Guide to coronavirus help for Columbus small businesses - Columbus CEO

Guide to coronavirus help for Columbus small businesses - Columbus CEO

Guide to coronavirus help for Columbus small businesses - Columbus CEO

Posted: 30 Mar 2020 03:52 PM PDT

Here's where to find resources and access aid.

Government officials, chambers of commerce and advocacy groups are moving fast to ensure Central Ohio businesses have the most reliable and helpful information regarding the coronavirus pandemic and what help may be available. 

Ohio qualified for the U.S. Small Business Administration's Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, allowing small businesses and nonprofits to apply for low-interest loans of up to $2 million. Businesses affected by the novel coronavirus are being asked to email their contact information to BusinessHelp@Development.Ohio.Gov. The Ohio Development Services Agency wants businesses to complete a survey to measure economic impacts and gauge interest in various types of assistance.

Aiming to be a one-stop shop for information, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce has compiled a list of resources for both members and non-members on its website and created its own survey for businesses in Central Ohio.

We're here to help you stay in touch with what's going on out there. Read our latest reporting on the coronavirus response here.

"The Columbus Chamber appreciates the diligence and speed with which the governor and lieutenant governor are moving to protect our small businesses," Don DePerro, the organization's CEO, said in a statement. "Many of our members do not have large contingency funds and they need emergency loans to be deployed as rapidly as possible. We are working hand in glove with our partners in government to provide that relief."

Employers planning layoffs or shutdowns as a result of the coronavirus are asked to share a specific code (2000180) with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to speed the processing of unemployment benefits. Gov. Mike DeWine issued an executive order to suspend the usual one-week waiting period for benefits. Applicants are encouraged to visit rather than calling, as the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services received roughly the number of claims on March 23, 36,645, as it had been receiving on a monthly basis prior to the outbreak. Employers may also consider SharedWork Ohio, a voluntary layoff aversion program allowing workers to remain employed during a period of reduced business activity. 

The Columbus Foundation has established an Emergency Response Fund to assist nonprofit organizations that are experiencing financial challenges as a result of the coronavirus. To assist residents impacted by the coronavirus, the city of Columbus has created a $1 million fund for food and housing. Franklin County Commissioners voted March 24 to create $500,000 in additional funding for the Economic and Community Development Institute, which in turn will provide $2 million in market-rate small business loans. Commissioners also approved a $500,000 investment with the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio for direct cash support to workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Congress passed and President Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus package which includes relief to small businesses as well as direct payments to Americans.

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SCORE Columbus is a nonprofit organization that provides education and mentorship opportunities for small businesses starting out or getting off the ground. Its services are mostly free or low-cost.

Randy Zipfel, SCORE Columbus's certified small business mentor chairperson, said the nationwide organization has suspended all in-person workshops and events until further notice, but that remote mentoring, webinars, and a few recently added digital services are available.

On its newly launched coronavirus small business resource hub, SCORE has several live webinars scheduled in April with its national network of business mentors. Upcoming topics include a Q&A with mentors addressing questions and concerns related to the current crisis, and marketing advice during an economic downturn. The hub also includes data and links to financial support through the US Small Business Administration and the new Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

"Our volunteers are happy to continue remote mentoring via video, email, or over the phone," Zipfel said.

SCORE counselors offer business owners mentorship on all aspects of launching and running a business. The nonprofit is still taking requests for remote mentorship and accepting donations. 

Updated information can be found online at; you can also read CEO's recent interview with Zipfel here.

Women's Small Business Accelerator (WSBA)

The WSBA provides training, mentorship, and other resources to women business owners. Executive director Mary McCarthy said WSBA has organized a business crisis team that is available to answer questions and offer help. Women business owners who contact WSBA's crisis team, will be matched with a mentor best suited to their individual business's needs; mentors are on hand to provide coaching, advice on available funds and resources, and even just some much-needed reassurance.

"We want our business owners to know that even if they just need to talk to somebody to come up with ideas, we're here and we'll help," McCarthy said. "Our board, volunteers and mentors, we're going to be around to answer questions and help owners find the resources that are available, because once this is over, we're all going to have to hit the ground running."

The business crisis team, which already includes about two dozen local CEOs, attorneys, and business owners, is seeking additional volunteers and donations for the WSBA. Details on volunteering or donating, along with links to additional resources for business owners in need of assistance, can be found on the WSBA's COVID-19 Resources page.

Economic & Community Development Institute (ECDI)

ECDI is a statewide SBA lender that provides small business loans, entrepreneurial programs, technical assistance and other services. Last week, the Franklin County commissioners approved an initiative to allocate $500,000 in additional funding for ECDI, which will be leveraged to provide $2 million in market-rate small business loans that can be used for payroll, inventory, or other working capital. 

The program is expected to be available within two weeks, according to the commissioners' office.

