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Guest Post by Sheryl Pflaum, President, Americas at Collinson One year from the WHO’s confirmation of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, the world has shifted and responded to unforeseen challenges in ways we never could have predicted. Like many organizations, when the virus first started to spread across the world, our traveler experiences company immediately adapted to the changing travel ecosystem. We used our global expertise in medical assistance, including epidemic and pandemic management, as well as our knowledge of traveler experience to support getting the world traveling safely again. Now, after a year of living with the pandemic, we’re thinking back on what we’ve learned — and asking important questions about what’s coming next for the travel industry. There will continue to be implications for businesses across the travel industry and within the finance sector as well, including small to large businesses within transportation and hospitality, as well as financial services like credit card companies with travel rewards. Lesson #1: Collaboration beats competition As it became clear that COVID-19 would not be contained within borders, we saw challenges arise as organizations and governments around the world attempted to collaborate in unprecedented ways to protect public health, and address how to restart travel with health and hygiene as the priority. While efforts at collaboration did not always succeed, the partnerships that did have led the way in responding to the pandemic. Collinson's efforts included launching the first COVID-19 testing centers in the UK’s biggest airports and partnering with Singapore Airlines for its pre-departure testing offer. These would not have been possible without collaboration. We continue to work closely with governments across the globe, airlines, and other key industry players in order to make these initiatives a reality and to constantly adjust our service to meet the swiftly changing needs of destination governing authorities to comply with their latest requirements for travel. Closer to home, we’ve been encouraged by many of the steps taken by the U.S. government in recent months to help travelers, including President Biden’s Executive Order in February 2021 requiring individuals to wear a mask at TSA airport screening checkpoints and throughout the commercial and public transportation systems. We look forward to continuing conversations with U.S. officials, U.S.-based airlines, and U.S. airports to offer testing and other solutions to help travelers feel safer on their journey. Looking ahead, collaboration will only be more important for the travel industry: across teams, across sectors, and across the world. Tackling the challenges of a safe return to travel necessitates a global approach. We will need standards around requirements for vaccines and testing and a feasible way to certify travelers’ status. Each country around the world will need to help develop these standards around vaccines and testing, but the private sector has a role to play too and is currently leading the way in terms of innovation aimed at recovery through its various collaborations. Digital health passports, for example, are likely to become an important tool in helping the industry to rebuild. The key to introducing these passports will be to remove obstacles to a passenger’s right to travel, ensuring travel is boosted rather than restricted. This is why Collinson is already collaborating with leading providers, including CommonPass. However, global coordination and bilateral agreements between worldwide governments and travel companies are paramount to ensure these can prove successful in the long run. Key Takeaway: Government agencies can’t facilitate travel recovery on their own. Travel companies need to work together — and with global governments to create solutions that help travelers feel safe. Global standards and procedures that are agreed to by travel industry leaders and governments — such as digital health passports — may be key to the post COVID-19 recovery. Lesson #2: Recovery starts with testing In 2020, testing emerged as indispensable to keep people and borders safe while restarting trade and travel; enabling travelers to comply with various country-by-country requirements and in some cases bypass or reduce quarantine restrictions that may have otherwise prevented the trip. With no clear end in sight for the pandemic, the move into testing on a global scale can now be seen in departure and arrival testing facilities in airports around the world, "rest and test" offers from hotels, and test-to-release centers outside the airport. While we’re all hopeful for widespread vaccine rollouts and verification protocols, it won’t happen overnight or in equal pace across the world. Even then, vaccination and testing will no doubt co-exist for some time, as healthcare and policy situations continue to shift. We already know from a Priority Pass survey that 74 percent of frequent flyers identify quarantines and border controls as their top concern about returning to travel and half are willing to pay for a COVID-19 test to help ease travel restrictions; indicating the important role that testing will continue to play in restoring traveler confidence and re-opening travel routes. Moreover, testing itself is quickly evolving for the better. First, there has been a considerable shift in attitude from government authorities across the globe as they better understand the varied roles played by different testing technologies and how these can be used to ensure public safety while supporting the aviation sector and all those sectors and livelihoods that rely on it. Second, testing technology itself is evolving. Six months ago, approved tests were largely limited to RT-PCR — still a great option and the gold standard test — but today, test services can be further bolstered with rapid testing. RT-LAMP tests, for example, can deliver sensitivity and specificity rates very close to RT-PCR, but with results available in as little as 90 minutes, compared to the several hours an RT-PCR test requires. Rapid testing is therefore playing a key role in airport environments. Access to these rapid tests in both airports and other locations will only become more essential as travelers make the gradual return to air travel amidst an ongoing pandemic and shifting country requirements. In the same way you can buy a toothbrush at the airport should you forget it, very soon, travelers who aren’t test-ready will expect to be able to get a test at departure. For travelers coming to the United States, having this type of easy access to rapid testing is a high priority, since the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires all air passengers entering the U.S. to present a negative COVID-19 test, taken within three calendar days of departure or proof of recovery from the virus within the last 90 days. Key takeaway: Even with the global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, COVID-19 testing will be a component of travel for the long-term. Travelers will expect easy access to testing facilities and it is incumbent upon the travel industry to ensure that tests continue to be made available to travelers throughout their journey. Lesson #3: Confidence comes from the customer journey Last year we saw the importance of traveler confidence for the industry. If travelers don’t feel safe to travel, no special discount or exclusive reward will change their minds. This led to considerable action from brands across the travel ecosystem: introducing health and hygiene standards, contactless solutions, and other initiatives aimed at helping travelers feel safe, comfortable, and reassured. For example, in the United States, these initiatives have included everything from the installation of face mask vending machines to the use of Gita follow-along robots that are being used for contactless delivery of meals and retail items. However, there’s still great opportunity for brands to reduce stress and friction and create even more confidence at multiple touchpoints in the traveler’s customer journey. Health and the customer experience must work hand in hand because while heightened health protocols are here to stay and travel must consequently evolve to take this into account, the overall quality of the customer experience must also be taken into consideration. Airlines can seamlessly connect passengers to a COVID-19 test-booking platform as soon as they purchase a plane ticket, as in the pilot service launched by Singapore Airlines and Collinson. Further information surrounding testing can also be introduced into the ‘ready to fly’ pre-flight checklist, FAQ, and check-in process, as demonstrated by Collinson’s airline partners in Europe, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Airport lounges, key locations for alleviating customer stress, can pivot to digitally-driven services that deliver the little luxuries travelers expect but with less contact, such as the ‘Ready 2 Order’ Food and Beverage solution that is currently piloting in select Priority Pass lounges, including The Club JAX at Jacksonville International Airport. Through this program, lounge visitors can scan a QR code or tap an NFC-enabled device on signage at each seat/table within the lounge to select their food and beverage order from the lounge-specific menu. Once the order has been assembled, it is then either delivered directly to the visitor’s table or to an assigned pick-up point. Ultimately, it’s about placing travelers at the heart of the journey to ensure that industry recovery is built with them in mind, thereby avoiding a situation in which the hassle of traveling outweighs the benefits. Enabling traveler confidence is also imperative for the financial services sector. Pre-pandemic, the evidence was clear that premium-card holders placed substantial value on travel-related benefits. Over the past year, card rewards pivoted to bring new points-based shopping options to grounded travelers. Yet surveys show that consumers miss travel and intend to resume traveling as soon as possible. Banks and credit card companies are therefore united in their goal of helping their customers return to the travel they love: so in the year ahead, we should expect to see an expansion of card rewards that directly tie back to traveler confidence, such as access and discounts for testing when traveling. More medical travel benefits from cards will create a halo effect for all, as more testing means more confidence, which means more travel and spending. Key takeaway: To get back on the road, travelers need to know that the travel companies they work with are committed to safety. It’s incumbent upon the travel industry to help travelers feel safe and secure throughout their journey. As a baseline, the travel industry can help travelers feel safer by adopting health and hygiene standards and by employing contactless solutions for ticketing and food and beverage service. Final thoughts: Working towards the new normal As we look to the future of travel, we know that the road to recovery for travel-related businesses will be less of a bounce back and more of an uphill climb to reach a new normal. It will take consumer education, particularly surrounding testing — most of which is an entirely new concept for customers — as well as trust and renewed customer loyalty to get there. For brands, flexibility, resilience, innovation, and collaboration will all continue to be critical in adapting to ever-changing situations and ensuring the travel experience is as smooth as possible. We all know the pandemic was unprecedented and the travel industry has already changed in response to it. But as we focus on the lessons of the past year, we are confident that travel will recover. Sheryl Pflaum is the President of Collinson, Americas, and has been with the company since 2005. Collinson is a global leader in the provision of traveler experiences including airport lounge access, medical and security assistance, and travel medical services. Collinson’s traveler experiences include the world’s leading airport lounge and experiences program, Priority Pass, as well as travel insurance, identity assistance, flight delay, international health, and travel risk management solutions.
