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SBA Re-Opens Disaster Loan and Grant Program

(Published 6/17/2020)

The Small Business Administration (sba.gov) announced earlier this week that small businesses can again apply for relief via the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program.  This includes applications for fee, up to 10,000 advances, regardless of the loan’s approval.

The interest rate is fixed at 3.75 percent and terms run from 2 to 30 years based on each borrower’s cash flow and ability to make payments. You can defer an EIDL for a year and can use the funds for “debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that cannot be paid due to the impact of the disaster and that are not already covered by a Paycheck Protection Program loan,” the SBA wrote in a news release.

You can request an advance of $1,000 per employee, up to a combined $10,000. This advance will not have to be repaid, and small businesses may receive an advance even if they are not approved for a loan. If you have received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, the amount that can be forgiven will be reduced by the amount of your EIDL advance.

Some agricultural businesses are now also eligible as a result of the latest round of funds appropriated by Congress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike PPP loans, you must apply directly through the SBA, and not through a lender. Click here to learn more or here to apply.

Prepare Your Business for the Next Normal

(Updated 5/4/20)

With some states and local jurisdictions beginning to loosen or remove stay-at-home and essential business orders and advisories, many small businesses will begin to adjust for the next phase of response and recovery.  For some, this will be a re-opening; for others it will be another shift in how we conduct our business on a day-to-day basis.  Either way, the process will be a minefield of financial, operational, legal, liability, and personnel issues. Before “flipping” the sign from closed to open, plan your return with care and compassion. Both will be needed to keep your employees, customers, and business safe.

Prepare the Groundwork

Guidance on opening is coming from many sources. We recommend a top-down approach, starting at the federal level and working down the your local municipalities and property owners.

  1. Start with the expertise and guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The CDC website  provides guidance for different types of businesses and gathering places that centers on three mitigation strategies:
    • Personal protective measures (e.g., hand-washing, cough etiquette, and face coverings) that persons can use at home or while in community settings
    • Social distancing (e.g., maintaining physical distance between persons in community settings and staying at home)
    • Environmental surface cleaning at home and in community settings, such as schools or workplaces.
  2. Review current laws and regulations under the Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act (FFCRA). This legislation requires almost all employers to provide expanded sick time, medical leave, and family leave pay for employees dealing with illness or childcare issues themselves or within their immediate family unit.  Make sure your return to work plans accommodate these programs and
  3. Second, understand your state’s rules and regulations with with respect to physically opening your business.  Many states are staging how they will allow business to open.  Then, check with local governments where your business is located and where your employees live.  In some states, municipalities and counties are adjusting how they implement state and federal orders and advisories to address local needs and issues.
  4.  Understand your state’s unemployment rules and regulations. In some states, lifting of stay-at-home orders may mean employees are no longer eligible for unemployment even if you keep your business closed or cannot bring everyone back to work. Your team will have differing concerns and levels of comfort; it is important to provide them with timely and accurate communications.
  5. Check with your landlord. Many office and retail complexes are setting up guidelines and rules for how businesses can and will be able to operate in their properties.  Some office complexes, for example, are limiting access to employees only and restricting access to trades and delivery personnel.
  6. Ask your landlord what additional steps they will be taking to clean and sanitize bathrooms, elevators, stair railings, door handles, and other common areas and high touch surfaces.  You and your employees will want and need to know how safe the environment will be when then return to the office or store.

With an understanding of how you can and want to take your next steps, create a Communications Plan.  More than just determined who, when, and how you will share information with employees and other stakeholders, the plan should provide a clear and easy way for employees to get answers to their questions.  As many smaller businesses do not have internal HR resources, you may want to assign a particular manager or executive team to the role.  If you have a contracted HR service or consultant, you will need to coordinate both the process and information. Set clear expectations for how quickly you will answer questions and how answers to common questions will be addressed to the company at large.

Prepare Your Place

As you do your groundwork, begin planning and putting your workplace together for the return of staff.  Social distancing is the current normal. With an expected recurrence of COVID-19 in the fall, social distancing will be part of our lives, and work places, for some time to come. For employees to return, you may be considering:

  • Setting up protocols to ensure that workers who may be ill, or have been exposed, do not enter the workplace and accidentally infect others.
  • Placing dividers between work spaces, or re-configuring your office layout to create separation.
  • Acquiring additional office space, temporarily, to allow more team members to return.
  • Requiring the use of masks or other appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Depending on your work environment, this may be full-time or only when employees leave personal work spaces and head to common or communal areas.
  • Cleaning and sanitation of common areas, like kitchens and break rooms, and high touch surfaces.
  • Coordinating disinfection and sanitation efforts with building management and neighboring businesses in leased office spaces.
  • Ensuring availability of cleaning supplies, disinfectants, and sanitizers.
  • Creating a means for employees to express concerns about the work environment and actions of others, without fear of retribution.