President Steve Fireman said ECDI is working to enable its loan application to be started and completed completely remotely, including all related documents, background checks, and closing.

"It's just the reality of the times, it's unprecedented," Fireman said. "We always say we need to meet our clients where they're at, and they're at a very different place than even just a week ago."

Fireman said the organization has also moved its scheduled training and technical assistance online. Those holding active loans with ECDI, who are not currently seeking additional funds, can also apply on the organization's website for a loan deferment. Information on ECDI's loan offerings, online workshops and training calendar can be found here.

Evan Weese and Lin Rice are freelance writers.

Small business lessons for right now, resurrected from Great Recession -

Posted: 30 Mar 2020 11:30 AM PDT

Businesses are getting hammered by the economic side of the COVID-19 pandemic. Small and midsized businesses are especially vulnerable, since they don't possess the cash cushion or political pull of their enterprise cousins. A decade ago, after the financial collapse that led to the Great Recession, I edited a collection of ideas for small businesses struggling to survive in brutal economic times. Now's a good time to revisit and update some of the ideas from "Lessons from the Great Recession" and complement them with some newer ideas from other sources.

Cash is inevitably king in a time like this, and many of our "Great Recession" contributors focused on understanding, managing and hanging on to the precious cash you have. Serial entrepreneur and author Camille Rose focused on the importance of planning — especially getting a crystal-clear understanding of current and impending expenses. I like Entrepreneur's recent advice about building or updating your cash flow budget with lists of both fixed costs that must be paid to "keep the doors open" and variable costs that might be reduced — especially those that aren't generating cash.

Inevitably, many small businesses will face the awful prospect of reducing payroll. Entrepreneur points out the importance of tailoring the right mix of approaches; for example, maybe there's room for furloughing people or reducing hours and sharing the pain rather than outright terminations (which will lead to unemployment claims that might increase your future costs).

In "Lessons from the Great Recession," Corporate Turnaround CEO Jerry Silberman pointed out the importance of — and opportunities available for — negotiating debt. We're already seeing large national retailers starting to work with real estate firms to do so: Landlords might prefer to take lower rent while a store or office is closed than to see a tenant walk away from a lease or declare bankruptcy. You might be able to do likewise.

If debt may loom as an issue, planning sooner, more realistically and more proactively is the only solution. It's crucial to know the full extent of your exposure and think strategically about who to negotiate with and what to offer. Silberman recommended budgeting what you can legitimately afford to pay each creditor, rather than responding reactively to the collector who makes the scariest threats, calls the most often, charges the highest interest or is easiest to settle with.

Speaking of cash, a massive $2 trillion federal relief program has been passed. Many small businesses are in the habit of staying away from government programs, fearful of the paperwork and hassle. But there's likely to be enough here for small businesses that you ought to spend some time making sure you get what you deserve. Learn more about this from New Jersey's Small Business Association head on Tuesday.

As Rose and other entrepreneurs pointed out a decade ago, planning in the face of coronavirus may also involve repositioning your products and services. Today, the most obvious example is the need to transform a sit-down restaurant into a takeout/delivery service, or to add online commerce to a business that never offered it before.

We're seeing service businesses ranging from psychotherapists to schools to dance and yoga studios moving their services online, via tools like Zoom. If that's part of your plan, look for tips on doing that more effectively, so you can use today's tools (hardware and software) to capture as much of the in-person experience as possible.

Whether you change your offerings or not, staying in close communication with your customers will be crucial — and that means regular, appropriate and honest communication (that doesn't presume your business is the most important issue in their lives right now). Invite your customers to tell you what they really need from you right now. It might be something you can deliver that you'd never even thought about.

One contributor to the book pointed out that tough times can be opportunities for low-cost business acquisitions. True then, that's likely to be true now, too. Competitors or complementary businesses may be reconsidering whether they want to continue at all — whether because they can't get financing or for many other reasons. They might be acquirable (or willing to sell a customer list) at extremely low cost. Of course, as attorney Andrew Sherman pointed out then, tough times don't change the need for scrupulous due diligence, clarity about what you're trying to accomplish, and careful deal structuring and negotiation.

There will be better times at the other end of the coronavirus crisis — and, as Rieva Lesonsky put it a decade ago in "Lessons," now's the time to start planning for the recovery. As Mark Cuban notes, now may be the perfect time to fix the business problems you were too busy to deal with in better times. If you've needed a new website, start planning and building it now. If you've been intending to move to a cloud-based accounting or human resources system, consider doing it now.

More broadly, whether strategy recommends changing your product/service mix, acquiring a competitor or anything else, focus on what you want your business to look like (and be ready to accomplish) when everybody can safely re-emerge and start spending again. Because they will. And, when they do, you'll still be an entrepreneur: definitely wiser and, ideally, more innovative, too. Learn more about leading in a crisis from one of the top business leaders on April 1.

James Barrood is the former head of the New Jersey Tech Council.

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