Guest Post by Jo Barnes If you're one of the many millions of people finding yourself throwing on a shirt over your PJs at three in the afternoon for a Zoom meeting with your boss, you're not alone! The work from home/remote working trend has only just started and will undoubtedly grow over the coming years as companies realize the economies of scale this "new normal" brings. But don't despair! While adapting to this new style of work may, at first, feel isolating, it also brings with it a host of opportunities, and not just for the big corporations anymore. If you've ever thought about starting a side hustle, now is the time. The current situation has given rise to dramatic increases in online shopping, socializing, working, and everything in between. As long as you have a computer and a decent internet connection, the online world is waiting for you! You may be able to manage your workload easier from home, giving you extra time to focus on generating an additional income. If that's where you find yourself, here are five online side hustles you can start today from the comfort of your kitchen table: Blogging Social media management Freelancing eCommerce Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) In time, you can reap the rewards of sufficient, consistent income to sustain a more flexible lifestyle conducive to your travel, family, and personal goals. 1. Blogging In my experience, there is no better business model online today than the world of blogging. By purchasing your own little space on the web by way of a domain and creating a branded website, you can talk about, write about, make videos about, and publish pretty much anything you want to! Your goal is to build an engaged audience around a specific interest or niche via your content. It’s your site; the choice is yours. Here's how I recommend you start your blog: Choose your topic or niche. Pick a name and register a domain. Browse web hosting platforms and sign up with your favorite. Install a website builder and design your site. Start publishing amazing content. Promote your content via search engine optimization (SEO) and social media. As your audience grows, you can monetize your blog via ads, affiliate offers, sponsorship, or even your own products. 2. Freelancing Are you a whiz at graphic design? Perhaps you love building websites, have a talent for digital marketing, or are an organizational wizard? No matter your skill set, the gig economy is alive and well, and more businesses than ever are choosing contract workers over full-time staff. Here are the steps to finding work as a freelancer: Create a portfolio of your work including examples, testimonials, and anything you feel might be relevant to any potential client. Sign up and create a profile on a freelance website. Search or bid for job requests which suit your skillset. Focus on getting five-star reviews to increase your chances of getting gigs. As your contracts grow, create a website showcasing your success stories and promoting your services. 3. Social media management Do you love scrolling Instagram, documenting your days, creating stories and TikTok videos, or chatting on Facebook? If so, social media management could be right up your alley. Imagine managing the Facebook and Pinterest accounts of a local business, spending your days coming up with creative images, posts, and videos to amuse and entertain. What fun! Here are the steps to becoming a social media manager: List out your top skills and platform knowledge. Create a compelling profile on a few freelance websites. Search for job posts from companies looking for social media specialists. Stand out from the crowd by researching each company, creating a personalized response, and showcasing your skills pertinent to the job post. (Tip: The more personalized your response to a job request, the greater the chance of getting the gig.) Focus heavily on getting great reviews as soon as possible. 4. eCommerce Did you know you can upload a design to a website and sell t-shirts, caps, journals, pillows, towels, mugs, and much more with your design on it, without ever touching or paying for products upfront? It’s called "print on demand" and is one of the fastest ways to start an eCommerce business, selling physical products online. An alternative eCommerce business model is dropshipping, which involves sourcing products designed and manufactured by other companies and advertising those products on your website at a higher price. When a customer makes a purchase, the product is sent directly from the manufacturer to the customer, and you keep the profits. Like print on demand, dropshipping is a super-fast route to setting up an eCommerce store. Follow these steps to start an eCommerce store: Choose your eCommerce business model: print on demand, dropshipping, selling your own products, etc. Register for an account on an eCommerce platform of your choice. Add images, logo, and store information. (Tip: Create a logo on Canva for free and use free images from a stock photo site for beautiful headers and graphics for your store.) Add your product descriptions and images. Promote your products on social media or using influencer marketing. 5. Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) If you have a bit of cash, you can have specific products manufactured and branded to sell on Amazon, who will do all the fulfillment side for you. (If you're imagining boxes of products in your garage, don't worry: this is not that.) Your products are sent directly to the Amazon warehouses and packed, picked, and distributed by the folks at Amazon. Your job is to let the world know your products exist and let Amazon handle the rest. My partner and I built a seven-figure FBA business in twelve months. Here's how you can do it, too: Choose your niche and product line: analyze Amazon itself to see what's selling well. Choose your first product. Aim of something that is light, small, easy to ship, unbreakable, and can sell for $20–$40. Source a supplier. Alibaba is the quickest and easiest place to start. Order a small amount of stock (500–1000 units) to test the market. Create an Amazon seller account and a product listing. Utilize eye-catching product images, a keyword-rich headline, and bullet points. Ship products to Amazon. Promote your products using Amazon PPC and influencer marketing. The sky's the limit These are just five ideas from the hundreds of options available online. Open your mind, get creative, and start following people online who've done what you'd like to do. In no time at all, your side hustle could be generating more than your day job! Now wouldn't that be grand? Jo Barnes is the founder of Your Lifestyle Business, a blog dedicated to empowering solopreneurs to build a business they can run from anywhere in the world. As a globe-trotting lifestyle entrepreneur, Jo has explored more than 30 countries in the last 10 years while building six- and seven-figure online businesses. She is currently locked down in Thailand.
With nearly 100,000 small businesses permanently closed in the United States this year after rising COVID-19 cases, temporary closures, and sustained local restrictions, it's not an exaggeration to call 2020 a small business nightmare. The individual and cumulative losses for small business owners as a whole couldn't possibly be overstated. Without minimizing those losses, we also want to shed light on both the little and big wins nurtured by business owners pushing through the struggles of this year with hope for the future. Because there is hope for many businesses. According to recent survey results from LendingTree, the majority of small business owners are optimistic that they'll be able to get back to business as usual with time: Nearly one-third of businesses feel like they'll be back to normal before the end of the year. An additional 25 percent think they'll get there by the end of Q1 2021. Only 4 percent of business owners surveyed said they never expect operations to return to normal. Read on for a snapshot of hopeful small business in America: 10 stories of perseverance through difficulty. Mural and street art advertising company creates new programming to benefit communities Muros is an art activation agency that partners with artists and organizations to create advertising campaigns and other visual experiences. This already-creative business has had to get even more creative in operational protocols and solutions to shifting client needs. Co-founder Tricia Binder says the downwind impact of COVID-19 has impacted literally everything, from the way contracts are structured to operating hours to the company's suite of offerings, which now includes digital solutions. In some cases, the company lost business altogether, including its sports clientele, but for other clients like retailers and real estate companies, they pivoted to become more flexible with what type of services they could offer. "It's been a constant learning curve that has stretched us and provided valuable experiences that will continue to shape our business," Binder explains. The company's biggest win was in how downtime was utilized during shutdowns. Rather than pull back and downsize, Muros has hired additional employees this year and developed new programming to maximize its reach to clients and communities this year, including the following: #MakeWithMuros: A partnership with artists from around the world to create inspiring, artistic messages to fill people's social media feeds in March, which was at the height of the fear and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. Murals for Medical Relief: A program designed to raise money for Chicago-based hospitals' COVID-19 relief funds through murals painted within the Illinois Medical District, a special artist-designed beer (MFMR), artist print sales of the mural designs, and a GoFundMe campaign. This allowed Muros to donate almost $20,000 to local hospitals. A new Sculpture Series: This collaborative product offering was spawned from client demand and artists' interest in taking their works to 3D. Binder admits that it's difficult to plan for the new year because it's impossible to predict the impact of future obstacles, which are a safe bet. But she's cautiously optimistic: "We're hopeful that with 2020 behind us, everyone will feel more confident in their ability to navigate uncertainty. Given this, we are planning to stay focused on what we can control and influence, stay nimble and flexible, and continue to do our best to operate without fear." Marketing agency employees band closer together while physically apart According to founder and president John Sickmeyer, the biggest challenge this year for Postali, a marketing agency for law firms, has been navigating finances after a huge hit to revenue. "Many of our clients experienced revenue losses over 50 percent and were not able to pay for their services with us on time," he explained. In response, the company tore up its predetermined budget plan and worked closely with clients to find a way for them both to survive, even if that meant loosening up on the exact letter and dollar of what clients had agreed to pay. "We are meeting clients where they need to be so they can navigate the financial storm," explained Sickmeyer. Postali has very tight relationships with its clientele, with an awareness of how many new clients their clients bring on and, in some cases, even monthly profit and loss awareness. "This relationship depth has allowed us to work closely with each client to get through this together." The company also applied for both the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) and the EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan). While the application process required an immense amount of planning, reporting, and learning the ins and outs of the requirements, the company's lender, Huntington National Bank in Columbus, Ohio, was able to meet their needs after waiting for the then-limited funding to come through the SBA (Small Business Administration). The frequent changing of the PPP's rules and policies was a challenge, but ultimately the PPP funding helped ensure the continuity of payroll for Postali's team until clients could return to a normal status. Through it all, Sickmeyer says the improved morale of Postali's team has been the biggest win. "Strangely enough," he reflects, "the coronavirus pandemic has brought us closer together, even though we are physically apart. The business couldn't have made it through the spring and summer without everyone banding together to make sure our clients and the business could get through these times." And what of the future? Sickmeyer is hopeful about Postali's outlook alongside eventual global recovery. "Even with the winter projections looking grim, we will certainly rise out of this dark time, and, as a people, be much stronger and much more appreciative for our health than ever before," he predicts. Like it was for nearly everyone else, 2020 was a major shock for the company, but the organization has settled into a new way of working remotely. That doesn't mean team members aren't eager to reunite when it's safe, though: "On our team, it’s already been expressed that we'll be happier when we can get back together." Events industry in crisis innovates and repurposes skills Events company T3 Expo has been hit as hard as anyone, as almost every significant trade show and conference scheduled for the rest of 2020 was canceled, resulting in 90 percent of revenue lost. Prior to the pandemic, the company was providing custom exhibit design and production for companies like ebay, Amazon, and Salesforce and worked with