For some businesses, the safest course of action will be establishing split shifts or a rotating schedule of employee teams working in the office. Doing so can ease physical separation issues, but we should expect that some employees will need to, or want to, continue working from home.

Prepare Your People

Communications — timely, open, and honest — will be critical for successfully taking the next steps with your business.  For many, personal anxiety and stress will be high as we navigate shifts in our personal and work lives.

Provide your team as much information as possible on what to expect, and how things will move forward, as you go through each upcoming phase of your plans.

As you communicate with your team, keep in mind that employees may be dealing with personal COVID-19 impacts, such as:

  • Death of a family member of close friend
  • Sick or quarantined family member(s)
  • Loss of income by a spouse/partner/family member
  • Supervision of children learning from home
  • Lack of available daycare
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Feeling unable to return to working in the office

Be prepared to deal with the human side of Covid-19, not just the logistics.

  • Anticipate and have answers ready for employees about your requirements and their options
  • Establish a feedback loop and listen to staff issues and concerns
  • Engage your HR staff, service, or consultants to assist with communications, feedback, and responses
  • Update plans and timing as needed to mitigate staff concerns and business conditions

Prepare to Settle In

Set Expectations

As noted, above, experts are telling us to expect local/regional COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the fall and winter. With this expectation, we should plan for future stay-at-home orders and business restrictions. These will likely vary by location, complicating your planning efforts.

Remote work will be part of our operations for the foreseeable future. As you plan your next steps, make sure that your team is ideally equipped to continue working from home.

In the scramble to respond to stay-at-home orders, many businesses make necessary technology decisions for the near-term.  Now is the time to step back and take a long-term view. Employees may be working on home computers, using personal software, and working in a less-then-ideal space. Many businesses are also finding employees have signed up for free or consumer IT services to work around limitations, such as difficulty accessing files on company servers.  We still have a responsibility to keep information secure and private, and our employees and businesses safe.

Get Your IT Resources in Place

Settling in means adapting work environments — at the office and in employees’ homes — to our anticipated reality.

  • Improve security and access to company systems and data
    • Move data from on-premise servers to cloud file services to improve access and security; Map drives to cloud-data for compatibility with desktop software
    • Use Remote desktop and VDI solutions to move on-premise applications to the cloud, providing easy, high performance access without distributing data to remote computers
  • Ensure employees have workable use of your phone system (see this post for more info)
  • Reduce the need for remote PC, VPN and other remote access solutions that increase cost, complexity, and delays
  • Eliminate the need for shadow IT services by helping employees use existing capabilities in your productivity suite
  • Provide devices for employees that do not usually work from home
    • Consider rental, lease, and device-as-a-service option to manage costs
  • If unable to provide devices, upgrade home computers:
    • Add memory for performance and ensure the ability to run business applications
    • Deploy licenses of business software, even if employees are using consumer versions of the applications
    • “Next Gen” endpoint protections from viruses, malware, and ransomware
    • Web filtering and DNS security to prevent malware from infected websites
  • Provide employees with helpful accessories, such as noise cancelling headsets for video calls

We are here to help you plan and execute your next steps.  Our free Response and Recovery Assessment will help you with your planning, fully utilize your existing IT Services, and identify budget-friendly solutions to address any unmet needs and priorities. Email us or complete the form on our home page to schedule your assessment.


 

Federal Reserve Opens Main Street Lending Program with $600 Billion

(Published 4/25/20 – New links to program information)


On April 9, 2020, the Federal Reserve System quietly announced the opening of the Main Street Lending Program.  Through this program, the “Fed” is providing $600 Billion in loans to small and mid-market businesses. Loans are available to companies with up to 10,000 employees and annual revenues up to $2.5 Billion. Business must commit to make reasonable efforts to maintain payroll and retain workers.  Loans may be new, or may be used to expand existing loans.

Given the limited funds in the SBA’s EIDL Program, the Main Street Lending Program may be a useful alternative.

The program has two types of loans:

  1. Main Street New Loan Facility (MSNLF), which provides new loans to businesses per the MSNLF Term Sheet.
  2. Main Street Expanded Loan Facility (MSELF), which expands existing loans to businesses per the MSELF Term Sheet.

