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  • April 24, 2020

    COVID-19 and my Small Business

    We certainly live in strange times. I write this blog on April 24, 2020, about 6 weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic in South Carolina. The past 6 weeks as a person and business owner have been a roller coaster of emotions. In the first few days, the prospect of slowing down excited me. I desperately needed to get off that hamster wheel of training – commuting – work – training – do it all again. I was supposed to have a week off for my sister’s wedding in Ireland at the beginning of April, but of course that trip was cancelled, for now.

    Then, the realization came that business was going to slow down. The pain of seeing other small business owners having to shut their doors and lay off employees was heartbreaking. While my husband and I still had the ability to work from home, we knew that our revenue would eventually take a hit as our customers’ income changed. We were waiting for that knock-on effect, and it came. For April, I’ve missed out on $2k of revenue that was otherwise secured before COVID-19. I’m grateful to have savings to cover this, but with no end in sight, can I survive another 1, 2, or 3 months at reduced revenue levels? Likely not.

    The Bailout – EIDL, PPP, and Stimulus Checks

    At the beginning of April, I was excited to see our government pass stimulus packages that took small businesses into account. We were promised as self-employed people, as sole proprietors, independent contractors, and single person LLCs, that we were eligible for funds through the SBA’s EIDL program and through the Paycheck Protection Program. I applied for both the EIDL and PPP on April 1st.

    The EIDL seemed the most promising with up to a $10k advance payable within 3 days, and forgivable if used to keep the business open. The form was incredibly easy to complete, even asking for your bank details to direct deposit that advance as quickly as possible. After 3, 5, 10 days of no advance, and no communications from the SBA, it was clear that the EIDL was not what was promised. On April 14th, everyone received an email saying that the advance would be only $1k per employee, shutting out those of us without employees. At least there was still the PPP.

    For the PPP, we were told to apply through a bank. My bank, First Community Bank, was not helping any of their customers with the loan application. Their website directed everyone to third party online lenders, so I followed their advice and submitted my application online through Fundera.com. This application was more detailed than EIDL as I had to prove my business expenses and what I paid myself in 2019 broken down by month. I did the best I could with QBO, submitted everything, and have not heard from them since. I have no idea if I’m in the queue, if they need more documentation from me, or if I don’t qualify.

    Many, if not all, of my small business owner friends were facing the same frustrations, sitting in limbo not knowing if their applications were received or accepted. I got a tip from someone that applied for PPP through PayPal and received funds in her account in 2 days. I immediately popped over to PayPal to do the same and was greeted with the notice that they were no longer accepting applications since all of the PPP funds were already allocated. This was April 16th.

    Throughout all of this, people were starting to see their $1200 per person stimulus checks direct deposited into their bank accounts. You just KNOW that my husband and I didn’t get that money. The IRS used the bank details used for tax refunds, but my husband and I haven’t gotten a tax refund in the past few years because we pay quarterly taxes and usually owe a little bit at the end of the year. This is very common for small business owners, and again, made me feel like we were getting royally shafted in this situation. The IRS’s “Get My Payment” online tool also can’t find us in the system so while we pay the government $22.5k in taxes as year, somehow we’re not getting any of this help.

    If there’s anything to be happy about, small business owners didn’t take this lying down. Twitter was ablaze with the #EIDLhoax. Since no one received money from PPP, there was outcry, and enough media outlets picked up on it to start asking questions. It turns out that big businesses like Shake Shack, Ruth Chris’s Steakhouse, and others were able to gobble up the money before it ever hit the little guys. Let’s put this into perspective – Shake Shack got a loan for $10million, which they’ve returned. My business would qualify for a loan of $15k through PPP. How many businesses my size could be helped compared to helping one business with a loan for $10million? Over 600 small businesses could receive this much needed lifeline.

    To me, I view this one of two ways depending on how cynical I am at the time. The best case scenario is that our elected officials are so out of touch with how the majority of Americans make money that they thought they had covered the bases by helping these massive businesses instead of the small ones. The worst case scenario is that the money was doled out this way intentionally as a final nail in the coffin for local mom and pop’s, small farmers, and self-employed folk so that we’re forced back into the labor market as wage slaves for corporations. When you see local hardware stores forced shut down during the pandemic while Lowes remains open, it’s hard not to see this as intentional. The consolidation of power and wealth by large corporations is hard enough to compete against as the small guy. How are we expected to do it when we are forced to shut our doors for weeks and months at a time?

