This message is bit longer than usual, and certainly less flashy. Take 5 minutes, and read it fully.
Every day I am talking to businesses and organizations dealing with rapid change. Financial institutions implementing new programs quickly. Restaurants shifting to curbside and hiring delivery drivers. Retailers learning how to increase online sales. Managers learning new tech and supporting newly remote teams. Members and non-members alike, we are making and receiving calls to hear how things are going, and what we can do. We are looking for trends and patterns, planning ourselves how to adapt to meet your needs- now and in the months to come.
What we see is that running a business, leading a team, executing your work goals- all seem infinitely harder right now. Processing new information every day, hour and minute has our brains in overdrive. Grieving the loss of planned events, milestones and normalcy are indicators of the collective trauma we are experiencing as leaders, teams, and individuals. Many of us are either experiencing a type of paralysis in action or patterns of thinking that are harmful to ourselves and to your long-term sustainability and success.
What we know is that you are not alone in this crisis, or your response to it. This message to you is part of a series where I will share on-the-ground observations from businesses, NGO’s and regional peers. I will offer some of the best strategic thinking I have culled, and I will contribute my own locally contextualized thoughts. I will end the series with some of the key strategic questions we all should be asking ourselves if we want to stay relevant, solvent, and strong in the Next Normal. Click here for on-the-ground observations of businesses across the greater LA region, and from our peers and counterparts across the state and US.
PART 1: ON-THE-GROUND OBSERVATIONS
We are one month into the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of you are likely still in crisis response mode. If your operations focus on healthcare or direct services to those impacted (from Unemployment Servicing to feeding food insecure folks), you are likely overwhelmed and still in the fog of meeting immediate needs (thanks for all you are doing, seriously). If your business has shifted primarily because of the executive orders and new policies or regulations, you might feel powerless and as though you don’t have enough information to plan ahead. If your business is customer-focused, like personal services, event planning or hosting, travel or luxury goods- you might be too unsure of the impacts on customer behavior to feel like you can plan ahead.
If this sounds like you, I encourage you to read Leading Through the Crisis from McKinsey & Company for support on getting through right now.
Let’s start by validating what you are seeing or experiencing currently. These observations stem from dozens of calls and far more emails with business owners and executives across the LA region and are reinforced by weekly calls with other Chamber executives, input from leaders in the financial industry, healthcare industry, and frontline thought leaders embedded in the regional Small Business Association and workforce system. Yes, help is on the way. Record amounts of financial aid were approved in the third emergency response bill- the CARES Act. It introduced new business supports- the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), the Economic Impact Disaster Loan (EIDL), and expanded relief for existing SBA Loan borrowers. It offered supports for individuals- insurance coverage for COVID treatments and testing, extended tax deadlines, included contractors and sole-proprietors in Unemployment Assistance, changed and broadened unemployment assistance, and is sending direct cash payments.
No, the help isn’t working out ideally. The truth is, these programs have started enrollment- and some of even begun to distribute funds, but not as quickly or smoothly as was hoped for by those passing the legislation. Here is what we are seeing and hearing occur on the ground, and what we know about it:
- PPP is a bit bungled– As Forbes notes, this ideal program offering the best benefit to business was rushed to implement. Participating financial institutions were receiving changing guidance the night before and morning of the roll out. The funds aren’t currently- or likely- to be available in 72 hours, as first reported. Our thoughts– it is still one of the best financial options- explore it. Have patience with your lender. Be prepared to find a new lender if you don’t bank with a SBA 7A lender- which might put you at the bottom of the priority list. UPDATE: As of 4.16.2020, the PPP’s full allotment of funds from the CARES act has been expended, with nearly 7,000 loan applications in queue. No new funds or date of expected allocation is known yet.
- EIDL did have some changes. Originally touted to offer a $10,000 forgivable advance and higher loan amounts with repayment periods longer than the PPP, the EIDL has changed to $1,000 advance per employee- less than $10,000 for small businesses with 1-9 employees. As the NY Times explains– EIDL funds haven’t been getting dispersed. We were hearing the smallest amounts ($1,000) advances were just beginning to pay out on 4/15/2020. Our thoughts– this program could work for you- if you aren’t in need of immediate cashflow, and a long term repayment period is necessary. Likewise, if you aren’t SURE 75% of your employees can and will come back in the short term, this is better for you than the PPP. Talk to your financial institution or SBD counselor- and be patient with both. UPDATE: As of 4.16.2020, the EIDL portal on SBA’s website isn’t processing new applications, and the que of applications received prior to 4.16.2020 will be processed and allocated on first-come, first served basis.
- Accessing Unemployment has been hard. The intended changes to unemployment remove some filing requirements, add $600 a week to COVID-19 impacted claimants, and expanded eligibility to include sole-proprietors and contractors. These changes occurred simultaneously with a massive increase in use of UI, overwhelming the phone and web systems of DOL. In Maine, there was 100 new customer-facing workers added to help, the $600 disbursements are almost ready in the system, and adding new eligible categories is going to take a bit longer. The Portland Press Herald covers it all. Our thoughts– file if you are eligible. Support your employees in filing, and work directly with DOL to ensure the process is easy for your team. Tell folks to check the “I am available to work” box- while counterintuitive, this shows they would be working if not for COVID-19, and removes a common user error that delays filing.
- SBA is trying, but is also backlogged. Like our other institutions that distribute funds and benefits, the SBA has seen a rise in demand on its whole system- from counselors to loan requests. The SBA is part of distributing the early SBA Disaster loans, as well as the EIDL and PPP programs from the CARES act. Early goals for rapid decisions and disbursements aren’t being met, even with all hands on deck. Our thoughts– have patience. Keep a record of your applications for all programs in your own e-files, and be diligent in your follow up every 5-10 days. Also- say thank you when you get a human, they are working hard to make a system designed for far less do far more.
The biggest takeaway- we are navigating an unprecedented crisis that our systems of supply, distribution, finance, and the government couldn’t have been fully prepared for. The problem is complex, and the solutions will have to be as well. The multiple options of programs and supports are the ways we address a complex problem- a little bit at a time that covers the whole when pieced together. There isn’t one program, one loan, or one resource to address what we as a society or business owner are experiencing.
Research your options, and diversify your choices. Ask a professional- an employment lawyer, accountant or lender. Seek peer support- track our resources on LAadapts.com and talk to others in your industry. Watch for scams and those looking to take advantage of vulnerabilities. Lastly, be patient and kind- most of us are trying hard to find new ways and new solutions, and we are all in this together.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Pivoting to the Next Normal, next in our series. As always, reach out directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few resources:
A communication checklist that helps you be trauma-informed in your business and with your team.
Business resources and links for SBA, Unemployment, FAME, and more.
Community resources for your employees or social accounts, with links to help find food, things to do, schooling support and more.
Toolbox for Crisis Communications– for Tourism, but applicable to all of us.