The minimum loan is $1 million and the term is fixed at 4 years with the amortization of principal and interest deferred for the first year.  The rate is adjustable based on the Secured Overnight Funds Rate (SOFR) plus 250 to 400 basis points, equating to a current rate between 2.51% and 4.01%.

US Chamber Launches Save Small Business Fund

(Updated 4/22/20)

4/22/20: The Save Mall Business Fund application process is closed as all available funds have been committed.

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a fund to provide assistance to small businesses in the form of $5,000 grants.

The Save Small Business Fund — in collaboration with Vistaprint and with support from Merck, S&P Global Foundation, and Travelers — will include contributions from corporations and philanthropies. The grant is expected to address small businesses’ immediate needs such as closures and job loss and will support their long-term recovery.

Applications for the Chamber’s fund will open on April 20, 2020.

In order to qualify a business must:

  • Employ between 3 and 20 people
  • Be located in an economically vulnerable community
  • Have been harmed financially by the COVID-19 pandemic

Click here for more information.

7 Ways Downtime Hurts Your Business

A recent survey found that 40% of small and midsize businesses (SMBs) experiences 8 or more hours of downtime due to a severe security breach within the past year. According to the National Cyber Security Alliance, 60% of SMBs who experience a significant data breach go out of business within six months. These statistics are sobering. For many SMBs, however, the risks still feel foreign and not something that warrants action. To protect your business requires some knowledge and good advice, intent, action, small investments.

It is easier to rely on myths such as, “We are not a target for cyber attackers”, “We can run on pen and paper until we recover”, and “Our customers will understand” than it is to assess your risks and take action. Nevertheless, the risks are real and the number of SMBs hurt by downtime continues to rise.

Here are seven ways downtime can damage your business:

  1. Monetary Cost — Downtime leads to lost sales and lost productivity impacting top-line revenue and your bottom line. These costs hit your pocket in addition to the cost of recovery and returning to normal operations.
  2. Customer Trust — When you are unable to serve your customers, they lose faith in your business. While downtime for natural disasters is understandable, today’s customers have little tolerance for disruptions due to cyber attacks and breaches. Lost trust means lost customers.
  3. Brand Damage — Your brand identity and reputation drives customer loyalty and growth. Service disruptions from technology failures or breaches sends a message that your business may be poorly managed and is unreliable. These messages lead to loss of goodwill and create negative impressions of your business in the minds of your customers.
  4. Employee Morale — Disasters due to data loss or breaches means employees need to perform double duties. Employees spend time on recovery while working to keep the business operational. It often requires additional work hours. Recovery can be stressful and demoralizing.
  5. Business Value — Businesses that suffer data breaches and service disruptions are perceived as poorly managed. With the potential financial liability, public companies can see stock prices fall. All companies can suffer a loss of business value.
  6. Legal Action — Downtime creates the risk of legal action. This is particularly true for downtime that is perceived as preventable. System failures, data loss, security breaches, and other incidents can put your business in breach of contract. You may also be in violation of state and federal regulations.
  7. Compliance Fines & Penalties — As information privacy and security regulations expand, data loss and breaches create the real potential for fines and penalties related to regulatory compliance, privacy, and data retention requirements.

These risks carry the potential for lasting damage. Whether by increased financial burdens or winning back customers, the impact of downtime extends well beyond getting yourself up and running again.

Is your business worth protecting?

Protecting your business will not break the bank. We offer practical, affordable solutions that help you and your team understand the risks, prevent problems from happening, and continue operating in the event something bad does happen.

If your business is worth protecting, contact us for a complimentary Cloud Advisor session to discuss how we can improve your business’ resiliency.


 

Cyber Attack

3 More Reasons You Are an Easy Cybercrime Target

Cyber AttackLast week, we gave you three reasons why you, as a small or midsize business, are a viable and desirable target for cyber criminals.

If those reasons don’t give you enough reason to act, here are three (3) more reasons SMBs, and you, a target for cyber criminals…

SMB data is increasingly networked

  • All of your systems — databases, email, documents, marketing, point-of-sale, and more — are likely running on a single network.
  • Access to one of your systems can lead to access to others. Target’s POS system was hacked using a security flow in the HVAC monitoring system running on the same network.
  • Moving data and systems into secure cloud solutions, and segregating network traffic minimizes the cross-over risk.