big associations like Toy Fair in New York City. CEO Chris Valentine laments how this particular downturn, for his company and for others, was not because of anything they did wrong in their respective industries. "I think that is what hurts the most," he says, "because we have had a successful business for 11 years that was thriving and growing." Valentine explains that while other industries, such as hospitality, are at least functioning on a limited capacity and with various rules, the events industry has been completely shut down: "Our industry is not working at all and thousands of people are out of work, with lost wages, jobs, and revenue — from the union works to the companies that service the industry, like ours." A high percentage of workers servicing the industry are blue-collar workers and have been especially vulnerable this year, including truckers, carpenters, and painters. T3 Expo has responded to the crisis by completely reinventing its business to drive revenue. The company has become a manufacturing business, meeting various COVID-related needs. Valentine explains, "Because we make events and create shows, we had the materials to build things like beds for the Javits Center during the spring for the makeshift hospital, desks for Boston public schools as there is a desk shortage, and PPE such as double-hooped bed tents and desk shields for schools." For long-term survival, T3 Expo and other events-based companies need more federal help or the go-ahead to start working again. Continued waves of COVID-19 will continue to delay the opening of live events until the physical effects of the virus are able to be combatted. And while the PPP has been a vital lifeline for the many small businesses in events, they still need a targeted, longer-term assistance program to help preserve millions of jobs to prevent a complete collapse by next year. But Valentine is proud of his company for being resilient and figuring out a way to keep people employed and keep the company alive this year. "We are hopeful that we have learned to put our skills to work and continue to be innovative — to pivot our business in ways we didn’t know we could." Physical therapist makes strides in telehealth and coaching services Karen Litzy, PT, DPT, is a New York City-based physical therapy entrepreneur. So, in her words, "To say that I needed to make some very fast pivots when COVID hit is an understatement." As a physical therapist, Litzy is used to providing hands-on care, but because of the restrictions in place in New York City, in-person care was not a possibility from mid-March until June. As a result, Litzy invested her time and money into a quality telehealth platform so she could serve clients virtually. And it wasn't just for existing client evaluations — she says she gained new clients as well. And Litzy explains there was an unexpected positive side effect to adding a telehealth option: "I was also able to gain physical therapist licenses in several other states, allowing me to expand my telehealth capabilities outside of New York state." Aside from patient care, Litzy is also a business coach for other physical therapists, another venture she was able to expand this year: during the downtime of the pandemic, she launched a new online course to coach physical therapists through opening their own physical therapy business. She reflects, "If not for the time I had away from full-time patient care due to the lockdown restrictions, I am not sure if I would have been able to dedicate the time and resources to this online course." She hopes her business will continue to evolve and push her out of her comfort zone with the result of innovation and new partnerships. That being said, concern for the future co-exists with hope. As a health professional, it's not just the economic threats of COVID-19, but the physical ones, that worry Litzy with the approaching new year. "The disruption to daily life, the inability to visit loved ones, and the fear of acquiring the disease and passing it along to someone else are the things that keep me awake at night." Brand new business looks forward to building a stronger customer base Kyle Husband had just opened a branch of the payroll tax and HR company Payroll Vault in Buffalo, New York, when COVID-19 hit, so adding new customers has been the primary challenge of this year. Businesses were shutting down and the ones that started back up or stayed consistent approached changes cautiously. "We realized very quickly that not many potential customers were eager to make a payroll switch during the pandemic," Husband explains. "So we shifted our approach from direct sales to a referral route, working to ensure that relationships were being developed." The idea is that this approach will generate greater client onboards in the future, even if potential clients have been hesitant this year. In a word, Husband describes 2020 as "brutal" for the family business. And he's definitely in good company. But he's banking on light at the end of the tunnel. Many contacts have talked about taking up business with Payroll Vault come January 1. "I'm concerned for the future, but also excited," Husband says. "The hope is for a little bit of normalization — that things might balance a little bit and the economy starts to flow a little bit more smoothly. We’ve learned a lot during 2020, and the goal for 2021 is growth." Hair salon embraces retail avenues, sanitation upgrades, and enhanced client communication Denise Mackey-Natz, who owns Urban Style hair salon in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, has always sold hair products in the salon, but started offering curbside pickup during the salon closure in the spring. Additionally, when customers placed an order on AVEDA's website and noted they were her client, her salon received a percentage of the sale. "While retail didn’t become too big of a part of my business during this time, we did have some days that profited particularly well," explains Mackey-Natz. "Of course, part of this situation has been redefining what I consider to be a successful day of sales. It’s important to stay positive with how business is doing." Her positive outlook plus some financial assistance has helped carry the business through other various adjustments. Mackey-Natz was grateful to receive a PPP loan, which allowed her to put herself and her staff back on payroll, pay rent and utility bills, and help cover the cost of supplies needed for extra sanitation measures. In the first five days of reopening, Urban Style had 39 appointments. Following local health guidelines limiting each stylist to 10 clients per day, the salon is taking every precaution it can, with stylists working in shifts so that no one works an entire day and taking only one appointment at a time for maximum physical distancing. The business uses business management software Salon Iris to ensure enough time is marked out for each appointment, including time for cleaning, as well as to keep track of customer needs and contact information. "Having that customer information available was very helpful for communicating reopening details and setting up appointments based on customers’ needs," Mackey-Natz explains. "We were able to text, call, and really talk with them, which was important because these customers miss us and want to hear our voices. Understandably, some clients aren't ready to come into a hair salon, but we hope to see them soon." Medical device company stays proactive despite manufacturing delays Psi Health Solutions, Inc. sells Psi Bands (pronounced "sigh bands"), a medical device for nausea relief due to morning sickness, motion sickness, anesthesia, and chemotherapy. Psi Bands are sold by online retailers like Amazon and brick and mortar retailers like Target. As founder and CEO Romy Taormina recounts, the impact of COVID-19 on her business could not have been more direct: "When COVID hit, it did so first in China. We manufacture in China." As a result, there were significant delays in manufacturing employees returning to work, and when they did, they did so at half capacity. And there were glaring delays and cost increases to ship product. "You couple that with lost sales due to U.S. retailers closing their brick and mortar locations, and now you have cash flow issues," Taormina explains, "which is why the timelines of the PPP and EIDL was a critical success factor for us." Psi Health Solutions has been especially proactive in seeking out the resources needed to continue operations as well as other necessary budgeting and marketing steps. In addition to the PPP and EIDL, the company applied for and received numerous grants, including the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) Grant and the FedEx #SupportSmall Grant. Some of the free services they have received are through the Trade U.S. Commercial Service which provided them with introductions to several international distributors. Psi Health Solutions is now in the process of vetting those distributors. "One finalized outcome is being established as a vendor on Tmall Alibaba in China and receiving our first PO [Purchase Order]," Taormina says. The business consolidated and paid off debt to reduce interest payments and moved a key area of the business, fulfillment, to a different state to reduce overhead costs. Psi Health Solutions also shifted its marketing focus to reflect current events and trends, such as doing more online marketing versus in-store marketing and focusing more on morning sickness relief than motion sickness relief due to less travel. Taormina says being quick to adapt is key for entrepreneurs and has been especially crucial this year amidst the obstacles. Of 2021, she says, "I am hopeful. There is much we do not have control over. However, where we do, we exert it." The company plans to continue to stay aware of risks and opportunities, ask for help when needed, and plan for the long-term while making adaptations where needed. Photo and video digitization company fosters connection amongst families EverPresent specializes in preserving family photos and videos, a cause that encourages positivity and connection with family members amidst the bleakness of the pandemic, according to owner Eric Niloff. "Our feedback has been amazing. We feel like our work has never been more important." But while the service is all about reliving good times, nothing about this year has been easy. EverPresent has physical store locations where customers can drop off slides, VHS tapes, scrapbooks, and the like in eight states in the Northeast, all of which needed to close temporarily. The company changed the layout of the corporate office, the shared equipment protocols, and the work schedules of employees to maintain social distancing. And it shifted to 100 percent mail-in, curbside, or home pickups. "Our clients give us their irreplaceable photos and videos to digitize, and they don't want them out of sight for too long," Niloff explains. "Between the lockdown and slower operations, turnaround times have been frustrating. We're getting out of it now, but for months that was the biggest challenge." But the struggle was worth it. Though operations became more laborious and, in some cases, expensive, sales combined with the PPP helped EverPresent to rebound enough financially to employ more people than there were before the pandemic, all while continuing do right by clients. By finding a way to stay open in the pandemic, clients could get a huge project off their to-do list and have a meaningful way to reconnect with loved ones. Of this year as a whole, Niloff says he's more proud of his company's performance this year than any other. "I'm optimistic. We've learned a lot and we're a smarter company now," he says. "We know how to handle disruptions, and if Congress ever passes the second PPP, we may be able to actually invest in growth again and create 10–20 new jobs in Q1 2021." Handmade clothing company increases sales and donations amidst fabric shortages Wandering Child Co, a handmade clothing company for girls sizes newborn to 5T, donates meals to children in Kenya with every purchase made. So far this year, the pandemic hasn't stopped sales or the company's subsequent donations: they've already surpassed the number of meals donated in 2019. According to owner Katyna Knapton, the company lost access to an array of fabrics previously used to make its products. "We had to work with what we could find available at the store, which wasn't much," she explains. "We've had to postpone multiple new releases because of the pandemic." Wandering Child Co's biggest win was being selected as one of the 20 Black-owned businesses for the Small Business Spotlight on television networks QVC and HSN. This press was just one of the positives of an otherwise-difficult year. "I feel very blessed and grateful that we were able to stay open during a time like this," Knapton says. And despite an unknown future, she's dreaming big. "I'm excited about new possibilities," she explains. "I'm looking forward to taking my business to the next level and crushing goals, especially with our meals program." Business strategy firm prepares clients for a future of thriving, not just surviving Elevate Diamond Strategy is a growth strategy development and execution firm specializing in new market entry, competitive intelligence, business expansion, and operational improvement. CEO and founder Michelle Diamond has worked with more than 50 companies in more than 25 industries in all stages from startup to Fortune 50 over the 15 years in business. But 2020 overall has been a challenging year for Diamond's firm. Right before COVID hit, she was on the cusp of getting one of her largest and most lucrative interim executive contracts, only to have it disappear before it began. Since then, Diamond has continued to remain open to filling immediate-need interim executive roles but understands that some companies are hesitant to hire someone full-time (even on an interim basis) in this uncertain financial climate. "To remain flexible, I've focused on shifting my practice more to advisory work, since CEOs, business owners, and other executives still have a lot of growth and operational questions they need answered," she says. But things may be starting to turn around for the better. "Companies and business owners have gotten over the initial shock and are beginning to figure out how to operate in this 'new normal,'" Diamond explains. "The wise ones are focused on shoring up their fundamentals within their companies.This is essential to not only surviving but also being in a position to thrive when things do finally turnaround and the world is COVID-free." Does Your Business Need a Loan? Browse the top-ranked companies for business loans, including SBA loans, term loans, lines of credit, commercial mortgage, and equipment financing. Learn More
