Lauren Barron: Helping Entrepreneurs Navigate a New Normal

Lauren Barron received an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management; she is also the founder and co-owner of Gray Matters Games (GMG). GMG is a company that creates lively and cognitively challenging board game experiences for people with active minds. Through its games, Gray Matters promotes community, encourages fun and gives back to Alzheimer’s research. She shares her advice on how to tackle the challenging times ahead.

Planning Ahead

COVID-19 and the economic impact it has will fundamentally change the small business landscape. If you are not already, you need to think about this as more than a 2-4 week issue. There will be supply chain shocks that have not yet manifested, consumer confidence may be shaky and people will just operate their day-to-day lives differently. Plan now as if this will impact your business at least through the end of 2020. The good news here is that – if you tackle this head-on, make the tough choices now and consider how COVID-19 can help you adapt your business model, you can absolutely come out of this with a stronger business.

Do Not be Complacent

I worked with struggling business owners for 5 years during the last recession, and the ONLY commonality among the businesses who did not make it were that they were complacent – either in their business model, in how they managed their financials or both. I want to communicate this to you in no uncertain terms: This is not the time for complacency. Small business owners are being called to action.

So – the big question on every small business owner’s mind is: Now What?

I want to communicate this to you in no uncertain terms: This is not the time for complacency. Small business owners are being called to action.

Understanding Customer Demand

I have put together a list of high-level questions to help you start to take inventory of your situation:

Is there still demand for my product or service? All of these questions will help you assess flexibility in your revenue line, which is comprised of two main drivers – demand/volume and pricing.

If the answer is no, consider this: What will customers want when demand returns? OR What does my business offer that’s of value that can drive demand?

Travel-related businesses are a great example of this – demand is low right now; however, domestic travel is likely to recover quicker than international travel in the coming months. What can you do now to address this forthcoming need? Are there domestic travel packages you can devise that will help people with vacations in late summer or fall this year? If yes, start working on them now.

If the answer is yes, but people can’t access your business the way they normally do, what can you do to adapt? Move to virtual services, move selling on to your website, offer delivery, curb-side, etc.?

If the answer is yes, but pricing is a barrier, what can you reasonably charge customers that helps them fit a budget and still covers your costs (at the very least – ideally, still making a profit)?

I am a huge proponent of charging your worth; however, right now, people need help. Let’s all remember that we are humans doing the best we can and try to be in service to each others’ businesses and success.

Reassess Your Business

What is happening in my cost structure? The time is now to reassess every single expense you have on your most recent P&L. What is a variable cost that can be eliminated or reduced now without negatively impacting your ability to operate? What is a fixed cost that can continue in the short term?

What is a fixed cost that would need to be eliminated if there is a protracted COVID-19 impact or resulting recession? Assess your resources – what can technology do to help you eliminate manual processes or help lower payroll? Where are there opportunities to create other efficiencies in your operations?

What is the bare minimum you need to operate? Write a list of everything you would have to spend money on to service a baseline of demand. You should know this now, not later.

Can you seek relief related to utilities, rent or debt payments now? Don’t wait until you really need it – be proactive. Do you have subscription services or other regular expenses that are not necessary right now? Where else can you pivot and adapt on the cost side? What balance sheet risk am I willing to take?

There is a temptation right now to offer suppliers or customers extended terms. I urge you to think about this VERY carefully before agreeing. Unlike in other recessions, the impact of COVID-19 is far-reaching, and unless you have intimate knowledge of a supplier’s financial situation, liquidity and ability to weather this storm, I would encourage you to protect your business as best you can. You have no idea if that supplier will go out of business and won’t be able to pay you in 60 or 90 days. You can always consider Cash on Order or Cash on Delivery as an alternative if you really need supply.

Show Your Value

Last point. If you have historically been a “push marketer,” you need to change your message now. The best thing you can do is: (i) show your value to clients and potential clients in their time of need, and (ii) BE IN SERVICE TO THEM – really and truly. Think every day about what’s in it for them and how you can help.

