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There’s no doubt the coronavirus pandemic has hit small businesses hard and that most business owners have felt the effects of this once-in-a-century crisis. The good news is that currently low interest rates, coronavirus relief programs, and market disruptions offer plenty of opportunity for savvy small business owners.

Before the pandemic, small businesses employed almost 60 million people, nearly half of the US private workforce, according to data from the Small Business Administration (SBA). Within weeks of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost half (43 percent) of small businesses had temporarily closed their doors and many had laid off workers, according to a survey of 5,800 small businesses published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Small businesses were particularly vulnerable to the crisis: in fact, the typical business with more than $10,000 in monthly expenses had only two weeks’ worth of cash on hand.

Read on for tips and advice from small business experts on how to make the most of the current situation, whether you’re struggling to keep the lights on or ready to grow.

Take Advantage of Real Estate Opportunities

The coronavirus pandemic is creating unprecedented changes in the commercial real estate market. No one knows exactly what the future will bring, but rent discounts, low interest rates on commercial mortgages, and deals on properties may benefit “mom and pop” commercial real estate investors during these tough times, said Tendayi Kapfidze, vice president and chief economist for LendingTree.

Most landlords are finding they have to work with their tenants to make accommodations for the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, Kapfidze said. Even big retailers, from Mattress Firm to Subway, have received breaks on rent, he points out.

“Some really big chains have just essentially said to their landlords, ‘we’re not going to pay or we’re going to pay less,’” he said.

Real Estate Tips:

  1. Negotiate your rent. Whether you’re having trouble paying your rent or you’re trying to shore up your cash reserves, now can be a good time to ask for a deal on rent. “It definitely does create an opportunity for businesses to get lower rents,” Kapfidze said. “And I expect that we will see, over the next year or so or probably longer, that commercial rents are going to decline.”
  2. Look for commercial real estate deals. There may be good deals out there on commercial properties on a case-by-case basis, Kapfidze said. Lenders will look at the stability of the business and also the income potential of the property. “You have to have a big tolerance for risk, and you shouldn’t cut it close at all,” he added.
  3. Keep an eye out for government help. Are you having trouble making payments on a commercial property you own? It’s possible that the federal government may offer help in the commercial real estate space, as a relief plan for commercial mortgages is long overdue, he said.

Ask for Help and Advice

As a volunteer mentor for SCORE, a nonprofit that partners with the SBA to help small business owners, business strategy expert Walter Abbott has seen the impact of the coronavirus on small businesses. Some small business owners are trying to weather the coronavirus crisis in their current business, while others are moving in new directions or even getting their businesses ready to sell. At the same time, there are plenty of business owners who are looking to buy a new business right now, he said.

For that reason, SCORE is offering both personalized help and webinars that will help small business owners figure out what to do, how to stay flexible and how to spot opportunities right now.

“We try to maximize the value pertaining to businesses that are looking to sell,” Abbott said. “But we also counsel people on what to do if they continue to stay in business, to make a transition or adjust their approach in a way that will be more beneficial to them down the road.”

Get Help and Advice Tips:

  1. Don’t go it alone. It’s a good idea for business owners, now more than ever, to seek mentorship and support. SCORE offers free mentoring for small business owners. The organization is offering remote mentoring from experts tailored to each business owner’s situation, Abbott said.
  2. Be open to making a pivot. Many small business owners are getting creative. Reinvention can mean spotting and filing a temporary need — such as craft breweries making hand sanitizer. Or you may go in a whole new direction or pivot from brick-and-mortar to online. You can “leverage what [you’ve] been doing in [your] shop to get some additional revenue as a result of using the internet or online services,” Abbott said.
  3. Seek out small lenders. Whether you’re seeking a loan to reinvent your business, to buy a business, or to lower your payments by refinancing, it’s important to weigh your options. You’re likely to have better luck with a community lender than with a big bank, according to Abbott. Community banks are smaller, more flexible and less bureaucratic, he said.

Tailored Funding Options for You

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Look for New Opportunities

There’s no doubt it will be easier for businesses that prepared ahead of time to weather the coronavirus disaster. But all businesses can look for opportunities their competitors may not see,” said Ken Wentworth, an on-demand chief financial officer and business consultant known as ‘Mr. Biz.’

For example, one of his clients had built up healthy cash reserves and was able to survive while two competitors closed their doors. “Now there is another customer base that needs help because their prior service provider has gone out of business,” he said. “So, it gives us an opportunity to be able to help people and increase our market share.”

If you take a low-interest loan and have money left over, try to invest in a way that will allow you to earn at least three to four times the interest rate, Wentworth said. For example, that could mean investing in equipment that will improve productivity and increase your margins.

If you see a disaster or recession and immediately think you need to contract, remember that many household name companies were formed during recessions, Wentworth said.

New Opportunity Tips:

  1. Learn to spot golden opportunities. For example, one of Wentworth’s clients who owns a chimney sweep business put employees with free time to work calling past commercial clients to offer immediate no-contact service at a slight discount. Another, the owner of a commercial and residential window tinting service, bought trucks at 40 cents on the dollar from a shuttered competitor and even hired some of its out-of-work employees. “Downtimes create opportunities,” Wentworth said.
  2. Take advantage of special loan programs. Almost all of Wentworth’s clients applied for one of two COVID-19 relief loans offered by the federal government in partnership with the SBA, either a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan or an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). The PPP offered a loan at 1 percent interest that could be forgiven if used for certain expenses. “This is a massive opportunity,” Wentworth said. The federal government is considering more special loan programs.
  3. Shore up your business for the future. “Think of the major pain points you have now and position yourself to be able to handle those types of situations for the next downturn,” Wentworth said. That could mean making a goal of building up your cash reserves or creating another revenue stream that will give you more flexibility next time disaster strikes.

It’s true that times are tough right now. But whether you’re worried about the future of your business or ready to grow, these tips may help you prepare for an uncertain future that, along with hardship, brings opportunity.

Written for LendingTree by Allie Johnson

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