2020 has been a wild ride for small and mid-sized businesses nationwide, and the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been a key part of that ride for the more than 5.1 million businesses that received PPP funds before lending ended August 8. Connecting business owners with lenders that could help them with application, approval, and funding was anything but straightforward. And the hurdles aren't over, with many business owners still left hanging with loan forgiveness technicalities. But certain lending companies have emerged as leaders in this unprecedented process, as evidenced by Best Company's 2020 consumer reviews that explicitly mention experiences with PPP funding. And repeated themes across reviews reveal the most important elements that defined an experience as positive or negative. Read on to explore Best Company reviews statistics, themes, and analyses. With this knowledge, business owners can identify lenders to consider working with in the future, and lending companies can improve their processes for future large-scale business loan facilitation (of SBA loans and other loan types alike). Further PPP analysis Top praises in positive reviews Top complaints in negative reviews Which company performed best? Top praises in positive reviews Good customer service — 36 percent Specific comments within this theme include the following: Patient and helpful company reps Had their questions answered Had the process personally explained to them Received return calls and emails Was assigned a dedicated funding specialist for the entire process Received follow-up even after documentation was submitted The company stayed in touch even through obstacles like errors and delays Kabbage review: Customer Review: Karen from California "Ryan W. was a tremendous support for the stressful and sometimes confusing PPP loan application process. It was so great to connect with a live person who understood the challenges we were facing and guided us through the process." United Capital Source Review: Customer Review: Frederick from California "I worked with Jon B to secure a loan underneath the PPP program. Jon went out of his way to be helpful, and guided me through the process in an efficient and complete manner. Have nothing but positive things to say about my experience with United Capital Source." Speed and efficiency — 24 percent Specific comments within this theme include the following: Company identified a funding source quickly Received funding quickly (under 48 hours, within one week, etc.) Biz2Credit reviews: Customer Review: Jeff from Illinois “Wow. 2 days from application to funding of my PPP loan...I accidentally found Biz2Credit, and I'm so thankful I did. My loan specialist walked me thru everything, and answered whenever I called.” Customer Review: Ed from Oregon “My loan officer, (Joseph S) made everything run very smooth and was instrumental in helping me complete the required documents in a timely, professional manner. I had never applied for a business loan prior to this (so I have nothing to compare with), and I was very pleased to have someone willing to help me complete the application process for a PPP loan. From start to funding took less than 4 days. Impressed!!” Fundera review: Customer Review: John from Virginia “Matched me to a company that could handle my PPP Loan in a fast and efficient manner. Very impressed!!! Thank you for all of your help!!!!!!!!” Improvement over another lender — 16 percent Specific comments within this theme include the following: Deemed ineligible by another bank or lender Another bank, lender, or local agency was not equipped to serve them Another bank or lender stopped taking applications Bank wouldn't help a non-customer "Ghosted" by another bank or lender Applied with multiple lenders and this was the quickest to respond Lendio review: Customer Review: Devon from California “I applied for PPP with 3 other companies and Lendio was a quick turnaround, within 24 hours.” Biz2Credit reviews: Customer Review: Michael from Nevada “My company's bank stopped taking PPP applications before I had my documents ready. My personal bank would not help me since my company accounts were not with them. Several other lenders also declined taking applications for non-customers. I tried another internet firm that submitted my package to a lender but I never was approved. With time running out I tried Biz2Credit who had an approval in 2 days.” Customer Review: Kalena from Florida “Biz2Credit helped my small business get a PPP loan. Three other lenders had simply given me the run around including Wells Fargo, my primary business bank for over 20 years.” Overall gratitude — 13 percent Specific comments within this theme include the following: Made the PPP funding possible Gratitude expressed to specific company reps Gratitude for help with loan forgiveness Initially rejected but the lender found a way to get it for them Relieved to be able to keep employees on the payroll or rehire them Kabbage review: Customer Review: Lee from Tennessee "Stephenie W. was terrific -- she really helped me out quite a bit and she was very patient and helpful...it wasn't until I reached Stephenie that I was able to find someone to assist. She basically made my PPP loan possible and I'm very grateful to her." Upwise Capital review: Customer Review: Robert from New York "Working with Upwise was a breath of fresh air during this crazy time. I tried applying for relief financing with my bank and in 6 weeks, got one email from them saying that they received my application for the PPP loan. At my wits end and not knowing what else to do, I found Upwise in a quick search and was so glad that I did. I was able to get Frank on the line who was very nice, personable and knowledgeable. He had me apply through an easy link, and I was approved and funded in just a few days! I'll be sure to be calling Frank again with any other financing needs I might have in the future. Thank you Frank and Upwise Capital, you guys ROCK!" Seamless application process — 11 percent Specific comments within this theme include the following: Utilized good technology Equipped to assist independent contractor/gig worker Well-explained interface for application Everything was accessible online Easy to navigate, submit, and sign Biz2Credit review: Customer Review: Vee from Louisiana “The PPP loan process was simple and straightforward, particularly for someone in my category. That is, an independent contractor/gig worker. The Biz2Credit system is set up in a way to help "micro" business owners. Staff was very communicative, not relying on just one mode of outreach.” United Capital Source review: Customer Review: Shabnam from New York “United Capital Source was able to apply for a PPP loan for me and it was approved! Their forms were all online and very easy to use and they emailed me for any additional files needed. The loan documents were also easy to sign and the money was in my accounts a few days later. All in all it was an excellent experience that could not have been easier. Thank you!” Top complaints in negative reviews Poor communication — 39 percent Specific comments within this theme include the following: Handed from one company rep to another Calls or emails were ignored Hung up on by loan representative A scheduled call was canceled No communication after document submission 1-star review: Customer Review: David from California “Their customer service is ZERO. They were 100% nonresponsive, they failed to reply to an overnight letter, and email requesting a simple phone call. Their phones auto answers then times out and hang up. Because of their horrible service I was not able to apply for a PPP loan.” 3-star review: Customer Review: Christina from California “Our advisor was knowledgeable and helpful on our initial 2 phone calls. While not particularly timely, our advisor did follow up with us after our initial application attempts failed and instructed us to resubmit our loan application with an online vendor. While the subsequent online application was submitted successfully, that is where the contact completely stopped - I was not able to get a response from our advisor even one time after that application was successfully submitted but not processed due to lack of funds (1st round PPP funding ran out). The 3-star rating is only because our loan was ultimately approved during the 2nd round of funding, but we never received any more communication from our advisor while our application was suspended and we were waiting for additional funding.” Issues submitting documentation — 17% Specific comments within this theme include the following: Complicated or unclear process Asked repeatedly to send in documents Documentation was lost Lender didn’t include all information provided by customer for submission to SBA File mistakes were made Difficult to submit documents in different folders (rather than one) 1-star review: Customer Review: Jafar from California “The left-hand does not know what the right hand is doing. I had to resubmit the same document over and over again. The person who was working on my file did not even look at the emails and kept asking for the same documents. We had two companies and filed for both. For one mysterious reason, only one company was processed and I did not get a reasonable answer to why the other company was lost.“ 2-star review: Customer Review: Thomas from Georgia “Communication for my PPP loan was very difficult. All published phone and cell phones #'s either non-working or voice mail that does not get returned. Schedule a call form receives a response that parties are too busy and schedule call will be canceled. At the very last minute on my file mistakes were made and I was told it was too late to correct before the deadline, costing me several thousand in loan amount.” Slow-moving process — 17% Specific comments within this theme include the following: Took a long time to process the application Took a long time to receive funding Lender was "sitting on" the approved money 2-star review: Customer Review: Louie from Florida “Application for our 3 corporations were submitted on 4/9/20 for PPP. It was handed from one representative to another. This happened 4 times. Documents were requested over and over again. I realized that only 1 corporation was processed and funded the last week of May. The other 2 PPP applications fell into the cracks. I have to diligently follow up every day and resent all documents again...Finally, after non-stop of emails, the two accounts were finally approved and funded the first week of June. I understand that this is a very busy time for [company] but customers need to be informed on what's going on with their applications. The portal is useless. It doesn't give you any updated information on applications. I was lost in the dark in this whole application process.” 1-star review: Customer Review: Amy from Texas “My credit union gave over our PPP loan to [company], as the 3rd party processor. I applied 6 weeks ago. Approved with [company] 4 weeks ago, and SBA 3 weeks ago. Still have not received my PPP. When asked if [company] was sitting on our approved money from SBA, earning interest, they would not answer. Small businesses are going under waiting to be funded and [company] is not releasing the approved money!!!!" Failure to be approved — 15% Specific comments within this theme include the following: Denied because of claimed lack of documentation which actually was submitted No explanation for the rejection Approved for a smaller amount than expected Ran credit even when rejected for funding 1-star reviews: Customer Review: Cari-Anne from New Mexico “Wow! Received three different approval amounts for ppp Loan. The last amount was hysterical.. a few hundred dollars. This took about a month. Even though My client had an approval for 30,000.00 - it must be illegal. Called SBA and they said they must fund the letter of approval that they gave my client. They wouldn't respond to phone calls or emails. Finally received a response stating you are welcome to apply elsewhere even though they knew that most places had used up their funds." Customer Review: Alison from California “When I submitted my application, they wrote my application is under review and they will let me know if they need any additional information/documents. 48 hours later, I get an email that they have denied my request because my application was lacking information they requested. And very conveniently, there is no number to call to see what was missing and on their site, they write their decision is final. Yet, they still ran my credit!!!!” Website portal issues — 11% Specific comments within this theme include the following: Trouble logging in System errors Data was repeatedly lost System not user friendly 1-star review: Customer Review: Ivy from California “[Company] always has problems in logging into their website, lots of system errors and hiccups. Also it's really crappy when it's never on the same page as keeping the documents that as uploaded. I applied for my PPP here and had to reset password, security question countless times in order to login. Their system will automatically wash off all your data and report: No viewable loan after the next day. Helpless and careless employees when you call. I only got two answers from them: "reset your passwords" and " I don't know, reapply!" Which lending company performed best? Regarding the PPP reviews specifically, the average review rating for the top five companies reviewed is above 4.5 out of 5 stars. Note the sample size for each company individually is small, so the information on the group collectively gives us a better picture of PPP lending performance overall. Click the company name to browse the reviews section for each company individually. Fundera's average PPP review rating: 5 (2 reviews) Upwise Capital's average PPP review rating: 5 (4 reviews) Lendio's average PPP review rating: 4.8 (23 reviews) United Capital Source's average PPP review rating: 4.7 (7 reviews) Biz2Credit's average PPP review rating: 4.5 (37 reviews) Who offers the best business loans? Overall rankings for all lending companies reviewed here (plus hundreds more) can be found on the best business loans landing page. Learn More
