Express Bridge Loan Pilot Program Modified for Small Business During CoronaVirus Emergency

Sad to see Main Street USA dark and to think about the loss of revenue for those small businesses. Local stores here that usually lit up downtown districts in Salem, Peabody, Beverly, Danvers, etc. close early or not open at all due to CoronaVirus Pandemic. But, in response to this National Emergency, the Small Business Administration Express Bridge Loan (EBL) Pilot Program has just been modified, and the term extended. 

According to Ili Spahiu, Assistant District Director for Lender Relations, Massachusetts District Office, SBA, the Bridge Loan “authorizes SBA Express Lenders to provide expedited SBA-guaranteed bridge loan financing on an emergency basis in amounts up to $25,000 for disaster-related purposes to small businesses located in communities affected by Presidentially-declared disasters while those small businesses apply for and await long-term financing,” (including through SBA’s direct Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, if eligible).

EBL General Eligibility requirements:

  • The small businesses have an existing banking relationship with SBA Express lenders as of the date of the disaster. Check Ma. Lender List.
  • Effective March 25, 2020, (announcement by the publication of a notice in the Federal Register will follow), SBA expanded program eligibility to include small businesses nationwide adversely impacted under the Coronavirus Disease. (COVID-19) Emergency Declaration issued by President Trump on March 13, 2020 (“COVID-19 Emergency Declaration”).
  • EBL loans can only be made by SBA Express Lenders that had a valid Supplemental Loan Guaranty Agreement SBA Express Program in effect as of the date of the applicable disaster.
  • EBL loans can only be made up to six months after the date of an applicable Presidential Disaster Declaration; however, for the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, EBL loans can be approved through March 13, 2021.
  • The Lender must have an existing banking relationship with the EBL applicant as of the date of the applicable disaster to help mitigate the risks associated with the streamlined underwriting process under the EBL Pilot Program.
  • The small business must have been operational when the declared disaster commenced and must meet all other 7(a) loan eligibility requirements (credit elsewhere, size, etc.).
  • All EBL applications will begin with a screening for a FICO Small Business Scoring Service Score (SBSS Score) – The minimum acceptable SBSS Score for an EBL loan applicant is 130.
  • Lender must obtain a personal credit score for each guarantor. The personal credit score(s) must be satisfactory under the Lender’s standards for its similarly-sized, non-SBA guaranteed commercial loans.
  • ·The EBL loan must be structured as term loans not to exceed seven years (revolving lines of credit are not permitted).
  • The EBL Pilot Program follows the SBA Express interest rate policy, and SBA guaranty percentage is limited to the maximum guaranty percentage of 50% for SBA Express loans.
  • EBL loans cannot be sold in SBA’s secondary market, and they’re subject to the same upfront guaranty fees required for 7(a) loans of similar size and maturity.
  • Because the maximum amount of an EBL loan is $25,000, SBA Express Lenders are not required to take collateral for EBL loans.
  • Lenders may charge an EBL applicant an application fee of 2 % of the loan amount or $250, whichever is greater.
  • Prior to any disbursement of EBL loan proceeds, Lender must submit a signed IRS Form 4506-T to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Lender must also obtain an IRS tax transcript for the EBL applicant business verifying the existence of the company as of the date the applicable disaster commenced and confirming that the EBL applicant has filed required tax returns.

For additional info on the EBL Program and eligibility requirements, please review the Express Bridge Loan Pilot Program Guide. You should also contact the SBA lender district office within your state.

Massachusetts Small Biz Hit Hard by CoronaVirus Can Tap into $10 Million Recovery Loan Fund

Emergency capital of up to $75,000 (per business) is being quickly made available to qualifying Massachusetts-based businesses hit hard by COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus. Companies must employ under 50 full and/or part-time employees. This funding also includes nonprofits. Loans are immediately available to eligible businesses with no payments due for the first six months, followed by 30-months of principal & interest payments with no prepayment penalties.

This fantastic lifeline is being thrown to Bay state small biz by the Baker-Polito Administration as part of a $10 million Small Business Recovery Loan Fund. It is being capitalized and administered by Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC).

If you operate a small biz in another state, please check with your governor’s office to see if it has launched or is thinking of initiating a similar safety net.

“As our administration continues to take steps to protect the health and safety of residents, we recognize the hardships facing the small businesses that create the foundation of the state’s economy,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This recovery loan fund is a new resource to help small businesses address emergency needs due to the disruption caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Small business owners and their employees are our neighbors and our friends, and their enterprises play vital roles in our communities, and we are committed to helping them cope with the impacts of COVID-19,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “As we announce this small business recovery loan fund, we will continue to work with the Legislature and our federal partners to find ways to effectively provide assistance during this public health emergency.”