This list of questions is just the tip of the iceberg on how to navigate an unprecedented time to be a small business owner, but in a situation that can feel paralyzing, I hope it helps give you a start.

While these times are difficult, emotionally draining and, at times, scary for us all – please know this: there are people like me in your corner ready to assist. You do not have to do this alone – in fact, you shouldn’t. The small business community is a powerhouse of people who care a lot, and we stand ready to serve you. We are one.

Stay Up to Date

Learn more about Gray Matters Games and the fun board games they create by visiting their website!

Connect with Lauren on Instagram and LinkedIn.

For additional resources, visit our Small Business Resources to Overcome COVID-19 blog post.

Innovation DuPage can help transform your idea into a viable commercial venture. Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.

Small Business Resources to Overcome COVID-19

To help entrepreneurs and small business owners find the help they need in this time of great uncertainty, we have compiled a list of resources targeted at COVID-19 related business challenges. This list will be updated as new information and resources become available. See something we missed that should be included? Shoot us a message at ID@InnovationDuPage.org

Financial Help

Loans and Grants

Small Business Association (SBA) Disaster Relief Loan

This loan brought to you by the SBA can be used for: Fixed Debts, Accounts Payable, Payroll, other Bills. For more details and information on how to apply, check out our dedicated ‘SBA Disaster Injury Loan’ post.

Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC)

The WBDC knows that access to capital is critical for business success. They provide loans to small businesses who otherwise cannot get a loan from a bank.Loans are available to small businesses located in Northwest Illinois and targeted towards businesses with less than $1 Million in annual revenue.

Illinois Department of Commerce Loan

Small businesses are the backbone of the Illinois economy, and the Advantage Illinois program is there to assist. By working with the state’s banking community and venture capitalists, they help entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Chicago Small Business Resiliency Fund

The Chicago Small Business Resiliency Fund will help to provide small businesses with emergency cash flow during this immediate health crisis. Applications will begin to be accepted on March 31, 2020.

Facebook Small Business Grant Program

Facebook is offering cash grants and ad credits to businesses that may be experiencing disruptions in these uncertain times. The money given can support your workforce, help with your rent costs, connect with more customers, and cover operational costs.

Honeycomb Credit

Community sourced loans for small businesses impacted by COVID-19 via the crowdfunding platform. Honeycomb is offering 45-day payment free periods, 6-month interest-only periods and reducing their posting, success, and investor fees.

Tax Relief

IRS Tax Relief

The IRS has announced the extension of tax filing and federal tax payment deadlines to July 15th. In addition, a plan is in place to implement a Coronavirus-related paid leave for workers and tax credits for small and midsize businesses.

Illinois Tax Help

In an effort to assist eating and drinking establishments impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) is waiving any penalty and interest that would have been imposed on late Sales Tax payments from qualified taxpayers.

What is Available to Employees as a Business Owner?

COVID-19 Changes to Unemployment Rules

Unemployment benefits may be available to some individuals whose unemployment is attributable to COVID-19. IDES recently adopted emergency rules to try to make the unemployment insurance system as responsive to the current situation as possible. Please review this link for the information to assist your employees.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

This program helps those with low-incomes buy the food needed for good health.

Tips for Working from Home

Github’s Guide to Remote Work

GitHub has curated a remote work emergency toolkit for leaders and managers and a remote work starter guide for employees to assist businesses during this time in order for everyone to maintain optimal productivity and stability.

Facebook Minimizing Business Disruption During Emergencies

Facebook is helping workplaces stay connected by helping minimize disruptions to businesses during emergencies. Utilize their multiple channels to stay in touch with customers and employees.

Video Conferencing Services

The following are video conferencing resources allowing businesses to stay connected and productive while working remotely.