Guest Post by Ty Kiisel If you're like many people, right now you're thinking about what you really want out of your life and career. Maybe you lost your job because of COVID-19 or simply realize it isn't what you want to do long-term. Maybe you're dreaming about a business you'd love to start. Starting a business in the middle of a global pandemic and national recession might seem foolhardy on the surface, but in reality, it might be your best opportunity to realize your dreams of entrepreneurship. Why? First of all, people are being cautious, which means they aren’t taking the kinds of risks that lead to financial success right now. That leaves an opportunity for you. Also, if you can create a thriving business in the middle of global upheaval, it’s going to be even easier to succeed when times are good. Still, this isn’t going to be an easy endeavor. Here are some tips to help you succeed: 1. Start small This might not be the time to execute your full dream of opening a chain of retail stores, given the economic climate and the fact that some states are still shutting down certain types of businesses to combat the pandemic. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get started on a smaller scale. If you want to open a retail business, maybe you start selling online first. Online sales have, after all, increased 55 percent year over year, and experts don’t expect them to stall out too much as brick and mortar stores open back up. If you’re still working, you could start a business that you can run, at least initially, part-time while you continue to bring home a steady paycheck. You can create a plan to scale that allows you to start with a lower budget for equipment, marketing, staff, etc., that you can grow once you start bringing in revenue. 2. Look for unique opportunities Before you jump into launching a new business, look around to see what’s happening in that industry. The global pandemic has forever changed many types of businesses. Take restaurants, for example. Many have struggled with fluctuating rules about dine-in services in many states. Does that mean you shouldn’t open a restaurant? Not necessarily. The key is seeing where the opportunities lie. If you’re interested in opening a restaurant, it might do best as a take-out and delivery option only. You’d also cut down on your restaurant footprint and cost for commercial real estate if you don’t have a dine-in option. Where else are there opportunities right now? The world of virtual offices, communications, and healthcare are all areas that are rapidly changing and presenting a wealth of business opportunities you can capitalize on. 3. Buy used equipment You may like the idea of buying a $1,000 Herman Miller office chair for your new enterprise or upgrading your old laptop for something sleek and faster, but ask yourself: Is it really necessary? The first months of your new business will bleed money, so any unnecessary expense should be tabled until you’re profitable. One way to do that is to buy used equipment on sites like Craigslist, NextDoor, or Facebook. And now’s a great time to find deals because, unfortunately, so many businesses are closing up shop. Their misfortune could be your cost-saving grace. 4. Think about financing ASAP Even if you plan to bootstrap your business, it’s still a good idea to consider what financing you could qualify for down the road if you want to, for example, hire employees, rent office space, or buy more inventory. If you’ve got great personal and business credit, you may qualify for a low-interest SBA or bank loan. If not, you’ll have to look at alternative financing options like merchant cash advances. Better yet, look for ways to build your business credit and improve your personal credit. It won’t happen overnight, but if you start working on it now, you’ll be in a better position for a loan down the road. Being aware of all financing tools available to you before you need them, as well as what each requires to qualify, can help you position your company from the start to be appealing to lenders. You can build your business credit by opening a business credit card or tradeline with a vendor and meeting all your financial obligations on time — that’s the single biggest thing you can do to build a strong business credit profile. Whether you think you need financing right now or not, it may be a good time to apply for a line of credit so that you can lock in low-interest rates and have access to cash when you need it later. 5. Consider your actual staffing needs You may dream of commanding an entire office of employees, but the reality is that you may not be able to afford to hire full-time employees from the start. Still, there are options that will get you the help you need without the big spend. One option is hiring freelancers or contractors. Because you pay them per hour or per project and aren’t required to provide employee benefits, you can save a significant amount of money on staffing. Another option is to hire part-time help if your needs are small. With either staffing option, you have the benefit of getting to know how an individual works, and if you like what they do, you can offer them a more permanent, full-time role down the road. Most entrepreneurs take on the bulk of the workload themselves at the start, then hire gradually as revenues and profits permit. Starting a business right now is not without its challenges, but it’s also got plenty of potential for long-term success if you plan ahead. Ty Kiisel has been writing about small business and the business finance topics that impact a business's bottom line for almost 20 years. With over 35 years in the trenches as a Main Street business evangelist, author, and marketing veteran, he makes the maze of small business finance accessible by weaving personal experiences and other anecdotes into a regular discussion of some of the biggest challenges facing small business owners today.
Guest Post by Dan Christensen, Board Certified Personal Injury Attorney The last few months have been fraught with challenges for business owners, who carry the weight of their employees' paychecks and their clients' reliance on their products and services. For many businesses, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has left them with significantly reduced profits and uncertainty regarding when and at what capacity they'll be able to resume operations. Most businesses have contingency plans for the unexpected, be that a break-in or a natural disaster that causes them to shut down temporarily. Prolonged closures shrouded in uncertainty, however, are more complicated. A common step in preparing for potential disasters is business interruption insurance, which provides protection against lost income or extra expenses that can occur due to a disaster, such as a fire or theft, that's covered by an individual business's insurance plan. In the wake of country-wide closures and lockdowns, many companies that have business interruption insurance are finding that their policies, at least at face value, don't cover viruses or viral pandemics. However, since these are unprecedented times, many business owners across the United States are filing lawsuits against some of the biggest insurance companies to fight for coverage. To help business owners better understand their options, we're breaking down the following: How to find out if your business is covered by your current policy The steps to take if you believe you have a claim What to do if your claim has been denied How to find out if your business is covered by your current policy Whether you had to close your business because of mandated lockdowns or had to increase expenses to ensure your business could continue to operate given new health and safety measures, you might be eligible to recover those funds through your business interruption insurance. The first step you'll need to take is to read through your policy from start to finish, keeping an eye on what's included, especially as it relates to viruses or viral pandemics. It is entirely possible that your policy won't mention either of those situations, but that doesn't mean your business can't be covered. Even if the policy doesn't mention viruses, for instance, you could potentially argue that this type of coverage was not meant to be excluded by your insurance carrier. On the other hand, if your policy does mention viruses, there are legal theories that support business insurance policies accepting claims for the novel coronavirus. While most business interruption insurance policies cover situations in which a business experiences property damage and must end or reduce operations as a result, this does not mean the policy applies to only typical property damage. For example, a business could argue that the ability to use the property was unusable because of physical forces. Steps to take if you believe you have a claim Once you've determined that your business interruption insurance policy should cover losses you've experienced due to COVID-19, you can file a claim with your insurance compliance for damages and losses related to net profit, overhead, and labor. It's important that you understand which claims apply to your business to maximize your return. Your business might be entitled to coverage for losses other than those experienced because you simply weren't able to operate on your property. For example, if new damage occurred on the property while you weren't able to occupy it, you might be able to recover the cost for repairs. Based on your policy type, claims can include business interruption, civil authority, and dependent property coverage, all of which vary in typical length of coverage by your insurer. Business interruption insurance and dependent property coverage usually cover businesses for 12 months, whereas civil authority coverage is usually for just one month. When taking the initial step to file your claim, you may want to consider speaking with a lawyer who can help you clearly identify the areas in which you might be eligible for coverage. What to do if your claim has been denied Since the spread of COVID-19 throughout the United States, thousands of businesses have filed business interruption insurance claims, and many have been denied, with insurers citing policy exclusions (even on policies that don't have any exclusions). These insurance companies, however, cannot reasonably argue that the novel coronavirus hasn't caused the suspension of businesses across the country, which has resulted in significant losses. If your business interruption insurance claim has been denied and you believe your business is entitled to it, your option is taking the claim to court. Insurance policies are typically written in generalized language that favors the insurance company, but courts often favor insurance coverage by construing policy exclusions through a more narrow lens. If you want to take action, it’s best to meet with an attorney to understand your rights and help navigate the complexities of making and arguing such claims. As more businesses look to file such claims during this time, more precedents will be set in the court that you can use in your favor, which a lawyer can help to discern. Dan Christensen is the owner and founder of DC Law, a highly rated personal injury law firm in Austin, Texas. Over the last 25 years, Christensen has been involved in nearly 200 trials and gone up against some of the largest defendants, including the U.S. Government, in numerous state and federal courts. Christensen is also board certified in personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, meaning he is listed among the small percentage (about 7 percent) of licensed attorneys in the state of Texas who have earned the right to publicly represent themselves as a specialist in a select area of the law.
