cut as a result of COVID-19 compared to 62% of non-agency marketers. But 74% of people believe business-as-usual will return within a year of safety orders being lifted.
  • Businesses of all sizes know the value of resourcing SEO. 77% of respondents have one or more SEOs on staff—up 8% from last year.
  • Local SEO work requires diverse expertise. Executing a local SEO strategy requires collaboration and diverse skill sets, and a full one-third of local marketers feel their companies are not prepared.
  • Marketers almost universally agree: Reviews are powerful. 90% of marketers believe customer reviews impact rankings in the local pack.
  • Offline local marketing is a growing focus. There has been a 9% YoY increase in survey respondents who are involved in some offline marketing capacity.
  • 2020 is the year of the customer. Optimizing for the customer has become this year’s golden rule—whether they’re visiting your website or your flagship store. 71% of respondents say that due to COVID-19 restrictions, new methods have been adopted for getting products and services to customers.

Local search marketing has always existed in a state of rapid and continuous change, and COVID-19 has only amplified this truth. With so many uncertainties on a micro- and macro-level, the report clearly defines strategies and tactics to best serve marketers today, especially as 66% of respondents have their eyes on the true prize: conversions and revenue.

To view the full State of Local SEO: Industry Report 2020, visit Moz.com.

 

How COVID-19 Affects Retailers—June 2020 Update

The world has changed a lot since this report on the state of small business owners was issued earlier this year. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted almost every facet of how small businesses operate, and even as businesses begin to reopen, there is much uncertainty in what that looks like. CM Commerce recently explored the coronavirus’ impact on smalbusiness owners in its reportHow COVID-19 Affects Store Owners: June 2020 Update.

Key findings

  • IT concerns are playing a much larger role in e-commerce than prior to COVID-19, with IT cited as the highest priority (27%), owners’ biggest key to success (30%) and the number-one task they’re responsible for daily (48%). This is impressive considering in February, 60% of shop owners noted they weren’t utilizing technology to reduce the time they spent on ecommerce tasks.
  • More store owners are conducting all of their business online than before. Before COVID-19, most respondents said 26-50% of their business happened online. Now, the majority say 51-70% of their business happens online.
  • Surprisingly, stores’ initiatives and goals for the year remain constant despite COVID-19. However, store owners cite addressing COVID-19 concerns as the number one task that’s coming between them and their key priorities (43%).
  • Despite everything that’s happened in the course of 2020, store owners’ predominant feeling is hope, with 37% of respondents feeling hopeful, 17% anxious and 12% determined.

 

Remote Productivity Decreases

Before the coronavirus crisis sent most employees home to work, many reports claimed people working remotely were more productive than those in the office. Apparently that’s changed, according to this report in The Manifest, which says only 30% of workers say they’re more productive working remotely than in an office, while 45% say they’re more productive working from the office and 24% say they are equally productive whether working from home or the office.

The Manifest found the top 6 ways people are staying productive when working from home are:

  1. Using a designated workspace (43%)
  2. Structuring their day to resemble normal working hours (36%)
  3. Taking frequent breaks (34%)
  4. Setting a schedule (26%)
  5. Reducing distractions (24%)
  6. Communicating with colleagues often (23%)

 

College and the Coronavirus

There are a lot of small businesses located in college towns all across America that are hurting as most college students left school earlier than planned this spring.

Hope were high the students would be returning this fall. But will they? Take a look at the key findings from a survey of incoming college freshmen and current college students by LendEDU:

  • Among the just graduated high school seniors who have already committed and sent a deposit to a college, 30% say they would consider not enrolling or try deferring their admission if all learning stays online for the fall 2020 semester.
  • Of those just graduated high school seniors who have not yet committed to any college, 43% are considering a gap year, 41% are considering an online college, and 37% are considering a community college for the fall 2020 semester.
  • Among current college students 40% are considering transferring to a more affordable college or one closer to home, 34% are considering dropping out and taking time off, 28% are considering dropping out and enrolling in online college, and 26% are considering dropping out and enrolling in community college for the fall 2020 semester.
  • 52% of current college students believe the coronavirus will extend the time they originally thought it would take them to graduate from college.

 

Small Business Support Shifts Amid COVID-19

Cox Business recently released the results of its annual consumer sentiment survey on small and medium-sized businesses. The results center on the impact that COVID-19 has on SMBs and how consumers expect to interact and support them in the future. Additionally, the survey dives into the specific effects from the pandemic on the healthcare industry.

While consumers haven’t forgotten their favorite small business amid the coronavirus pandemic, their visits have dwindled since before the outbreak according to the 2020 Cox Business Consumer Pulse on COVID-19 and Small Businesses.

Key findings

  • Before COVID-19, most survey respondents said they frequented small businesses 1 to 3 times each week. During the pandemic, it’s transitioned to only once weekly or not at all.
  • 70% of respondents say they plan to increase support of small businesses as the severity of the pandemic in their community lessens. And 68% want to support small businesses in their community to keep their local economy and jobs a float.
  • To continue supporting their favorite small businesses during social distancing, respondents have been:
  • 76% ordering takeout/delivery from a local restaurant
  • 40% increasing the amount tipped at local restaurants
  • 30% shopping online with local retailers
  • 40% of respondents felt that small businesses were receiving efficient guidance and resources to implement social distancing from their state governments. However, 41% felt that the federal government had not done the same.
  • Once re-opened for full service, surveyed consumers feel that these are the top things small businesses can do to make them feel safe amid COVID-19:
  • 79%  limit the number of patrons inside
  • 76%  require all staff to wear personal protective equipment
  • 45%  install protective plastic shields at checkouts
  • 45%  accept contactless payment

“It’s been an incredibly difficult few months for small businesses across the country,” says Steve Rowley, executive vice president of Cox Business. “Knowing that a vast majority of people are looking for ways to show their support makes the outlook brighter.”

 

Shopping Apps See Historic Engagement

Liftoff, the leader in mobile app marketing and retargeting, just released its fourth annual report on the rapidly-growing market for mobile app commerce in partnership with the global app marketing platform, Adjust. The study, pulling from the most extensive dataset to-date, shows that mobile shopping apps—the global “go-to”for inspiration and assistance in-store and everywhere—continue to experience significant growth. The report also identifies North America (NAR) as the mobile shopping leader as Asia-Pacific (APAC) struggles with shopping fatigue.

Analyzing more than 53 billion ad impressions across 10 million installs and 2 million first-time events between April 2019 and April 2020, the report found:

It’s never been a better time to be a retail app: Liftoff and Adjust’s analysis points to a golden age for shopping apps. At $19.47, the cost to acquire a user who completes a first purchase has decreased by more than half year-over-year. Meanwhile, engagement has surged 40%, as 14.7% purchase rates tower over last year’s 10.5%. Observe the data over the past two years and the trend is even more apparent, with purchase engagement up 110%.

Plus, with COVID-19 driving stay-at-home orders, consumers seem to be leaning on mobile shopping even more readily: While install costs are relatively stable throughout the year, they drop to their annual low of $2.48 in March 2020—just as shelter-in-place peaked.

“Last year, our analysis found that the rise of sales bonanzas from retail giants like Amazon, Flipkart and Alibaba were tilling the soil for other retailers, priming mobile users to shop year-round, and this trend is only continuing,” explains Mark Ellis, cofounder and CEO of Liftoff. “As consumers adapt to the changing retail landscape, they’re leaning on mobile more than ever. It’s never been a better time to be a retail app marketer.”

In a world where physical touchpoints are reduced, apps position brands to keep driving growth. And according to Adjust, companies have already stepped up their game by focusing on re-engaging and retaining their users.

“The e-commerce industry as a whole got a bit shell-shocked in the first few weeks of March in the wake of COVID-19, with marketers dialing back ad spend,” says Paul H. Müller, cofounder and CTO of  Adjust. “But as we saw the vertical start to rebound in April, there’s been a broader push toward re-targeting and re-engagement—in line with bringing customers back into the funnel and keeping their existing ones engaged.”

APAC shows shopping fatigue while North America surges: Last year, the mature markets of APAC and NAR showed similar trends. While users were registering more readily for shopping apps, converting to purchase was a challenge, suggesting that users in these regions were ‘window shopping’ on mobile. However, the data shows a major flip this year, as APAC and NAR usage patterns diverge – with North America coming out in front.

Costs-per-first-purchase in NAR are down 4x (to a low $14.85), while conversion rates are up more than 4x — and 6x higher than that of APAC (27.6% compared to APAC’s 4.7%). Meanwhile, APAC costs have nearly doubled in the past year, up to $54.90. The region finishes last in engagement with purchase rates less than half that of last year, suggesting the region is ripe for a refresh.

You can download the full report.

 

Get informed—Attend it!

Alibaba.com Virtual Trade Show

While in-person trade shows are on hold, many business owners are looking for new ways to connect with sellers and buyers. Check out the first Alibaba.com US Online Trade Show which starts  July 7th. The show offers you a efficient way to expand your network.

Discover new products and services at no cost: You need to register now—time is running out. At the trade show you’ll find new products and U.S. sellers. You’ll also get access to industry insights and trends from expert speakers and meet with the sellers of your choice.

Submit your application here to attend the 4-day event. There is no cost.

 

Get informed—Read it!

COVID-19 Media Coverage

When did national publications began to cover the coronavirus pandemic? Digital Third Coast did an analysis of Covid-19 media coverage in the early months of 2020 to see.

They studied snapshots of coronavirus-related news and opinion over the first 10 weeks of 2020, across 18 of the nation’s most prominent online publications.

Here’s what they found:

  • No sector of the mainstream media was quicker and more vigilant in tracking the emergence of Covid-19 than finance-focused publications. By the end of January, Bloomberg, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal accounted for 46% of all COVID-19 headlines analyzed.
  • When looking at coronavirus as the lead story on a publication’s home page, Bloomberg and Reuters had the most COVID-19 related lead stories in January while The New York Times and ABC News had the strongest finishes, each with four consecutive weeks of lead stories heading into mid-March.
  • When analyzing total coronavirus headlines over 10 weeks these 10 publications had the most coverage: 1. Bloomberg 2. Reuters 3. Breitbart 4. WSJ NBC News 6. CBS News 7. Politico 8. New York Post 9. ABC News 10. USA Today.

You can read more about.

 

Need money? Here’s a free e-book from Lighter CapitalFinding the Right Financing for Your Capital Needs. The book “explores the different financing options available to entrepreneurs and will help you make informed decisions.”

Looking to hire. Check out these free job posting sites from the Chamber of Commerce.

From Bank of America’s Small Business Community 

Coronavirus Playbook: How to Increase the Value of Your Social Ad Spend

Coronavirus Playbook: How to Share Costs with Other Small Businesses

Defeating Coronavirus Requires a Teamwork Mentality

How to Set Your Business Up for Post-Coronavirus Success

Manufacturers Respond to Coronavirus

 

Get informed—Advice

Yes, It Will Be Different

Guest post by Wayne Embree, EVP of Venture Acceleration & Investments for Rev1 Ventures, the startup studio that combines capital and strategic services to help startups scale and corporates innovate.

While there are plenty of challenges and opportunities that present themselves within the idea of launching a business during a recession, the only thing for certain right now is uncertainty itself.

We can’t predict what a post-COVID-19 world will look like, but there are a few things that entrepreneurs should expect for their businesses now and once we’re all on the other side of this; things will be different across so many areas of your organization.

Your culture has changed. Not maybe, not might, has. COVID has introduced the most challenging elements to any organization and the team members’ lives: fear, uncertainty, and doubt.  Known as FUD, these highly charged emotional states often conflict with what individuals see with their own eyes and fundamentally know in their rational minds.  We are all affected by something we cannot see and cannot control. It’s imperative that company leaders provide calm guidance. This doesn’t mean you need to know all the answers.  You can’t; not even the experts or political leaders necessarily agree on what’s right, let alone what should happen next. But it is important that your team see that there is a thoughtful, measured approach to decisions that affect them and those around them. Some team members may be personally and emotionally devastated by COVID. They, or family or friends, may have contracted the virus; or they may be caught up in how COVID is affecting the world.

Your current and future employees have changed. Negative associations with uncertainty present a very real challenge for startups, which as a matter of course rely on  individuals who are especially well-suited for tolerating perceived, acceptable risks, and uncertainty. Mix fear and doubt into the  uncertainty that is always present in a startup, and the totality can become extremely negative and possibly irreversibly damaging to individuals that  a startup would employ.

How to address this as a leader? Like most things in small companies, head on. Openly. Honestly. Repeatedly. You will find that some on your team can’t adjust. Their tolerance levels for risk and uncertainty have been reset; quite possibly forever.  Some may need to find a different place to work where they perceive less risk to themselves and their families. It may suit others to work in a different part of the business if that is a feasible option ), or work in a different way.  Working from home more frequently may smooth their transition. Regardless, it’s imperative that you and your managers carefully monitor your teammates for signs of anxiety and depression and encourage everyone to seek help.

The other side of this coin, however, is opportunity. There are most certainly individuals watching this crisis unfold who do not want to wait any longer to fulfill a dream to work in a startup or to launch a company themselves. These people are emboldened by crises and will bring strength and stability to your organization as the economy recovers, as well as fresh eyes with which to see your customers, product, and market.

Your customer has changed. Your customers are going through very similar issues as your business. Some have no idea what to do; others will try anything once they can get back to business. Take time to really understand what your customers need. This is truer now more than ever, because they may not know. To accomplish this with empathy and intellectual honesty, your team must be aligned on your company’s “why and how” of serving  your customers and market.

If your business has sufficient resources or support to act during this part of the market cycle, seize every bit of momentum possible. Those customers and the market share they represent will increase the likelihood your business survives. However, seeking sales requires a united effort from your management team and employees. Some may find it offensive to seek out opportunities and competitive advantages when so many are down and suffering. As long as such tactics are employed ethically and in keeping with a business’ core values, there is no shame in being aggressive during these times to provide solutions to potential customers and thereby sustaining your enterprise.

Entrepreneurs pride themselves on being decisive and leading from the front. This is a time that requires leaders to bring their team together, really understand each person’s concerns, needs and hopes, and then lead from within.

 

Reopening Smart—How to Cut Costs, Optimize And Increase Cashflow

Guest post by Michael Smythe, VP of Finance, Azlo

First—cut costs. If your revenue has been reduced, some strong cuts may be in your future. Remember to think about:

  • Annual, quarterly, and periodic expenses – Be aware of recurring fees that might be coming due before the end of the year. (i.e. vehicle registration for a company car, professional license renewals, association fees, etc.)
  • Recurring expenses. Look carefully at your monthly credit card and business checking account statements: Are there subscriptions you have that aren’t essential? High utilities or rent you can negotiate? Maybe move out of an office space entirely?
  • New purchases. Investigate and see if it’s possible to set up a payment plan for large purchases instead of paying in one lump sum.

Next—Optimize cashflow. Once you’ve cut unnecessary expenses, you may have to get strategic with how and when you spend the revenue available to you by:

  • Assessing your current balance. No one can blame you if you’re weary about checking your current balances, but you must be aware of how much money you have available right now.
  • Be diligent about invoicing. In order to have a cashflow, you have to get paid. Be sure to set reminders to double-check on invoices and follow up if they haven’t paid.
  • Give less credit. Letting clients pay late is always a risk, but with the state of the economy, it might not be a risk you can take anymore.
  • Ask for partial payments or deposits. If your business is about providing a type of service where you’re paid on a per-project basis, it would be totally reasonable to ask for partial payments or deposits before you begin your work.
  • Delay payments to vendors. Many businesses are having cash flow issues right now, so think of this as a last resort. Unless there are incentives for paying early, check-in with your vendors to see what’s possible.

Last,  increase cashflowIf you’ve made major cuts to your expenses and still can’t attain a positive cashflow, your only choice will be to fill in the gaps or find new sources of revenue by:

  • Sell assets – Look at your stockpile of equipment and inventory and see if there’s anything you don’t need or want.
  • Apply for loans, grants, and other financial relief. Congress has approved a number of economic disaster relief programs, many available through the Small Business Administration. Information about these programs are constantly being updated, and more are being added. Visit this page for more information.
  • Secure a business line of credit. Credit cards are great for handling day-to-day purchases, but loans can bolster your bank accounts while also accruing less interest over time.
  • Hustle and pivot. Many small business owners had to make major adaptations to the offerings and structure of their businesses to survive the pandemic and continue generating revenue.

Virus stock photo by eamesBot/Shutterstock

10 Free Tools to Protect Remote Workers, New PPP Law, Small Business Owners are Still Anxious About Getting Through COVID-19 Pandemic

By Rieva Lesonsky

business

Coronavirus Business Update

Programs

 

New PPP Extension Becomes Law

Last week an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program was signed into law. ADP fills in some of the details of the PPP Flexibility Act:

  • Extends the amount of time borrowers have to use PPP funds from eight weeks to 24.
  • Extends the deadline to rehire laid-off and furloughed employees and still qualify for loan forgiveness from June 30 to Dec. 31.
  • Reduces from 75% to 60% the amount of PPP money that must be spent on payroll expenses for the loan to be forgiven completely.
  • Gives borrowers five years to repay the loan instead of two years.

There’s also detailed information about the PPP Flexibility Act on The National Law Review.

Grants to United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Comcast Business  has partnered with NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises to provide a $50,000 grant to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC)—America’s largest Hispanic business organization, representing over 4.37 million Hispanic-owned SMBs.  The grant will support Hispanic-owned businesses impacted by COVID-19.

In addition to the grant, NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises in partnership with USHCC, is providing resources and guidelines to businesses in the language of their choice, as well as tips on how to navigate the Small Business Debt Relief Program—the CARES Act, the program that provides immediate relief to small businesses with non-disaster SBA loans. This information, as well as other resources to guide business owners can be found here.

Comcast Business is enabling businesses of all sizes to stay online and connected during these unusual times, with access to free Xfinity hotspots, tools to manage a business from any device, anywhere, and a team of experts and engineers available 24/7. In addition, Comcast Business has instituted enhanced safety measures to protect the health of its customers while continuing to install services and provide the best possible service.

 

Guide to Help Humanize the Health Care Debate

United States of Care (USofCare), a nonpartisan organization committed to ensuring that every American has access to quality, affordable health care,  just released a new guide to help policymakers, advocates, and other key stakeholders humanize the health care debate and COVID-19 response. USofCare conducted an ongoing listening project to better understand people’s shared needs in response to COVID-19, combining public opinion analysis, survey research, and in-depth interviews throughout the country. The guide summarizes what they learned, advice on connecting with the public, as well as how to prioritize solutions.

USofCare says, “We’ve consistently found that centering the conversation around shared needs and values opens new avenues for more people to be part of the conversation and the solution. Our most recent survey confirmed our focus on four critical shared needs that are emerging in response to the pandemic, including the desire for:

  • A reliable health care system that is fully resourced to support essential workers and available when needed, both now and after the pandemic
  • A health care system that cares for everyone, including people who are vulnerable and those who were already struggling before the pandemic hit
  • Accurate information and clear recommendations on the virus and how to stay healthy and safe
  • Being able to provide for ourselves and our loved ones, especially as we are worried about the financial impact of the pandemic

They’re recommended policy priorities to federal and state policymakers, including:

Lead with values and emotion: The findings show that centering the conversation around shared needs will open new avenues for more people to participate in the health care debate and the design of new solutions.

State and federal officials should show how they are listening to the public by proposing durable, people-centered policy solutions. These solutions should address not only the short-term challenges but also be designed to remove the long-standing barriers in our current health care system. People need to feel heard and that the health care system is there to support them.

Public Opinion Key Findings: There is a conflicting set of emotions, with Americans feeling concerned (53%), anxious (47%), uncertain (44%), frustrated (35%), and also hopeful (33%) and grateful (23%).

The most pressing concerns for the majority of respondents are the health and safety of their loved ones (66%), followed closely by their health and safety (55%). The next most pressing concern is for “my own and my family members’ employment and financial situation,” (44%) except in the GOP groups, which stated that reopening the economy is of higher importance. Participants were least concerned with “getting back to my job” (around 20%).

The pandemic illuminated deficiencies in our health care system; many respondents reflected on the fact that the U.S. was caught unprepared to handle the pandemic, and our losses have been higher than those of other countries.

 

Montgomery’s Recover Together Small Business Relief Fund Now Accepting Applications

Applications are open for the Recover Together Small Business Relief Fund in Montgomery to help small businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Small Business Relief Fund will provide flexible, one-time grants between $1,000 and $7,500 with a cap of $7,500 per award to provide working capital for small businesses in the Montgomery area as these businesses work to continue or resume operations following COVID-19-related impacts.

The Small Business Relief Fund is accepting grant applications online via www.recovermgm.com through June 15, as funds remain available. You can go to the same site to make individual or corporate donations. Or if you want to donate by check, donors should indicate that the contribution is intended for the “Small Business Relief Fund” in the memo field and mail to P.O. Box 79, Montgomery, AL 36101. All contributions are tax deductible.

For more information about growing a business in Montgomery, visit the Montgomery Chamber.

 

Tools & Resources 

Immediate Cost-Cutting Relief

Cerity, a direct to small business workers’ compensation carrier, partnered with Payroll4Free.com to provide immediate cost cutting measures to small businesses. Payroll4Free and Cerity are providing a new model of flexible cost saving platforms with the ability to provide free online payroll services and Pay-as-you-go (PayGo™) workers’ compensation.

The partnership between Cerity and Payroll4Free provides immediate cost cutting benefits to small businesses, instantly providing free online payroll services and pay-as-you-go workers compensation. A few additional benefits from this partnership include:

  • Free online payroll services
  • No upfront costs. No money down.
  • Pay workers’ comp premium only when you pay employees.
  • No “guesstimates.” No surprises.
  • Automatic debits – one less bill to remember to pay.
  • Drastically reduce workers’ comp costs while protecting your business in uncertain times.

Learn more about the partnership.

 

Polls & Surveys

 

State Of Small Business Report Reveals Recovery Outlook

Alignable’s State Of Small Business Report for June has just been released, offering an inside look at what’s really happening among small businesses as they reopen across the U.S. and Canada.

Based on Alignable Pulse Polls of 88,000+ small business owners, their biggest concerns about recovery include having sufficient financial resources and helping customers overcome COVID-related fears associated with returning to their businesses.

Highlights from the report reflect small business owners’ struggles, early triumphs, and other sentiments.

