The impacts of COVID-19 are going to be widespread and likely affect many aspects of modern life, including many Texoma small businesses. With many stores shuttered during the health crisis and limiting hours or availability, the future remains uncertain for some businesses.
Despite this, there are strategies that can help small businesses during this uncertain time. Local small business advocates are giving advice on how small businesses can weather the storm with COVID-19 through financial assistance and small changes to practices.
Emergency financial assistance
Thankfully for many businesses, the federal government has green lit some programs to financially help small businesses during the ongoing crisis. While many of these programs are primarily focused on maintaining payroll, the support may be enough to keep some employers from cutting staffing.
Denison Chamber of Commerce President Diana Theall suggested that small business owners approach their bank about loan assistance programs that have been made through the Small Business Administration. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (also known as CARES) included a new Paycheck Protection program that will allow businesses to take out a loan for the purpose of maintaining staffing levels through the crisis.
“That is the one that seems to be the most promising,” Theall said. “They are, in essence, emergency grants as long as you follow the directions.”
Through the program, businesses are able to seek a loan forgiveness if 75 percent of the funds are used for payroll. The only fee that would be assessed is a 1 percent interest rate, Theall said. The program does have some requirements, including a clause stating that staffing may not change more than 20 percent within eight weeks of the loan agreement. The program also cannot be used for employees with an annual salary of over $100,000.
Despite this, Theall said it might be enough to keep some businesses from shuttering.
“It is an excellent opportunity for people to keep the doors open,” she said.
Even with businesses that have closed, Theall said she has seen some employers who have been creative and found jobs for their employees during the closure. In some cases, these include internal projects ranging from painting to renovations and redecorating.
Other options include the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which can be used for a myriad of purposes ranging from payroll to fixed debt and accounts payable that a business cannot pay due to a disaster. The loan terms can range, with a maximum term of 30 years at a fixed rate of 3.75 percent for up to $2 million. In addition to the EIDL, the program also has an emergency advance that can provide up to $10,000 for businesses. The load advance will not have to be repaid.
Theall warned that the EIDL program isn’t as fast of a solution, and can take weeks to hear back on the status of an application. As an example, Theall said the Denison Chamber has applied for the program but has not yet heard back on its status.
“We’ve been told that it can be three weeks to a month before they start issuing those,” she said. “Even though we’ve applied for it, we are still in the waiting game with everyone else.”
New ways to advertise & do business
During the downturn, Theall said she has seen many businesses get creative in how they do business. While many physical storefronts remain closed, many businesses have gone virtual and continue online.
“If you don’t have any, now is a good time to start and take courses on it, because there are a lot of free courses out there,” she said.
Many small boutiques have utilized Facebook Live and other social media platforms to sell clothing and other goods while customers cannot meet in person.
“It’s so simple to do a Facebook Live and show the garment,” Theall said. “Many of the (customers) know their size and a lot of (stores) are offering to ship it to you. If you don’t like it, ship it back.”
Meanwhile, other businesses are taking a page from the food industry and using curbside service for its customers. Since the crisis started, many restaurants have offered to bring to-go orders out to customers so they do not need to physically enter a restaurant. While this won’t work for every business, Theall said she has seen some that can take a similar approach. As an example, Theall heard of a local veterinary practice offering to do curbside service for its four-legged customers.
“You pull up (and) hand them your pet and (they) take them inside and treat them before bringing them back out to you,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Sherman Chamber has taken similar approaches to helping its businesses. Sherman Chamber President Eddie Brown said about 75 percent of the businesses he represents are small and are “dramatically impacted by the shelter in place, the shutdown and closed offices.”
Since the crisis started, Brown and the chamber have advertised what he calls “Takeout Tuesday,” in which residents order takeout to support local restaurants. The chamber also advertises for a similar push on Fridays, but asks residents to instead buy gift cards from businesses, which can be used at a later date.
As another approach, Brown said the chamber is working on a program that will allow businesses that remain open to post a yard sign outside to bring attention to themselves and other active businesses. The proceeds from this will go to support all area small businesses.
“We are promoting that as a way to help our community remember that we are a strong community and we will get through this,” Brown said.
Room for collaboration
In many cases, businesses are finding support by working collaboratively with each other.
Theall said she has seen many examples of businesses either actively collaborating or supporting one another through shared advertising or word of mouth.
“I do see a lot of collaboration that way and I have had so many online meetings with people and everyone is in it together,” Theall said.
In some cases, this is as simple as sharing posts by other restaurants and tagging businesses in pictures.
“I think we are closer,” she said. “I think businesses are closer than they were before. At least in my opinion, everyone is trying to help. I’ve seen such bonding over this. We are all in the same boat.”