Guest Post by Travis Crabtree People across the nation are starting new nonprofit organizations at an unprecedented rate. In March 2020, nonprofit organizations increased by 39 percent when compared to other types of businesses, according to Swyft Filings proprietary data. It's no coincidence this spike in nonprofit formation is happening during a global pandemic. This crisis has inspired people who want to make a difference. For many, the best way to help is by starting a nonprofit to bring a mission to life. Whether it's from the effects of a devastating pandemic or rampant social injustice, nonprofits assist communities in need by providing people, supplies, money, organization, and other much needed aid. If you want to start your own nonprofit to help those in need and further the public good, this guide can show you the way. 1. Determine your mission and create your purpose statement The first step when creating any nonprofit is to create a purpose statement. Let's say you want to help people through the COVID-19 crisis. How exactly are you going to help? Are you equipping healthcare workers with needed medical supplies? Donating financial resources to people who lost their jobs? Providing books, tablets, and internet access to disadvantaged kids whose schools have closed? Finding forever homes for all the puppies and kitties who were given up for adoption when their owners could no longer care for them? Declaring your specific purpose doesn't just give your nonprofit clarity and direction; it's the law. The IRS requires that all 501(c)(3) organizations include a purpose statement in their articles of incorporation to receive tax-exempt status. 2. Organize your leadership Many new nonprofits start as simple one-person operations. You might be the founder, executive director, and entire staff all by yourself. But as you grow, you're going to have to get organized. To run efficiently, nonprofits, like any business, must appoint people to leadership positions. These include managers, directors, executives, and administrative staff. You'll need a board of directors to hire executives, provide oversight, and vote on major financial and strategic decisions. In fact, many states require nonprofits to have at least three officers — two of whom cannot live in the same home. States view nonprofits as truly public entities. They want oversight from more than one person so the entity is not abused. 3. Incorporate While not a legal necessity, incorporating your nonprofit can be an excellent idea. An alternative is setting up an unincorporated nonprofit association, but this only works for small, limited income organizations. On the other hand, you can incorporate even if you are the only employee of your nonprofit, and there are significant advantages if you plan on growing. Incorporation limits liability, adds authenticity to your organization, and typically only costs a few hundred dollars with filing fees. Despite the obvious lack of profits, a nonprofit is still considered a business by state law. Your incorporation will be filed at the state level. Startup costs and processes can vary greatly depending on where you live, but most jurisdictions require your nonprofit to follow specific naming conventions and create bylaws and articles of incorporation. Naming Be sure your name accurately reflects your cause. Search both state and federal trademark listings to make sure that your chosen name is unique and not already taken by another organization in your state. To signify that you are incorporated, most states also require your nonprofit's to use an identifying suffix such as "company," "corporation," "incorporated," or "limited" in its official name. Articles of Incorporation Your Articles of Incorporation is a document necessary to officially form your organization with the state. It might also be called a "Charter Document" or "Certificate of Incorporation." Regardless of the name, your Articles of Incorporation should include: Organization name Type of nonprofit Incorporators Directors Purpose statement Registered agent and contact information Designation of stock or non-stock Statement of membership or non-membership-based Bylaws Your nonprofit should also have a set of bylaws. If you are going to file for tax-exempt status with your state or the IRS requirement, you will have to submit your bylaws. These establish the ground rules for how the nonprofit will be run, managed, and who will make certain decisions. The bylaws of every organization are different, but for nonprofits, they typically include: Board members Board meetings schedules Procedures for changing bylaws Voting rules Conflict resolution Committee creation and dissolution Winding down and dissolution procedures 4. Apply for licenses and tax exemptions After incorporation, your next step is to apply for a local business license. This allows your nonprofit to operate locally, manage sales, and file employment taxes. Nonprofits are usually tax-exempt, but it's not an automatic process. You need to obtain 501(c)(3) status by filing Form 1023 with the IRS. Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) on the IRS website and follow their detailed Form 1023 checklist. This step becomes much simpler if your organization is already incorporated. You're not done yet. Don't forget about state and local taxes. After you receive federal approval from the IRS, you'll want to seek exemption from sales tax, property taxes, and state income tax. To maintain your tax-exempt status, your organization must file Form 990 with the IRS every year. 5. Register to receive donations Your nonprofit won't have much of an impact if you can't raise funds. State laws regulate charitable fundraising activities, and most states require you to register before you can solicit funds. This doesn't just apply to the state you're based in; you'll need to register in every state from which you take donations. If someone from Rhode Island wants to give you money, you better be registered in Rhode Island to legally accept, even if you're based in California. To put it simply, if you're doing any kind of fundraising, especially online, your nonprofit should consider filing a registration form in all 50 states. Consider outsourcing to simplify the process All this might sound complicated, and it is, but don't let that dissuade you from starting a nonprofit and doing good in this world. COVID-19 has impacted millions, and we need people willing to help now more than ever. If you're worried about all the little legal hurdles, consider outsourcing this part. There are companies that specialize in helping you navigate all the filing and paperwork for starting a nonprofit. They can make sure the proper forms are filed with the appropriate government bodies so you can concentrate on the important work of helping those in need. Regardless of if you go through a filing company or tackle the typing yourself, thank you for working toward the public good. Get out there and make a positive impact. Travis Crabtree is the president of Swyft Filings, a document filing service that assists clients with starting, growing, and managing businesses.
If your fitness business has failed to generate sufficient revenue during government-mandated closures, you’re not alone. Times have been tough — even heartbreaking — for the fitness industry during the pandemic. Gold’s Gym is permanently shutting down more than 30 locations and other franchises and independent gyms are struggling to bear the weight of economic uncertainty. But with most states re-opening local economies, there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Some members will return enthusiastically while others may be tentative, so a hybrid of in-person and virtual services may be necessary. At this point, the best-case scenario for gyms and other fitness businesses is to do one or more of the following: Retain current members Attract new members Jumpstart new sources of revenue Consider the following adaptation ideas that gyms across the country have utilized to stay in shape financially, to stay current with clients for a future return, or both. 1. Continue classes virtually It’s obvious that the use of video conferencing platforms has skyrocketed during the pandemic. But to what extent has the fitness industry made this pivot? Dacast, an online video platform that allows businesses to broadcast and host video content, experienced a 2,850 percent increase in fitness clients' subscriptions between the end of February to the end of April 2020. According to COO Greg Ellis, usage climbed from about 400GB per month to 115,000GB per month during the same time period. It’s clear that virtual fitness is exploding and may not disappear post-pandemic. Ellis expects that studios and trainers will continue and expand their online offerings post-lockdown as they are more convenient for the students and instructors with less required travel time and opportunity for missed classes. “The expanded reach and revenue potential for the instructors and studios should also make virtual a supplement to in-person classes and not something that is abandoned lightly,” Ellis says. The exception to this is the personal fitness trainer category, as much of the appeal for a personal trainer is the in-person interaction and also because home access to specialized equipment is limited. So how exactly are gyms operating with a virtual model? Pay-per-class When you charge per class, clients can pick and choose their favorites without committing to a certain number of classes in order to get their money’s worth. There is less risk on the part of the client. That’s what San Francisco-based MX3 Fitness is doing with their classes. MX3 Fitness includes two personal training gyms and one yoga studio. After the shelter in place order was announced, they were able to take their entire business online in less than 48 hours, partly thanks to the fact that founder Glenn Shope was a computer programmer in a former life. MX3 Fitness offers a complimentary free class, then subsequent classes start at $8 per class. Virtual tip jar Unfortunately, MX3’s individual trainers and yogis lost up to 80 percent of their business during the pandemic, so the company added a virtual tip jar on the website for clients to contribute a little extra where possible to help keep them afloat. Co-owner Dave Karraker explains, “This was a biggie. In just a month, they received an amazing 150 tips” as a token of generosity and appreciation from class attendees. Monthly membership Brittney Hiller, founder and CEO of brick and mortar yoga studio and spa Effervescence Yoga Spa, was more prepared than most for a digital pivot. “Due to my original creation of my Virtual YogaSpa for members who travel and as a preparation for our frequent hurricane evacuations, I was ready to shift online quickly to help support my members during this time,” says Hiller. In addition to individual class payments, Hiller offers a monthly, no-contract membership in which members have access to unlimited virtual live yoga classes as well as a wellness resource library that includes meditations, pre-recorded yoga classes, and self-care and wellness-inspired workshops. “Elite” annual memberships are also available. Hiller has actually seen a rise in yoga attendance since moving to all-virtual services compared to when the studio was physically open. “I believe this is due to the ease of turning on the computer and clicking on a link to enjoy an hour of yoga together,” she explains. “I plan to continue this online option even beyond our physical reopening process” Pay-what-you-can Recognizing that members may also