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Assisting small businesses in times of uncertainty

Kim Ellingson

There is no way to sugarcoat this – these are turbulent times. The COVID-19 public health crisis has affected many small businesses. Some businesses have seen a disruption to their supply chain, a dramatic decrease in sales, or had to temporarily shut their doors. Being an SBA Preferred Lender with a lot of expertise and experience supporting businesses, we have been working tirelessly every day to help customers and non-customers evaluate their options since the pandemic sent a shockwave through the economy.

The new SBA program known as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is one of most popular economic relief programs for organizations with fewer than 500 employees. As of April 10, we have obtained funding for over 1,600 PPP applicants, which equates to more than $768 million. By securing these funds, we have helped nearly 83,000 people secure paychecks during this difficult time. And this number will be even higher if we include businesses we’ve helped outside of the PPP loans.

Even in these uncertain times, there are options available for small- to medium-sized organizations and businesses. The sudden decline in business that many companies are experiencing now feels extremely scary and disheartening. You may even feel like you’ve run out of options. But for many businesses, there are actions you can take to ease your financial burden:

  • SBA Paycheck Protection Program loan. This is a new program created by the CARES Act to help small businesses keep their employees on payroll, and can be used to cover employee benefits, mortgage interests, rent and utilities. Because funds are limited, it is vital to begin the application process as soon as possible. Getting in touch with an SBA Preferred Lender with a lot of experience helping customers successfully apply for PPP may help you get the funds sooner.
  • SBA Express Bridge Loan. This is an emergency loan of up to $25,000 to quickly help bridge business expense during any presidential disaster declaration such as the COVID-19 public health crisis. Unlike the PPP loan, the minimum FICO Small Business Scoring Service (SBSS) score acceptable for this loan is 130.
  • SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan. This is a working capital loan to meet ordinary and necessary financial obligations such as accounts payable or fixed costs that cannot be met as a direct result of a disaster. This loan is originated directly through the SBA and does not have to be repaid.
  • Government programs. Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin have all created funds, emergency loans and growth incentive programs to provide economic relief to struggling businesses. Cities like Saint Paul and Minneapolis have also established bridge and gap funds respectively for small businesses. Check your state’s website for up-to-date information for economic relief programs in your area.

You may be able to qualify for more than one loan, but each loan program has its own restrictions and qualifications. With many options available, it may be confusing or difficult to select the right option. Your business banker will be able to help you navigate this process and discuss available options with you.

If you are interested in one of these loans, it may be wise to file your 2019 tax returns as soon as possible. More than 90 percent of business loans, including lines of credit, equipment loans, government lending, senior debt instruments, commercial mortgages, and even asset-based lending (at reasonable rates) will require tax documentation.

Business strategies during times of uncertainty

When the situation seems its bleakest is when we shouldn’t forget that there is light at the end of the tunnel. A positive approach is to reduce cost as much as you can with as little disruption to your operational process as possible. That way, you can quickly ease back into business or operate at full capacity when it’s time to do so.

  • Communication is key. It is best not to keep your customers in the dark during a crisis. If your business needs to make drastic changes that will affect your customers, let them know ahead of time so the changes will not come as a surprise. Most people want to know which local businesses are open, so informing your customers about your store hours (or if you offer delivery or curbside pickup) is critical right now. If you are open for business during this pandemic, assure your customers that you are adhering to safety standards such as wiping down surfaces and safe packaging. Your customers will also want to know how you are taking care of your employees, so making sure they are protected and healthy is critical.
  • Tighten where you can. Reevaluate your cash flow and inventory to find areas where you can cut costs. Sell old equipment that you are not using during this time or trade it in if you are applying for financing. Speak to your landlord and suppliers to find options to spread out your costs.
  • Change your business strategy. Provide an incentive for your customers to pay ahead of time by offering a discount or ask them to provide a deposit of at least 50% on large orders. This can help cover production costs and avoid the need for financing. You may also want to offer a subscription service, which can translate into more consistent revenue. Providing free shipping or discounts to promote online ordering can also help boost sales.
  • Adapt to changing customer expectations. During this pandemic, your customers’ expectations may change, and it is necessary to quickly adapt to them. Your customers may expect faster delivery and mobile payment options at a time when more people are shopping online. If your business is mostly brick and mortar, you might want to think of creative ways to digitize your products or services and offer them online or consider new ways to connect with your customers through apps and social media.

Regardless of your business plan or decision in the coming months, there are financial resources available such as PPP and other SBA loans to help your business during the COVID-19 outbreak. Reaching out and working closely with your business banker is critical as they can help you assess your options and navigate any loan application process. For more customized programs to help businesses impacted by COVID-19, please visit

Kim Ellingson

About Kim Ellingson

Kim is a Region President with Bremer, with an over 20-year history of providing business banking solutions.   Kim holds a degree in Business Administration, Management and Operations from Concordia College. She is an active volunteer in the Brainerd Lakes area and northern Minnesota, serving on Board of Trustees for Initiative Foundation and on the Board of Directors for St. Joseph's Foundation. She is also past-Chair of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce, and an active volunteer with her church. )

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