  • Reopening Surge! 68% of small businesses are open now—a promising start. However, only 40% are fully open—the remaining 28% currently offer fewer products or services. And 3% say they’re closed for good.
  • Feeling Anxious About Customer Fears: Less than 50% of customers have returned, and 25% of business owners worry they’re scared to come back. Making customers feel safe and comfortable is priority No. 1.
  • Employment Situation: Only 47% of pre-COVID-19 employees are back on the payroll, but small businesses expect to hire another 7% by the end of June.

To see a variety of other small business sentiments, trends, polls and analysis about the recovery process, click here for the full report.

 

Small Business Owners are Concerned About Cash

Another Alignable poll taken just last week shows rent and other expenses continue to be a big issue for almost half of the small businesses in the U.S. And in a related poll, only 6% say their rent has decreased for June and 4% say it’s actually increased.

Based on other Alignable research, some of the challenges leading to payment issues include:

  • PPP Problems: Over 40% of small businesses failed to apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans as they didn’t believe they would qualify, or they didn’t trust the loan forgiveness terms. Some 15% of small business owners tried to get the loans but were denied or large banks never processed their applications.
  • Cash Crunch: 26% are afraid of cash reserves running out.
  • Slow Recovery: 56% of open businesses say less than half of their customers have returned.
  • COVID-19 Impact Remains Strong: 74% say the virus threat continues to have a negative effect on their businesses.

Industries with small business owners struggling to pay rent in full, include: retail (Mom & Pop Shops, salons, barbers, florists, etc.), restaurants, construction, arts & entertainment, hotels/motels/B&Bs, and transportation (taxis, Uber and Lyft).

However, small business owners in industries including financial services, insurance, utilities and real estate have been less affected by COVID-19 and were among the 52% of businesses paying their June rent in full.

 

Small Business Response to COVID-19

Verizon Business released findings from a recent surveySmall Business Response to COVID-19, to better understand the impact small business owners and decision makers feel COVID-19 has had on their businesses. The survey, conducted by Morning Consult, focused on SMBs that are currently open or plan to reopen. One of the survey’s key results is that small businesses have renewed confidence—68% believe they can recoup COVID-19 related losses.

Key findings:

A Renewed Confidence: The small businesses that have weathered the pandemic to date express an overall optimism and the financial wherewithal to eventually reopen.

  • 68% of small businesses believe they can recoup COVID-19 related losses
  • 46% of small businesses that remain open say their businesses will be able to stay open for more than six months if the pandemic continues in the same way
  • 48% of small businesses say it’s unlikely they will need to resume operations with a smaller staff
  • While 78% of small businesses indicate declining sales, only 24% say that they have missed or withheld any payments of bills (rent, utilities, etc.).

TJ Fox, President of Verizon Business Markets says, “Many small businesses are focusing on the future by investing in new ways to adjust to the new work from home model, optimize revenue and find ways to succeed in the new business as usual.”

Small Businesses Need Help Beyond Financial Assistance: While much of the small business news coverage has focused on government financial aid programs, the survey results suggest small business owners are in reality seeking more practical advice and assets to help them survive and thrive.

  • Expertise Needed For Recovery: Small businesses cite Financial (54%), IT (42%), E-Commerce (42%), and HR (40%) as the key areas of advice they would like to tap into.

Small Businesses are Adapting Their Businesses to the New Normal: As these small businesses have faced challenges both in managing remote employees, rules and regulations surrounding opening and venue capacity, and the overall downturn in the economy, they’ve found and continue to investigate new ways to drive the bottom line. These pivots include:

  • 43% plan on expanding their businesses through digital and related technology
  • 30% already added ways in which they deliver products and services digitally

To date, Verizon’s total COVID-19 crisis commitment now stands at over $55 million in contributions and donations to non-profits around the globe. You can find more information on Verizon’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic here.

 

Startups & Early-Stage Fundraising

DocSend, a secure document sharing platform, recently released a report exploring how startup founders are navigating the new realities of early-stage fundraising as a result of the recent economic downturn. Of the startup founders in its customer community that were surveyed, most appeared optimistic about their business prospects, yet 55% of those actively fundraising say they have less than six months of runway at their current funding levels.

The report, DocSend Startup Index: The COVID Impact, provides a snapshot from April and uncovers the make-or-break decisions startup founders are being forced to make to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic and shifting global circumstances. These decisions range from modifying company valuations and fundraising timelines to reducing headcount and operational costs.

According to the report, 65% of fundraising startups say they are either maintaining (38%) or growing (27%) their businesses—an optimistic and positive outlook in the face of a pandemic and market downturn, while 60% of non-fundraising startups reported the same confident outlook. But the report also points out a stark reality—only 9% percent of fundraising startups say they have more than a year of runway with current funding.

In spite of the short runways, 64% of fundraising startups have not changed their target valuations. But 50% of founders actively fundraising say they’ve shifted the timing of their fundraising pursuits due to current market conditions.

In some cases, the pandemic is creating new demand opportunities for startups—40% of fundraising founders and 33% of non-fundraising founders say the current economic climate has accelerated their product release timeline because they have seen increased demand for their products or technology.

For many, fundraising is critical for survival and more challenging in a virtual business world. The pitch deck, which is now primarily presented via conference call or secure document sharing, is becoming even more crucial. Compared to just three months ago, founders report VCs are asking for different information in pitch decks before they accept a (virtual) meeting:

  • 32% say they are asking for more information on the company’s market opportunity and “why now?” proposition
  • 24% say investors are asking for more information on the startup’s business model
  • 23% say investors are asking for more information on finances

“One of the hardest parts of running a startup business—fundraising—has become protracted, unpredictable and almost completely virtual overnight,” Russ Heddleston, cofounder and CEO of DocSend says. “For founders who face an uncertain future and still have some runway left, now may be a good time to step back and re-trench. Instead of trying to raise money against serious headwinds, rethink your product plans, business model and other aspects of your business, and then wait for the market to improve.”

The new report is part of the DocSend Startup Index, an ongoing series of proprietary data and insights on startups and fundraising progress at different stages of the startup journey, from pre-seed to seed to series A and beyond. To view the full results, download the report.

 

How are Airbnb Hosts Coping During Covid-19?

Airbnb and short-term rental property owners have felt the first-hand effects of Americans putting travel on hold due to Covid-19. To gain insight into how Covid-19 has affected short-term rentals, IPX 1031 recently surveyed both part-time and fulltime Airbnb hosts as well as guests who have used the platform.

Findings:

  • 47% of hosts don’t feel safe renting to guests, while 70% of guests are fearful to stay at an Airbnb right now.
  • 64% of guests either have cancelled or plan to cancel an Airbnb booking since the pandemic started.
  • Airbnb hosts expect a 44% decrease in revenue this summer (June-August). Hosts have dropped their daily rates as much as $90 on average.
  • 45% of hosts won’t be able to sustain operating costs if the pandemic lasts another 6 months (16% have already missed or delayed a mortgage payment on one or more of their properties).
  • On average, hosts have lost $4,036 since Covid-19 began to spread in the US.

Check out the full report from IPX 1031.

 

The Epicenter Exodus

As the U.S. starts reopening a just released survey reveals a many residents from coronavirus hot-spot states would voluntarily pack up and move to areas not as crippled by the virus. From the cities to the suburbs, many Americans want to hit the road. The only problem?  Many fear if they do move, they’ll be labeled with the ‘COVID Cooties’!

That sentiment comes from a new survey of Americans conducted by Our Town America, a  leading new mover marketing franchise, which reveals a large percentage of residents living in the 10 states with the most Covid-19 cases would consider moving—even though many have lived in their state for more than 20 years, or even their whole lives. The states with the most coronavirus cases are New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Louisiana, Connecticut, and Florida.  

The survey reveals:

  • More than 40% say they’d consider movingbecause they live in a coronavirus hot spot state. More than half live in the suburbs, while over 30% live in the city.
  • Of those who would move, 53% say they would move to an area of the country less affected by the coronavirus for peace of mind(44%) and because there’s less chance of a resurgence of coronavirus (40%). Some also say it’s important to live somewhere their kids can start school sooner.
  • When would they move?Only 19% say they’re ready to move NOW, while 64% say they’d want to move by the end of the year.
  • Yet they do fear they will be stigmatized with ‘COVID Cooties’—68% worry because they come from a state heavily infected with the virus, new neighbors will avoid them.

Numb Nation 

The  survey shows many Americans are “shell-shocked by Covid-19.”  As the nation reopens, 76% say they’re still worried about the virus, 64% say they’re also concerned about the future and 33% say they don’t believe the state they live in will ever get back to pre-pandemic normal.

  • People are most worried about their families, health, and finances: 35% say they or someone in their family lost work or a job. And 46% say they want better mental health. Those with kids also ranked their children’s well-being as a top worry.
  • The South Atlantic states rank as the top areas people would move to right now—from Florida up to Delaware.
  • Of those eager to move 28% say they’d move to a warmer climate, of those 53% say warm weather is better for their physical and mental health and 17% believe the virus has less chance of spreading in warmer temperatures.

 

Get informed—Read it!

 

When Will Tech Workers Be Willing To Return To Work?

The results of this survey from TrustRadius may surprise you.

 

Your Post COVID-19 Contingency Plan

Every small business needs a Post COVID-19 Contingency Plan. Business coaches Roger and Susie Engelau of Inspire Results business coaching explains how to develop one.

 

Get informed—Advice

 

Top 10 Free Tools to Protect Remote Workers from Cyberattacks

A recent survey by Arctic Security found the number of hacked companies worldwide more than doubled since January of this year. So, it’s no surprise that employers and employees alike are worried about the rise in COVID-related hacking, especially considering how many are now working remotely. Interested in safeguarding against future attacks, the experts at Specops Software have compiled a list of the top 10 free IT tools for businesses dealing with remote workers.

  1. TightVNC is a free desktop sharing software particularly popular with business users and IT managers. For IT managers, it allows for the complete monitoring and control of another computer remotely, eliminating the fear of not knowing what an employee is up to.
  2. Clonezilla is a free, open-source toolkit designed to clone disks and hard drives, as well as facilitate backup and disaster recovery—perfect for businesses requiring uniform set-ups across their remote workforce.
  3. Windows Sysinternals is an easy-to-use utilities site that helps managers and admins to manage, troubleshoot and diagnose Windows systems and applications.
  4. The Microsoft Account Lockout and Management Tools are a great set of applications for when something goes wrong. It presents a range of tools allowing admins to manage accounts and troubleshoot account lockouts.
  5. A fork of mRemote, mRemoteNG is a nifty open source software that allows for the effortless viewing and monitoring of remote connections across an employer’s workforce
  6. The great range from BooZet freeware eradicates the fear of losing files ever again. Its four types of freeware allow the user to index contents across a range of disks, backup drivers, view saved 3DMark results easily and clean systems.
  7. An enhanced version of the original Windows app, Notepad++ is a powerful text editor which includes a multitude of features such as, 27 programming languages, supporting syntax highlighting, synchronized edits and views, and more.
  8. PuTTY is the perfect open source terminal application for system admins, developers, network engineers and other IT professionals that need to connect to remote systems. It is great for basic technical chores alongside secure file transfers via a range of methods.
  9. The Specops Password Auditor is a neat little tool to ensure the security of passwords across a workforce. Specifically, it allows the admin to scan their Active Directory for password-related security vulnerabilities.
  10. Lastly, the Specops Password Notification enables IT admins to configure password expiration email reminders to be sent via their own SMTP server, letting IT admins communicate password expirations to remote users.

Specops’ cybersecurity expert, Darren James, offers some advice about how employers can  best protect their business and employees:

All IT security is based upon the premise that you need to give the right access to the right people using the right device. When you apply this to remote workers, the following areas need to be considered:

How they are connecting to the company data/system:

  • Cloud – accessible via a web browser.
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN) – Which type will depend on what the machine supports. Is it user initiated (you log in and press a connect button) or machine initiated?
  • Remote Desktop Services – Citrix NetScaler or MS Remote Desktop Gateway server.

The type and location of data/system they need access to:

  • Is it cloud or on-premise?
  • Is it sensitive information? Does exposing the data to remote workers contravene any privacy laws?

The location of the user accessing the data/system:

  • Does the system react differently depending on whether it’s accessed over a WAN or LAN?
  • Are they accessing the data from home, public location, different country?
  • Physical security – is the device encrypted, locked down and does the device need a privacy filter?

How the user is authenticated to use data/systems:

  • Password, 2FA, MFA.
  • Authenticated device.
  • If a password expires, how is it reset and updated?

How they should be allowed to use data/systems:

  • Should it be presented via a Virtual Desktop rather than VPN?
  • Should they be allowed to Print locally/Screenshot?

Coronavirus stock photo by Maridav/Shutterstock

 

Grants for Small Businesses, The Outlook for Black and Latinx Entrepreneurs, Free Tools to Help You Get Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

covid-19

Covid-19 Update

Programs

Grants for Small Businesses

According to a recent study, 30 million small business jobs are vulnerable. Small businesses need all the support they can get right now, which is why FedEx launched its #SupportSmall Grants program, focusing on small businesses struggling to stay afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic. FedEx is awarding a total of $1 million in grants to 200 business owners across the U.S. Recipients will receive a $5,000 check in addition to a $500 credit for FedEx Office services.

In addition to providing financial relief, there’s a lot more information in the FedEx Small Business Center:

  • The FedEx Making it Work podcast features special bonus episodes with entrepreneurs on managing a business through a pandemic
  • Ready-to-print COVID flyers and posters about CDC-recommended safety measures and social distancing
  • The FedEx Small Business COVID-19 Resources page
  • The newly launched Tech Chat with Small Business page
  • The FedEx E-Commerce Center
  • The FedEx Small Business Center

“Small businesses strengthen the economy and make the world more vibrant. They are the backbone of our communities,” says Brie Carere, executive vice president, chief marketing & communications officer, FedEx. “Whether entrepreneurs use the grant to pay staff, business rent, start their online store or enhance their online presence, we want to help them keep moving forward.” The $500 credit from FedEx Office can be used for printing banners, posters, floor graphics, custom branded boxes and more. “

The #SupportSmall Grants program is open to U.S. based small businesses with fewer than 50 employees and have been in business and selling for more than one year. Applicants must have had less than $5 million in annual sales revenue in 2019 and have shipped in the last 12 months and/or plan to ship in the coming 12 months as part of their business.

To apply, go here to enter your basic business information (name, location, contact, website and social media handle), answer a series of questions, and provide your business EIN number and 2019 annual sales revenues.

The grant entry period is open now through June 12, 2020. Grant recipients will receive an email between late July 2020 and September to let them know they’ve been selected.

 

Free Access to Employment Screening

As we slowly get back to business in the U.S. many of the newly unemployed will be looking for jobs. To help small businesses that are hiring TransUnion (NYSE: TRU) announced plans to support the hiring ecosystem by offering small businesses and their prospective employees free access to some of its ShareAble for Hires employment screening tool packages, now through the end of July 2020.

By using the web-based ShareAble for Hires small businesses can safely and securely conduct background checks on prospective employees within minutes instead of days. The solution is completely transparent and provides job applicants with a copy of reports obtained.

Small businesses and their employees facing greatest challenges

Small businesses have been significantly negatively impacted by the pandemic. TransUnion research shows the volume of employment screening for small businesses with 50 or fewer employees declined by 65% in mid-April compared to average volumes earlier in 2020.

As of early May, employment screening had only recovered to a 55%-60% decline. As small businesses face challenges, so do the people who work for them. A recent TransUnion survey in May found that 70% of consumers working for a small business (with under 50 employees) said their household income was negatively impacted by COVID-19.

Of this group, 17% said they have lost their job as a result of the pandemic. And, 69% of those whose income was negatively impacted, said they are concerned about paying their current bills or loans. In fact, 86% say they won’t have money to pay their bills within three months.

Ability to hire immediately

TransUnion says ShareAble for Hires is the only online background check tool that 100% of small businesses can use with no waiting period or setup fees while delivering reports within minutes. Transunion’s Basic and Plus packages, which normally cost between $35 and $50, will be free of charge through July 2020.
More information about ShareAble for Hires and this special offer can be found here. Businesses interested in learning how to navigate the impacts of COVID-19 can gain insights from TransUnion webinars, blogs and more. And check out the additional resources for consumers looking to protect their credit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Tools & Resources

Self-Employed PPP Loan Forgiveness Calculator

If you’re self-employed, you’ll want to take look at this PPP Loan Forgiveness Calculator from Nav. It’s simple to use.

 

Improve Team Morale and Collaboration with New Tools for Remote Working

As more businesses permanently embrace the work-at-home option, there’s a need for tools that help them continue to operate seamlessly. Zoho Corporation, a global technology company, just released a tool that helps small businesses do just that.

Remote Work Tools on Cliq is an enhanced version of Zoho’s chat software enabling employees to check-in for work and essentially interact with co-workers the way they would if they were in the same office—no matter where they’re working from.

When the work-from-home policies were enacted in most states this spring, Zoho noticed Cliq usage soared—seeing increases of 225% in message volume and 1200% in calls made per day. Group calling in the U.S. grew 10 times from its prior numbers. But they realized, teams working remotely had difficulties collaborating as they would if they were in their physical office space.

So they developed Remote Work Tools on Cliq to solve this challenge by creating a program that does what traditional chat software can’t do.

Key Remote Work Tools on Cliq features include:

  • Easy check-in. Employees can check-in and check-out of work from Cliq as if they were swiping their IDs when arriving at or leaving the office.
  • Live video feeds to see who’s available. A virtual equivalent to peeking at a co-worker’s desk to see if they’re free, live feeds enable teams to see if it’s the right time to connect with a co-worker.
  • Instant group calls. Group calls are initiated with the touch of a button, allowing teams to collaborate when the situation calls for a quick face-to-face meeting.
  • Easy document management. Integration with Zoho Writer enables teams to preview, share or export documents from the document link.

These features (and more) bring the in-office experience home, improving team morale, collaboration and productivity. Teams can even build their own tools with widgets that integrate with users’ everyday apps to create a custom home view directly inside Cliq.

The program is available now. You can get more information at Zoho.com.

 

Free Credit Card Acceptance Product to Help Businesses through COVID-19 Crisis

Plastiq, the intelligent payment solutions provider for SMBs announced the accelerated availability of Plastiq’s card acceptance product. Originally slated for late Q3 2020, Plastiq’s enhanced payment acceptance features will help businesses get paid faster and more reliably. SMBs who sign up for the waitlist will receive early access to Plastiq’s card acceptance product free of charge beginning May 24, with general availability this summer.

“COVID-19 and the associated stay-at-home orders have caused a domino effect of late payments across the economy, with SMBs especially hard hit,” said Eliot Buchanan, CEO and co-founder of Plastiq. “As cash reserves run dry, many SMBs have been unable to pay suppliers, as they simply don’t have the cash on hand. This has left suppliers unable to pay their own bills due to these late or missed payments. Responding to our customers’ feedback, we accelerated the development of Plastiq’s card acceptance product in order to reduce cash flow burdens and unblock the flow of vital services and supplies.”

Plastiq’s card acceptance product enables SMBs to accept credit card payments for free, without having to pay the typical 2.5-4% fee that traditional payment services providers charge. By offering a credit card payment option to their customers through Plastiq, SMBs get paid on time and more reliably, unblocking cash flow in the supply chain and getting businesses moving forward again. By allowing SMBs’ customers to put payments on credit cards and gain an additional 30-45 days of leeway between the biller due date and their credit card statement due date, SMBs are able to help their clients maximize working capital while also conserving cash during this period of economic uncertainty. At the same time, customers’ on-time payments through Plastiq helps keep the supply chain moving without delays.

Interested SMBs can learn more and sign up for Plastiq’s card acceptance product waitlist here in order to secure free, early access to the platform.

 

Polls & Surveys

PPP Program Falls Short

Alignable.com, the largest online referral network for small businesses, just released the results of several recent polls on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that show it has fallen short for many small business owners. Some of the hardest hit include companies owned by minorities and minority women, as well as startups.

The first poll shows 39% of small businesses still don’t have their loans and the entire loan process seems to be slowing down.

  • 61% have cash in hand
  • 6% are approved & waiting for cash
  • 19% are still waiting for approval
  • 8% were denied
  • 6% tried to apply, but their banks couldn’t process their applications

Minorities & PPP loans

Alignable found small businesses owned by minorities and minority women had a tougher time securing loans than other small businesses and it took longer for them to receive their cash.

  • For minority-owned small businesses, only 56.4% have been approved and only 50.8% have received their funds. Similarly, for women-minority-owned businesses, 58.4% have been approved, and 51.6% have their cash in hand.
  • Other businesses (not minority or women-owned), saw 76.6% approved for PPP loans and 69.6% with cash in hand.
  • Securing loans was very challenging for startups (businesses that have been open less than a year). In contrast, those operating for 15+ years had the easiest time in the PPP process.

 

Dire Economic Future for Black and Latino Small Business Owners

The situation is dire: Amidst mounting death tolls from COVID-19 in their communities, Black and Hispanic small business owners, and the employees and customers they sustain, face a startling prospect: without swift and adequate governmental assistance in the next six months, almost half say their businesses, under current circumstances, may not have enough funds to survive the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression. These small business owners cite a broad array of issues with accessibility to ongoing federal relief measures—only around 1 in 10 received the funding they requested—which is potentially driving overwhelming support for direct federal assistance, including for payroll, mortgage, and rent support.

This information is taken from a nationwide survey— the first quantitative assessment of COVID-19’s economic impact on both Black and Hispanic small business and nonprofit owners, conducted by Global Strategy Group for Color Of Change and UnidosUS.

Color Of Change President Rashad Robinson says, “Congress must act to ensure tracking and oversight of who is getting the money and who is being denied and ensure that the American public is not subsidizing another bailout for reckless and self-interested corporations.”

Key takeaways

A summary can be found here.

Despite two rounds of PPP support, 45% of Black and Latinx small business owners who are still in business report they will have to shut their doors by the end of the year, if not sooner. Small-business owners with full-time employees report forced cuts to their payroll obligations, including reduction of hours (44%), lay-offs (21%), reduced wages (13%), or furlough (6%).

“This ground-breaking poll shows that African American and Latino small businesses—the  economic engines of many cities, small towns and communities across America—are suffering greatly but are being left out of relief efforts. This is simply unacceptable,” says Janet Murguía, CEO and President of UnidosUS. “The next stimulus and relief package must have targeted help to minority-owned businesses and nonprofits so we can save these vital enterprises.”