be experiencing financial hardship, you may implement a temporary pay-what-you-can policy in which you forego set charges. Another factor is your streaming platform of choice: if you’re streaming via Facebook Live on your public account, for example, there’s no access barrier for anyone to participate. MX3 Fitness added a pay-what-you-can community yoga class to their schedule. Karraker explains, “We are a ‘community’ gym, so it really felt good to give back, even when our own organization is struggling.” Even though the pandemic has created a huge challenge for the business, Karraker says, “We are seeing some successes, and the gratitude from the community has been nothing short of inspiring.” Keep in mind that even if your virtual classes are not generating significant revenue in the short-term, client loyalty may pay off in the long run. Define your boundaries and give options Tweaking your membership payment structure can definitely be tricky right now. On one hand, you want to assuage fears and appease clients, who may also be struggling. But on the other hand, you may not be willing or able to fully refund memberships when you’re strapped for cash. Decide which membership updates you feel okay about, then give gym-goers a couple of options to choose from, perhaps including the following: Extend membership period Issue a refund for the closed time period Offer a discount for upcoming months Initiate a new promotion for a monthly or yearly membership or punch pass Give gym perks and privileges, such as extended facility hours, to existing members to encourage retention 2. Focus on social media engagement and communication Some gym owners have used the time in social isolation to work on increasing their follower base on Instagram, YouTube, or Facebook. Some of these followers may become paying members at some point for your future on-site, virtual, or hybrid fitness model. Consider incorporating giveaways for swag or temporary memberships and work with influencers to promote your products or services. Personal trainer, coach, and sports performance specialist Tom Green operates Greenspeed Training in San Diego. He’s been running contests and giveaways on his social media accounts to keep clients engaged, and he’s seen an increase in followers which will hopefully translate to new business. Green has also kept in personal contact with clients when they haven’t been able to work out together, which is a necessary practice for any fitness business. Clients need to know what you’re offering in order to participate, whether that’s virtual classes, motivation via text messages or phone calls, or content emphasizing the importance of physical fitness and nutrition. 3. Find a way to give back To clients As mentioned, offering free or pay-what-you-can fitness classes is one way to give back. A willingness to make things fun — “just because” — is also a gift to clients. Hollywood physique expert Eric the Trainer is holding free live group Zoom classes a couple of times a day Monday through Saturday and has been mixing things up with celebrity performances and fun themes like Broadway (featuring “Hamilton” cast members), Star Wars (featuring actor Matt Lanter, Anakin Skywalker in “Clone Wars”), Harry Potter, and zoo animals (featuring judges from the Los Angeles Zoo). For Mother’s Day, Eric created a sing-along concert to benefit Feeding America with musical performances by Nickelback, Echosmith, Toto, and Air Supply. To service professionals Eric is also working with nutrition clients to donate healthy meals to local hospital frontline workers. MX3 Fitness added a free weekly yoga class for service industry employees. Verona Yoga teamed up with another yoga studio to offer a donation-based, all-levels Vinyasa class aimed to help provide meals to healthcare workers at University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey. The best part? The food is to be purchased from Fairfield restaurant Zest, supporting a local eatery during the pandemic as well. 4. Present outdoor exercise options With the temperature warming up in many parts of the country and balmy weather year-round in other areas, moving your gym activities outside can assuage some fears. Pam Waddick, owner of gym Hiit56 in Boca Raton, Florida, came up with an idea called “Park ‘n Sweat.” Up to six gym members at a time could park in alternate parking spots with sanitized gear ready to go in the spaces between each set of cars and a socially distanced trainer leading the group. 5. Expand your service offerings MX3’s Karraker noticed early on in the lockdown that many members were setting up family yoga meetups during their Zoom classes. “This was awesome to see families across the country connect,” says Karraker. “And it made us aware that we now had a very wide age range participating, with kids as young as 12 and grandparents as old as 83.” To ensure all attendees felt engaged, the gym added chair yoga for seniors to be inclusive of more ability levels. You might expand your studio’s offerings to include one or more of the following: 1-on-1 personal training Kid-specific fitness classes Nutrition consulting Mindfulness and meditation Yoga Mental health services On a completely non-fitness related note, you may want to rent out your gym as a co-working space for individuals or businesses looking for office space during the hours that members aren’t using it. Co-working facilitating platform DropDesk partners with businesses during their closed or unused hours, converting them into part-time coworking spaces. Founder Graham Back explains that his platform fosters a sense of community and, for some businesses, has offered their only recurring revenue model during difficult times. 6. Expand your product offerings If your gym sells swag like clothing or water bottles, have a sale to generate some revenue and clear out old inventory. Consider creating an online course or at-home fitness guide for purchase. Rent out equipment such as the following: Kettlebells Dumbbells Yoga mats Jump ropes Medicine bells Wearable fitness trackers Orthopedic clinical specialist Lawrence Kim owns Edge Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine, working extensively with fitness-based professionals and fitness clients. Kim has implemented remote monitoring via the WHOOP app for elite athletes to add value to his in-person services, incorporate an additional revenue stream, and open up to a broader audience not limited to geography. 7. Initiate an at-home fitness challenge Organize a remote challenge for members to do as they continue or re-start healthy habits at home. This could look like a weight bet, a daily habit checklist, or a bucket list of local hiking trails. There are a few ways to motivate and monetize: charge a flat participation fee, have everyone contribute to a pot, some of which returns to the winner(s) of the challenge, or charge a larger amount of money that will be refunded only upon successful completion of the challenge. You may want to create a training plan for a virtual race or an in-person race at a future date. Take donations for participation in the fun run or a longer-distance race and make it fun by including medals, t-shirts, or prizes. 8. Make cleanliness a priority and communicate that to members There are different approaches you can take with this, but for optimal cleanliness, a combination of all three may be necessary: Emphasize personal responsibility by depending on gym members to sanitize equipment after use Increase frequency and coverage of staff sanitizing procedures Hire out regular cleaning services Boutique fitness brand TruFusion has been working with health professionals, including a Chief of Medicine, to ensure that cleaning protocols and the studio design and layout will meet high standards of cleanliness. From power washers built into showers to updating air ducts, the company is considering long-term changes and solutions. 9. Improve spacing and planning with time slots To make it easier to give members space as they work out, control the number of guests via time slot signups. Personal trainer Chad Turner is impressed that VASA is doing this and hopes to see it continue. “I like that this method controls the number of people that can come in at one time and customers can schedule their workouts,” Turner explains. “I’d love to see this service at other gyms become the norm even when the quarantine is over. I hate showing up to the gym and seeing it really crowded.” 10. Apply for a relief loan, grant, or business loan Some gym owners have been able to maintain payroll thanks to the Paycheck Protection Program or other federal and state relief programs. And even during a global economic downturn, traditional Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and other small business loans may be viable options for your business. Here’s what reviewers had to say about working with Lendio and VIP Capital Funding earlier this year: Lendio Customer Review: Colton, Gym Owner "We weren't sure about using them at first but we are glad we did. Everything was an easy process from start to finish and they hooked us up with the best possible loan for our situation all while explaining each one of our options." VIP Capital Funding Customer Review: Phil from Houston, TX "I had 2 funding positions at the time but needed more capital to help the growth for my fitness center. Although we couldn’t consolidate at the time they helped me with a long term plan by strengthening the revenue of my business with a 3rd position and then helping me get funded with a term loan later in the year." What’s next for the fitness industry? Americans’ physical activity declined by about 50 percent from March 1 to April 6 according to data from a 150,000+ person fitness tracking cohort. With the reopening of fitness studios, it’s assumed that physical activity will go up. But only time will tell if and how gyms will adapt to the point of recovery after a hiatus. One popular prediction is the hybridization of in-person and virtual fitness. Tara Roscioli, co-owner of New Jersey-based Align Wellness Studio, explains that within two days of closing their doors in March, they launched an entirely new business model online including multiple Livestream Pilates, Barre, Sculpt, and Suspension classes; an extensive and growing library of on-line Pilates and fitness videos for rent; a monthly subscription service; and virtual training sessions for individuals and small groups. “The great part about this pivot is that it has allowed us to tap into clients who otherwise were unable to make our classes,” Roscioli explains. “So rather than going back to regularly scheduled programming once the ban has been lifted, we will continue to offer live-streams of most, of not all, of our classes.” For gyms that need assistance making this pivot, third-party resources are available. Jillian Bridgette Cohen, CEO and co-founder of Virtual Health Partners (VHP), explains that her virtual platform helps gyms and fitness studios navigate the new normal of COVID-19, streamlining the home workout process and getting fitness studios back in business. “VHP gives gyms a way to extend services to members who feel safer working out from home or who just can’t fit into the likely now-limited class capacity,” Cohen explains. “This virtual system fills in the gaps that will be left by new regulations that will control how these businesses will reopen.” The online portal includes capabilities like granting members access to exclusive branded classes, workouts, nutrition and training tips, progress trackers, accountability groups, and 24/7 access to fitness experts.
