We all know that the rollout of the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program has been anything but smooth. Since its launch late last month as part of the CARES Act, the program has been plagued with technical issues, inconsistent rules, overly cautious bankers, infuriating reports of money going to larger firms that were not the intended beneficiaries of relief and, ultimately, the exhaustion of the program’s funds that forced another round of appropriation last week.
But not all the news has been bad. Yes, many small businesses continue to struggle for survival amidst forced shutdowns. But many small firms have managed to receive money from the program.
So how did they do it? Their stories provide us with some lessons.
Persistence and quick action were essential. Just submitting an application and hoping for the best weren’t good enough. Those business owners that got funds kept in close contact with their lenders and insisted on continuous updates.
“We were in constant communication with our account manager at our bank, and the moment their site went live, we began attempting to submit our application,” says Chris Gallagher, CEO of King of Prussia-based Gallagher Fluid Seals Inc.
Gallagher, like other owners who got funding, acted very early on. "We determined on Tuesday, March 31, this program was appropriate for our business,” he said. “By the close of business Thursday we had all of the calculations completed based on the guidelines we were given.”
Tom Malesic, President of EZ Solution, a technology firm in Lancaster, also got an early start on the application process and received his funds last week. “I filled out my first application on April 2 and then again on April 4 as the paperwork changed,” he said. “The paperwork was simple, but the complicated part was that I had to fill it out several different times as the government changed the paperwork requirements on the bank at the last minute.”
That experience was echoed by Bill Delgado, president of Reading-based Keystone Software. Delgado was ready with his documentation and got an early start and although he hasn’t received his funds yet, he has been notified that his loan was approved. He found the initial application to be “fairly easy,” even though he had to complete it again after the SBA made more changes. “The final application was also easy, but a little more thought was required as there were limited user instructions."
Although the banking industry has come under much criticism for its slow response and accusations of favoring larger customers, not all the stories about banks have been negative. Some smaller and independent banks have stepped up to provide extra assistance to grateful small business customers.
Malesic said that if it weren’t for his banker, he probably wouldn’t have received the financing. “I really owe everything to my loan officer at Orrstown Bank,” he said. “He called me at night and on the weekend to make sure that I was able to get the loan. Had I not had a previously established relationship with my bank and with him, I would not have gotten the loan. All my friends who worked with big banks and who didn’t have a relationship with the commercial loan department didn’t get loans.”
Keystone Software’s Delgado was also pleased with his lenders at Customers Bank. “They did a great job explaining the process, and the documentation required as well as submitting to the underwriters,” he said.
Some small-business owners – such as Jane Winchester, who owns a jewelry shop in Wayne - shunned the banks and found success applying with online lenders. “We ended up applying through PayPal and it worked,” she said. “We are thrilled.” Besides PayPal, other online platforms such as OnDeck Capital, Kabbage and QuickBooks Capital have been successfully processing thousands of applications from small-business owners all across the country.
On Monday, the Paycheck Protection Program, flush with another round of funding, again opened its doors for business. Many experts expect these funds to be depleted quickly, which means that if you haven’t yet applied for a loan, the odds of receiving relief are limited. But some in Washington are already talking about a third round of funding, and if this happens, it’s worth paying attention and emulating the actions of the businesses owners who have received these much-needed funds.
“It’s been an incredible life-line for small businesses,” Gallagher says. “The loan gives us a buffer of a few months, regardless of how far our sales drop, to keep our employee base intact, and having our team in place will be critical to the success of our organization moving forward.”