Of the of Black and Latinx small business owners surveyed 51% report applying for less than $20,000, but only 12% say they received the full amount of assistance requested. More than three times that number—41%—report being denied assistance, while 21% say they are still waiting to hear if they will receive the funds. Of the small business owners of color who received either partial or full assistance, 45% say they had to wait more than two weeks to get the money. Survey respondents cited several barriers to accessibility: of those who decided not to apply, respondents cited an application process that was too difficult to complete (14%); concern that they were ineligible for the programs (32%); and belief that they would not be approved (26%).

While the CARES Act, which created the PPP program, receives support from 91% of all Black and Hispanic small-business owners, it is largely seen as a first, but wholly incomplete, step toward economic recovery. Survey respondents believe the stimulus was passed primarily to protect major corporations’ best interests (82%), with too many handouts to big corporations (74%) and too little funds for small businesses (71%).

As Congress considers another round of stimulus, Black and Hispanic small-business owners identify the following priorities:

  • Receiving direct federal assistance to prevent mass layoffs and keep them afloat so they can quickly and safely restart and rehire their workers (89%)
  • Suspending foreclosures on individually-owned and small business properties until the end of the crisis (86%)
  • Directing federal financial assistance to businesses to help them cover salary and other necessary costs (82%)
  • Suspending negative credit reporting until the end of the crisis (81%).

May 8th report by the Small Business Administration’s Inspector General found that, despite specific instruction in the CARES Act, the SBA had not communicated to lenders that business owners in underserved markets should be prioritized. Additionally, the Inspector General’s report found the SBA had failed to “require demographic data to identify PPP borrowers in underserved markets,” meaning that “it is unlikely for SBA to determine the loan volume to the intended prioritize markets.”

 

Are Small Businesses Ready to Reopen Their Doors?

LendingTree’s third survey of small business owners since the COVID-19 pandemic started reveals they’ve grown increasingly concerned about having enough money to reopen and are not sure it’s even worthwhile to reopen given the reduced capacity and increased safety measures required. In fact, nearly half the small business owners worry they cannot afford to resume normal operations following mandated closures to slow the spread of COVID-19.

New survey data from LendingTree shows 46% of small businesses owners say funding is the No.1 obstacle stopping them from reopening. Once open, businesses would likely have to adhere to safety guidelines, such as limiting capacity to 25% or 50%, as well as keeping customers at a distance from one another. For some survey respondents, it would be of no use to open the doors with such restrictions.

“I feel a multitude of emotions,” one respondent said. “Completely unsure of how my salon will remain open without rents being reduced [and with] less customers. Even if we have the clientele, we have to abide by social distances, which in turn equals less space [and] less customer intake.”

Key findings

  • Almost 60% of small business owners will reopen as soon as they’re allowed. However, 15% said they’ll wait a little longer and another 26% aren’t sure when they’ll ever reopen.
  • Fewer customers and fewer sales are expected by 46% of small business owners upon reopening. Just 17% think they’ll get the same number of customers spending the same amount of money as they did prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Not having the funds needed to reopen is the primary reasonsmall business owners would not reopen once stay-at-home orders are lifted. They wonder if profits would warrant reopening as they also worry about the safety of themselves and employees who may not want to return.
  • About 63% of small business owners surveyed have applied for funding through the Paycheck Protection Program.Of those who applied for a PPP loan, 44% have received funding. This is a significant jump from Lending Tree’s April survey, where just 5% of those who applied were approved.
  • However, more than half the business owners who received PPP funding are nervous they won’t meet forgiveness criteria.Some are more worried than others: 24% are “very concerned,” while 29% are “a little” concerned.

 

Who’s Thriving in a Remote Work Environment

The latest workplace study from Hibob shows a majority of employees feel just as productive working from home as they do in a more traditional office setting. While remote work gives workers the flexibility they crave, even with the stresses added by COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders, employees’ individual productivity levels directly correlate with their position at the company, living situation, and gender.

“It’s improbable that non-essential businesses will ever revert back to fully traditional office settings. Given this new normal, companies need to take time to adapt and understand how they must change to support remote workers. At Hibob we believe flexibility is the future of work,” says Ronni Zehavi, CEO of Hibob.

How an employee’s living situation impacts their productivity

In general, 37% of people feel equally as productive from home as in an office setting, 13% say they feel more productive at home, and 18% say they don’t feel at all productive when working from home.

However, for those who live alone, 47% say they are not as productive. Those living solo may feel isolated. Collaboration and live interaction are paramount in building a strong employee experience, but these experiences can be replicated with a remote workforce by leveraging tools like Slack, MicrosoftTeams, Zoom, and culture-oriented features within Hibob’s platform like Kudos, Shoutouts, and Polls.

It may seem counterintuitive that people with others in their homes are more productive due to the presence of distractions, yet Hibob found 73% of these workers felt productive from home—a finding that was especially pronounced for women.

Working mothers feel empowered by this time at home

In this new normal, workers find themselves balancing attending to their families and managing the demands of a full-time job. The survey shows 87%  of employees are comfortable balancing the needs of their families with work, indicating that companies are offering the flexibility workers need.

Hibob also found among working mothers 51% say they’re productive working from home and 68% feel like they’re able to do their job sufficiently from home.

Managers prefer work from home

Across all positions and levels, workers want their action items and responsibilities to be well-defined, especially while working from home. While 53% of employees say their tasks and priorities are clear, 34% crave more clarity, and nearly 14% feel as if they have no direction. Higher-level workers are more productive than junior employees: 61% of senior managers felt productive working from home, whereas only 49% of individual contributors felt this way.

 

Challenges of Remote Working

For all its advantages, working from home does have some drawbacks. A survey from FinanceBuzz reveals the eight most common drawbacks of remote work. Here are the top 5:

  1. Harder to build relationships with co-workers (49%)
  2. Feeling isolated (46%)
  3. Difficult to separate work from personal life (38%)
  4. Lack of face time with manager or company leaders (37%)
  5. Different perks/benefits between in-office and remote (31%)

 

Measuring Employee Satisfaction

CNBC and SurveyMonkey together polled over 9,000 workers in the U.S. to measure the impact of COVID-19 on employee satisfaction. Nearly half of those surveyed (48%) are  currently working remotely. Among all workers—working at home or not—the latest results show an uptick in employee happiness: the survey’s Workforce Happiness Index is an optimistic 73 out of 100 as of May, ticking up from 71 last year. And while workers say they’re happier than they were before the pandemic, they also report their jobs have gotten harder.

Key findings

  • Sentiment among all workers (remote and non-remote):
    • 54%of all workers surveyed say it has gotten “somewhat harder” or “much harder” to do their job effectively compared with before the coronavirus outbreak.
      • Those in positions of greater responsibility (VP and higher) are more likely to say work has gotten “much harder.”
    • Still, happiness across a number of dimensions is up:
      • 54% of workers say they are “very satisfied” with their job, up from 47% in December 2019.
      • By a better than three-to-one margin (38% to 11%) more workers indicate that they are happier in their roles since the pandemic started than say they wish they had a different job.
  • Sentiment among remote workers:
    • 44% of those working remotely are happier to have their job now than they were before the outbreak.
    • 88% are confident their company’s leadership is making the right business decisions to manage through the current environment.
    • 18% have considered quitting their job in the last three months.
    • 38% say they would like to work from home more often than they used to once things are safe again. Another 19% want to continue working from home all the time.
  • Sentiment among non-remote workers:
    • 32% are happier to have their job now than they were before the outbreak.
    • 79% are confident their company’s leadership is making the right business decisions to manage through the current environment.
    • 22% have considered quitting their job in the last three months.
    • 75% say they’ve felt safe going to work during the pandemic.
    • 80% are satisfied with measures their company has put in place to keep them safe at work.

 

Effects of COVID-19 on Small Businesses in the Home Services Industry

Jobber’s COVID-19 Data Report analyzes the effects of COVID-19 on small businesses within the home services industry. The data tracks developments from the beginning of the year through May 10.

The report includes information on YoY growth compared to other industries, as well as revenue trends and new jobs booked for these small businesses. It also breaks down data by three industries: cleaning, green industry and contractor.

Key stats

  • Home Services’ Fast Growth: In 2018 and 2019, home service businesses grew 13% and 11%, respectively, whereas the overall US GDP grew 2.9% in 2018 and 2.3% in 2019
  • COVID-19 Impact Started March 22: Up until then, the home services industry grew an average of 13%. Halfway through March revenues fell 30% compared to earlier in the year
  • Turning a Corner: New work scheduled and median revenue for home services year-over-year began to climb again by the end of April, a trend expected to continue in the beginning of May.

 

Generational View of the Coronavirus Pandemic

Bospar, a boutique PR firm, teamed up with Propeller Insights to determine how seriously Americans take the threat of COVID-19 and adhere to social distancing guidelines. The survey discovered that, generally speaking, older Americans join Democrats in taking the pandemic more seriously than younger Americans and Republicans.

Older Americans most socially distant

Only 4% of Americans say they haven’t been practicing social distancing, and 67% appreciate that social distancing is helping to mitigate the spread of the virus.

But older Americans are taking it much more seriously than younger Americans. Only 57% of adult Gen Zers (18-24 year-olds) have been social distancing “as much as they possibly can,” and 26% have been practicing social distancing “but not all of the time.” This compares to 81% of Americans 45+ who have been social distancing “as much as they can” and 8% who have been practicing social distancing “but not all of the time.”

About half of Americans (51%) most dislike that social distancing is creating a threat to the economy and that they have been unable to visit family. This is followed by:

  • Having to take extreme cautions in public and not being able to hang out with friends (43%)
  • Not being able to go to public events, like parties and sports (40%)

Other than mitigating the virus, Americans admit that social distancing has some upsides. For example, 42% appreciate that strangers no longer bump into them, and 26% enjoy not having to go in public.

Gen Zers and Republicans are least worried

About 73% of Americans worry they will catch COVID-19 when the restrictions are lifted. This includes 85% of Democrats and 75% of seniors (Americans 65+) but just 64% of Republicans and 67% of Gen Zers.

So, perhaps it follows that significantly more Democrats (63%) and seniors (61%) feel businesses should close any areas where people would be in close quarters—like restaurants and movie theaters. Only 39% of Gen Zers and 41% of Republicans agree.

Republicans (74%) and Gen Zers (71%) are also less worried than Democrats (90%) and seniors (88%) that COVID-19 will make a comeback in the fall.

In the post-COVID-19 world, 82% of Americans will be more cautious about their personal space. This includes fewer Republicans (81%) than Democrats (89%) and fewer Gen Zers (72%) than Americans of other generations (84%).

 

Get informed—Read it!

Staying Cyber Safe

In the light of COVID-19 and the mandatory remote working environment the Cyber Management Alliance recently released a Remote Working Cybersecurity Checklist.

Small Business Loans Alone Won’t Help U.S. Workers

The management team at Gusto—Josh Reeves , CEO and cofounder, Megan Niedermeyer, head of Legal & Compliance and Jeanette Quick, lead counsel for Financial Services have written an op-ed arguing nearly $700 billion the federal government has made available through the Paycheck Protection Program “feels like too little, too late for many Americans.” Instead they say, Congress needs to use the Payroll Tax to provide relief.

 

Are You Prepared for the Return of COVID-19?

The coronavirus hasn’t gone away yet, and some experts are predicting the virus will be with us for possibly another 18-24 months.

It’s important your small business be prepared. Check out Is Your Small Business Ready For A Second Wave Of COVID-19? Including the eight steps a business can take to prepare from Merchant Maverick.

 

Keeping Team Connected While Working Remotely

With so many businesses still working remotely—and many considering becoming a virtual business permanently, it’s important to make sure your staff maintains strong social bonds. Check out this article on the Flexjobs blog—8 Strategies to Help Remote Teams Stay Connected.

Coronavirus business stock photo by Maridav/Shutterstock

How Businesses Affected by COVID-19 Can Prepare for Reopening

covid-19

After shuttering their windows for weeks or fundamentally changing their operations to meet the challenges posed by the COVID-19 virus, companies also have to prepare for the reality that things will be different even after normal commerce resumes. Businesses need to consider the continuing need for basic personal health safety measures well into the future and adjust their strategies to accommodate the potential for future pandemic situations.

Give People More Space

Social distancing remains an important tool for combating the spread of infectious diseases even after they have reached their peak. Businesses that see a lot of foot traffic, like grocery stores or salons, should allow their patrons to leave as much space between each other as possible. Companies with large numbers of employees also need to look for similar opportunities to distance and protect their workforce.

Encourage Sanitary Practices

Encouraging sanitary usage of company property is often a matter of convenience, so businesses have to look for ways to make sanitary behavior also a convenient choice for workers or customers. For example, installing automatic doors can reduce the spread of germs compared to one with a handle and can make life easier for customers in general. You can also put some creative effort and branding strategy into designing signs to show proper positioning, indicate recent changes in layout or remind people to be mindful of their behavior.

Make it Easier to Clean

A sanitary workplace should be the goal of any company, even when they aren’t faced with the challenges of a pandemic. Businesses should evaluate how they position their equipment and their general interior layout to make it easier to completely clean all surfaces. You should also consider finding commercial electrical services to develop more comprehensive internal lighting to improve visibility.

Consider National and Local Guidelines

It’s impossible to predict exactly how COVID-19 will affect daily business operations in the months or years ahead. Business owners should stay aware of all relevant rules and guidelines issued by government authorities, particularly if they directly serve the public. Guidelines from federal departments often form the foundation for state and local laws, which may be strictly enforced depending on the area.

Businesses around the world face many different challenges as they endure the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some companies will essentially return to the status quo after reopening, businesses in many major sectors have to prepare themselves to adjust to a new normal.

Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most of her time hiking, biking, and gardening. For more information, contact Brooke via Facebook at facebook.com/brooke.chaplan or Twitter @BrookeChaplan

Covid-19 stock photo by Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

 

New Shops From Facebook and Amazon, Will We Go From Bad to Worse? Coronavirus Update

By Rieva Lesonsky

business

Coronavirus Business Update

Programs

Virtual Mentorship

The Qurate Retail Group, (owner of QVC and HSN) in partnership with the NRF Foundation, has introduced the Small Business Spotlight program to help out 20 selected small business across the country, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. These businesses will get increased visibility and other support, using their broadcast and online resources.

From May 11 through June 6, QVC and HSN will share the stories behind these businesses on-air including live hits, during which the owners will Skype into the programming. In addition, every Saturday throughout the campaign, the QVC3 broadcast will air a show dedicated to the small businesses and their stories. The businesses will also be featured on dedicated landing pages at qvc.com and hsn.com, as well as featured on Zulily’s website.

The businesses will also be offered a “virtual mentorship” from Qurate Retail Group team members in specific functions, such as marketing, to help face uncharted challenges posed by the pandemic.

Additionally, at QVC and HSN, a selection of existing small business vendors are featured in a special section of the Small Business Spotlight page on qvc.com and hsn.com. More information about the program can be found here.

 

HR Programs

Zenefits, an HR, Benefits and Payroll software provider, has launched several COVID-19 initiatives to help its small business customers quickly respond to the massive amount of change they’re faced with.

The In It Together Program

  • Zenefits payroll product is free for 12 months with an annual subscription to any of Zenefits’ base HR product subscriptions. This also applies to current Zenefits customers without payroll. “We believe small businesses shouldn’t have to decide between paying for payroll and making payroll.”
  • All existing Zenefits payroll customers were granted one year’s free access to Zenefits’ Wellbeing app.
  • Provide immediate training for small businesses on how to track sick and family leave in compliance with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
  • Provide all current customers with weekly HR Office Hours webcasts answering customer’s most pressing COVID-19 related HR questions.
  • Expedite benefit enrollment and cases related to COVID-19.

New Product Support for CARES Act:

The new features in the Zenefits People Platform, created to help expedite the process to apply for both the Payroll Protection Program loans and the Family First Coronavirus Relief Act, include:

  • For the PPP Application. A calculator that will offer the required payroll information to make applying for a PPP loan easier.
  • For FFCRA Paid Time Off Tracking. A new and easy COVID-19 time entry feature allowing employees to choose from one of two new drop-down time-off options: COVID-19 Self Care or COVID-19 Family Care. Plus, a new leave of absence feature admins can use to track workers’ emergency sick leave taken to remain compliant with HR.
  • Tax Relief. A new tax credit feature creating three new COVID-19 earnings types so amounts entered into these new earning types will automatically apply as a credit against all Social Security, Medicare, and federal income tax liability within the same calendar quarter.

News and Tools for Small Business Resources

  • Free tools and information for all small businesses, regardless of vendor, multiple times per day at zenefits.om. Workest covers breaking updates to changing workplace regulations, relief and loans at national, state and local levels. The site also offers COVID-related templates and tools for SMBs.

Partnerships

  • #OpenWeStand: Zenefits has also joined GoDaddy, Slack, PayPal, Salesforce, and others to support entrepreneurs and small businesses by donating resources, products, tools and more.
  • People + Work Connect. Zenefits has also joined Accenture, ServiceNow and others to build a tech-enabled community of support to help match talented people affected by furloughs or layoffs with job opportunities.

 

Tools & Resources

90 Days Free Service When You Switch to T-Mobile

T-Mobile is expanding support for SMBs to help them navigate the COVID-19 crisis, offering up to 90 days free service to new and existing customers who switch their employees to T-Mobile.

90 Days Free: SMBs can get a one-time $100 port-in bill credit per ported line, through June 30th — that’s like getting up to 90 days free! To qualify, add a voice line on a qualifying Business Unlimited or Magenta for Business rate plan through the T-Mobile for Business sales team and port in a number from Verizon or AT&T for that new line within 60 days. JT-Mobile is offering award-winning benefits and 5G access included at no extra charge. For more details on the offer, head here.

Taking Care of Business: T-Mobile for Business kicked off a new Q&A series on Facebook featuring interviews with small business leaders to discuss the shifts they made to weather the COVID-19 storm.

Supporting Small Business: T-Mobile signed and renewed its commitment to help keep consumer and small business customers connected through June 30, as part of the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected Pledge.”

To learn more about T-Mobile’s COVID-19 response, go here. Find out more about T-Mobile for Business.

 

SAP Concur Joins Small Business Coalition

SAP Concur has joined the Stand for Small (SFS) coalition organized by American Express, which provides small businesses with valuable services, offers, and access to tools and expertise via a digital hub.

SAP Concur will participate, offering complimentary access to Concur Expense and Concur Invoice for 30 days through 2020. Small businesses can sign up to receive:

  • Expense: Real-time visibility into discretionary spending as it happens with Concur Expense. While expense types have changed, some of the current “home office” expenses include:
    • Shipping costs to send office chairs to employees’ home offices
    • Second monitors and stand up desks
    • General office supplies, such as pens, paper, printer ink, etc.
    • Home internet and phone service
    • Complete home office furniture
  • Invoice:Automate AP to cut costs and make more strategic decisions while simplifying B2B payments with partners like American Express.

Get additional information for Concur ExpenseConcur Invoice and SAP’s Stand For Small participation.

 

Loan Forgiveness Calculator for PPP

The American Institute of CPAs has created a loan forgiveness calculator for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Questions surrounding loan forgiveness have been a major stumbling block to successful PPP implementation, and the AICPA calculator is designed to resolve many of these issues.

The calculator is based on existing PPP guidance from the Treasury and SBA, as well as additional recommendations from the AICPA. Both the calculator and the underlying recommendations have been made in consultation with an AICPA-led small business funding coalition whose members provide services and support to businesses that employ more than 75 million people.

Small businesses can have their PPP loans forgiven in full if the funds were used for eligible expenses over an 8-week period and other criteria are met. The amount of the loan forgiveness may be reduced based on the percentage of eligible costs attributable to non-payroll costs, any decrease in employee headcount and decreases in salaries or wages per employee.

The AICPA loan forgiveness calculator is divided into three sub-categories: 1) non-payroll expense tracking, such as mortgage payments, rent and utilities; 2) FTE (full-time job equivalent) reduction, which tracks whether businesses shed any employees over the 8-week period; and 3) payroll accumulator, which helps small businesses capture the amount of eligible payroll costs and whether wages on a per employee basis declined in the 8-week covered period. These sub-fields are then used to make a loan forgiveness calculation.

The calculator relies on several assumptions contained in the AICPA’s recommendations, such as how to calculate FTEs and the aligning of the 8-week covered period with the beginning of a pay period, rather than the date the PPP loan proceeds were disbursed. These assumptions are noted in the calculator template, as is a disclaimer that, in instances where SBA guidance is unclear, a CPA’s judgment and interpretation of the act may be necessary.

Get more information about the AICPA’s general resources for CPA firms on small business relief.

 

Introducing Facebook Shops

Facebook just introduced Facebook Shops, with a goal of making “shopping seamless and empower anyone from a small business owner to a global brand to use [their] apps to connect with customers.”

With Facebook Shops you can easily set up a  single online store on both Facebook and Instagram. And it’s free. You can choose the products you want to feature then customize the look and feel of your shop with a cover image and accent colors that showcase your brand.

Consumers can find Facebook Shops on a business’ Facebook Page or Instagram profile, or discover them through stories or ads. From there, they can browse the full collection, save products they’re interested in and place an order — either on the business’ website or without leaving the app if the business has enabled checkout in the US.

And just like being in a physical store customers can ask someone for help, in Facebook Shops they can message a business through WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct to ask questions, get support, track deliveries and more. In the future, they’ll be able to view a business’ shop and make purchases right within a chat in WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct.

Facebook is also investing in features across their apps to help customers discover products they’re interested in and make purchasing easier.

Instagram Shop: launching this summer starting in the U.S.

Live Shopping Features: Soon, sellers, brands and creators will be able to tag products from their Facebook Shop or catalog before going live and those products will be shown at the bottom of the video so customers can tap to learn more and purchase.

Connecting Loyalty Programs to Your Facebook Account: Facebook is testing ways for consumers to make it easier to earn rewards with businesses by enabling them to connect their loyalty programs to their Facebook account. And they’re exploring ways to help small businesses create, manage and surface a loyalty program on Facebook Shops.

Working with Partners: Facebook is working with partners like Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, Channel Advisor, CedCommerce, Cafe24, Tienda Nube and Feedonomics that offer powerful tools to help entrepreneurs start and run their businesses and move online. Now they’ll help small businesses build and grow their Facebook Shops and use our other commerce tools.