Microsoft Resources

Google Hangouts

Go to Meeting by LogmeIn

Zoom

DuPage County Business Help

Choose DuPage

Choose DuPage is volunteering their expertise to assist businesses in DuPage County. Get help with Banking, Education, Insurance, Legal, and Marketing. Join the conversation on social media about what businesses and residents are doing to help during these times by using the #DuPageDifference.

DuPage County Health Department

A resource in maintaining the health and safety of residence of the DuPage county. Stay up to date on what is happening in your area.

Western DuPage Chamber of Commerce

View the WDCC’s informational fliers in relation to COVID-19 and how they are supporting businesses during this time .

Western Suburban Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The WSSCI is committed to serving regional businesses and community prosperity through best practices, advocacy, access to leaders, economic development, collaboration and business education. Check out their page for a list of resources available to those impacted by COVID-19.

New Policies and Legal Resources

Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation

IDFPR has announced new guidance on license expirations dates, continuing ed deadlines, and more to help licensees maintain their licenses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can find the official press release here .

Insurance Interruption Coverage

Your business insurance may contain interruption coverage you can use during COVID-19, learn more by clicking the title.

Emergency Family & Medical Leave Expansion Act

On March 18, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was passed and signed. These are two provisions providing paid leave to employees forced to miss work because of the COVID-19 outbreak: the Emergency Family Medical Leave Act, and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. Learn more about how this could serve you in the link.

Innovation DuPage can help transform your idea into a viable commercial venture. Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.

Woman looking at her laptop

SBA COVID-19 Disaster Injury Loans

The information in this post was last updated on March 27th, 2020. It will be updated as new information is released.

As small businesses and entrepreneurs face fear and uncertainty brought by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the U.S Small Business Administration (SBA) has been working tirelessly to make vital resources and assistance available. On March 17th, the SBA announced new Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) for small business owners impacted by the Coronavirus.

The SBA is now offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury from COVID-19.

Read below to learn how your business could benefit:

SBA COVID-19 Disaster Injury Loan for Small Business Working Capital

The loan can be used for: Fixed Debts, Accounts Payable, Payroll, other Bills. For more information regarding the:

  • Collateral needed
  • The fixed interest rate
  • History of revenue necessary

Please visit the Coronavirus Disaster Assistance page.

Things to know

Repayment does not start until 4 months after you sign the promissory note. You can put the payout on hold if you do not need the money immediately.

The credit scores of all owners with more than 20% ownership are extremely important. If your credit score was great in the past, and if it declined due to COVID-19, have proof of it.

The timeline from a complete loan application to payout is 3-5 business days. You will need to prove that the business is able to make the payments through operations (have a previous Profit & Loss report) and with a personal financial statement.

Eligibility

Screenshot

According to the SBA office of disaster assistance, “small business owners in all U.S. states, Washington D.C., and territories are currently eligible to apply for a long-term, low-interest loan due to Coronavirus (COVID-19).”

Applicants must additionally be able to show a loss effective January 31, 2020, to now and/or in the future, as compared to 2019 financials.

Application

You can now begin the application process.

UPDATE: Due to problems caused by high traffic volume, the SBA has simplified its online application procedure. In place of the previous webform, the application is now an easy download/fill-in/upload process. All required documentation can be found and submitted here.

Disaster Loan Assistance Application by SBA

START EARLY – the biggest reason for delays in processing is due to missing information. Make sure to complete all filing requirements before uploading and submitting.

Next Steps

At this time there are no grant programs in place. However, the IL SBDC has already requested that option on the State’s behalf. For up-to-date information on the help that the SBDC is providing, sign up for their email list.

Want more help? Check out our growing list of small business resources to overcome COVID-19 HERE.

Innovation DuPage can help transform your idea into a viable commercial venture. Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.