“Our office remains in regular contact with the state’s business community to provide updates and receive feedback as the administration continues to expand its comprehensive COVID-19 response,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. “These new recovery loans complement other resources like the state WorkShare program and federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, as well as legislative efforts by the administration to support impacted workers.”

“MGCC is committed to helping support the Commonwealth’s small businesses through this time,” said Lawrence Andrews, President and CEO of MGCC. “We are proud to offer this fund as it serves our mission to save jobs and promote economic development. All processing and funding will take place online through MGCC staff.”

How to Apply for the Recovery Loan Fund

Complete the application as found on MGCC’s website, EmpoweringSmallBusiness.org. Then send it via email to mgcc@massgcc.com with the subject line “2020 Small Business Recovery Loan Fund.”

For further questions, MGCC can be reached by email: mgcc@massgcc.com

As I come across similar info to help small biz in any state, I will share. If you hear of anything in your home state, please let me know at amssvs@gmail.com.

Are You Really Safer from CoronaVirus Infection on the MBTA Today Than Yesterday?

Does this picture represent practicing proper coronavirus social distancing on the MBTA? I felt safe yesterday riding the regular schedule on the bus & subway coming in from zone 3 to Boston. Today, with the revised schedule I didn’t. We were packed. There was even slight coughing.

(For readers not aware of our Boston metro situation this article can serve as background to changes in our rapid transit service.)

Memo to MBTA: those of us riding in the early morning need to be at our jobs because we can’t work from home. Why didn’t you also ask us about schedule change suggestions? Your prime customers? Not very good customer service.

We would have suggested you keep drive time service as is. And then drastically reduce midday service.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said in a statement. “While some of these changes are inconvenient, they maintain a responsible balance between protecting the health and safety of the MBTA workforce and our customers, and our goal of continuing to run safe and reliable service without major disruptions.”

Yesterday I sat alone. So did the riders in front and behind me. Social distancing.

Today we were packed on the bus. Two people in front of me. Two people behind me. A person across from me. And a person next to me. We are looking at six inches and not six feet of separation.

And let’s not even talk about the standing passengers. Yes, it was Standing Room Only.

Did I feel safe on the MBTA yesterday? Yes. Did I feel safe today? No, I did not.

Washing Hands Not Enough If You Use A Cell Phone

There is no delicate way of saying this. Your cell phone potentially has more germs on it than the toilet seat. Now think of your employees. They wash their hands to protect themselves & your customers. But they also take their cell phones into the restrooms.

From Fortune 100 corporate monoliths to the smallest of the mom & pop stores, there is an effort to instruct employees with safety measures during the CoronaVirus threat. Wash hands. No handshakes or fist bumps etc. But with cell phones everywhere, there is a danger that a hidden threat is being ignored.

Again not to be crude, but quoting from a Time magazine article, aptly titled “Your Cell Phone Is 10 Times Dirtier Than a Toilet Seat. Here’s What to do About It”:

When toilets flush, they spread germs everywhere, which is how phones end up with fecal bacteria like E. coli. “Taking a cell phone into the bathroom and then leaving with it is kind of like going in, not washing your hands and then coming back out,” Emily Martin, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. 

So how do you sanitize your cell phone from whatever is “out there?” A recent posting by the WERSM site had these suggestons:

Use lint cloths, not paper towels. Use mild hand soap/warm water, not household cleaners. Dip the cloth into the soap solution and wipe the cell phone. Most modern phones should be waterproof. Use the second cloth to dry the cell phone. And watch it around the open sockets; they were meant for things to be plugged in, not water to be deposited.

Here are additional links with tips from Apple and Google:

Apple https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT207123

Google https://support.google.com/pixelphone/answer/7533987?hl=en

You can’t protect your employees & customers from every germ, bacteria & virus on their cell phones. But you can give them the weapons to help fight the battle. 

5 Tips to Update Underperforming Small Biz Websites

What was “cool” in website content & design yesterday, isn’t anymore today, and may not even exist tomorrow. How old is your small biz website? More than three years? You’re not still using Flash, or linking to Google+, are you? Yours may be working against your ranking vs. competitors in the constantly changing & evolving digital world. Understandably, not every small biz can afford a total redesign. But here are some tips to help you easily update underperforming small biz websites.

Are You Using Blogs?

Search engine spiders seek fresh content. One sure-fire way to feed those spiders is with a weekly blog. You do know that your site ranking is recalculated by Google and other search engines each time you publish an update. Like with a blog! Talk about your products, services, employees, industry or just life in your community. And when search engines more easily recognize that your website is an info resource, your chances of getting noticed do increase. 

  • 77% of internet users read blogs regularly.
  • B2B companies with a blog receive more leads than those that don’t.
  • Websites with a blog tend to have 434% more indexed pages. 

HTTPS

Considering all the data breaches in recent years, users are demanding a secure and private online experience whenever using any website. So, if you thought yours didn’t need to update to HTTPS because it didn’t deal strictly with the entering of sensitive data or credit card information, think again! Google Chrome began marking all sites without HTTPS as insecure in 2017. More than 50% of Internet browsers worldwide are Chrome. Those are a lot of customers getting an “insecure” warning when they land on your HTTP site. Off they go. And that will affect bounce rates (as in negatively recalculating your site ranking) as well as ad impressions, affiliate clicks, and e-commerce sales.

Icons

When was the last time you did an update on the icons in the header or footer of your webpage? Do you still list Google+? Or a Twitter account you have since abandoned? Not a good look if people are going nowhere when they click links on your website. If users can’t trust you to keep your website updated, how can they believe you will take any better care of them?

Do You Have a Mobile Friendly Theme?

Back in 2015, only about 31% of all web traffic took place on mobile. Therefore, your website might not have been optimized for mobile by whoever designed it. Today nearly 60% of web traffic is viewed via mobile devices. Plus, consider this: 80% of internet users now own a smartphone. Quite likely, their first impression of your small business website will be on a mobile device. And you know the saying about how many chances you get to make a first impression. If you are forcing your smartphone users to side-scroll and pinch to make words & pictures fit, Google studies indicate 60% are not likely to return, and 40% will jump to a competitor’s site. 

Speed

Info on demand. People need to know something and they want to know it now. That is why they are looking at your website. Don’t make potential customers have “dial-up” flashbacks if your webpage takes too long to load. Studies indicate most people will give up after 3 seconds. Wow, tough crowd. Contributors to lag time would be outdated codes, old themes, unoptimized images, etc. You can use tools such as Google’s PageSpeed Insights or Pingdom or GTmetrix to audit your site for speed.

Bottom line: you want people to return to your store to shop. You want customers to return to your website to shop. To update underperforming small biz websites, remove roadblocks to fluid customer experience. A tweak here & there might be all you need. And if you would like to explore sharing a weekly blog with your readers, reach out to me at amssvs@gmail.com today.

Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses Getting Ripped Off by Department of Defense Negligence?

You put your life on the line repeatedly for this country in a faraway war zone, come home disabled, and try to rebuild your life. As a Service-Disabled Veteran, you decide to start a small business with the knowledge that a 2004 executive order requires the heads of federal agencies to set a target goal of providing at least 3% of all federal contracting dollars to service-disabled veteran-owned businesses (SDVOSB).  Now, a breaking story from Military.com reports that the Pentagon incompetently awarded $876.8 million in those contracts to ineligible small businesses— supposedly owned by disabled veterans.

Repeat $876.8 million!!!

The Inspector General’s office at the Pentagon issued a distressing 29-page report last Thursday. At least 16 of the 29 contractors reviewed received business from the Department of Defense (DoD) on the falsified basis that they met the service-disabled veteran requirements.

Contracting personnel at the DoD “did not perform the oversight necessary to verify compliance with the SDVOSB subcontracting requirements,” the report said. (At least 51% of SDVOSB must be owned by one or more service-disabled veterans. Additionally, one or more service-disabled veterans must be in control of the management and daily business operations.)

And what is the response from the supposedly pro-veteran Trump administration? Acting Director J. Scott Baum (Office of Small Business Programs at the DoD) disagreed with the findings and declined to address any recommendations to help those of you who lost contracts. He deflected blame onto the Small Business Administration, saying the SBA was “responsible for determining eligibility and ensuring compliance” with the SDVOSB rules.

That makes no sense; it is a mess. No one accepts blame, and business goes on, as usual. You get screwed by unscrupulous contractors & incompetent government personnel.

Perhaps Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses should start challenging EVERY contract you bid and lose on. If the current Trump administration will do nothing to honor your service to America, then it looks like your fighting days aren’t over.

Farmers Markets Cultivate Spending at Nearby Brick & Mortar Community Biz

Defining farmers markets as only seasonal promotions to draw crowds into under-used downtown districts to buy veggies is to miss the point entirely. These events are modern versions of business incubators for the farmers and surrounding small business merchants. That means your business!

  • A 2010 study of the Easton Farmers Market in Pennsylvania found that 70% of farmers market customers are also shopping at downtown businesses, spending up to an extra $26,000 each week.
  • At the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans, 32% of market shoppers spend money at nearby businesses, resulting in $3.2 million in projected gross receipts and an annual contribution of $151,621 to local sales tax revenue.
  • Boise, Idaho’s Capital City Public Market generated an estimated $4.5 million in economic activity for the local economy in 2011.

Does your community mount a farmers market? ‘Tis the season right now! For example, in Salem Ma, the call has gone out for local farmers and food vendors to participate in the 2020 Salem Farmers Market  which will run Thursdays from June 11 through Oct. 15.

“The Salem Farmers Market has truly become a destination for the community for over a decade now – it’s a gathering place as well as an opportunity to get fresh, local produce and other one-of-a-kind goods,” explains Kylie Sullivan, executive director Salem Main Streets, which produces the event. The Salem Market typically draws more than 2,000 shoppers a week!

And among those shoppers are SNAP users. Did you know that in 2017 over $22 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars (formerly known as food stamps) were redeemed at farmers markets across the country?

“We are so proud of our market vendors, and we hope to see many returning, but we’re also always on the look-out for the next up and coming business, especially those with farm-grown products,” adds Sullivan. “This is the perfect opportunity for newer small businesses looking to get to the next level, as well as established businesses looking to reach a new audience.”

(Anyone wishing to sell their products at the Salem Farmers Market must submit an application for consideration by March 6. Applications can be downloaded from http://salemfarmersmarket.org.) 

Data from USDA’s Local Food Marketing Practices Survey shows that in 2015, $711 million in food was sold to consumers by over 41,000 farms at roughly 8,600 registered farmers markets. That is a great deal of disposable income attracted to downtown districts. Is your Chamber of Commerce or Downtown Business District Organization capitalizing on this incubator for business in your community?

What You Should Know That You Didn’t Know About Color Selections

Colors selections are sadly an after-thought in small business web page design, ad content, and in your Instagram pictures. Not your fault. You are a merchant, accountant, entrepreneur, etc., not a graphic designer. But, be advised there are studies that point to consumers making subconscious judgements about a product or service within 90 seconds of first viewing— and 90% of THAT assessment is based on color alone.

So, what is an overworked, under-staffed SMB owner to do? Hire a marketing agency? Depend on advice from well-meaning staff? Take a color wheel course at the local community college? Read a dozen blogs? No! Turn to this blog and see what I can find for you!

Your first/best question is always “who is your audience?” Who do you want to engage as customers? Once you’ve determined the elements of that target market, then check out these assembled in one spot key statistics on how colors affect sales. For example:

  • Colors women love the most are blue, purple, & green;
  • Colors women hate the most are orange, brown, & grey;
  • Colors men love the most are blue, green, & black;
  • Colors men hate the most are brown, orange, & purple.

Obviously, nothing is written in stone, and there are variables, but this article on people’s perceptions of colors (not colors you want/like) should provide you with some interesting insights that your competitors might not have.

When people were asked to choose the color they associated with particular words, which ones do you think they equated with trust, high quality, and cheapness? And… are you using any of those colors?

Stores & Shops Show Support as Spooky Salem Switches to Sweet Salem

Salem Ma. has been world-renowned for its spooky October month-long tourist-facing celebration of Halloween promoted in/and by its downtown business district. But in recent years, it has shown a softer side in February with a Valentine’s Day-themed chocolate & ice sculpture festival for lovers and families to enjoy. It is called Salem’s So Sweet and this year it runs on Feb 7th-9th!

Kick-off is with a chocolate & wine tasting event (always quickly sold out), where the business community — premier Salem restaurants, stores, and sweet shops — come together to put on display for sampling pretty much anything they sell that has chocolate in it. If the business sells wine, expect bottles to be poured as well.

What makes this festival a master stroke of marketing is that it is a joint project by Salem Main Streets, the Salem Chamber of Commerce, and Destination Salem, along with local retailers, restaurants, and businesses. It capitalizes on Valentine’s Day by giving tourists and locals a common reason to engage with multiple local businesses.

This is marketed through a “Golden Ticket” promotion as many downtown businesses will offer chocolate samplings and sweet discounts around downtown Salem all weekend in celebration of Valentine’s Day.  Any customers making “a full-price purchase at one participating downtown business” will get 10% off their purchase at the NEXT participating business! (note, offer good Feb. 8th and 9th only, some restrictions may apply, etc., etc.)

The Golden Tickets will be available in brochures at all participating businesses during the weekend of the Salem’s So Sweet Festival.

To further the customer experience, the ”ice sculpture” part of the festival also takes place over the weekend. Over 20+ beautiful ice sculptures representing businesses and organizations suddenly appear on sidewalks throughout Salem. This provides another reason for people to walk around town and take advantage of the Golden Ticket promotion.

Or, they can take the Salem Trolley. Rides around the festival route— weather permitting on Feb. 8th & 9th from noon to 4 pm— will be reduced to $2 for an adult and free for children.

Don’t you just love it? Competition is replaced by cooperation as stores & shops work together to engage with holiday shoppers during the Salem’s So Sweet Festival. Would this work in your business community?

For more info go to Salem Main Streets website. It lists where the ice sculptures will be located and which businesses will be participating in the Golden Ticket promotion. You can also go to the Salem’s So Sweet Facebook page for updates on offerings at many of the stores and shops.

(Photo from the Salem So Sweet Facebook page)