 

New Amazon Shop for Makers

Amazon Handmade, which features genuinely handcrafted products from toys to crafts to self-care to jewelry, has seen a 100% uptick in new Makers in its U.S. store since the beginning of the year, compared to the same time last year. Many makers and small businesses around the country are selling on Amazon to reach new customers and stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help connect customers with these businesses, Amazon launched a new shop which includes products that are perfect for the quarantine—shipped and sold directly by local makers across the U.S. The new Amazon Handmade shop features makers across the six regions of the U.S.: Pacific, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast—and a curated experience giving customers the ability to shop locally from each region and state. Here’s more info about the shop on Amazon’s blog, Day One.

Last year, more than 15,000 SMBs selling in Amazon’s stores in the U.S. surpassed $1 million in sales.

 

Free Month of Services for New SMB Customers from Charter  

To support America’s small businesses as they help restart the economy, Charter Communications, Inc. today announced it will provide one month of free services to any new customer that signs up for Spectrum Business as their connectivity provider. Businesses interested in the offer, which applies to all of Charter’s internet, phone and TV services, can learn more at Business.Spectrum.com/reopen or by calling 1-833-537-0730.

Charter’s offer for a free month of Spectrum Business services is available throughout the company’s 41-state footprint and aligned with state timelines to resume business operations. More information is available at Business.spectrum.com/reopen. Some restrictions apply.

Charter has also launched new online resources to help business owners navigate economic challenges, federal loan and subsidy programs, and tools to make the most of their Spectrum services, at no additional cost. Additionally, the company’s advertising sales business, Spectrum Reach, partnered with Waymark, a production technology company that offers free access to a unique video content tool that small businesses can use to make a video on their own.

 

Self-Check Temperature Kiosk

IntraEdge just launched Janus, its contactless privacy first, self-check temperature kiosk, which is now available for nationwide order and delivery. This is an enterprise-level device.
With the Janus kiosk, companies can comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s daily health check expectations and user privacy with this turn-key contactless, market-ready solution.

Janus’ contactless check-in process has four simple steps, so employees and customers can go about their business as usual. This check-in process can be integrated into existing HR systems and can support card scanning and manual inputs as needed. Janus can be installed freestanding, using a wall mount or on a countertop. All touchpoints on Janus are within ADA reach along with an audio interface for visually impaired users.

Janus is available nationwide and can be delivered within four weeks of placing an order. Get more information.

 

Polls & Surveys

SMBs Hit Hard by COVID-19 Crisis

Facebook just released its State of Small Business report with the Small Business Roundtable. This is the first of an ongoing series of reports “uncovering the situation facing American businesses. These were planned before the virus struck, when we had anticipated this first report would paint a much brighter picture. Instead, it brings home the scale of the crisis that our economy is facing and helps point to where help is most needed.”

They surveyed 86,000 small business owners and employees.

Key findings:

Small businesses are closing their doors to an uncertain future. 

  • 31% say their SMB is not currently operating.
  • Among personal businesses, that number rises to 52%—55% of which are women-owned

SMBs’ biggest challenges are access to capital and customer behavior. 

  • 28% say the biggest challenge they’ll over the next few months is cash flow.
  • 20% say their biggest challenge will be lack of demand.

To adapt to the ongoing crisis, SMBs are turning to internet tools.  

  • 51% of businesses report increasing online interactions with their clients.
  • 36% of operational SMBs say they’re now conducting all their sales online.
  • 35% of businesses that have changed operations have expanded the use of digital payments.

Small biz owners are struggling to balance running a business and caring for their households. 

  • 47% say they’re burned out trying to take care of business and household responsibilities at the same time.
  • 62% say they spend between 1-4 four hours a day on domestic or household care activities.
  • More women owner-managers (33%) reported that household responsibilities affected their ability to focus on work “a great deal” or “a lot” than men (25%).

Employees are facing dire economic circumstances.

  • 74% of employees don’t have access to paid sick leave or paid time off (70%)
  • Only 45% of owners and managers say they’d rehire the same workers when their businesses reopened. The same was true for 32% of personal businesses.

Still, SMB owners and managers remain optimistic and resilient.

  • 57% report they feel optimistic or extremely optimistic about the future of their businesses.
  • Only 11% of operating businesses expect to fail in the next three months, should current conditions persist.

 

The Role of IT in Remote Work

1Password just released a new exploring the “pivotal and under-celebrated role” IT plays in the massive shift to extended remote work for SMBs (from 1% to 91% of U.S. SMB office workers in just a matter of weeks).

Data points

  • A massive shift in mindset: Just 1% of employees in SMBs were primarily remote workers before COVID-19, yet 67% reported becoming more favorable towards WFH.
  • IT has absolutely crushed it (quietly): Only 15% of SMB employees say their company wasn’t prepared for the rapid switch to widespread working from home for an extended period of time.
  • SMBs are more flexible with security rules: 46% of SMB firms report relaxing some security protocols and requirements, compared to just 19% of large firms.
    • 20% of employees at SMBs say it’s more important to have convenience at work than security
  • SMBs follow security rules better at home: 72% of SMB IT departments say they think employees are following security protocols and requirements better during WFH (compared to 57% of enterprises)

There’s more information in this blog post.

 

Small Business Workforce Trends

The April Small Business Workforce Trends in the Quarantine Economy report from Gusto shows:

  • Driven by significantly increased furlough rates, net reduction in small business headcount and lost wages continued into April. Gusto data shows that furloughs increased by 138% from March to April. Additionally, furloughs accounted for 42% of total lost wages in April, compared to only 22% in March.
  • Small business headcount remains in critical condition, but late April provided the first early signs of stabilization since peak layoffs. The week of April 27 saw a 72% increase in the hiring rate compared to the week of April 6, which was the lowest point. Five states saw a positive net change in headcount of approximately 1% or more across the full month of April.
  • Workers who earn less are hit harder by lost wages. Hourly employees averaged 26% less pay in April compared to previous months, while salaried workers experienced a 4% average reduction in wages. Additionally, hourly workers are being furloughed nearly five times more frequently (397%) than salaried employees.

Summary from report: The data from the second half of April provides initial evidence of stabilization, with layoff rates returning to levels lower than the initial peak of the crisis in early April. Also, hiring rates are starting to return to pre-COVID levels. This stabilization may be due to many factors, including small businesses who received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans rehiring employees in order to meet forgiveness requirements, the start of limited business operations that require modest rehiring, and plans in some states to reopen certain types of businesses in early May.

Payroll data is a leading indicator of where the small business economy is headed, and this report suggests that we are in a critical period for understanding how the crisis will affect small businesses going forward. Our data indicates that small business employment is no longer in a free fall. But given the losses in employment since March, if PPP loans run out, and/or if many businesses rehire only a fraction of their employees, we could easily see the economic impact deepen and expand further.

 

 SMBs Pivot to Cope with COVID-19 Pandemic

Some SMBs are finding success in pivoting the products and service they offer during the global pandemic, according to a recent Vistage survey, which shows 47% made changes to the products and service they offer, as a direct result of the pandemic. And 49% added news products or service to help them sustain long-term business growth.

The May CEO Confidence Index also revealed key findings about how CEOs are feeling about the economy, as well as the plans they have as it pertains to talent management and returning to work.

Highlights

  • 39% of business owners expect the economy to get worse over the next 12 months, and as a result 47% of business owners also expect their profitability to worsen in the next 12 months
  • 21% of business owners say their revenues have already decreased 25-49% because of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • 82% of those surveyed plan to leverage the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and out of those, 88% have already received funds
    • Another 44% of business owners are also relying on a line of credit from banks during this time, to stay on their feet
  • 20% have implemented employee layoffs and an additional 11% are planning to implement layoffs in the near future
    • 18% have implemented employee furloughs and an additional 7% are planning to implement furloughs in the near future
  • 42% of SMB CEOs are planning to implement temperature checks and testing requirements for employees who are returning to work, and 77% are increasing the cleaning of their facilities

 

Things are Bad—Will They Get Worse?

New research from SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) warns the state of small business could go from bad to worse, as 52% expect to be out of business within six months. The survey examining the impact of COVID-19 identifies significant, widespread economic pain—such as layoffs, furloughs, and lost revenue—that needs to be treated as public and private sector leaders move to reopen the economy.

The survey of U.S. small business owners found:

  • 52% expect to be out of business within six months
  • 54% have laid off employees while 22% have furloughed employees
  • 62% report a general decrease in revenue while 12% report a general increase
    • Of those small businesses reporting decreased revenue, 47% report losses of 10-30%, 41% report losses exceeding 30%, and 13% report a total loss of revenue.

“SHRM has tracked COVID-19’s impact on work, workers, and the workplace for months,” says SHRM President and CEO, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, “but these might be the most alarming findings to date. Small business is truly the backbone of our economy. So, when half say they’re worried about being wiped out, let’s remember: We’re talking about roughly 14 million businesses.”

The survey is set to recur on June 17.

Other resources

 

What Employees Think about Remote Working

As part of a recent study collected by O.C. Tanner in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, 91% of employees say they’d prefer to work from home at least some of the time—even after the pandemic is over.

When asked about the right balance of remote/office work once returning to the office is allowed:

  • Only 9% of employees noted that they do not want to work remotely
  • 26% of employees would like to work from home at least one day per week
  • 16% of employees would like to work from home at least two days per week
  • 18% of employees would like to work from home at least three days per week
  • 11% of employees would like to work from home at least four days per week
  • 21% of employees would like to work from home full-time

When asked if their company would support remote work in the future:

  • 61% of employees say their employer would support remote work after the pandemic
  • For the 39% of employees who do not feel their companies would be supportive, 69% say they would quit their jobs for a similar role elsewhere

 

Get Informed—Watch it!

Virtual Summit—How to Have Employees Return Safely to Work

ADP® will host a complimentary virtual summit on May 29 to provide critical insights, best practices and actionable guidance to help employers navigate a safe and effective return to work.  The event, Looking Beyond the Curve: Recovery and Engagement in the New World of Work, will run from 11:00am to 5:00pm ET and feature ADP experts leveraging unique research and data on topics including business continuity, evolving legislation, navigating compliance, and activating a workforce in flux.

Four event sessions will guide attendees through key considerations in the return to work:

  • The Workforce Outlook Has Changed: Redefining the Future of Work: This conversation, fueled by ADP Research Institute’s®comprehensive analysis on the workforce, will reveal important insights on the state of the economy to help employers manage the changes to the way we work.
  • No Handshakes Please: Managing and Activating Talent in the New World of Work: As organizations navigate challenges in acquiring, managing, and engaging their workforce, an increasing number of workers are finding themselves in states of flux. This session will explore new pressures for leaders and how to approach management to engage their workforce and achieve shared success moving forward.
  • Legislation for the Next Normal: Navigating Regulations and Staying Compliant: This discussion will help leaders navigate the changes that lie ahead as organizations move forward and workers return to the workplace. Topics will include legislative changes, health and safety, absence and PTO policies, privacy and human rights issues, and more.
  • Industry-Leading Strategic Advisors Share Their Back-to-Business Game Plan: Attendees will hear from industry-leading advisors, across accountants, brokers and HCM consultants, about how they partner with their clients to adapt, mitigate risk, and leverage technology in a rapidly changing business environment.

In addition to the virtual event, more than 15 additional, on-demand sessions will be available on topics including payroll tax deferrals, leave management, HR outsourcing, employee engagement, safety and privacy, agile pay practices, financial wellness and more.  Attendees can access these complimentary sessions at their leisure once the event concludes to continue learning based on their individual phase of recovery. And the entire will be available as a recording once the live event concludes.

You can register here.

 

Small Business Relief

QuickBooks recently held its first Town Hall featuring Senators Marco Rubio, R-FL, and Ben Cardin, D-MD, to discuss the future of small business relief.

You can watch the Town Hall on YouTube or Zoom or read the full transcript.

Here’s are 5 quick insights from the event, but be sure to check out the full report.

1. We could be facing restrictions through the end of 2021: According to Senator Rubio, we could be facing social-distancing restrictions through the end of 2021. “That may be how long it takes to develop a vaccine, clear it, and make it broadly available,” he says. “We have to start thinking in those terms, not in terms of ‘everything will be fine by November.’”

Knowing this, business planning to reopen should plan with restrictions still in place—restrictions they may have to pay for. Senator Rubio says, “Reopening might require you to undertake some expenses that you may not have in your budget.”

2. PPP loans could extend beyond their 8-week terms: PPP loans were intended to cover at least eight weeks of payroll costs for small businesses. But what happens when eight weeks are up and businesses still haven’t opened to their full capacity due to safety restrictions?

Senator Cardin says, “When we crafted this program, we didn’t anticipate that we would still have the type of economic climate eight weeks later where small businesses cannot operate at full capacity. So we need to be flexible.”.

3. A third round of PPP funding is likely on the way: Both senators agree that the second round of PPP funding may deplete within the next few weeks. And a third round of PPP funding may be needed to support more small businesses.

“I fully believe there will be a third round,” say Senator Cardin, who hopes the next round will dedicate those funds to the businesses that truly need them.

4. The restaurant industry may take longer to recover: “To some extent, restaurants were the first ones thrown into the crisis,” say Senator Rubio. “They’re going to be the last ones that come out of it for a lot of different reasons outside of their control.”

5. If you follow the rules, your loan may be forgiven: Business owners are concerned about the forgiveness rules changing after they accept a loan. Senator Cardin set the record straight, “I have a very, very high degree of confidence that if you follow the law that we passed, you’re going to get the loan forgiveness,” he says.

But he also acknowledges the rules business owners are required to follow to be eligible for forgiveness are restrictive. And he suggests Congress may change some of those standards to make it easier for businesses to get maximum forgiveness. “That could happen,” he says. “But you can’t plan on those changes—you have to plan on the law being how it is today.”

QuickBooks is “working on some forms and reports that can be produced out of QuickBooks that can help automate the process to request forgiveness.”

 

Business Class Provides Essential Business Education

Need help navigating these challenging times? American Express recently launched Business Class to provide essential business education in an easily digestible format to help entrepreneurs do just that. You’ll find a one-stop resource hub, daily email newsletters and Instagram Live “Office Hours” held live on the @AmericanExpressBusiness Instagram account featuring a notable business owner to share expert insights and personalized stories. The live discussions follow an interactive Q&A format, allowing followers to receive answers to their own questions in real time.

 

Andy Cohen to Host Fundraiser to Benefit Small Business Relief

Opportunity Fund, the nation’s leading nonprofit small business lender, is holding Eat. Drink. Give. on May 28 from 6-7:30pm PT / 9-10:30 ET, a night of online fun, food and cocktails emceed by Andy Cohen of Watch Happens Live with Andy Cohen, to benefit America’s small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event, open to all with a suggested donation, also features restaurant and catering entrepreneurs that are Opportunity Fund clients. Donations raised during the online event will benefit small businesses nationwide through Opportunity Fund’s Small Business Relief Fund.

“This is going to be a very special night for a very important cause—helping our small businesses survive this once-in-century crisis. We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important,” says Opportunity Fund and Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia. “Order some food or cook a meal, pour yourself a drink, enjoy some laughs with some amazing people and know that your support will make a huge difference to small business owners and their employees who have been devastated by this pandemic.”

Donations will go to Opportunity Fund’s Small Business Relief Fund, which aims to raise $50 million. The Fund provides critical financial relief and business assistance to small businesses impacted by COVID-19, especially women, minority, and immigrant-owned businesses left behind by the CARES Act. Opportunity Fund has already provided deferred payment terms to over 2,600 of its existing small business clients within the first weeks of the economic crisis. Accion Opportunity Fund has reached nearly 3,000 small business owners in 36 states with educational resources online to help them navigate business challenges they are facing. Every $1 donated provides for $0.40 of small business debt relief, $0.40 toward loss mitigation and $0.20 to deploy new capital.

Everyone from across the country and around the world is invited. Partygoers can RSVP here.

 

Get Informed—Read it!

COVID-19 Retail Trends in An All-DTC World

Earlier this year, Bluecore released its 2020 Retail Trends report, based on a survey of what retailers were prioritizing for 2020. But, with the onset of a global pandemic, supply chain crisis, and a hard-hit economy, a lot has changed.

Bluecore set out to understand what new consumer and shopper behaviors mean for retailers, in the new now. To do this, they reviewed shopper interactions with and activity across over 70 retail brands in the apparel, beauty, pharmacy, sports/outdoors, and luxury sub-verticals. Bluecore then reviewed shopper interactions with and activity across three business models: traditional chain stores, traditional department stores, and digital natives.

Read the full report—it’s quite interesting.

 

Resources & More

Looking for resources, tips and actionable advice from experts? You’ll find all this and more in the COVID-19 Business Resources section from business.com. The section contains an all new Diary Series spotlighting real stories from small business owners who are pivoting during the crisis; editorial content covering the latest news, tips and resources; plus, expert advice directly from those on the front lines.

COVID-19 Business Resources include:

Real Stories from Small Business Owners: Highlighting the resiliency of the small business community, the new Small Business Diary Series features three small business owners and details how they are coping with the challenges facing so many right now. If you are interested in discussing your own experience during the COVID-19 crisis, join our community and share your story.
The Best Products and Tools to Use Right Now: Driven by business.com’s extensive product reviews section, the site includes the industry’s best tools and services for working remotely and staying afloat during this time. Specific reviews including remote access software, remote PC access, business loans, conference call services, even telemedicine software.
Expert Advice and Direct Access Through the business.com Community: Members can get answers to their most pressing business questions directly from finance professionals in the community. Membership is free!

A Dedicated Editorial Team Covering the Latest News and Developments: More than 75 articles from our team are available covering the topics and concerns keeping business owners awake at night: PPP Loans, customer retention, CARES Act, employee support, marketing, remote work, cybersecurity, lead generation, cash flow and more.

 

Returning to work?

If your business is getting ready to resume operations, here’s a checklist for reopening your business from OnPay.

 

Laid Off Due to COVID-19?

The United States has seen record unemployment due to COVID-19. Hardest-hit employees have been those in the travel, hospitality, and service industries, given the face-to-face nature of their businesses.

Tech companies have largely been able to transition to working from home to maintain jobs. However, 8% of women and 5% of men surveyed report being laid-off or furloughed. But women in tech are 1.6x as likely to be laid-off or furloughed than men.

Read more about the Impact of COVID-19 on Women in Tech  on Trust Radius.

 

Get Informed—Advice

Checklist for Small Businesses that are Re-Opening as Restrictions are Lifted

Guest post by Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster.com

Prepare a timeline for reopening and have a communications plan ready: Opening will likely be in phases and based on specific regions. Having goals in mind and setting dates will help you better stay on track and give employees and customers an idea of when you will reopen. Employees are longing for information and direction from their managers, according to communications executive Lynn Munroe. She urges companies to let  employees know exactly what changes they can expect when they return. Create a plan that details how office logistics will change based on  square footage, what meeting policies are, how elevators and break rooms will work. Outline all the changes at work and let employees know the plan ahead of the return.

Create a Physically Safe Environment: According to Paul Solomon, an executive recruiter at Solo Management, there are many safety factors to figure out for reopening—so give yourself a good amount of time to formulate a plan of action for this. With physical distancing continuing, managers will need to consider how far apart both employees and customers can be from each other. In addition, you will likely need masks, gloves and hand sanitizer on hand for employees. It’s also important to communicate a system to employees, i.e. wiping down community appliances after use, sanitizing upon entering, etc.

Create an Emotionally Safe Environment: Michelle McQuaid, bestselling author and well-being teacher thinks one of the most important thigs to do is to create “safe spaces” for staff to talk about the struggles they may experience as they try to adjust to the “new normal” of maintaining physical distance as they work together. The best way to lower anxiety is to normalize the uncertainty people may experience and the discomfort they may encounter with each other when facial expressions are hidden behind masks, there are limits on how many people can be in a room together, or not everyone is back in the office. You must as an office talk about these things.

Create A More Robust Online Presence: The pandemic crisis taught many small businesses that their online presence needed both updating and strengthening. As many businesses had to shift to online sales and fulfillment, business heads around the country understood their digital transformation efforts were coming together hastily and in a patchwork manner. Brian Byer of NYC digital marketing firm Blue Fountain Media suggests that this is the time to bolster that online presence, and turn the lessons learned during the pandemic into an online strategy they can leverage going forward.

Re-establish the Work/Life Balance: Staying at home merged work life with family life and it’s been a tough adjustment. An even bigger adjustment has been conducting so much of our work online. Bethany Baker of A-GAP, a foundation that helps people with digital wellness suggests that some employees may need to unlearn some bad tech habits and re-establish the work/life balance experts tell us is so paramount to a healthy life.

Consider an Employee Mentoring Program: According to a recent study, more than 60% or employees feel disconnected from co-workers. According to Gracey Cantalupo, CMO of MentorcliQ, many small and medium businesses are discovering the positive effects of virtual mentoring to recharge workplace relationships—especially with the real possibility that some if not all of your workforce will continue working remotely.

Be flexible: This is not an easy time for anyone, and adjustments will be needed. Preparation will be key to reopening but be sure you are ready for any obstacles along the way. In an uncertain time, we all have to stick together.

 

COVID-19 Will Change Job Recruiting; Here’s How Companies Need To Adapt

Guest post by Jack Whatley, recruiting strategist and author, Human Code of Hiring

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the business world and put tens of millions out of work in the U.S. At the same time, it’s caused a seismic shift in the way many companies operate, the biggest change being that more business functions are done while working remotely.

But along with the work-from-home aspect, the fallout from the coronavirus will fundamentally change recruiting and hiring practices long after the pandemic has passed. Social distancing, shelter-in-place orders and the forced closing of businesses will change the way we look at employment. No longer will the promises of changing the world attract the modern workforce. Safety and job stability are at the top of the mind for the modern job seeker—and that changed what they want in a job.

Businesses will have to become employee-centric as well as customer-centric. The companies that have the ability to capture that part of the employee message, put it into their employer branding, and reinforce it throughout recruitment marketing campaigns are going to be the companies moving ahead in a much different world.”

As states begin different stages of reopening for business, here’s what companies should do when recruiting, hiring, and re-hiring:

Create a communication campaign. If you’re a company that laid off employees with the hope of bringing them back, you have to reach out with genuine communication that goes the extra mile. It should let them know in detail what steps the company is taking. Those people who were let go unexpectedly and lived paycheck to paycheck, they’ll be emotionally drained and stressed. A company bringing them back needs to make them feel valued, so the company doesn’t lose that relationship.

Be careful in rehiring. Rehiring won’t be a straightforward process for some companies. Circumstances won’t allow them to rehire or bring back from furlough all of their former employees. Employers must be cautious in determining who to bring back to the workplace; they need to mitigate the risk of potential discrimination claims, which could be based on the decision not to bring back certain employees. Employers will need to have a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for choosing which employees to rehire. Those reasons include seniority, operational needs or documented past performance issues. Employers should document their decision-making process now, before deciding who will be invited back.

