The fast-evolving coronavirus pandemic, and its impact on most facets of daily life, has had a particularly staggering impact on most small businesses. And Loudoun’s strong economy hasn’t been immune.
“There’s quite a bit of desperation out there,” Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tony Howard said this week.
Many small businesses have been forced to close, either by government mandate or for cashflow reasons. Many have laid off staff, greatly scaled down their operations, or thought of some out-of-the-box ways to stay open and innovate. And many are wondering how they are going to survive an economic dip amid pandemic, social distancing, and government orders to close some businesses and limit public gatherings.
“There’s a never-ending array of questions [from business owners],” said Loudoun County Department of Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer. “The number one thing we’re hearing from a financial standpoint is, if this goes on too long, we’re at a real risk of losing a lot of companies.”
But Loudoun’s economic development and business communities have rallied to give those business owners options.
“The biggest thing they can do is keep up on the latest programs that are available,” said Mason Enterprise Center Small Business Development Center Manager Eric Byrd. His office, along with organizations like the county Department of Economic Development, Chamber of Commerce and Visit Loudoun have all launched efforts to help small businesses navigate the pandemic.
You can find information on what’s available from the Small Business Development Center at LoudounSBDC.com; from the Department of Economic Development at biz.loudoun.gov/covid19; from the Loudoun Chamber at loudounchamber.org/covid-19-resources; and in a series of webinars from Visit Loudoun.
Rizer said the goal of his department’s website and of his staff is to condense all the resources available to one, easy-to-access place for business owners.
“The resources are ever-changing, the direction from the federal government and state government is ever-changing, businesses that we thought could be open are now getting other direction on that,” Rizer said. “So much of our responsibility at this time is tracking all the information and doing our best to sift through it and try to advise our companies. [Businesses are] trying to survive; they don’t have the time to sift through every press release and watch every news conference.”
Rizer is also planning to launch a podcast this week, “Loudoun Possible Pod,” with helpful information as well as stories of what some businesses are doing to innovate during this trying time.
Howard said the Chamber is trying to open up online webinars, on everything from how to do business development, human resources and more, during the coronavirus crisis.
Ford’s Fish Shack owner Tony Stafford is one of the people who has seen his restaurant’s revenues take a nosedive since the impacts of coronavirus started being felt locally. While his three restaurants remain open for curbside and to-go orders, profits are down 90 percent and he has had to furlough all of his hourly employees. And he said as a small business owner, “I just need clear, concise information.”
“Right now, there’s a lot of stuff. I’m just now starting to dig into it,” Stafford said.
Stay in Touch and Get Listed
Another important thing to do right now: stay in touch with your customers and business partners, Byrd said. The Small Business Development Center’s website has some pointers on how to do that, including some tips on crisis communication and materials that are free to use.
“Let people know that you’re aware of what’s going on, let them know you care about them, and let them know that you’re still here and here’s how to do business with them,” Byrd said.
One way to do that is to get listed with one of the local organizations that are letting people know what local businesses are offering right now. Get included on LeesburgToGo.com, loudounchamber.org/supporting-our-local-restaurants, or biz.loudoun.gov/support-our-businesses.
Ask for Flexibility from Creditors, Landlords
As the pandemic hits, some business owners are looking at their books and wondering if they can make rent. But this is also a time to reach out to creditors, landlords, and other people who business owners owe money and ask for extended terms.
“First off, be honest about the situation,” Byrd said. “Just let them know you’re having a hard time. Nobody is going to be surprised by that, nobody is going to think less of you because of that, because literally everybody is having a hard time right now. So, they will understand what’s going on, and they will really appreciate you letting them know what’s going on.”
Stafford said he has reached out to all of his landlords asking for some rent relief, but understands they also are in a similar boat, having to pay bills. Byrd said if you’re uncomfortable asking for something specific, just ask if there’s anything they can do to help—“once the conversation’s open, usually you can figure out how to get to something useful.”
“They get it,” Byrd said. “They would rather get paid later than have you go bankrupt and never get paid. So, people are working with people all over the place.”
Get Help with Financing, Taxes
Business owners in Loudoun are eligible to apply for low-interest disaster recovery loans from the federal Small Business Administration as of late last week.
Rizer said his staff is trying to counsel business owners on those resources, and the sometimes-complicated application process. He said he also has had multiple calls with both of Virginia’s senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, about what to expect in terms of federal help.
“We’re going to need a lot of tools, and a lot of different tools, if we want to help businesses through this,” Rizer said. “I don’t think it’s an SBA or federal or bank one size fits all. It’s really going to be an all of the above situation.”
The disaster loan program offers up to $2 million in assistance per small business, though conditions apply. Legislators as of press time were also continuing to contemplate some form of stimulus package.
Stafford and his 17 salaried managers are working to keep the restaurants running, but he admits some “hard choices” may be ahead if there’s no immediate relief in sight.
“We’re just trying to figure out the best action plan,” he said. “The most important thing is the quickest turnaround.”
The Small Business Development Center and Department of Economic Development both offer help with how to apply for a disaster recovery loan from the Small Business Administration. See the Department of Economic Development’s guidance at biz.loudoun.gov/sba-economic-injury-disaster-loan-process, and contact the SBDC at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-466-0466.
Many local banks are also offering special deals to help keep businesses going through the pandemic; check a growing list of offers at biz.loudoun.gov/business-resources-financial.
And businesses are also getting a break on state and federal taxes.
State corporate tax payments have been delayed; the due date for individual and corporate income tax will now be June 1. Businesses can also request to defer the payment of state sales tax due on March 20 for 30 days. When granted, businesses will be able to file as late as April 20 with a waiver of any penalties.
The federal government has also allowed a deferment of up to $10 million of federal income tax payments, which would normally be due on April 15, until July 15 without penalties or interest.
Get Some Training
Now is also a good time to get some training. The Department of Economic Development, the Small Business Development Center, Visit Loudoun, and the Loudoun Chamber are all offering a variety of online resources and in some cases regular webinars for businesses.
“We’re really trying to coordinate the widest variety of tools we can find,” Rizer said. “A lot is in response to what we’re hearing from businesses. If a business is asking something specific, we’re going out trying to fill that, make sure it’s available on the website.”