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A guide to helping small businesses navigate and recover from the COVID-19 crisis

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The Small Business Association (SBA) is the first stop for entrepreneurs seeking relief – plus other options for those who don’t qualify.


Millions of jobs and small businesses are being threatened by the COVID-19 health crisis and the subsequent economic crisis it is causing.

While the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Congress have attempted to use the SBA loan program to help America’s businesses, accessing the program can be confusing and challenging for entrepreneurs – especially those small business owners who either are not aware that resources exist, or once they do, may have difficulty navigating bureaucracy.

If your organization supports, trains, funds, or otherwise is a champion for entrepreneurs, please share the resources I’ve put together below with the businesses you interact with. Together, we need to focus on helping those business owners who are most vulnerable right now, to get them through this troubling time.

The Small Business Administration’s disaster relief program is the vanguard of government assistance for businesses during this crisis. Here are some resources in response to common questions entrepreneurs will be asking about the process.

How do I apply for a SBA loan, and who can apply?

In order to be eligible for a small business loan, you must be a small business (usually 500 employees or fewer, though slightly larger businesses may qualify in select industries). Nonprofits also are eligible for benefits. SBA disaster loans are only available for US citizens or permanent residents (with a green card); there are other resources at the end of this blog post with different qualifying criteria.

What questions should I be asking as I apply?

In order to prepare for the application, you’ll need to gather a number of documents. Kansas City’s Startland News published this helpful guide to all documentation needed; I recommend a read-through before filling out an application.

The most important thing you can do is think through the economic scenario that will help you survive. Take this one quarter at a time. While we do not know when or how the economy will come back, I’d encourage you to think through a scenario where you do not grow in revenue over the next three months. Give your best answer to a few questions:

Tip: Think through a scenario where you do not grow in revenue over the next three months.

  • To keep at least 90% of your staff (as of 2/1/2020), what will payroll costs be?
  • What fixed costs (rent, utilities, etc.) are not avoidable?
  • What costs are discretionary that you can cut?
  • What revenues have been maintained over the last two weeks (e.g. if you are a restaurant, what has takeout business been like, versus dine-in)? Who among your current customers are recurring and committed or extremely likely to renew?
  • To prepare for survival, I would assume no new revenues in the next three months.

This exercise will help you as a business owner, and will also help you prepare to fill out SBA Form 1368, which is essentially a forecast of your future cash flow.

The application will need other information:

  • A filled-out SBA business loan application.
  • Financial information for the owners of the business applying for a loan.
  • Your recent tax returns for the business.
  • Any liabilities the business has.

This seems very bureaucratic and confusing. Can I get help filling this application out?

Check out your local entrepreneur support organizations

Google “your hometown” + any of the keywords below to find local entrepreneur support organizations helping small businesses.

  • Small business development centers
  • Minority business development agencies
  • Women’s business centers
  • Startup accelerators

Almost all cities and states have small business assistance programs with staff experienced in helping business owners fill out SBA loan applications. The resources I’d recommend turning to first is your local entrepreneur support organizations. This may include small business development centers, minority business development agencies, women’s business centers, and startup accelerators. These organizations are usually local: To find one, I recommend you Google your hometown and any one of these keywords. (For example, I sit on the board of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership in my hometown, and I know that the Alexandria Small Business Development Center is on the case helping our small businesses).

In addition to these entrepreneur support organizations, you may want some additional individual help. Check with an accountant who may be able to help or advise, as many accountants have experience filling out these applications. There are also small business loan consultants who fill these out, usually for a fee. If this is of interest, you might consider asking a Small Business Development Center for a referral to make sure you are working with a consultant who has expertise to do the job well.

What’s different about SBA loans in the recent legislation?

The Economic Innovation Group outlined an in-depth look at the “Paycheck Protection Program,” which is the centerpiece of the COVID-19 small business assistance response, and is intended to help you keep your staff employed. I highly recommend reading the full post, as it contains much more in-depth information. Congress has authorized $349B in small business lending with two goals:

  1. Help small businesses cover their near-term operating expenses during the crisis.
  2. Provide cash incentives for entrepreneurs to keep their employees.

This program is intended to help you replace your revenue during this period of severe disruption. In short, there are three major benefits:

  • Larger loans than typical SBA loans. The maximum loan size for businesses is equivalent to 250 percent of the employer’s average monthly payroll costs (e.g., roughly 10 weeks of payroll expenses) or $10 million, whichever is less.
  • You are eligible for loan forgiveness equivalent to major expenses (staff, rent, utilities, and more) during the eight-week period under which the loan is originated.
  • Since many businesses have already been forced to lay off or furlough employees, the program also includes a clause that allows you to qualify for loan forgiveness, up to $10,000 per employee, if you re-hire back to your staffing level pre-crisis (February 1, 2020) by June 30, 2020.

The bottom line: if you keep your doors open as a business and keep your staff employed, your SBA loan converts to a grant.

When in doubt, apply for the SBA loan, even though the process is somewhat complex, and it may take time for the application to be approved. The sooner you get your business in the line, the sooner you may get relief.

What other resources are out there beyond SBA loans?

  • Hello Alice has $10,000 business grants available, funded by partners like Salesforce, and is also listing as many local response efforts daily through its COVID-19 Business Resource Center.
  • Cities such as Atlanta and Birmingham, as well as regions and states are setting up programs – new programs launch every day. Your small business development center can help you find the way.
  • Online lending platforms such as WeFunder, which is offering $20,000 to $1M for affected companies, are offering special programs. If your business uses a payment processor like PayPal or Square, they have programs such as PayPal Working Capital that can help you smooth your income.
  • Community development financial institutions, microlenders, and community banks are often the lenders of first resort in times of crisis. They also fill important gaps in access to capital for newer businesses, as well as businesses owned by women, people of color, or people with less-than-perfect personal credit.

In Kansas City, for example, the Kauffman Foundation and other community partners have worked together to expand the microlending capacity of AltCap, a local CDFI. AltCap is offering “Fast Track” loans of up to $100,000 with a 0% interest rate, and which require no collateral. In order to find these resources – which again, are usually local – Google “CDFI” + “your hometown” to see what local resources might be available.

The CASE Center at Duke University has put together this regularly updated dashboard of small business relief programs, which as of this writing was over $14B in collective programs. Check out this guide, because many of these programs could apply to your business.

Our country will get through this crisis. Yet the pain so many business owners and employees are suffering right now is real and very scary; my hope is that this short guide will help you find a path to survive the coming months and thrive on the other side.

This piece is part of the Foundation’s “Uncommon Voices” series, which features viewpoints from those working hard on issues that reduce racial inequity and support economic stability, mobility, and prosperity.