Focus on expanded employee rights. A new appreciation for workers may be emerging as state and local governments mandate paid sick leave and family leave during the outbreak. Some companies are shifting their focus to hourly workers as well for those perks. This change could become permanent as organizations work hard to hire new staff and increase retention rates.

Streamline the process. If the recruiting process gets backlogged, it causes problems for your current employees and an under-staffed  company. It becomes frustrating for them, because they’re forced to work overtime, and the big workload kills morale and increases turnover.

Most companies look at hiring people as a transaction—they need to fill a seat. They place a job posting and fill the job. In the new world, that will no longer be the case. To get the best talent, companies will have to engage people sooner, more thoughtfully, and put a higher priority on what employees value most in a job.

 

5 Coronavirus Stimulus Check Scams and How to Avoid Them

Guest post from SocialCatfish.com 

The distribution of $1,200 stimulus checks to Americans has given rise to unprecedented online scams. The FTC has thus far received 18,235 reports of fraud costing victims $13.44 million; Google reported it is blocking 18 million scam emails every single day; and  150,000 fraudulent stimulus check sites have already launched.

1—Robocall check scams: The scammer will call pretending to be the IRS and ask for your personal financial information. They will claim they need this to deposit the stimulus check into your account and will also ask for a fee to deposit say check. In reality, they want your information so that they can pretend to be you, claim the check for themselves. They can also drain your bank account of your funds with this information and will keep the fee for themselves with no check, in return.

How to Avoid: Do not give out any personal information. The government already has your information on file from when you filed your taxes. The stimulus check will either be automatically deposited into your account or you will get it mailed to your house.

2—Email and text scams: Scammers will pretend to be the IRS or federal government by emailing or texting you a link to click to receive your check. If you click on the link your electronic device will get plagued with malware and your information gets stolen.

How to Avoid: Do not click on any links that are emailed or texted to you.  Again, the government already has your information and checks are either directly deposited or mailed.

3—Identity theft scams: If you have not received your stimulus check yet and the official IRS website says otherwise, it could be possible that you are a victim of identity theft. This means that a scammer has found a way to steal your information, like your SSN, and has claimed your stimulus check for themselves.

How to Avoid: If you believe to have been a victim of this kind of fraud, you can report it here.

4—Google search scam: Scammers have created copies of the official IRS “Get My Payment” site and have updated their search engine terms so that people conducting google searches for information find these fake sites. Once a person finds their site, they think it is the official IRS website and will enter their information.

How to Avoid: Do not go on any website to get your stimulus check unless it is an official .gov or .ca site and beware of being redirected to a website from a non-reputable news source.

5—Third-party stimulus check scams: Scammers have come up with their own stimulus check programs claiming that they can give you additional money along with the government. They will send you letters in the mail, put pamphlets on your car, or send you an email or social media message trying to advertise their program. This happened to a man in Florida who claimed to have gotten an official-looking check of $3,000 mailed to him with a letter. Another example of this is a Costco relief program, claiming to help with groceries and money during this time.

How to Avoid: Only believe in the stimulus check programs announced by the government reported by reputable news outlets. If you cannot find it reported by reputable news outlets, it is s scam.

Check out the full report: 5 Stimulus Check Online Scams to Avoid, based on information from the FTC, FBI and IRS during the Coronavirus pandemic.

If you encounter a coronavirus scam, contact local law enforcement or file a complaint with the FTC. For more information on how to get your stimulus check and if you are eligible, visit the legit IRS website.

Coronavirus stock photo by gpointstudio/Shutterstock

 

EEOC Issues, Retracts, Then Re-Issues Guidance about “Direct Threat” and COVID-19

By Keith H. McCownCovid-19

Anyone trying to keep up with the onslaught of COVID-19 workplace legal developments understands that solid conclusions tend to be the exception, and the targets are constantly moving. Is there something special about the coronavirus world that warrants a new approach to the law, or must we apply traditional employment law principles even in these extraordinary circumstances? This challenge can flummox even the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), the federal enforcement agency responsible for interpreting workplace discrimination law.

On Tuesday, May 5, within a matter of hours, the EEOC issued and then retracted specific guidance for any employer who wants to prevent a “high-risk” employee from working because of increased risk of that employee contracting a possibly deadly COVID-19 infection. The short-lived guidance, seemingly tailored to the COVID-19 world, involved an apparently relaxed interpretation of the “direct threat” defense to discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Then on Thursday, May 8, the agency issued revised guidance, essentially reverting to its traditional position on the “direct threat” defense.

The ADA has always had the narrow “direct threat” defense available for employers charged with disability discrimination. Employers are permitted to take adverse action (termination, involuntary transfer, etc.) even when it is based on someone’s disability, or perhaps deny an employee’s requested accommodation, where the employee poses a “direct threat,” meaning “a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.” This action cannot be based on mere layperson belief, even if well-intended, but must be objectively reasonable and based on medical evidence. The decision also must follow an “individualized assessment” evaluating the person’s ability, the nature of the threat, the nature of the possible harm, and the possibility for accommodation to avoid the adverse action.

The “direct threat” defense is a very narrow exception to the usual disability discrimination principles. That was why the EEOC’s initial, short-lived guidance on Tuesday, May 5th raised an eyebrow. Although many employers are finding it hard to get people to come to work at all, there are also occasions when employers might prefer to exclude known “high-risk” workers from the workplace. According to public health guidance, people with pre-existing health conditions are at higher risk for very serious health problems if they contract COVID-19.

The guidance tended to imply that COVID-19 had lowered the usual very high bar, allowing employers essentially on good faith to invoke “direct threat” to exclude higher-risk employees from the workplace. Later on Tuesday, this guidance disappeared from the EEOC’s website. The EEOC explained that it removed the “direct threat” guidance because it had been subsequently misinterpreted.

So on Thursday, May 8, the EEOC tried again in its publication, “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.” The EEOC issued (at Question G.4) an amended look at the “direct threat” concept and how available it really might be for an employer who wants to prevent a high-risk employee from working.

In other words, you probably will not succeed if you invoke “direct threat” to defend against a discrimination charge for pre-emptively taking adverse action against a high-risk employee — which has been the state of the law for decades. But the EEOC’s public exercise is still instructive to everyone trying to apply employment law principles to the COVID-19 avalanche of new facts and circumstances. Are we really in a new world, or upon reflection, does existing jurisprudence still govern, in the usual way it always has?

The above guidance is based on information available as of the date of this publication.

Keith H. McCown is a Partner with Morgan, Brown & Joy, LLP, and may be reached at (617) 788-5013, or at [email protected]. Morgan, Brown & Joy, LLP focuses exclusively on representing employers in employment and labor matters. 

Covid-19 stock photo by Zigres/Shutterstock

United States Department of Labor Issues Guidance on WARN Act in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic

By Aaron A. Spacone & Laurence J. Donaghue

WARN Act

The huge layoff and job loss impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought renewed attention to the requirements of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining (WARN) Act, often called the federal “plant closing” statute. The United States Department of Labor (DOL) recently published a series of FAQs serving as a refresher on WARN Act issues, with particular emphasis on issues that have arisen, or are expected to arise, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brief Summary of the Act

The WARN Act requires certain businesses to provide 60-days’ notice before a significant loss of employment, casually referred to as a “plant closing” or “mass layoff.” Failure to provide the notice can result in costly lawsuits, where the exposure includes a back pay obligation for all affected employees for the 60-day period when notice should have been provided.

Smaller businesses are not covered by WARN. Covered businesses must have:

  • 100 or more full-time employees; or
  • 100 or more employees (including part-time) working 4,000 total hours (excluding overtime) per week. Note that, in this context, part-time employees are those working an average of under 20 hours per week or fewer than 6 of the previous 12 months.

More than just “plant closings” are covered. The 60-day notice requirement is triggered by:

  • An employment loss of 50 or more employees during a 30-day period; or
  • A layoff resulting in employment loss of 500 or more employees, or at least 50 employees and 1/3 of the worksite’s total workforce during a 30-day period.

A series of small layoffs over a 90-day period, none of which would individually trigger WARN, but which in total add up to numbers requiring that WARN notice be given, also triggers the notice requirement. When the employer can show that the smaller layoffs resulted from individual and distinct actions, and not an attempt to evade WARN, the notice requirement will not kick in. Therefore, in evaluating WARN’s applicability, employers must remain vigilant with regard to both affected employee numbers and timing.

Where notice is required, it must be given to (1) affected employees or their representatives, (2) the dislocated worker unit for the state in which the worksite is located, and (3) the chief elected official in the municipality in which the worksite is located.

The WARN Act and COVID-19

In the age of COVID-19, where businesses are dealing with a great deal of uncertainty, the DOL reminded that “employment loss” is a term of art that does not necessarily mean permanent job loss. Even a temporary layoff or furlough can trigger a WARN notice requirement if the layoff or furlough (1) extends beyond 6 months, or (2) results in a 50% or more reduction in hours of work for 50 or more individual employees each month during a 6-month period. As will be discussed below, some states – including California – have their own WARN laws requiring notice even for temporary layoffs and furloughs shorter than 6 months.

The DOL prescribes no specific method of notice, but simply requires “any reasonable method” that will ensure receipt. Given the prevalence of business shutdowns, layoffs, and furloughs that have already occurred, e-mail is a reasonable method of providing notice as long as the notice is specific to each individual employee.

There are exceptions to the 60-day notice rule which may apply in the midst of COVID-19. The “unforeseeable business circumstances” exception applies to unexpected and dramatic conditions beyond an employer’s control. Examples include a principal client’s sudden termination of a contract, an unanticipated and dramatic economic downturn, and a government closing of a worksite without notice. Exceptions are also made for faltering businesses (in plant closing situations) and those impacted by natural disasters.

Employers must take note that these exceptions do not excuse the employer from providing notice altogether; rather, they are exceptions to providing 60-days’ notice. Employers meeting an exception must still provide “as much notice as is practicable,” along with a statement as to the reason or reasons for the short notice.

Reasonable Foreseeability

A major issue in the COVID-19 era is determining when an employer should have reasonably foreseen that employment loss will extend for more than 6 months. The test for “reasonable foreseeability” is primarily one of business judgment. WARN, however, is enforced by private litigation, not by the DOL or any other central authority. Different courts can reach different conclusions as to whether—and when—employment losses of an extended nature might be “reasonably foreseeable.”

An uptick in WARN litigation can be expected in the wake of COVID-19. Amidst everything else brought on by the pandemic, employers must try to stay alert about whether a furlough or layoff is triggering the WARN notice requirement.

State-Specific Considerations

A number of states have enacted “mini-WARN” acts modifying the federal WARN Act, often by imposing additional requirements. For example, in Maine and New York, employers must give 90-days’ notice before a layoff or other covered event, and in California, any layoff of 50 or more employees triggers the state mini-WARN act.

Some states have also issued COVID-19-related guidance on their mini-WARN acts. For example, as of this writing, California, New Jersey, and New York have relaxed their mini-WARN acts in light of the current crisis:

  • On March 17, 2020, California’s governor issued an Executive Order altering the California WARN Act in a variety of ways. Notably, the Governor modified the notice requirement so that employers must only give “as much notice as is practicable” until the end of the current state of emergency.
  • On April 14, 2020, New Jersey enacted COVID-19-related amendments to the New Jersey WARN Act, excluding COVID-19-related mass layoffs from the Act and temporarily delaying pending amendments that were to be effective on July 19, 2020. The delayed amendments, including an increased notice period of 60 to 90 days, will not go into effect until 90 days after the Governor’s State of Emergency Order related to COVID-19 is lifted.
  • On April 17, 2020, New York’s governor issued an Executive Order modifying the New York mini-WARN Act. Similar to California, the New York Order temporarily modified New York’s 90-days’ advance notice requirement by requiring notice “as soon as is practicable” from employers facing “unforeseeable business circumstances.”

This is a constantly developing area of the law, and guidance from other states regarding their mini-WARN Acts could be forthcoming in the near future.

Aaron A. Spacone: As an employment litigator, Aaron defends employers against claims related to workplace discrimination, retaliation, and sexual harassment, among others. Aaron also provides counsel to employers regarding daily workplace matters, including the preparation of employee handbooks, hiring, wages, discipline, termination, and leave. 

Laurence J. Donaghue: Larry represents both public and private sector clients in union organizing situations, contract negotiations, grievance administration and arbitration. He presents in proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board, the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations, and state and federal courts on behalf of clients. 

Employee Retention Credit: Key Benefit for Small Business Owners Under the CARES Act

By Mike D’Avolio

employee

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was signed into law on March 27, 2020, certain eligible businesses are allowed to claim a new Employee Retention Credit (ERC). The purpose of this payroll tax measure is to incentivize employers to keep employees on the payroll even though the business is adversely impacted by the new coronavirus. Tax professionals should familiarize themselves with this provision, as well as the ability for their clients to defer payroll tax, to help their clients. This credit is not available to businesses that receive a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.

The basics

The ERC is taken against qualifying payroll taxes. The refundable tax credit is up to 50 percent of the total employee wages, up to a maximum of $10,000 of wages ($5,000 credit) per employee. An eligible business is allowed to include a portion of employer-provided health insurance expenses allocable to qualified wages in the wage base. The credit is calculated for each calendar quarter after March 12, 2020, and before Jan. 1, 2021. The qualifying wages are based on the average number of employees in 2019.

The employer can get immediate access to the credit by reducing their required payroll tax deposits that would have otherwise been made. So, you would report 50 percent of wages between March 13, 2020, and March 31, 2020, and April through June on the second quarter Form 941Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return. If tax deposits are not sufficient to cover the credit, the business may claim an advance payment of the refundable tax credit for qualified wages by filing Form 7200Advanced Payment of Employer Credit Due to COVID-19.

Eligible employers

Eligible employers are those who carry on a trade or business during calendar year 2020, including a tax-exempt organization, and either of the following:

  • The business was fully or partially suspended by a government order due to COVID-19.
  • Gross receipts are below 50 percent of the comparable quarter in 2019 (eligibility ends when gross receipts are more than 80 percent of the comparable quarter in 2019).

Qualified wages

  • If an employer averaged 100 or fewer full-time employees during 2019, all qualified wages are eligible, regardless of whether the employee is furloughed.
  • If an employer averaged more than 100 full-time employees during 2019, include only the qualified wages of employees who are furloughed or face a reduction of hours as a result of business closure or a reduction in gross receipts.

How to claim the credit

Beginning with the second quarter of 2020, the employer may claim the ERC on Form 941. The credit is taken against the employer’s share of Social Security tax, and any excess is refundable. If the credit amount for any calendar quarter exceeds the payroll taxes, the employer can claim a refund of the excess on the employment tax return. Employers can also request an advance of the ERC by filing Form 7200.

Overlap with other provisions

Businesses are ineligible to receive the employee retention credit if they take a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. They also need to exclude any wages for which the employer claimed a tax credit for 1) paid sick and family leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), 2) the Employer Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave, and 3) the Work Opportunity Credit.

IRS examples of how the credit works

  1. A state governor issues an executive order closing all restaurants, bars, and similar establishments in the state in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, the executive order allows those establishments to continue food or beverage sales to the public on a carry-out, drive-through, or delivery basis. This results in a partial suspension of the operations of the trade or business due to an order of an appropriate governmental authority with respect to any restaurants, bars, and similar establishments in the state that provided full sit-down service, a dining room, or other on-site eating facilities for customers prior to the executive order.
  2. An eligible employer pays employee B $8,000 in qualified wages in Q2 2020 and $8,000 in qualified wages in Q3 2020. The credit available to the eligible employer for the qualified wages paid to employee B is equal to $4,000 in Q2 and $1,000 in Q3 due to the overall limit of $10,000 on qualified wages per employee for all calendar quarters.
  3. An eligible employer pays $10,000 in qualified wages to employee A in Q2 2020. The ERC available to the eligible employer for the qualified wages paid to employee A is $5,000. This amount may be applied against the employer share of Social Security taxes that the eligible employer is liable for with respect to all employee wages paid in Q2 2020. Any excess over the employer’s share of Social Security taxes is treated as an overpayment and refunded to the eligible employer after offsetting other tax liabilities on the employment tax return and subject to any other offsets.

Key takeaways and planning considerations

The ERC gives business owners that are adversely impacted by the coronavirus a $5,000 refundable credit for each full-time employee retained between March 13 and Dec. 31, 2020. However, a business is not allowed to claim this credit in addition to the PPP loan, so you’ll want to help your clients figure out which of these provisions yields a better benefit.

The ERC is available to employers of any size, and the employer does not need to fill out an application. The business needs to have the money available to pay employees up front (or wait for an advance).

For more information, visit the IRS Employee Retention Credit page and FAQs, or visit the Intuit Accountant and Tax Professional COVID-19 Resource Center

Mike D’Avolio, CPA, is senior tax analyst with the Intuit ProConnect. D’Avolio has been a small-business tax expert for more than 20 years and serves as the primary liaison with the Internal Revenue Service for tax law interpretation matters, manages all technical tax information, and supports tax development and other groups by providing them with current tax law developments, analysis of tax legislation and in-depth product testing.

Employee retention stock photo by Vitalii Vodolazskyi/Shutterstock

Will the Office Be Obsolete in the Post-COVID-19 World?

office

It’s no secret; we are in the grip of a major transition. Intergovernmental organizations, including health agencies and travel bodies, are working to control the spread of coronavirus and the associated illness, COVID-19. The health crisis poses a major disruption to almost every aspect of life. So what does this mean for the future of the office? When COVID-19 is finally contained, will working from home (WFH) disappear with it?

The pre-COVID-19 work-from-home landscape

Of course, many businesses can’t offer an option to work from home. Machine operators, trades workers and service workers require direct access to customers or specialized equipment. But since the advent of high-speed broadband, many roles can now be performed from home.

So why did a 2019 National Compensation Survey from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics find that only 7% of civilian workers in the U.S. have the option to work from home? Prior to the spread of COVID-19, businesses’ preference for the office stemmed from concerns about the impact of a new work model on business continuity.

This attitude was reinforced by office evangelicals who argued that true collaboration only comes with physical interaction. Detractors of WFH models are now highlighting stories of isolated employees and overbearing managers in China, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak.

But, as we’ve seen with the rise of streaming services and ride-hailing apps, access to a digital space can be as good, if not better, than its physical counterpart. The proliferation of digital collaboration tools proves you don’t need to share the same space to work together effectively.

Distributed teams mean agile business practices

In addition to the cost of renting or owning a workspace, an office comes with major expenses. Between heating, lighting, power, equipment and amenities, the costs add up. That’s before you consider the cost to your employees of commuting.

But the real cost here lies in decreased productivity, thanks to endless meetings, office politics and watercooler distractions. It’s no wonder a 2018 study found that we work an average of two hours and 53 minutes in an eight-hour workday.

In contrast, working from home can actually boost productivity. In a 2017 Flexjobs survey, 75% of people said they were more productive working from home due to fewer distractions. With fewer diversions and clear direction, your team can focus on completing tasks.

Flexible working can limit localized dangers

Even when COVID-19 is contained, businesses should consider alternatives to the office. To require everyone to attend the same space every day is to put all your eggs in one figurative basket. Besides the risk of spreading illness between staff members, there are a host of other potential pitfalls.

The devastation of Hurricane Sandy wasn’t limited to those directly caught in its path. A report by the U.S. Small Business Administration found that 52% of small and medium-sized businesses in New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut and the surrounding areas experienced a loss of sales or revenue because of the storm.

Of course, even working from home, some of your team will experience connection issues. Additionally, there’s always the risk of exposure to illness, but working as a distributed team limits the scale of that risk. Even if some members of your team fall ill or lose connection, you can continue to operate in some capacity.

Flexible work expands your talent pool

Regardless of your objectives, diversity is essential to the balance of your team. Studies have shown that performance and team morale increase when businesses incorporate a wide range of voices in decision-making. Businesses have begun to recognize that diversity is essential to knowledgeable, dynamic teams.

Despite this, many workplaces are unable to diversify their teams due to the nature of their location. The reality is that the majority of your team will be found in surrounding areas, which can limit diversity. But when you find talent from across geographic boundaries, it paves the way for a better balance within your business and society.

In defense of offices

So, is there still a place for the office in a post-COVID-19 world? Of course there is. Even with huge advances in technology, there will always be a need to bring people together. It’s easy to socialize through technology alone, but face-to-face interaction is still essential. In addition, organizations working with sensitive information benefit from a secure, centralized space.

But do businesses need a full-time dedicated space to work effectively? The numbers suggest not. We’re already seeing this transition take place; the number of flexible workspace locations expanded by 205% while the number of operators grew by 138% between 2014 and 2019.

Conclusion

There’s no way of knowing exactly how the COVID-19 outbreak will change office culture, but it’s clear that “the great work-from-home experiment” will have a lasting impact on the way we work. While some will eagerly return to their offices when isolation measures are relaxed, many more will choose to keep their teams at home.

Natalie Ruiz is the CEO at AnswerConnect. She’s passionate about helping the world work anywhere and leads a distributed global team.

Empty office stock photo by zhu difeng/Shutterstock

New PPP Loans Available—How to Find a Lender

By Rieva Lesonsky

Fundbox coronavirus series, pt. 4, PPP Loans

Although the first round of relief funding from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) ran dry before many small businesses could even find an SBA-approved lender, a new law went into effect on April 27th that includes more than $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program. Nearly $60 billion of the additional PPP funding has been set aside for businesses that do not have established banking relationships, including rural and minority-owned companies.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce suggests again invites small businesses to connect with a lender and apply for the PPP loan. Time is of the essences, because as during the first round of funding, these newly available funds will be disbursed on a first-come/first-served basis.

Finding a PPP Lender

Because the SBA and lenders now know more money will be coming, it’s a good idea to be ready as soon as the government gives the green light. Experts believe the new infusion of funds will go fast—as quickly as the first 48 hours.

If your business bank is not an approved SBA lender, you need to find a lender now. You can find a list of approved lenders on the sba.gov website by state or Fundbox can connect you to a lender and guide you through the process.