Empowered by Choice

Phillip Perlman launched his marketing career as a bovine evangelist for Chick-fil-A. He set off on an experiential marketing campaign that grew a local Chick-fil-A’s restaurant business by 18 percent. Outfitted in matching cow pajamas alongside a colleague in a cow costume, he introduced a new target audience to chicken for breakfast. That success opened the door for Phillip to help the company expand across California.

A razor-sharp ability to understand the consumer mindset has propelled Phillip’s career forward for the last 15 years. He honed those skills while driving student enrollment in higher education, doing marketing and strategy management alongside university presidents and leaders in higher education.

Americans’ Burgeoning Student Debt Crisis

Phillip succeeded in recruiting thousands of students for dozens of universities like the University of Phoenix, DeVry and EDMC which operated more than 100 schools at the time. But the average amount of student debt has roughly doubled since the mid 2000s, and college tuition continues to rise. Currently, 44 million Americans are burdened with student debt totaling $1.6 trillion, more than the total U.S. credit card debt.*

Phillip began longing to reverse these outcomes. Students were signing up for popular degrees like Photography and Pastry Arts, but exiting with debt close to $20-$30,000 and limited job prospects. “People were enrolling in programs that had a terrible outlook,” he said. The reason: they weren’t informed and they didn’t know what else to pursue.

So, Phillip conceived the idea of Careers by Degree. It’s goal: empower interrupted students, traditional students and job seekers to understand what options exist without having to be a professional researcher. “I want to point people in the right direction,” he said. But Phillip let the idea simmer for six more years.

While working for DeVry University, he launched and built-up his now successful bespoke marketing agency, The Perlman Agency. There Phillip continues to employ his broad expertise in PR, direct response, web development and optimization, and retail, working with both nonprofits and businesses.

Space-driven Collaboration

The seed idea of Careers by Degree continued to gnaw at Phillip until he finally took the plunge this March. He filed paperwork and joined Innovation DuPage. Here he discovered a shared meeting place and networking opportunities with like-minded entrepreneurs. “I intended The Perlman Agency’s staff to be remote and the company as lean as possible, but building Careers by Degree requires sitting down and having conversations,” Phillip said.

Besides connecting with thought leaders, he appreciates access to resources that Innovation DuPage makes available. Over the last six months he and several colleagues have been hammering out details in daily meetings, phone calls and video chats held in airy conference rooms.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Last month CareersbyDegree.com did a soft launch of its matching service. The website’s interface is setup to “choose your own adventure.” Users are presented with three initial choices: schools, degree programs or careers. Then within two to three steps, a short list of options tailored to each user’s personal qualifications and requirements appears.

For students seeking a best-fit school, Careers by Degree shows them key factors such as types of school (four-year, trade, certificate programs, etc.), tuition costs, and the average amount of student debt.

Others may visit the site seeking careers that could earn $100,000. The site will reveal which degrees and programs lead to higher-paying job prospects.

“We really wanted people to be empowered by choice,” Phillip said. “We want to unlock as much information as possible so people see, ‘These are my options–I never would have thought about this.”

Schools and universities will also benefit from the site’s data, learning about prospective students’ interest. They could discover needed degrees they don’t offer, or why there’s no market for an existing program.To pique interest in the site, Phillip recently launched a weekly YouTube series to highlight a behind the scenes look at this EdTech Startup. He plans to use this experience launching Careers by Degree to help inform and equip others interested in doing their own startup.

Phillip hopes his two sons are better informed than he was. He changed his major three times in college. Trent, age 10, dreams of becoming a race car driver, baseball player or lawyer. Mark, age 9, aspires to be a professional hockey player or hockey team owner.

This younger generation will become more equipped to make rewarding life choices. In the next year, Phillip aims Careers by Degree to become one of the first places someone goes to determine a career or educational path. In the meantime, drop by Innovation DuPage in Glen Ellyn’s old police station to meet Phillip and his team as they expand this promising matching service.

*According to the Washington Post and Federal Reserve, respectively.

Innovation DuPage can help transform your idea into a viable commercial venture. Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.