Published April 16, 2020
In a race to save their companies, small business owners have been scrambling to stay afloat while also trying to navigate a complex web of federal and state aid and figure out their legal options.
Many have had to do it all on their own because they can't afford expensive lawyers, accountants and business consultants. And most are facing a cash crunch made worse by the fact that they're still waiting on payments for jobs completed before the coronavirus shutdown.
For those who can't afford the help, here are some of the programs, organizations and initiatives that provide small business owners with one-on-one consultations, tools and other support -- all free.
1. Free legal consultations
The Lawyers for Good Government Foundation, working in conjunction with local small business nonprofits, has begun offering pro bono legal consultations for small business owners in cities and states across the country.
The first clinic was launched in New York City last week. And over the next two weeks, the program will begin in the states of Florida and Washington and the cities of Atlanta, Detroit and Charlotte, North Carolina.
The program, which also helps nonprofits, is aimed primarily at very small businesses -- in New York, for instance, only those with 100 or fewer employees qualify. But each location will decide how small a company must be.
Small business owners seeking help will include their most pressing coronavirus-related legal questions on an intake form so they can be paired with a lawyer who has expertise in those areas. In addition to doing the remote consultations, lawyers will also direct pro bono clients to further resources.
So far, questions have focused on the new federal loans and grants available through the federal aid package, employment and bankruptcy laws, and the obligations that owners of so-called nonessential small businesses still have under commercial leases and contracts even though their ventures were shuttered.
While the program may not be able to fulfill every small business' request for a pro bono consultation, the hope is to help thousands if not tens of thousands, said LGGF executive director Traci Feit Love.
Small business owners interested in being notified of when a legal clinic will open near them can fill out their contact information here.
2. Free business strategy consultation
The program SCORE, which is funded in part by the Small Business Administration, has been around for more than 50 years and includes a network of 10,000 volunteer mentors who are current or retired business owners and experts in key business and industry-specific topics.
The mentors are available for free, remote consultations -- as many as needed -- for any small business owner. They're currently helping businesses out with a lot of Covid-19-related questions and concerns, including how best to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program loans and the economic injury disaster grants offered by the federal government, and figuring out how best to use the funds, if approved.
If a small business is not approved for any of the federal aid it seeks, SCORE will help it figure out next steps, including finding alternate sources of funding.
While SCORE will work with any small business owner, its most typical client has fewer than five employees and less than $500,000 a year in revenue, said SCORE acting CEO Bridget Weston.
3. Free interactive tools to determine PPP loan eligibility
Intuit just launched free interactive tools known as Intuit Aid Assist that will let any small business owner or independent worker assess whether they qualify for a forgivable PPP loan or an economic injury disaster grant from the Small Business Administration. It also helps them assess how much money to apply for and how much of the PPP loan would not have to be repaid if used for authorized expenses.
Addressing privacy concerns, Intuit said it will not be collecting data on small businesses that use the tool, according to an email from Bharath Kadaba, Intuit's chief innovation officer. "Information is stored locally on the user's browser only."
And while Intuit itself just received approval to make PPP loans -- and like other lenders, will be earning fees for every loan made -- Kadaba said users of the interactive will not be driven to apply through Intuit, but rather will be given a published list of authorized lenders available through the SBA.
4. A campaign to get clients to pay small businesses faster
Small businesses need money right now to keep their doors open. Yes, federal and state aid will be critical. But it also would be a huge and immediate help to just be paid by clients for work they've already completed.
Fundbox, a business-to-business payments processor and small business lender, estimates that on any given day there is $900 billion owed to small businesses with fewer than 100 employees.
One business owner told CNN Business his cash reserves would increase by a month if he just got paid for the jobs his firm has already finished. Typically, small business clients make final payments 30 days or more after a job is done.
That's why Fundbox and other companies serving small businesses have just launched a campaign called #paytoday to encourage big companies and government agencies to accelerate their payments to small business vendors.
Given that many small businesses don't have enough cash to last them another month, getting paid in 10 to 15 days versus 30 can make a meaningful difference in their keeping the lights on until they receive government aid.
Companies that want to step up and do the most expedient thing to help small businesses today can make their pledge public by joining the #paytoday club here.