Applying for a PPP Loan

Next, gather the correct documentation for the application. Here is a list of the required PPP application documents:

  1. Basic information about your business and how to contact you
    2. Average monthly payroll costs
    3. Details of full-time employees and their payroll costs
    4. Applicable Tax Forms (for 2019 and Q1 2020, if available)
    5. Proof of mortgage or rent, mortgage interest, and utility expenses
    6. Articles of Incorporation/Organization
    7. Applicable forms to verify all ownership over 20%
    8. Each owner’s TIN, EIN, or SSN and copies of IDs for all 20%+ owners
    9. Email addresses for all 20%+ owners of the business
    10. Proof of Active and Good Standing status of the business
    11. The completed SBA PPP application form
    12. Electronic funds transfer information

How to Learn More About the PPP Application

For more details on how to complete the PPP loan application and how to find the required documents, please this complete PPP Checklist. For a description of the loan terms for the PPP, the SBA provides a summary here.

Fintech Companies Joining the Process

The SBA has been slow to include fintech companies as approved lenders, which was not helpful to smaller businesses, especially as some major banks have been accused of favoring their larger clients. Once the SBA finally gave a few fintech companies approval, the first round of funding ran out. However, now that additional PPP funding has been passed by Congress, it’s essential to get started now, and a fintech firm may be able to help you apply and connect you with a PPP partner bank.

Once the lender approves your application, it gets sent to the SBA for approval and then it’s time to cross your fingers and hope you get approved before the next round of funding is exhausted. If you are lucky enough to get approved, you will get notification (usually by email) to sign final agreements and then payment comes in about  five to seven days.

Disclaimer: This information has been aggregated from external sources. Fundbox and its affiliates do not provide financial, legal or accounting advice. This content has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for financial, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own financial, legal or accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.

PPP loan stock photo by Vitalii Vodolazskyi/Shutterstock

 

4 Tips for Small Businesses to Navigate COVID-19

By Mark Spencer

covid

As the world continues to work toward preventing the spread of COVID-19, small businesses are finding themselves in an unimaginable situation. A staggering 7.5 million small businesses are at risk of closing, while 87 percent of small business owners report that their business is hurting as a result of the pandemic.

I’d venture to say most companies did not have any type of plan to address a global pandemic’s impact on their business operations – the major impacts we’ve experienced in the past weeks have been nearly impossible to predict or plan for. With 22 million Americans having already filed for unemployment, the overall rate is predicted to reach its highest point since the Great Depression. It’s clear that the impacts of this pandemic are being felt vastly across the country, however, it’s not too late to implement a few changes that will not only help your business during the crisis, but will better set you up for future unforeseen obstacles and hardships. Here are four tips that will help you and your business navigate the stressful times we are in.

Create a Continuity Plan 

It is so important for businesses of all sizes to have a clear continuity plan in place, outlining procedures and instructions to be followed in the event of a crisis. If your small business doesn’t currently have one, it’s not too late to create one now. Your plan should outline the key resources needed to deliver your product, both internally and externally. It should also identify the key business risks of the crisis at hand, as well as highlight the differing roles of the employees who are responsible for changing workflows during this time. If you find yourself in need of a continuity plan, there are many free templates available online to get you started.

Increase Your Level of Communication and Transparency

One of the most important things you can do as a business owner is communicate clearly with your customers. They understand, now more than ever, we are operating in uncertain times, especially when it comes to the supply chain and your product availability. In an email to customers, outline what your brand is doing to help them during these challenging times. By describing the steps your company is taking to mitigate the risks that are resulting from the pandemic, you will build credibility with your customers and they will appreciate the transparency. By providing your customers with a great shopping experience during a time like COVID, they’re going to continue business with you in the future, ultimately leading to an increase in business performance down the road.

Be Open to Change 

Life as a small business owner demands evolution and innovation. However, it may be difficult to implement changes to your routine. Be that as it may, you have to be prepared to change the way you’re doing business. Think about how restaurants have developed takeaway and delivery services overnight. Similarly, small businesses are finding themselves pivoting their marketing strategies and relying on social media to drive engagement and sales more than ever before. How can you reach new customers while adhering to the nation’s guidelines?

For example, take a look at how the retail industry has pivoted as small businesses have been forced to close their doors and consumers must shop entirely from the security of their own homes. My company, Jane, has strengthened our ecommerce offerings and has pivoted away from our planned Spring campaigns and instead shifted our product offerings to meet customer demands in this new COVID Life.

Utilize the Help Around You 

While these times are scary and you may not know how best to proceed, it’s okay and understandable to seek help. Banks and financial institutions are up to date on the latest news related to relief funds and grants, the stimulus package, and other resources. Staying in frequent touch with your bank and your representative keeps the line of communication open, keeps you abreast of your financial situation, and helps you take advantage of available financial options from the Small Business Association and as part of the government stimulus plan.

It’s also wise to expand your network of connections when it comes to fellow small business owners and business leaders. Everyone is feeling the effects of the pandemic when it comes to the economy and their business, so talking regularly with others about how they’re coping with the situation provides perspective. It also acts as a useful way to gain ideas of how to boost your business during tough times by understanding what has and hasn’t worked for others.

While it’s inevitable that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt by everyone for a long time to come, there are upsides of this unprecedented time. Learning to navigate these unchartered waters will undoubtedly promote resilience, sharpen business skills, and increase resourcefulness of business owners. We will be stronger than ever once we reach our new normal. Let’s do the best we can to support each other on the road to recovery.

A seasoned senior executive, Mark Spencer has more than 20 years of commercial business development experience, including over a decade of working with and advising eCommerce platforms. He is currently SVP, Commercial Operations at Jane.com, a curated online fashion marketplace. Outside of the office, Mark is an avid traveler, loves anything sports-related, and enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife and the family dog. To learn more about the Utah-based company, visit Jane.com, download the app in the App or Google Play Stores or follow along on Instagram

Covid stock photo by Mehdi Daoud/Shutterstock

 

Capital Raising in a COVID-19 Environment: Here’s What you Need to Survive in the Midst of Marketplace Disruption

By Ryan Rafols

capital

It’s no surprise that COVID-19 has caused disruption across the globe, creating major economic uncertainty and chaos in the financial sectors. Moreover, it has had profound effects across the public and private markets as investors tend to become risk-averse in unpredictable conditions.

Despite this uncertainty and the trepidation that many public investors may feel, startup fundraising is still thriving and the economy will recover- and for some sectors and industries, it is more important than ever, as a downturn can be more lucrative for opportunistic investors with dry powder.

What’s interesting is that historically some of the best fund performances occurred between the onset of a downturn and the early stages of recovery. And even under the challenging circumstances surrounding the 2008 recession, startups like Uber, Venmo, Airbnb, and Slack have been able to thrive, becoming major industry leaders.

Smart and opportunistic investors will understand that this is a prime opportunity to look at startups that are innovating to meet the new demand for health and safety solutions as well as early stage enterprises that are anticipated to remain strong due to a solid offering that will be relevant even after the environment stabilizes.

In fact, progressive online accelerator programs have moved to Virtual Demo Days that bring together 100’s of VC’s and private investors who are still very much interested in funding the “next big thing”, with entrepreneurs continuing to raise millions of dollars in capital from these events.

Outside of accelerators, startups often use conferences to meet investors and the top conferences have already gone remote. And personally as an investor, I’m excited to not be traveling and living out of a suitcase 30+ days a year. I get to spend more time with my companies, my family and friends, and most importantly with a shift to online and virtual, it has leveled the playing field for those who don’t live in Silicon Valley or New York.

Investor Shift from Unprofitable Unicorns to Profitable Acquisitions

Capital raising, especially for key sectors servicing the healthcare industry, remote work, and on-demand services are anticipated to continue to remain strong and have seen significant valuation jumps.

However, capital intensive startups that originally had models that could only become profitable after 4-5 years of massive additional capital injections will not be as strong in the short term, and many will likely fail if they don’t make massive cuts immediately. Many investors will also shift in the downturn to be more short-term return focused, versus long-term risk.

Those with dry power will thrive in an opportunist market. There will be a next Airbnb, and it won’t be able to get a unicorn valuation due to not as much dry powder in the market, which means that as an investor you can invest at a lower valuation, creating more potential upside long-term depending on how long market recovery takes.

While a percentage of private investors will focus on existing portfolios and only invest in companies with traction, foregoing early stage deals, the winners in the markets according to Warren Buffet are typically those who can afford to wait out market flux and the same is true for those who will continue to take the high risk investments in early stage startups.

Investing in the Future: What Startups Need To Know

It’s also important to keep in mind that investing in startups will still be data-driven and reflect the yearly climate, which means it may look a little different than it has in the past. The needs and demands of the market have changed dramatically due to COVID-19, and it’s almost certain that future needs can be based at least partially on trends we see now.

For starters, remote working and education have overnight become instrumental during the outbreak. Experts now anticipate that remote business and education solutions are going to continue to outpace many other sectors for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, many companies have reported preliminary results finding that remote working solutions are not only working for them, but they are considering longer-term flexibility in order to reap cost savings from changing property needs. Ultimately, this means that mobile solutions with the capacity to enable work and education needs from anywhere will be here to stay – and innovative startups in this EdTech space have tremendous growth potential.

Innovative healthcare startups are another key area in which investors may have a higher likelihood of experiencing strong and rapid growth. The market is currently demanding many COVID-19 related products, such as better testing capabilities and protective equipment and devices. In addition to this, patients suffering from many different conditions are seeking better ways to access healthcare in a way that minimizes exposure and risk. The healthcare industry was evolving to embrace telehealth solutions prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic likely means these solutions in the MedTech and healthcare arena must be made available faster, and they will likely be here to stay.

And while COVID-19 presents an opportunity for many sectors, it is hitting others much harder, such as food, hospitality, and transportation. All of these industries are facing massive losses, but in these trying times, there is also space for innovation and service-delivery transformation. Those companies and startups that are determined to find safer and more convenient ways to still meet the desires of their customer base can find massive success. Many of these companies had been considering automation in the past and now have to seriously consider it before hiring back their staff. We likely will be looking at a much more automated workforce by 2021 as businesses have been forced to adapt or die.

Startups Here’s What Investors Will Be Looking For  

While there is no guarantee that any company will land an investment deal, it’s important to know that investors will look for organizations with these traits prior to committing any capital under current market conditions, including:

  • Companies who truly innovate in their field, excel at what they are doing, and have a proven track record of success as a team.
  • Organizations that are innovating services such as contactless and automation technologies, that enhance human capabilities.
  • Solutions that benefit health, safety, and wellness for consumers as consumers are becoming more health conscious.
  • All types of goods, whether B2B or B2C, as long as they are unique, have a solid profit model, and have a proven track record of sales.
  • Those offering solutions in remote business and education to help put people back to work, and retrain them into new careers and skills.

In the end, entrepreneurs must continue to stay true to the basics of having a strong operational proposition, a solid business plan, and sound market strategies. It’s also crucial to understand the human capital of the startup, including the knowledge, skills, and competencies of the startup team – is often a huge predictor of future success that investors will continue to look for. It just is secondary at this point to already built products and companies with traction for many investors.

Overall, for companies who can meet these criteria, they will continue to succeed at finding funding on their own, with accelerator programs, and at conferences. In addition, entrepreneurs and investors who drive change and can make a positive impact in the current world can also find great financial success together despite the current market volatility.

Ryan Rafols is the Founder and CEO of Newchip, the only REMOTE accelerator program for scaling Pre-Seed to Series A startups.

Capital raising stock photo by Vitalii Vodolazskyi/Shutterstock

 

Changing Consumer Behaviors

consumer

How the post-pandemic consumer shops

As America “opens for business” in phases, it’s a good time to look ahead. We all know COVID-19 changed consumer behaviors—but do we know how much? A blog by Eric Scriven on the Logical Position website dives into the topic. Scriven cites a survey conducted in March by Valassis revealing:

  • 42% of respondents shopped more online
  • 10% tried BOPIS (buy-online-pickup-in-store)
  • 13% are using BOPIS more often
  • 14% used grocery delivery services for the first time [me too]
  • 13% used grocery delivery more often

The Valassis survey also found 10% of the survey respondents tried restaurant delivery services for the first time, 19% increased their usage, and 27% were considering getting food delivered.

Scriven says that “while more people are turning to online shopping, that increased activity isn’t spread equally” noting a survey from Civis that shows more consumers are spending money on  at-home activities, such as entertainment services, fitness, grocery, and pet supplies. But they’re spending less on “major household purchases (like furniture), restaurant takeout, electronics, and clothes.”

Want to reach consumers? This might be a good time to up your social media marketing. The Valassis survey shows 39% of consumers those responding to the survey say they’re more active on social media. That survey also found more shoppers are trying new brands:
  • 48% continue to buy their usual brands
  • 13% are adding some new brands to their normal purchases
  • 13% are “taking the opportunity to discover new brands.”
  • 19% are buying what’s available.

Another change in in buying patterns Scriven points out is the increase in consumers “shopping around” instead of just turning to Amazon. He says as Amazon started prioritizing the delivery of essential products to its warehouses, consumers began buying products directly from sellers. How long that will last is anyone’s guess, but this is a good time to up your marketing, using the numerous tools (many free) available to reach new customers who are actually on the lookout for new businesses to buy from.

Delivery stock photo by shisu_ka/Shutterstock

 

Coronavirus Update: New Programs, Tools and Advice

By Rieva Lesonsky

business

Here’s this week’s coronavirus resources for your small business.

Programs & Tools

Relief Plan for Nonprofits, Retailers and other Verticals

Zoho Corporation just launched a comprehensive program—its Vertical Relief Plan (VRP), consisting of a suite of business software applications to help businesses and organizations across three verticals severely impacted by the coronavirus crisis: Education, Nonprofit and  Government, and Retail.

Since Zoho introduced the Small Business Emergency Subscription Assistance Program and Remotely programs earlier this year, data emerged pinpointing the industries that have been disproportionately hurt by the global pandemic. In the U.S retail is among the six sectors most affected by the COVID-19 shutdowns. Around the world, an estimated 290 million students are out of school, according to one UNESCO survey. In response, local governments and NGOs have been stretched thin, lacking resources needed to keep people safe and economies going.

In addition to the VRP, Zoho encourages small businesses, as well as finance, sales, marketing, and HR professionals within larger organizations to utilize the discounts, training, and support programs the company is offering.

Here are some of the key features of parts of the Vertical Relief Plan:

Retail

Zoho Commerce 
Retail storefronts, shuttered due to the crisis, can build out an online presence using the Zoho Commerce Starter Plan for free, up to 60 days.

For existing Zoho Commerce customers, the company is raising the transaction fee threshold to $3,000 in sales for the Starter Plan and to $8,000 for the Pro Plan for the next three months to assist with tougher economic conditions.

Businesses providing essential services can quickly set up their online presence by taking advantage of free training and rapid onboarding of Zoho Inventory, Zoho’s order management software, set up specially for them.

Nonprofit & Government

Zoho Creator COVID-19 App Program
The program helps nonprofits, government bodies, and communities that are working on various programs like patient monitoring or food distribution. These organizations can place a request, and Zoho will build web and mobile apps for free using Zoho Creator, a low-code application development platform. Zoho can, for example, create tools to help non-profits or community groups organize shelters or distribute food or other essential services.

Zoho Desk 
For government agencies and departments around the world that are working on COVID-19 relief initiatives, Zoho is currently offering free software licenses of Zoho Desk, the company’s help desk software. Zoho Desk provides teams with the tools to manage their work and communication, and support citizens as well as government agencies in this time of distress.

Zoho Social  
To aid nonprofits and governmental bodies reliant on social media, Zoho Social is opening up its advanced edition for free for six months. It is also honoring extension requests from users as well as providing educational guidance and tool improvements to aid users working remotely.

Zoho Checkout 
For nonprofits working to provide relief during the pandemic, Zoho Checkout is available for free, enabling them to collect online donations easily.

Additional Programs in Support of Change Management

Zoho is also offering additional support across several business categories.

Zoho Survey is now available at a 50% price reduction to allow businesses to swiftly prepare surveys and questionnaires to collect data needed to make smarter, swifter decisions during this time. Plus, Zoho Campaigns now offers crisis templates to assist with outreach and communications.

Zoho has increased the storage limit for businesses using WorkDrive to 1TB of shared storage for the Starter plan and 3TB of shared storage for the Team plan. After 10 users, Zoho will give an additional 100GB of storage for the Starter plan and 300GB for the Team plan for every new user. This increased storage helps businesses currently experiencing higher-than-normal volume, such as NGOs or e-commerce businesses. For businesses developing new lines of revenue, WorkDrive serves as a centralized, scalable, data management and storage platform.

Zoho is offering several development programs through Zoho People, including unexpected change management training, privacy and security training, stress management training, new technology training, onboarding training, communication and collaboration training, and role-change training.

Zoho is rolling out free Zoho Recruit video credits until the end of June 2020. Zoho Recruit has integrated with Zoho Meeting  to make the video interface possible. The application will help recruiters provide timely, positive, virtual candidate experiences for companies that cannot staff fast enough due to the crisis. Zoho Meeting is now free with Zoho Bookings, making virtual appointment scheduling seamless in order to aid the rising demands of a global remote workforce.

Zoho has created numerous additional resources, including a live COVID-19 impact dashboardfinancial planning and recovery advice, a remote working help center, and virtual user groups, to assist businesses during this time. Check out Zoho’s comprehensive list of programs.

 

Digital Resources, Access to Experts and Tools to Support Main Street Businesses

Only 38% of small businesses feel they will survive in the current conditions for 12 months. To help provide small businesses across all industries with the insights and information they need to remain open or get back to business, Mastercard is launching Priceless Conversations: Real Talk, Real Action, an on-going online mentorship program, leveraging Mastercard’s Women Business Advisory Council members, external experts and partners to curate unique small business engagements. The content will be available across Hello Alice, the Mastercard Her Ideas Start Something Priceless Community, as well as the Create & Cultivate and Mastercard digital channels.

This mentorship program will provide the opportunity for Hello Alice’s Business For All community members to engage with the “expert of the week” and receive unique perspectives on their hard-hitting questions on the community’s online forum. You can join the Her Ideas Start Something Priceless Community here.

Resources For Today and Every Day

Mastercard is also expanding its Easy Savings automatic rebate offerings to include new partners such as Squarespace* and EdCast. From allowing small business owners to quickly establish an online presence, to accessing tools that assist with learning, knowledge sharing, remote work and collaboration, these new benefits help business owners manage their day-to-day and focus on their future.

The company will be launching The Main Street Resource Center, an online place for small businesses to access a  curated set of needs-based solutions and resources to help them in the current environment, as well as through recovery. These efforts build on Mastercard’s expanded worldwide commitment to financial inclusion, pledging to bring a total of 1 billion people and 50 million micro and small businesses into the digital economy by 2025. And given the crucial role that women play in these businesses; we’re pledging to reach 25 million women entrepreneurs.

(*The Squarespace benefit will be available on Premium Easy Savings, which is the Easy Saving version for World Elite cardholders and provides additional offers and capabilities including offers on top of what is available on Easy Savings and savings on experiences and travel.)

 

Free Website Builder

GoDaddy is helping entrepreneurs get online. GoDaddy’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic includes tools to help minimize the economic impact to small businesses. As part of that response, they launched a free website builder with GoDaddy Websites + Marketing. ( The website, plus marketing tools, is free with no expiration. Subject to the GoDaddy Universal Terms of Service, Websites + Marketing Services Agreement and Privacy Policy.)

Small businesses can choose from professionally designed templates, customized for their  industry. And the Websites + Marketing websites include an SSL certificate to protect both the businesses and their customers.

Learn more: Get to Know Websites + Marketing with how-to courses and videos

Stay present with marketing tools

Creating a website is only part of the equation. Being where your customers are also means being active on social media. With the free GoDaddy free website, you can manage your social profiles across Facebook, Google, Yelp and Instagram, post to social media and monitor online reviews from your Websites + Marketing dashboard, which saves you time instead of checking multiple platforms.

Learn more: Using social media to engage with customers in a crisis

Keep your business active

When you’re ready to move from in-person sales to a full blown online store, you can upgrade to the Websites + Marketing Ecommerce plan to take online orders. You won’t lose any of your content or have to start over.

Expert support from GoDaddy Guides

Check out the 24/7 support from their GoDaddy Guides.

 

Free Coronavirus Legal Resource Center Online

Rocket Lawyer recently launched its Coronavirus Legal Center, a free, one-stop resource that provides employers with expert legal advice, business continuity guidance, critical legal documents, and consultations with lawyers in the Rocket Lawyer network to enable them to successfully navigate the myriad challenges arising from the pandemic. The Rocket Lawyer Coronavirus Legal Center is also an essential resource for legal advice in connection with small business loans and aid pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Coronavirus Legal Center offerings for the USUKFrance, and Netherlands are free of charge and currently available to anyone.

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt the daily lives of millions around the world, business owners’ legal needs are snowballing, at a time when obtaining legal counsel could be harder than ever. Rocket Lawyer’s Coronavirus Legal Center provides legal guidance and resources to alleviate the immense pressure and confusion employers face and helps address their business continuity concerns. With a sharp focus on the top legal questions employers have today, the Coronavirus Legal Center removes the need to wade through a sea of internet search results and can be easily accessed from any device.

The Rocket Lawyer Coronavirus Legal Center provides:

  • A dedicated legal hub with answers to the most pressing legal questions presented by the pandemic, updated frequently.
  • Private, Coronavirus crisis-related, Question & Answer (Q&A) with a knowledgeable Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney.
  • Multiple digital legal documents to create, share and sign such as Employee Handbook, Telecommuting (Work from Home) Agreement, Temporary Employment Agreement, Bankruptcy Worksheet, timely business letters and more.
  • Plain language explanations and updates of government benefits, CARES Act relief, small business loans, and stimulus programs.
  • Curated links to additional resources for news, healthcare information and best practices for employers, individuals and families who are dealing with COVID-19 disruptions to their lives and their livelihoods.

Rocket Lawyer will also be hosting a series of webinars and virtual conferences, featuring expert attorneys from its On Call network, in partnership with HR industry leaders like Woodruff Sawyer, HR Girlfriends, and PeopleTechPartners. Topics include employment, healthcare, and business law issues related to the Coronavirus pandemic and the government response as well as estate planning for individuals.

 

PPP Financial Tools

Check out these really helpful tools from Goal Financial:

A live tracker for banks that are lending PPP: //goalfinancial.com/ppp-bank-status

A tool for getting help with PPP loan forgiveness: //goalfinancial.com/

 

Handling Customer Payments Remotely

PCI Pal®, a global provider of secure payment solutions, launched a rapid deployment version of its payment services. PCI Pal Rapid Remote delivers PCI compliant payment enabling businesses to quickly continue handling customer payments in a secure and compliant way even when working remotely or from home with minimal notice.