Guest Post by Vincent Sevilla Few anticipated this global pandemic to affect our modern world at such scale. No fewer than 212 countries have been affected. Now, thousands of people are stuck at home, fearing the virus, with almost all schools closed, and countless businesses halting their operations. COVID-19 has affected businesses in many ways. As entire cities and countries impose strict rules on quarantine and social distancing, many companies had to close down temporarily, while some operate with limited capacity and staff. Shipping and deliveries are paused or delayed and goods are stranded in warehouses or ports, resulting in order cancellations and loss of customer confidence. Travel, hospitality, and food service industries are also impacted in an unprecedented way. Millions of Americans have filed for unemployment benefits as most small businesses are left with no choice but to lay off some of their employees or even shut down. Not all businesses have enough cash reserves to withstand this crisis, after all. As a business owner, it’s understandable that you are worried. However, you should also know that it’s not a hopeless situation. There are a number of things that you can do to not only keep your business afloat during this pandemic, but to make it thrive even. 1. Care about self-care You may not be able to control what’s going on around the world but there are things that you have control over, like your physical and mental health. By taking care of yourself and working on having a clearer mind, you’ll be able to come up with creative solutions for what your business is going through right now. 2. Consider paid ads (they're really cheap right now!) There is a substantial decrease in the cost per click as there aren’t many small businesses placing ads. Because ad networks earn by using an auction system and there isn’t much competition right now, ads are cheaper. As a result, return on investment of paid ads increases during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you haven’t had any paid ads yet, now is the time to give it some thought. 3. Let your metrics guide you Entrepreneurs are often sp busy taking care of what’s currently going on in their small businesses that they hardly find time to check their metrics. Even if checking your metrics is part of your daily routine, you might not have been able to take a really good look at the whole picture. But now that things have slowed down, you have the opportunity to make monthly comparisons to see what the trends are and how you can improve conversion rates, click-through rates, customer retention rates, and ultimately, your sales revenue. 4. Transform yourself into a project manager Before the pandemic changed the way you needed to run your business, you were probably used to addressing tasks at work as they come. While this may work for you, you might also want to reassess the way you do things and approach tasks in a more organized way. You can make a task list based on level of importance and come up with detailed plans that include time frames for each task that you aim to accomplish while working from home. Don’t forget to keep track of your progress so you’ll always know where you are. 5. Provide educational resources Depending on your industry, you might want to consider offering some educational training courses. You can approach this in two ways. You can sell your own courses at a discounted price to people who are looking for ways to improve specific skills or to prepare for a new job. With workers losing jobs everywhere, people are seeking new opportunities. You can help them with that. You might also want to provide your employees with relevant educational-based training so their work performance could be improved. This could help improve their chances at getting promoted in the future. 6. Provide special promos and offers You want to get more sales but at the same time you want to help your customers who are also affected by this pandemic. By offering your products at discounted prices, or perks like free shipping, free access to otherwise premium services, not only will you be making sure that your customers will continue to support your business but that you are also showing them that you care about them. 7. Master search engine optimization (SEO) Professionals who offer SEO services for small businesses can really help your brand become more visible online. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn what you need to know about SEO. It wouldn’t hurt to familiarize yourself on SEO strategies, know where most of your traffic comes from, what platforms perform well for you, and what you can do to make sure you are ahead in the game. 8. Up your social media game Given the situation right now, you can expect that more people are spending hours of their time on social media. Therefore, that’s where you should be, too! Reach as many potential customers as you can via the most popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, but don’t miss out on what platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube can bring. Stay tuned to what your target market is paying attention to right now and what their needs are. Then aim to meet those needs. Don’t just focus on posting more frequently but also on posting what’s relevant to your audience. Stay true to your brand and take the opportunity to show everyone what your company is really about. While making purchases might not be at the top of their priority list right now, by being visible and by reaching out to your audience, you can be sure that you will be on their mind when they do decide to make a purchase. 9. Take your productivity to a new level You might not be used to working from home and having your team working remotely, too. It could be challenging to adapt to this new work environment but thankfully you are living in a time when there is an abundance of helpful tools that you can use to make sure you and your staff stay productive. Some of these tools include Slack, Trello, Timeclick, Evernote, and Google Drive, among others. Look at your current process and identify areas that can be improved by using these tools. Of course, you also need to condition yourself and have a positive mindset. Be disciplined. If you need to work certain hours, focus on just work during that period and don’t be distracted. Commit to your goals and don’t forget to reward yourself when you finish your tasks. 10. Try artisanal marketing Artisanal marketing means adding that personal touch to your marketing approach. You might wonder how you can do that with digital marketing, right? For one, stop using stock photos for your blogs. Find that voice that really represents your brand and use it consistently. Don’t rely on bots when it comes to communicating with your customers and make sure contact is made personal. By doing these things, your customers will see how invested you are in your brand and how much you value your customers, too. 11. Strengthen your content marketing plan Many businesses still take content marketing lightly — just writing and posting articles on topics that they deem interesting or what they believe their audience would like. But should that be the extent of your content marketing? Your answer should be “no.” You should have a solid content marketing campaign plan in place. Have specific goals for the next three to six months. Know your audience and what keywords they search for so you’ll know what information you need to provide them. Design your content wisely as design elements play a big role in a content’s readability and shareability. Lastly, implement a strict schedule for your content creation and stick to it. When you strengthen your content marketing, you’ll be able to establish yourself as an authority in your industry, reach more people, and get more leads. 12. Breathe new life into your landing pages Your landing pages play a big role in turning web traffic into leads and even loyal customers. So if you haven’t been paying attention to your website’s landing pages, it’s time to breathe new life into them. How do you do that? Check if your landing pages are still enticing and relevant. Chances are, the content and design need an update. Make sure that your landing page’s voice and mood is consistent with the ad that redirected them to that page, the entire website, and the brand itself. Don’t try to add too much to your landing page or try to incorporate multiple conversion points that will appear too pushy or confusing to your audience. You can get through this The world is experiencing not only a health crisis but an economic one as well. While it’s true that the need for social distancing can affect your business greatly, it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Take this opportunity to clear your mind, take creative steps, and make use of all the resources available to you, and build up your online marketing strategy to ensure that you and your business will get through this pandemic even stronger than before. Vincent Sevilla is a professional web designer and inbound strategist for HostingFacts. His goal? To innovate ideas, create good art, and to travel to all the best places in the Philippines. You can follow him on Twitter.
Guest Post by Michael Deane COVID-19 has caught many business owners unprepared. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable in this crisis as most are not as well established and might have already been struggling prior to the pandemic. The present circumstances demand that it's time to develop a new strategy, a new financial plan that will help you get back on your feet. If you’re in a dilemma as to what to do to help your business recover, here are a few guidelines for your small business financial planning amidst COVID-19. Perform a financial health check The first step of financial planning for small businesses is to figure out what you're up against financially. An assessment is needed to see the status of your business and to identify your next step according to the results. Assessing your current situation is essential for developing a financial plan. This includes analyzing your cash flow and whether you’re able to carry on with your business in the next 6–12 months. Consider the following questions: What is your current position? Do you have enough funds to continue? For how long? Based on your cash flow assessment, you will have clear insight into your financial situation, and you’ll be able to make a decision: continue with your business or put a halt on some or all of your operations. If your cash flow analysis clearly shows that you can’t operate for the next six months with your existing assets and revenue as is, you can consider shutting down some of your operations or making the difficult decision to let some of your employees go. Recreate your budget Using the results of your previous cash flow analysis, start working on a new budget to keep your small business alive. Your previous budget from before the pandemic is no longer relevant because circumstances have changed drastically. In times of global crisis, we must adjust our spending. More importantly, we must learn from this pandemic and prepare for similar future events. While crafting your budget, keep in mind all the issues (however improbable they sound) that might affect your business. The reason why many small businesses have struggled amid the coronavirus is the reality that they did not have an emergency fund that would keep them going until things would go back to normal. If at all possible, consult a financial expert to help you with your cash flow assessment and budgeting, including a plan to save for future crises. Cut unnecessary spending Spending money on unnecessary things during regular times is hurting your business, but doing so during the COVID-19 crisis can easily ruin you. If you’re struggling to keep your business alive, you need to cut all the unnecessary costs such as software subscription, advertising, and so on. Cut all the things that are not absolutely essential at the moment. Another way to cut spending is to reduce your working hours. Consider canceling orders if the contracts allow it or at least delay them. Reach out to your debtors if you have any and see if you can get some payments. Given the circumstances, your debtors are probably in a similar situation as you are so you a little understanding is necessary. However, you can discuss the possibility of smaller, periodic payments at least. If you have to let employees go, consider automating tasks using AI-powered solutions. AI technology does not only cost less than a full-time employee but can significantly boost customer service experience. These bots can work 24/7 either independently or in collaboration with human agents. Apply for government assistance Global leaders around the world are trying to help businesses recover from COVID-19 by releasing relief and stimulus packages for entrepreneurs. These packages include help for businesses that keep their current staff and/or hire new employees. Examine your eligibility for government assistance and make sure to apply on time. This financial aid from the government can ensure the survival of your small business. You could keep your staff and continue to operate without shutting down any segments of your business. Read more: Paycheck Protection Program 101: How to Get a Business Loan under the CARES Act Another option is to seek investors that could provide a much-needed financial injection. Contact your bank Contact your bank and discuss the ways your bank can help you overcome the hardships of this pandemic. This includes getting payment extensions on mortgages and loans, seeking a refund for any unused premium policies, etc. Contact your landlord If you had to shut down your business temporarily, you’re probably in no situation to continue paying your lease, at least not the full amount. The best thing you can do is reach out to your landlord and consider negotiating a new arrangement. Given the global situation, there is a high probability your landlord will understand your position and reduce your rent since you’re not using the premises. Additionally, various cities have implemented or are considering implementing moratoriums on evictions from both commercial and residential properties. Stay up to date Staying informed is crucial during this crisis. Follow the important information on COVID-19 released by the government and trusted sources that may affect your small business. Governments are also working out ways to help small businesses, and it is important to stay up to date with the changes so you don't miss any opportunities for relief via special loans or grants. COVID-19 has disrupted the entire world, and we can expect the consequences to be felt in the next six months or longer. How we prepare for this upcoming period is crucial. Read more: Consider These 10 Adjustments Before Making Payroll Cuts Michael Deane has been working in marketing for almost a decade and has worked with a huge range of clients, which has made him knowledgeable on many different subjects. He has recently rediscovered a passion for writing and hopes to make it a daily habit. You can read more of Michael's work at Qeedle.