SMBs are using consumer products for business data

  • Consumer grade services are often more affordable, but often lack the security and data protection features of the higher-priced, business versions.
  • Separate work and home and use solutions designed for business, and, make sure to configure the security and privacy setting accordingly.

SMBs are often lax when it comes to security

  • Many small businesses operate in an environment of trust; people know and trust one another. This trust can be exploited by a disgruntled employee or an outsider.
  • Keep user identity management and passwords private and secure; Manage administrator and “super user” passwords so that they are unique, complex, and secure.
  • Keep servers and systems with sensitive data/access secure; enforce screen locking and passwords.
  • Educate your staff on security risks and behaviors.

 

Taking cyber security seriously is the first and best step in protecting your business, employees, and customers. Protection need not be overly complex; nor must reasonable protection be a budget busting expense. Reasonable measures balance cost and security.


Interested in ensuring you are protected, contact us for a free Cloud Advisor Session, or learn about our data protection solutions and our privacy solutions.


 

 

 

Cyber Attack

3 Reasons You Are an Easy Cybercrime Target

Cyber AttackAs we’ve mentioned before, more small and midsize businesses (SMBs) are falling victim to cybercrime.  According to HP’s Cyber Security and Your Business report, Cybercrime costs SMBs 4.2 times more per employee than larger businesses, and 60% of SMBs that experience a data breach are out of business in six months.

Why are SMBs, and you, a target for cyber criminals?

SMBs spend less on security while larger businesses are increasing their security protections.

  • Your business is an easier target because you are more likely to lack basic protections. In effect, you may attract cyber criminals because you are an easier target.
  • Budget for, and implement, reasonable protections covering user identities, access controls, user permissions, data loss prevention, and employee awareness and training.

SMBs do not have in-house security expertise.

  • Keeping up with risks and trends is time consuming above and beyond ensuring that your security measures are updated and working on a day-to-day basis.
  • Leverage technology and your IT partners for automated solutions and expertise, as well as on-going management of your security and privacy solutions.

SMBS are moving into the cloud.

  • Using cloud applications and storage makes sense. But, your data is no longer behind a physical or logical “firewall”.  Protecting your data means protecting the cloud systems and services you use.
  • Always select business-grade services over consumer services. Implement all security features, including 2 Factor Authentication. And, when possible, integrate access to cloud services into a single system for managing user identities. And, do not forget to train, and periodically remind, your staff how their awareness and actions can allow or prevent an attack.

 

Start the new year off right with a review of your IT security and data privacy policies, procedures, and systems.  Doing so is an affordable way to protect your business, your employees, and your customers from cyber crime. The cost of prevention is miniscule compared to the cost of a breach.


Interested in ensuring you are protected, contact us for a free Cloud Advisor Session, or learn about our data protection solutions and our privacy solutions.


 

Fast Fact

Fast Fact Friday: SMB IT in the Cloud

fastfacts2According to a survey of 1,500 SMB IT leaders by BetterCloud in the spring of 2015 …

49% of SMBs expect to run 100% of their IT in the cloud by 2020.


Are you moving to the cloud? Is your roadmap in line with your business goals? Contact us for a no-obligation Cloud Advisor session.


 

Friday Thought: Comfort with the Cloud Grows Rapidly Among Business Execs

As reported by Dow Jones via Fox Business News back in May, IBM published results of a bi-annual survey of more than 3000 CIOs.  The results indicate that adoption of  cloud computing will continue to grow rapidly.  Over the past two years:

  • The number of CIOs planning to use c loud computing has jumped from 33% to 60%
  • The number of CIOs stating that cloud computing is a top priority has jumped from about 33% to about 70%

What does this mean for you beyond “cloud computing is not going away”?

  • Mid-market and large enterprises will continue to demand enterprise-class features and capabilities from cloud computing solutions
  • PAR (performance/availability/reliability) concerns will continue to be addressed by vendors
  • Security architectures will continue to evolve to meet market demands.

Small and Mid-Size Businesses (SMBs) will benefit from the continuing, rapid evolution of cloud solutions.  As demonstrated by Google’s increasing rate of feature releases in Google Apps, evolution will rapidly close the gap between new, cloud solutions and traditional in-house systems.

SMBs should expect to re-evaluate current vendors and IT partners against new players in the market.  Avoid letting inertia keep your business on a path without fully exploring options.  Change may mean moving away from vendors uncomfortable with the growing role of cloud solutions.

At the same time, avoid moving to cloud solutions for the sake of being in the cloud.  Businesses should always map business objectives into IT initiatives and priorities, and then select the best solution.