Rapid Remote enables ultra-fast deployment within 48 hours, and provides a solution for businesses with homebased workers who do not have access to secure payment solutions either through their existing remote telephony connectivity (including traditional PBX, and VoIP platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business), or where using mobile phones or landline telephones.

 

Polls & Surveys

What Businesses are Suffering the Most

According to last week’s Alignable Pulse Poll 34% of small businesses nationwide won’t pay their May rent in full. Of those 84% will only be able to pay half the rent or less. While the majority of small businesses have made arrangements with landlords for reduced or delayed payments, 36% can’t get their landlords to budge.

Nearly half the business owners who negotiated with landlords were only able to delay rent one month. Only 22% were successful in deferring rent for three months and a lucky 3% pushed off rent for six months.

The industries most affected by rent struggles include retail, personal services, travel, and restaurants, but this problem cuts across all categories at this point. COVID-19 quarantines have been especially difficult on women-owned, minority-owned, and veteran-owned businesses.

The poll shows 52% of women-owned businesses, 48% of minority-owned businesses  and 44% of veteran-owned companies were closed by the third week in April. Compare that to the 38% of all other businesses that shut their doors. On a hopeful note, 98% of all of these businesses plan to reopen once the quarantines have ceased.

 

Who’s Hit the Hardest by the COVOID-19 Pandemic

An unprecedented number of Americans have filed for unemployment. And according to a new research report from Gusto, those who can least afford to be laid off are being hit the hardest by the economic impact of COVID-19. Low-income employees, young workers, and businesses in low-income areas are reeling the most from loss of jobs and wages.

Key findings:

  • Lower income employees are more likely to be laid off. In particular, hourly workers making less than $20 per hour have experienced a 115% higher rate of layoffs compared to those making $30+ per hour.
  • Gen Z and new entrants are seeing the deepest cuts. Workers under the age of 25 have experienced a 93% higher rate of layoffs than workers above the age of 35.
  • Jobs in low-income areas are most at risk. Employees who work in businesses located in lower-income areas are 25% more likely to have been laid off, compared with employees who work in higher-income areas.

Check out the full report is available here.

 

Student Loan Debt During the Coronavirus Crisis

In a survey of American adults currently repaying federal student loan debtLendEDU found:

  • 68% of all federal student loan borrowers were unsure they could make their federal student loan payments before the CARES Act was implemented. This included 79% of those who have been laid off due to the pandemic and 83% of those who have been furloughed.
  • 54% said they wouldn’t have been able to make their very next federal loan payment, including 61% of those who have lost their jobs.
  • 78% of private student loan borrowers are also not sure they can make payments on their private student loan debt, including 83% of those who have been laid off.
  • 41% will continue to make federal loan payments during the grace period, while 43% will not.
  • Of the 43% that won’t make payments, 34% will spend the money on food & supplies, 20% on a mortgage or rent payment, and 15% will pay other bills (cable, credit card, etc.). 17% said won’t have any extra money to spend despite not making federal loan payments, which is indicative of how tight budgets have gotten, especially for federal student loan borrowers.
  • 14% of respondents said they were contacted by a widely-reported scam that is offering to suspend federal student loan payments for a fee.
  • 27% of respondents said they will consider refinancing their federal student loans during the grace period even though interest on federal loans is frozen at 0% until Sept. 30.
  • 45% of respondents were not aware of the recent federal student loan changes, while 52% were.

 

How Americans Plan to Spend Their Stimulus Payments

More than half of Americans (55%) who plan to spend their stimulus checks on essential and non-essential goods will do so at big-box stores or chains, according to a recent survey by The Ascent, a Motley Fool company.

Most survey respondents say they’ll use their stimulus checks to pay bills (37%) or put the money into savings (26%). Only 22% say they’ll spend most of their stimulus checks to purchase household necessities or non-essentials. Among those people:

  • 14% say they’ll make most purchases at a local small business
  • 30% say they’ll make most purchases online
  • 55% say they’ll make most purchases at a big-box store or chain

 

The Federal Reserve Reports on the Challenges from COVID-19

A new report from the 12 Federal Reserve banks and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System shows the scope and scale of challenges that U.S. communities are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Perspectives from Main Street: The Impact of COVID-19 on Communities and the Entities Serving Them, conducted last month, examines the findings of a nationwide survey of nonprofit organizations, financial institutions, government agencies, and other community organizations.

Key findings:

  • Nearly 7 out of 10 respondents indicated COVID-19 was a significant disruption to the economic conditions of the communities they serve and said they expect recovery to be difficult.
  • Income loss, business impacts, health concerns, and basic consumer needs were the most frequently cited effects of COVID-19.
  • More than a third of respondents say it will take longer than 12 months for their communities to return to the conditions prior to the disruption from COVID-19.
  • 72% of respondents indicated that COVID-19 is significantly disrupting the entity they represent, with 41% expecting to bounce back quickly after recovery begins.
  • 25% of respondents indicated their entity could operate for less than three months in the current environment before exhibiting financial distress.

“Listening to and learning from the front line entities working to support local communities is critical to shaping effective policies and programs. This survey helps amplify their voices as we try to understand the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations, businesses, community-based organizations, and others,” says coauthor Karen Leone de Nie, vice president and community affairs officer in the Community and Economic Development group at the Atlanta Fed.

The survey will continue to be conducted about every eight weeks, with findings then updated.

About the Fed’s community development function: The Federal Reserve seeks to promote the economic resilience and mobility of individuals and communities across the United States, including low- and moderate-income and underserved households. Increasing economic opportunity not only benefits individuals and communities but is also vital to the overall economy.

Get Informed—Webinars

Future-Proof Your Small Business with E-Commerce

Today (5/5) at 3 PM ET, join the folks at Alibaba.com, the B2B e-commerce platform, for a virtual “fireside chat” discussing why now is the time for B2B businesses to go digital. The guest Curt Anderson, an e-commerce manufacturing consultant, will share his advice about how to digitize your small business and take it to the next level.

Free registration: Eventbrite

 

Get Informed—Advice

Cybersecurity & COVID-19

Guest post by Paul Lipman, CEO of consumer cybersecurity company BullGuard

Cybercriminals are quick to spring into action and create scams on the back of major news, such as national disasters and terror attacks. Most of the scams in recent weeks have taken advantage of the public’s rightful fear of COVID-19 by pretending to offer helpful information. SMBs are hit especially hard, as 43% of small companies don’t have any cybersecurity defense plan in place, while coronavirus-related scams are on the rise, according to the United States Secret Service.

Some of the most common COVID-19 “fakes” or scams include:

  • Large discounts offered on face masks and hand sanitizer phishing mails. Some even offer cures for COVID-19.
  • Phishing emails and texts offering to provide information on government loans or claiming recipients have been given a tax rebate.
  • Ransomware spreading primarily via emails, often falsely claiming to contain information or advice regarding COVID-19 from a government agency.
  • Investment scams in which phishing email recipients are offered the opportunity to invest in companies that are producing vaccines.
  • Make a donation pleas to help fight COVID-19 or provide support to victims by clicking a link in an email.
  • Emails that claim to be from the World Health Organization, offering advice on how to stay safe during the pandemic.
  • ‘Healthcare organizations’ informing recipients that they have come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
  • Malicious web domains using the word ‘Zoom’. In March Zoom video conferencing users skyrocketed to 200 million. Cybercriminals are trying to exploit this by creating malicious websites to attract Zoom users.

Some of the main details cybercriminals hope to obtain and top targets for these scams include:

  • ID and login credentials that can be used to access corporate networks
  • Password and banking information belonging to individuals and companies
  • Unprotected small businesses and their employees
  • The millions of people working from home
  • Video conferencing platform users, particularly but not exclusively those who use Zoom
  • Companies in the healthcare sector

We don’t anticipate these types of scams surrounding COVID-19 will go away any time soon, as malicious actors will try attempts at fraud for as long as this global health crisis dominates our daily lives. However, this does not mean they can’t be defended against by using anti-malware protection and practicing good cyber-hygiene, such as using Virtual Private Network (VPN) when connecting to Wi-Fi and using strong, secure passwords and wherever possible, making use of 2FA (two factor authentication).

 

Essential Guide to Video Conferencing From Home

Guest post by Ben Christensen, cofounder and Head of People and Talent at Handshake

1—Start with an agenda: Without this crucial step, it can be more difficult to read the room and know when somebody is preparing to contribute a thought or comment in a meeting when on a video conference call. Preparation and assigned speakers can help drive the flow of a meeting, creating a better experience for everyone.

2—Value establishing a predefined process to ask questions: It’s important to think ahead and take into consideration all components of a meeting. Having a predefined process in place to ask questions (through a chat function or dedicated time at the end of the meeting) will not only ensure that everyone feels included and heard, but also allow for a more productive meeting.

3—Have alternate options to your laptop mic and speakers: Thanks to advanced technology, microphones pick up most sounds around you. As you work from home, there will be a lot of noises that will be hard to limit. Using headphones with a mic will allow for better audio quality will be much better than speaking in an open room.

4—Raise your hand: Use the “Raise Hand” or similar function and then speak to help make a more inclusive conversation, rather than trying to interject or interpret facial cues via video call.

5—Rely on multiple internet connections: Have one backup internet source for your meeting connection just in case. For example, if you normally use internet/device audio, make sure you also can and know how to dial in. There’s nothing worse than losing a connection at a pivotal point in a meeting.

 

Effectively Managing a Remote Project Team

Guest post by Scott Bales, VP of Delivery and Solution Engineering at Replicon

In today’s age of globalization and technical advancement, many businesses have seen considerable success allowing employees the option to work remotely—but what happens when it’s no longer an option? With the rise of COVID-19 forcing entire teams to continue their work remotely, many project leads and employees alike are entering new territory.

For businesses looking at total telecommunication until further notice, here are some key tips from, on how to effectively manage a remote project team:

  • Set Expectations Early and Often. Providing guidelines, setting boundaries, and reviewing the basics are among the most important steps to take when setting out on your project. There will be questions—be accessible and provide clarity on priorities, milestones, performance goals, and more. Outline each team member’s availability and ensure you can reach them when needed.
  • Ensure Everyone Has the Tools They Need. From a comfy desk chair to a unified system of metrics, everyone should be equipped with whatever tools they need to succeed and communicate effectively.
  • Stay Aligned With Client Requirements. Just like your team, stakeholders and clients should also receive transparent and open communication. Their requirements define your work, and as a project based organization, your goal is to understand what their priorities are and what that translates into for you.
  • Don’t Be a Stranger. At the outset, you may find it makes more sense to over-communicate with team members rather than risk missing critical information. As your team enters a more comfortable cadence, you can adjust updates, video calls, and more.
  • Build Genuine Connections. We’re all in this together and humanizing the work experience is more important than ever as many workers may feel isolated and disoriented with these new processes. Share positive feedback, open a fun chat channel, or try and “grab coffee” together—whatever helps maintain a sense of normality, solidarity and reminds everyone they’re not an island working alone.

Coronavirus stock photo by MintArt/Shutterstock

 

Omnibus Summary of Treasury and SBA Guidance on Paycheck Protection Program

By: Sharon C. Lincoln

PPP

On April 24, 2020, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (“PPP & HCE Act”), was signed into law. This new federal relief legislation includes $310 billion of additional funding to restart the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”).

The PPP is an economic stimulus initiative that makes it easier for eligible organizations to obtain loans through the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) in order to keep operations running and retain employees. Under the PPP, an eligible organization may receive a loan covering up to 2.5 months of its average monthly payroll costs (with some limitations). A significant portion of the loan may be eligible for tax-free forgiveness.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) launched the PPP. However, the $349 billion originally earmarked to provide funding for the PPP ran out after less than two weeks after the first PPP applications were accepted.

The PPP & HCE Act also includes $60 billion to provide additional funding for the SBA’s economic injury disaster loan program (“EIDL”).

The SBA periodically updates a list of frequently asked questions regarding the PPP, which can be found here.

Although the PPP & HCE Act increased the funding available for the PPP, organizations that would benefit from a PPP loan are advised to apply as soon as possible.

A summary of the PPP is as follows, updated as of April 27, 2020:

Duration and Terms

The PPP is available until June 30, 2020, or until SBA guarantees authorized under the PPP & HCE Act reach the new $310 billion limit.

Interest on loans made under the PPP is 1.0%. In addition, payments of principal, interest, and fees will be deferred for six months.

Typical SBA borrower and lender fees are waived under the PPP. Borrowers are not required to personally guarantee the loans under this program and no collateral is required.

Eligibility

The PPP is accessible to any business entity, section 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, section 501(c)(19) veterans organization, and Tribal business concern that has no more than 500 employees or meets the size standard established by the SBA (based upon the relevant industry in which the entity operates). Note that this program is not available to non-charitable tax-exempt organizations (apart from veterans organizations) such as social welfare organizations, agricultural cooperatives or business leagues.

Organizations with multiple physical locations, not more than 500 employees per physical location, and a NAICS code beginning with 72 (i.e., the accommodation and food services sector) are eligible to participate in the PPP.

In addition, organizations may qualify for a PPP loan even if they have more than 500 employees if (i) they satisfy the existing stator and regulatory definition of a “small business concern” under section 3 of the Small Business Act, 15 U.S.C. 632 or (ii) they meet both tests in the SBA’s “alternative size standard.”

Affiliation rules apply to aggregate related entities (and their employees) for purposes of determining eligibility for the PPP. However, such rules do not apply to organizations with a NAICS code beginning with 72, organizations operating as a franchise, and organizations receiving funding from a small business investment company licensed under section 301 of the Small Business Investment Act of 1958.

The PPP is also available to sole proprietors, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals; however, partners in a partnership may not apply on their own behalf and may seek a PPP loan at the partnership level only.

Required Certifications

Eligible organizations must certify that:

  1. The uncertainty of current economic conditions makes the loan request necessary to support the organization’s ongoing operations;
  2. The funds will be used to retain workers, maintain payroll, or make mortgage interest payments, lease payments, and utility payments;
  3. The organization does not have another application pending for a PPP loan for the same purpose and amounts;
  4. During the period beginning February 15, 2020, and ending on December 31, 2020, the organization has not received any amounts under the PPP for the same purpose and duplicative of amounts applied for or received under the PPP.

Loan Amount Tied to Payroll Costs

An eligible organization is able to receive a loan equal to the lesser of $10 million or 2.5 times the organization’s average monthly payroll costs for the one-year period preceding the loan origination date. The Act provides special accommodations for entities that have been in existence for less than one year and for seasonal employers.

For purposes of determining the maximum loan amount, no more than $100,000 of compensation per employee may be included in the calculation of an applicant’s payroll costs. This $100k cap does not apply to non-cash benefits, including employer contributions to defined benefit or defined contribution retirement plans, payments for employee benefits consisting of group health care coverage, including insurance premiums, and state and local taxes assessed on employee compensation.

Certain other exclusions also apply (for example, the compensation of an employee whose principal location is outside of the United States may not be included in the calculation of an organization’s average monthly payroll costs).

For sole proprietors and independent contractors, payroll costs include the sum of payments of any compensation that is a wage, commission, income, net earnings from self-employment or similar compensation and that is in an amount that is not more than $100,000 per year or pro-rated as provided under the PPP.

Permitted Expenditures

No less than 75% of the loan must be used to cover payroll costs, salaries and commissions, benefits such as paid vacation time, maternity, sick leave and health care. No more than 25% of the loan may be used for certain specific non-payroll expenditures:  mortgage interest, rent, utilities, and debt incurred prior to February 15, 2020.

Tax-Free Loan Forgiveness

The PPP offers loan forgiveness so long as no less than 75% of the amount forgiven was solely used to maintain payroll and no more than the 25% of the amount forgiven was used to pay mortgage interest, rent, and/or utilities.

Amounts forgiven under the PPP are not taxable.

The amount eligible for forgiveness includes only expenses incurred and paid during the first 8 weeks following the first date on which the loan was paid to the borrower. Also, the amount forgiven under the loan will be reduced:

  • In proportion to the reduction in the borrower’s workforce during this period, measured against the average number of full-time equivalent employees per month between February 15, 2019, and June 30, 2019, or between January 1, 2020, and February 29, 2020, and
  • By the amount of any reduction in compensation in excess of 25% of any employee whose annualized salary for 2019 was not more than $100k.

Amounts of an EIDL loan refinanced through the PPP loan may not be forgiven.

To request loan forgiveness, borrowers will need to submit a request to the lender that is servicing the loan. The request must include documents that verify the number of full-time equivalent employees and pay rates, as well as the payments on eligible mortgage, lease, and utility obligations.

In order to clearly show that the PPP loan was used exclusively for permitted expenditures, borrowers may want to set up a separate bank account for the loan.

The lender must make a decision on the forgiveness within 60 days. Any portion of a PPP loan that is not forgiven may be repaid over a term of 2 years from the date the organization applies for loan forgiveness.

Priority Recipients

The Act provides that the SBA should issue guidance to provide that priority for the loans under the PPP should be given to small business concerns and entities in underserved and rural markets, including veterans and members of the military community, small business concerns owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, women, and businesses in operation less than 2 years. To date, the SBA has not issued any such guidance.

However, the SBA issued FAQ #31, which asks “Do businesses owned by large companies with adequate sources of liquidity to support the business’s ongoing operations qualify for a PPP loan?” The answer to this question was effectively “No” and includes the comment that “it is unlikely that a public company with substantial market value and access to capital markets will be able to make the required certification [that the loan is necessary] in good faith.”

The SBA’s response to FAQ #31 also calls into question whether companies with venture capital funding qualify for the PPP.

Unlike other relief programs in the CARES Act (such as the refundable payroll tax credit), the PPP does not require a quantifiable level of economic harm in order to qualify for the program. However, organizations that apply for a PPP loan would do well to document the factors regarding “the current economic uncertainty” that form the basis for determining that the loan is “necessary.”

To apply for a PPP loan

In order to apply for the PPP, an applicant should take the following steps:

  1. Contact its bank and ask if the bank is planning to offer loans under the PPP. If the answer is “no,” contact a nearby bank that is an SBA preferred lender.
  2. Prepare the application form. The application form is here
  3. Compile the appropriate documentation, including documentation that shows the following:
    1. The number of full-time equivalent employees on payroll.
    2. The dollar amounts of payroll costs, covered mortgage interest payments, covered rent payments, and covered utilities for the eight-week period following the making of the loan.

As noted above, the Act defines payroll costs broadly, to include wages, salaries, retirement contributions, health care benefits, covered leave and the payment of state or local tax assessed on the compensation of employees.

Many banks appear to require written certification that applying for the PPP loan received board-level approval.

Alternatives

The CARES Act authorized the SBA to provide economic injury disaster loans (“EIDL”) to small businesses as well as to private nonprofit organizations (of any size) and agricultural cooperatives. A loan advance in the form of an emergency grant may be issued to an eligible organization that has applied for an EIDL. The emergency grant may not be in excess of $10,000 and is limited to $1,000 per employee per applicant.

If the SBA denies the organization’s EIDL application, the emergency advance funds do not need to be repaid and may be used for payroll costs, increased material costs, rent or mortgage payments, or for repaying obligations that cannot be met due to revenue losses.

Sharon C. Lincoln advises nonprofit entities on the wide range of issues related to their tax-exempt status, including formation, funding, governance, executive compensation (including deferred compensation), regulatory compliance, restructuring, international grant making, lobbying, unrelated business income, and mergers and acquisitions. In addition, she assists clients in matters directly involving the Internal Revenue Service, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, including audits, appeals and ruling requests.

PPP stock photo by Vitalii Vodolazskyi/Shutterstock

Tools, Programs, Webinars and More Helping Small Business Through the Coronavirus Crisis

By Rieva Lesonsky

business

Coronavirus Business Update

Programs

Helping B2Bs

Alibaba.com has expanded its B2B program to help small businesses through these challenging times. B2BToday offers articles and tips to inform and inspire you, interactive virtual events (every Tuesday) and virtual office hours where business owners can have One-on-one conversations with experts to get more personalized solutions (on Thursdays).

Next Tuesday, April 28 from 3-4 PM ET, join their fireside chat and get insight from Elizabeth Vazquez, CEO and cofounder of WEConnect, on the benefits of certifying your business as a diverse-owned enterprise.

 

Small Business Webinar Series

Verizon launched a Small Business Webinar Series earlier this month, featuring experts who will share practical advice, insight and tips on how small businesses can survive during these unprecedented times.

Register for the free webinars. On Tuesday, April 28 at 2 PM ET, Anita Campbell, founder of SmallBusinessTrends, will talk about helping your remote teams stay productive.

Ramon Ray and I will discuss keeping your business operating effectively in the new normal, on Thursday, April 30, also at 2 PM ET.

 

Tools to Help Small Businesses Navigate Federal Programs

ADP, a leading global technology company providing human capital management (HCM) solutions, is working with the federal government to support businesses and their employees in securing timely relief to help mitigate the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

ADP has focused on providing information and tools to help their clients understand and navigate the legislative relief (the FFCRA and the CARES Act) that has been adopted over the past few weeks. Their newly developed tool set includes:

  • ADP Employer Preparedness Toolkit: From resources on legislation updates such as the CARES Act and FFCRA, to insight on how to manage and engage a remote workforce, the toolkit consists of wealth of information in the form of webinars, articles, checklists, FAQs and more to help guide efforts and decision-making.
  • Paycheck Protection Programing: Includes information on how to apply for PPP and more information on legislation relief for businesses.
  • ADP Employment Tax Guide: To help companies with information specific to their state, including agency status updates in response to COVID-19.
  • Resources for Accounting Professionals: Aid to accounting professionals, to help best support their clients in light of recent and ongoing legislative changes.
  • COVID-19 Small Business Resource Center: Includes a variety of resources including local and state guidance, webcasts, FAQs and more, all specific to SMBs.

 

Can You Help Solve Business Challenges?

Act quickly on this competition—deadline for submissions is April 30.

The Visa Everywhere Initiative is a global, open innovation program inviting startups and fintechs to solve the payment and commerce challenges of tomorrow, further enhancing their own product propositions and providing visionary solutions for Visa’s vast network of partners.

The program, which first launched in the U.S. in 2015, quickly expanded globally and has more than 6000+ participating startups. To date, the startups have collectively raised over $2.5 billion in funding.

As COVID-19 continues to take a human and economic toll across the world, there is a need to find immediate solutions to help rebuild small businesses. VEI is inviting fintechs and startups to submit a solution that will support small businesses recovering from the economic impact of the Coronavirus. The startup that submits a winning solution will be awarded $50,000.