    A Look Towards the Future

    I don’t want to spend too much time complaining about this. It is incredibly frustrating, and the public needs to know about it, but there has been a little relief coming down the pipeline. Today, both my husband and I received $1k each from EIDL. We didn’t receive any emails or notifications about it, just a direct deposit in our business bank accounts. We’ve both spent it all already – me on covering my payroll and my husband on buying welding supplies and tubing for more projects. The IRS website is now allowing us to input our bank details to get our stimulus deposit. I hope that speeds things up a bit. I was able to apply for PPP through PayPal on Monday, and I hope to get those funds once more money is approved by Congress.

    As of this week, many governors are talking about opening back up the state and “getting back to normal”. I’m sure I’m not the only one who really hopes things don’t go back to the way they were. The status quo was not and is not working for so many Americans. “Business as usual” was destroying the planet, keeping people in poverty, and even reducing our lifespan. I’d like to see some of the changes we’ve made carry over into the new, post-COVID-19 world.

    On a personal level and for my business, I have greatly enjoyed not commuting. I have filled up my gas tank once in the past 6 weeks, which is appreciated in these lean times. I have not missed the stress of driving in heavy traffic, with distracted and rageful drivers. Going forward, I will try to reduce my commuting in any way possible – from offering video conferencing instead of in-person meetings, to getting even better at maximizing any trip to get the most done. This will be a struggle as I have to drive to Columbia for the nearest lap pool. Maybe Kershaw County can get its act together and build that YMCA they’ve been promising us for decades.

    I’d like to keep this slower pace of life, if possible. I push myself very hard to get things done quickly. I think it comes from the idea that if you get it down quickly, you’ll have more free time on the other side. Of course, that never happens. Instead, more projects are squeezed into that free time and before I know it, I’m overstressed and burnt out. I am the primary driver of this, but I do have customers with the same mindset. That’s where I think this collective slowing down can help us all. I hope we can all reset and understand that everything doesn’t need to be done now or in the next 24 hours. How did any work get done before email and mobile phones? It’s hard to imagine now, but dams were built, astronauts went to the moon, and people grew businesses. I’d like to commit to using technology to ease the burden of work instead of speeding things up so more can be crammed in. I think quality has suffered greatly from this hyper-fast, instant gratification world as well.

    Zooming out from my little piece of life, I’d like to hope that we can break this cycle of conspicuous consumption and move towards conscious consumption. We haven’t been able to go shopping like we used to. We’re having to learn to live with less instead of the instant gratification of clicking a button and it showing up on our doorstep. We’re learning to shop for an entire week and cook at home. I would hope we could shift our economy away from a consumer economy towards something more sustainable, economically and environmentally. We will always need to buy things from food to clothes to any sort of supplies, but maybe we don’t need to mindlessly wander around Target when we’re bored just to spend a few hundred dollars on stuff we can live without.

    I hope we can strengthen our economy by localizing it. National and international supply chains are breaking down. I see a movement to buy American, but people are going to find out how hard that is to do since we’ve shipped off our manufacturing to countries with lower labor standards, and reduced our consumer choice by shopping at big box stores. The real small businesses are struggling right now and our government didn’t bail us out like they promised. Holes will need to be filled where big corporations have taken over. I would love to see a low interest, SBA loan options for new businesses who are willing to step up and fill in those holes. Y’all, I want to shop somewhere besides Lowe’s, and right now that’s hard to do without driving over 30 miles away. My town is just one of millions like this across the country.

    We need to treat workers better, especially since we now know who the real “essential” workers are. That means higher wages, less hours working (what happened to the 40 hours work week?), and better working conditions. Will this extra cost be passed down to the customer? Likely yes, but if we’re all earning more, we can afford an increase in cost in some areas. We’ve all had practice tightening our belts and cutting out unnecessary purchases. Let’s carry that thriftiness over into our new normal, and demand better for all of us working folks. People should not be living paycheck to paycheck the way we are now. We are likely to experience shut downs like this again in the future, whether it’s caused by natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, or crashes in our stock market as the investors chase eternal (and unsustainable) growth.

    Let’s not forget how resilient and amazing Mother Earth has been during this time. With people slowing down, the Earth and its creatures (that includes us) are healing. Some people argue that the climate crisis is too far gone, that even if we changed our ways, it wouldn’t make a difference. Mother Earth is proving us wrong. Humans are part of the ecosystem, we’ve just gone way off the deep end in exploiting it. But that tends to be our way, right? Eat too much, drink too much, spend too much, all of the above. But we’re better than that, and little changes turn into big ones. COVID-19 has shown us our weaknesses, and from there, we can work on this and turn them into strengths.

    What changes would you like to keep moving forward? Now’s the time to identify them, and then be ready to fight for it when things get “back to normal”.