Right now, Visa has six open VEI challenges – one which directly addresses COVID-19 relief – for an opportunity to win $150,000 in prizes. The winner of the COVID challenge will win $50,000 and other prizes will be distributed among other challenge winners. Submissions are open until April 30th. More details on all the challenges and how to submit your application can be found here.

 

Explaining Funding Options

To help make sense of the various programs available, Become launched a portal dedicated to answering the questions small businesses may have. The comprehensive guide outlines the funding options available (including who qualifies), and links directly to the applications, to make the process as easy and straightforward as possible.

 

Crisis Communication Templates

10 crisis communication plan templatesVenngage has created a package of crisis communication and management plan templates—and they’re all free.

 

Free E-Commerce Hosting

Volusion just launched Curbside—a new program offering a year of free e-commerce hosting, payments, and pickup/delivery to affected brick-and-mortar establishments. Using Curbside helps cut out the fees associated with the established delivery services letting business owners keep more of their profits while serving their communities.

More details can be found in this blog post.

 

Polls & Surveys

 

CARES Act Relief Status

The latest Pulse Poll from Alignable shows only 8% of small businesses have received money, and another 14% were approved for it, but aren’t sure when or if it’s coming from the CARES Act. Plus, 72% who applied for the loans haven’t yet been approved. They’re in a state of limbo, not sure if they’ll ever see the money they were counting on to weather the Coronavirus quarantines.

“There’s no excuse for banks keeping 72% of business owners in the dark for weeks on end,” says Alignable’s cofounder and CEO Eric Groves. “According to senior SBA officials, the approval process is instantaneous upon submission of a completed application. So, why aren’t banks coming clean with their customers? It’s a question we’re going to dive deeper into in the weeks to come.”

“The need for this funding is great and becoming more pronounced as the days and weeks go by,” adds Venkat Krishnamurthy, Alignable’s cofounder and President. “And 45% of the businesses polled have been forced to shut their doors already.”

The current impact of the quarantines is staggering with 98% of small business owners saying their revenues have dropped by at least 25%, and 47% saying they’ve already lost half their revenue due to COVID-19.

 

SMBs Say They’ll Regain Lost Momentum

Vistage just released survey data, revealing how SMB CEOs are dealing with the crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. One highlight—84% were planning on leveraging the Paycheck Protection Program.

Other key points

Employment

  • 37% expect their total number of employees to decrease in the next 12 months

Business Health

  • 49% think their businesses will be moderately weakened but regain momentum in six months
  • 21% believe their businesses will be stronger than before in six months
  • 16% believe things will be back to normal in six months
  • 38% say they’ve changed products or services as a result of the pandemic
  • 54% predict their firms’ fixed investment expenditures will decrease in the next six months

Cash Reserves and Financial Assistance

  • 31% have cash reserves to support their businesses for 3-5 months
  • 20% only have cash reserves for 1-2 months

 

SMBs are Resilient

TriNet and The Harris Poll released a survey showing that despite the current economic environment and the difficult decisions being made, SMBs were optimistic—80% of polled companies have made strategic investments to keep their businesses operational through the pandemic, and 76% of those who have made investments are confident these investments will pay off after COVID-19. Plus, 65% believe the U.S. economy will recover in a year.

While SMBs are confident they can weather the storm in the near future—96% were confident that under current circumstances, their business can survive 1 month and 92% were confident t they could last 3 months. But confidence levels begin to slip at the 6 and 12 month time frame.

Revenue is already down for 78% of the SMBs responding:

  • 4 in 10 don’t have the cash reserves to last longer than 3 months without help
  • 31% can last more than 6 months
  • SMBs are trying to control their costs:
  • 67% have reduced payroll costs (including 40% taking a reduced salary for themselves)
  • 54% have made changes to their business model or product / service offerings since the crisis began
  • 48% have applied for financial support through the CARES Act

The business owners are aware of the government programs like the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), but many don’t know what they provide. Half of respondents say aspects of the program are confusing, especially the tax implications.

  • 95%  are aware of the CARES Act overall
  • 83% are aware of the Paycheck Protection Program
  • 54% plan to take advantage of funding
  • 27% aren’t sure if they are eligible, or don’t yet know enough about the program to say if they plan to apply
  • By April 6, 4 in 10 had tried to apply for funding, and 1 in 5 of those were unable to complete the process
  • 6 in 10 think l the loans are ‘difficult to access’

In order to adapt to the current situation, SMBs are making strategic operational choices, including cutting costs, in order to invest in the long-term success of their business. They’re spending less on:

  • 46% have reduced employee hours
  • 40% of business leaders have taken a lower salary for themselves
  • 34% have reduced marketing/advertising spend
  • 32% have worked with creditors to reduce obligations
  • 29% have cancelled services
  • 26% have laid off employees
  • 19% have reduced inventory
  • 13% have furloughed employees

SMBs are strategically investing in infrastructure, employees, and customers and community. The 78% of SMBs who have made strategic investments focused on:

  • Infrastructure: 46% invested in increased infrastructure to be more virtual, online, or contact-less
  • Employees: 37% still offer health insurance benefits to laid off or furloughed employees; 37% are paying employees who are not currently working
  • Customers and community: 37% donate to or sponsor local causes for COVID-19 relief (15% are donating to national relief); 36% offer assistance to customers (such as free services, discounts, delayed/forgiven payments, waiving fees, etc.); 14% increased their marketing / advertising spend

You can learn more from TriNet’s ongoing webinar series and blog series. All this information is also housed in the COVID-19: TriNet Business Resiliency & Preparedness Center.

 

Remote Working

More U.S. employees are working remotely than ever before. A new survey from Clutch found 66% of employees are working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including 44% who are working remotely 5 days or more per week. Only 17% of employees worked remotely 5 days or more per week before the pandemic.

The pros & cons of working remotely:

The top three benefits of working from home

No commute (47%), more flexible schedule (43%), and not having to dress up (33%).

The top three challenges of working from home

Collaborating with colleagues (33%), interruptions and distractions (27%), and sticking to a routine (26%).

 

The Negative Impact of the Coronavirus

A new survey from Next Insurance shows 89% of small businesses expect to be negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with 59% having already experienced losses.

Additional findings

  • 41% of small businesses have already started cutting expenses
  • 34% of small businesses believe they are adequately prepared for this crisis
  • 26% have already put their business completely on hold
  • You can read more on their blog.

 

Get Informed—Webinars

 

Bluehost

Bluehost brought together several small business owners in a State of Small Business webinar to share what has worked for them and provide advice and valuable insights including:

  • E-commerce options to transition the business online
  • Offering virtual consultations and services through online meetings
  • Updating business plans or pricing to accommodate WFH methodologies
  • Creating virtual events such as webinars or “non-event” events including contests

 

The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement™

The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement launched a free three-part web series, Navigating the New Normal, to “teach essential life skills needed to adjust to the disruption in the workforce.” The new program, Choose Love For The Workplace™, provides social and emotional intelligence for business leaders and employees.

The series covers:

Part 1—A Time for Courage

The pandemic plays into our instinctual fear. Our lives have been upended. We have no control over the changes affecting our lives and having no control is a bad feeling. Learn how you can brave the pandemic and take your personal power back.

Part 2—The After Effects of Coronavirus

Life after the Coronavirus will never be the same. How can you be resilient and even grow through difficult times. Learn about Post Traumatic Growth and how you can learn from this experience and come out stronger.

Part 3—The Choose Love Formula – April 29 at noon ET

Learn a formula that will help you cope with the drastic changes in your work life and personal life. Applying courage, gratitude, forgiveness and compassion-in-action in your daily life will not only help you through this difficult time but help you thrive.

You can register in advance for part 3 and listen to parts 1 and 2.

 

Get Informed—Read This

Finder.com has put together tips on how to increase your cash flow and manage your  finances during these tough times.

VersaCloudERP launched a Covid-19 Global Resource Center.

 

Get Informed—Advice

5 Tips for Keeping Consumers Better Informed

From Google for Small Business

Update business hours: If a business is operating with reduced or shifted hours, they can update them on their Business Profile through Google My Business so that customers know exactly when they are able to reach them. Pro tip: double check your phone number is correct and turn on messaging to make sure customers can reach you!

Share a COVID-19 update: Since every business’s response to coronavirus is unique, Google has introduced COVID-19 posts – featured prominently in a carousel on the merchant’s Business Profile in Search (and coming soon to Maps) – where businesses can tell their customers about how their operations and services have shifted. Updates can include safety precautions they’re taking, information about what products and services are available, and whether customers can expect delays.

Showcase business attributes: Given many restaurants and retail shops have closed their doors to patrons but are still operating in other capacities, merchants in the dining and shopping verticals can now update their Business Profiles to inform customers about service availability. Restaurants can add “takeout,” “delivery” and/or “curbside pickup” attributes and mark that they’re unavailable for “dine-in,” while retail stores will soon be able to add “curbside pickup,” “in-store pickup” and/or “same day delivery.”  The business operations will prominently appear on merchants’ Business Profiles on Google Search and Maps results when customers look for the business.

Share inventory online: With many shortages on groceries and home essentials, people have to make important decisions about when to leave the home to purchase critical goods. Pointy, now part of Google, helps merchants get their inventory online by connecting information from the merchant’s Point of Sale systems to their Business Profile. For a limited time, Pointy is available for free to select grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores in the US. Check if your store is eligible.

Mark a location “Temporarily closed”: Google has made it easier for businesses to mark themselves as temporarily closed directly from Google My Business should they be shutting their doors for a limited time. Note: If a business is marked as temporarily closed, it will be treated similarly to open businesses and will not affect local search rank.

Check out Google’s COVID-19 SMB Resource Hub for more helpful tips and tricks for guiding a business through this challenging time.

 

5 Business Tips Post-COVID from A PR & Marketing CEO

By Pete Reis Campbell, CEO and founder of Kaizen, a London-based growth marketing agency

As a business owner, the prospect of a pandemic that affects many global economies and potentially the day-to-day running of your business can feel daunting. It can be tricky to know how, and where, to lead your business.

Here’s how to successfully manage your clients during COVID-19 and how to protect your team.

  1. Be there for your team: Your employees are the most important part of your business. It’s important to recognize they are likely to feel anxious during this time. Respect that you might see a dip in productivity whilst employees find their feet with this new way of working.

For businesses that have moved to remote working during the pandemic, communication is more important now than it ever has been. Be over the top with it. This means more video calls, more meetings, and more contact. Consider introducing more chances for team check-ins and let them know you’re readily available for a ‘virtual tea’ or to answer any questions they might have.

Slack is a great communication platform that allows everyone in your company to converse throughout the day. This becomes more than just the general running of projects, but a space to encourage employees to share highlights of the week. For us, this can be any activity from beautiful design work to top-tier media placements.

  1. Put steps and a POA in place: If you haven’t already, it’s time to consider how COVID-19 is affecting your business and what you can do to reduce the negative impact. Your plan of action can be split into 3 manageable steps:

Reduce costs: Once Coronavirus picked up, we went through all costs line by line to remove unnecessary cash loss. From software providers to fruit deliveries, this is the time to renegotiate with your suppliers. Reach out to all of your suppliers and see if you can obtain a deferral, a payment holiday or a reduction in overall cost. The more money you can scrape back during this time, the better.

Taking advantage of the employee furlough scheme: Do all you can to protect your staff. If you need to, lean on the scheme to cover employee costs and for job reassurance. This can be a lifeline for very small businesses that may see lower cashflow during COVID.

Reconfigure and reconstruct your business to cover any losses: If business did get worse, how can you operate at a reduced capacity? Work this out in your business so you know how to act if the worst did happen.

Do right by your employees and look at all three of those plans. A well-prepped business owner has to look at the worst and the best scenario.

  1. Give your clients options: Like us, our clients are often business owners. They share the same uncertainty and anxieties post-COVID. With this in mind, consider what you, as a business, can do to continue delivering great work during this time.

Every client has a different culture and this pandemic has made that clear across our own client base. For example, one of our motoring insurance clients has wanted to increase their budget and do more work. A number of our travel clients have wanted to defer or stop work completely.

In the PR and marketing world, we came up with 4 different options: pause work, carry on like normal, do less work or do more work. Check-in with your client first to see how they’re coping and what they’ve done already before offering those 4 options.

  1. Stick to your original goal: Simply, there was a reason you started. Remember your business ethos and goals throughout this time. There will be an end to this period and normality will return.
  2. Remember the importance of a rainy day fund: This pot should cover at least 2 months’ worth of wages and running costs. My accountant advised me to do this early on.

If this wasn’t achievable for your business pre-COVID, be sure to begin working towards having this money in the bank after the pandemic. Agencies, in particular, will always face the challenge of cash flow – regardless of COVID-19. Having the rainy day fund to hand can help ease your own anxieties and protect your business in the long run.

 

Fighting Business Disruption

By Joe Pascaretta, General Manager of Credibility at Dun & Bradstreet

According to recent research by Dun & Bradstreet and Pepperdine University, 51% of respondents expected working capital fluctuations over the next six months while 18% said that if they were unsuccessful in securing financing within the next six months, they would be forced to sell the business’s assets or shut down.

As small businesses attempt to cover costs and protect their companies, I want to share some tips for business owners to help safeguard against cash flow shortages and on-going market fluctuations, as well as plan ahead as disruptions persist.

Take Action Now

Prioritize Your Employees. Your customers are your bread and butter, but your employees are your frontline. Make sure they have the resources they need to take care of themselves and your company. I had to get creative with figuring out ways to cover my costs, and it was scary, but taking care of my people saved my business.

Hire Responsibly. Make sure that you’re hiring within your means during this time. This ties back to prioritizing your employees; you want to make sure you can take care of all the people who take care of your business.

Stay Insured. While it’s always important to pay your bills on time and in full, if that is not possible due to circumstances out of your control, at the bare minimum make sure that you don’t lapse on your insurance payments. If anything happens that could compromise your business further, you will at least know that you’re insured and won’t have to go out of pocket to cover unexpected expenses related to an accident or disaster.

Be Flexible with How You Accept Payments. By expanding how you accept payments, you can give your customers flexibility with how they’re able to make good on their contracts with you.

Try to Avoid Unnecessary Purchases. If your business is affected, you’ll need any extra flexibility around cash flow you can muster. If you can hold off on making large purchases until you know you’ve weathered the storm, I strongly recommend it. Every business is different, so you’ll know what you need to keep the doors open and what can wait.

Start Planning Ahead

Establish an emergency fund. It is essential to have an emergency fund in place for unexpected circumstances. For example, suppose one of your major suppliers is impacted by unforeseen events. Do you have enough cash stored away to make up for losses coming from a supply chain interruption? While building this fund may seem like an arduous task, especially when you’d rather be investing that money back in your business, it can be well worth it in the long run.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Sometimes it’s tempting to maintain status quo when your business has one or two major clients who support your operations, or when all or most of your clients are in the same industry. However, if anything affected those major clients or that industry, it could cause extreme hardship for your company or even put you out of business for good. Consider diversifying your client portfolio the same way you would your stock portfolio.

Build and maintain a positive credit history. If your company is unable to provide to your clients and needs to take out a line of credit to assist with loss of income, a strong business credit profile can help. A positive business credit report and a good history of making payments on time may help you ease the blow if your business is affected by unforeseen events. Using your strong business credit, you may be able to renegotiate terms with your creditors to help avoid late payments.

 

Giving Back

Helping the WHO

The Alibaba Foundation, the charitable foundation funded by Alibaba Group, and the Jack Ma Foundation, established by Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder donated 100 million face masks, 1 million N95 masks and 1 million test kits to the World Health Organization (WHO) to support its ongoing fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. The WHO will receive the medical supplies in the coming days and distribute the supplies to the countries and regions in urgent need.

This donation to the WHO is the latest effort by the Alibaba Foundation and Jack Ma Foundation to support the global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Since February, the Foundations have sourced and delivered various types of medical supplies to over 150 countries and regions across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North America and South America.

Last week, the WHO, the African Union and United Nations World Food Programme announced a United Nations “Solidarity Flight” which provided a large quantity of medical and personal protective equipment donated by the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation to all countries in Africa.

The WHO also previously supported the distribution of the first and second donations of medical supplies from the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation to the 54 countries of Africa. These supplies were also transported with the help of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Government, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), World Food Programme (WFP), and Ethiopian Airlines.

In addition to global donations of medical supplies, the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation have launched a number of global initiatives to support global medical communities in their fight against Covid-19. The Foundations established the Global MediXchange for Combating Covid-19 (GMCC) program for medical experts around the world to communicate seamlessly with each other and share their invaluable experience of fighting Covid-19. The Foundations have also published and distributed two handbooks, available in multiple languages and detailing learnings and best practices from the First and Second Affiliated Hospitals, Zhejiang University School of Medicine, for treating Covid-19 patients.

The Jack Ma Foundation is also funding research and development of Covid-19 vaccines and virus treatment options in China, at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Australia and at Columbia University in the U.S.

 

Supporting Small Businesses

Verizon has undertaken numerous efforts supporting small businesses, including:

Feeding Frontline Healthcare Workers in NYC—Verizon Business is supporting small business restaurants in New York City and providing healthcare workers on the frontlines with 1,200 daily meals at six hospitals across the city. The ordering and delivery process is managed by Grubhub, which donated its service to help this cause.

Pay It Forward Live is Verizon’s weekly streaming entertainment series in support of small businesses affected by COVID-19. Over the course of Pay It Forward Live, viewers are encouraged to do what they can to support local businesses in their own communities by shopping online, making a purchase in advance for when businesses reopen or ordering a meal. Verizon will also donate $10, up to $2.5 million, to support small businesses when the hashtag #PayitForwardLIVE is used. More information, along with a link to apply for grants, can be found here. The funds from Pay it Forward Live are part of Verizon’s combined $20 million donation to nonprofits directed at supporting students and healthcare first responders, including No Kid Hungry, the American Red Cross, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) COVID-19 Response Fund, Direct Relief, and the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund in support of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s global response.

$2.5 million Donation to Local Initiatives Support Corporation’s (LISC) small business COVID-19 relief efforts. More information, along with a link to apply for grants, can be found here.

Verizon Up—Verizon is giving its customers another way to support small businesses by leveraging its customer loyalty program, Verizon Up, which will give members the ability to use their monthly reward for a Visa eGift card to use to support small businesses throughout April.

Coronavirus stock photo by Silver Wings SS/Shutterstock

How Service Businesses Can Function During COVID-19

By Rieva Lesonsky

service

Most states plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico have issued stay-at-home orders, urging isolation to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In addition, in states without official lockdowns, most have cities and counties encouraging their citizens to self-isolate. As a service business still trying to operate, your “new normal” probably includes figuring out how to keep customers satisfied, employees safe and cash flowing.

Essential vs Nonessential Services

Although the federal government is pretty much leaving it up to state and local governments about which are essential and nonessential businesses, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued guidance on which businesses and which workers are considered essential to our country’s infrastructure.

While recreational businesses are considered nonessential and anything to do with medical care, food production, utilities and communication are definitely deemed essential, there are some gray areas when it comes to service businesses. Officially, the DHS explains the advisory list of essential workers as:

“…workers who conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continued critical infrastructure viability, including staffing operations centers, maintaining and repairing critical infrastructure, operating call centers, working construction, and performing operational functions, among others. It also includes workers who support crucial supply chains and enable functions for critical infrastructure. The industries they support represent, but are not limited to, medical and healthcare, telecommunications, information technology systems, defense, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics, energy, water and wastewater, law enforcement, and public works.”

So, plumbers, yes and dog care services, no? Not necessarily. Again, you need to turn to your local government for clarification. While some states specifically name veterinary offices and pet supply stores only as essential, other states are more vague, stating “pet supply and services” are essential and therefore exempt from closing. Nonetheless, your service business’s customers will continue to need what you provide. Your first challenge is to understand whether or not your business falls under the definition of “essential service” which varies from state to state. Then, IF your business qualifies as essential, your next challenge will be to figure out how to conduct business and deliver your product or service to the public without risking their health—and the health of your employees.

Safety All Around

Never is transparency and communication more important to a business than during a crisis. If you as a business owner are confused about critical safety measures (e.g. mask or no mask?), then you know your employees and customers are, too. What’s going to make the difference is clearly communicating your policies and procedures for keeping everyone safe from infection.

If you haven’t already changed your website’s homepage to acknowledge the crisis, that’s  a good place to start. =Consider  including:

  • Any scheduling modifications, such as delayed response times or shortened hours.
  • Best way to connect with you if your office is closed
  • What procedures you have in place for safety such as having employees masked and gloved, sanitizing tools, or whatever you are doing.
  • If you are still sending employees out to complete services, you can ask customers to please notify you if there has been any sickness in their homes or offices.

Also, be sure and keep in constant communication with employees about their home situations, their self-sanitizing methods and any fears they have about contracting the virus. You may need to get creative and allow more flexibility with schedules as the virus continues to spread and inhibit people’s lives.

Go Virtual

Stay-at-home orders don’t have to be as detrimental as they once would have been—especially for service businesses. With the right technology and cybersecurity measures in place, you and employees could make the move to a home office without skipping a beat. Graphic designers, web services, accounting services, consultants and more probably already offer remote working options to employees, so set up is a no-brainer. For businesses yet to jump on the virtual train, the transition isn’t as painful as you might think. Investing in a good project management program helps, so everyone stays current on project progression. Also, helpful is to schedule regular virtual meetings over video conferencing apps such as Skype or Zoom.

You might find your staff already has the technology in place to make remote working a possibility. For those who don’t, allowing staff to take workstations home temporarily isn’t a big deal, as long as you both understand how to lower the security risks.

Employees will most likely need access to your company’s virtual private network (VPN), which is where the risks occur. Before allowing anyone access, Consider establishing remote security policies employees are required to follow. Of course, guidelines depend on the sensitivity of your company’s information. The following may provide some basic tips:

  • Hardware and software anti-malware, firewalls, and antivirus programs
  • Encryption policies
  • Access privileges and authentication
  • Connectivity guidelines
  • Password protocols
  • Acceptable use policies

Help With Payroll

If you’re like most small businesses right now, you might be facing the challenge to keep employees on the payroll during the crisis. The federal government has promised to help businesses stay afloat by initiating the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act. To help clarify and keep you updated on the latest information relevant to your business, check Fundbox’s Coronavirus/COVID-19 Updates and Resources for Small Businesses.

Service business stock photo by G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock