We all understand it is good to give back to our communities, whether by donating time or money. But many small business owners overlook the multiple benefits that come from community involvement, including:
- A sense of pride -- knowing you've done a good deed and helped others;
- Your employees' perception of you -- your commitment and generosity;
- Public image -- the positive PR created by giving.
These are only a few reasons to get involved. So why not get your staff involved, too?
Employees who are given the opportunity to volunteer, even if they do not participate, will appreciate the flexibility and freedom you have afforded them. Your goodwill effort will pay off in better relationships with staff and less stress in the office. I have had many small business owners tell me they would love to participate in community events and allow staff to do so, but felt they could not afford the cost or the lost staff time.
It doesn't have to be so burdensome. Here are some low-cost, minimal time investment activities you and your employees can participate in:
1. Volunteer through your local chamber of commerce.
Your time commitment can be from one hour to several weeks. Giving your staff flextime, such as letting them leave the office an hour early for after-hours commitments, is one way to empower them and encourage participation. Send them to these volunteer activities with plenty of business cards to give out when striking up conversations.
2. Teach classes, participate in mentoring or provide technical assistance to small businesses.
Contact your local Small Business Development Center at 225-6910 or the Central Ohio Minority Business Association at 252-8005 about volunteering your expertise.
3. Consider giving back through SCORE.
If you or someone you know, has been a business professional for many years and is close to retiring or has retired, check into the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). This group, which can be reached at 469-2357, is made up of retired business professionals and owners who volunteer their time to counsel small businesses.
4. Help your library.
Donate time at summer reading programs, do mailings or help decorate during special events. Work booths at an author visit or book sale. Donate carpet squares for children to sit on, or craft supplies. Place advertisements in your storefront.
Teach at a library program. Include a stuffer for library activities in your mailings. Donate cash, contribute food for special events and give prizes or even coupons for discounted services/products.
5. Serve others less fortunate than you.
Neighborhood Services is an emergency food pantry for families and children in the Ohio State University area. Have a canned food drive to keep this pantry, or others, stocked.
Another idea is to raise money for the Homeless Families Foundation. Be a "Family Friend" by giving budgeting advice, providing transportation or just being a supportive, listening ear. Also, since it is early in the year, start now to raise money for the Max Gaunce Fund, which buys toys for underprivileged children in Columbus during the holidays.
Create your own "Kringle Project." Invite friends to donate money, go shopping for the toys and hold a toy wrapping party. The toys are given to Neighborhood Services, which distributes them during the holidays to families in need.
6. Volunteer for a board or committee.
Organizations like the Women's Network for Entrepreneurial Training (225-6910), the North Market in downtown Columbus and other area business associations are always looking for a few good volunteers.
7. Be a Big Brother/Big Sister.
The recommended commitment is twelve months, meeting twice a month. The time you spend can be just a few hours a month to as much as you'd like to commit. This organization can be reached at 839-2447.
8. Donate time to your neighborhood association.
These groups are concerned with alleviating crime in local communities, beautification of neighborhoods, creating improvements in local infrastructure, traffic safety and small business issues. Call your city's development department for contacts and phone numbers.
9. Donate items you no longer use -- but others could.
AmVets (431-6990), Goodwill (294-5181) and the Salvation Army (221-6561) are among the local non-profit organizations that collect gently used household items. Local religious organizations may have opportunities to donate to food and clothing pantries, too.
These are only a few of the local groups you can donate time or resources to. Regardless of where you invest your efforts, ask plenty of questions and research the organization. Make sure it fits with your goals and objectives. Make the most of your efforts. Let employees participate in the decision-making process and in the commitment.
Finally, keep in mind that PR from a good deed is not a bad thing. Let your customers know how they can contribute to your goodwill enterprises. Do a write up on your activity and put it in your newsletter or other publications to your clients or target markets.
If it is appropriate, send a press release to your local newspaper about the activity and your involvement. This is good publicity for both you and the organization that you are helping.
If you made a New Year's resolution list, add public service to it. Just one commitment to your community can make an impact. Our collective efforts will make the difference. Andrea Brocklehurst is marketing director of Columbus Countywide Development Corp.
During the past two decades, the World Wide Web has changed how we do business.
Companies have reinvented themselves. We've seen major changes in attitudes toward small business. In 1980, small business was considered to have little impact on the economy. During the past 20 years, however, these companies have become the driving force -- by creating the greatest percentage of jobs and millions in investments.
Government lending has also embraced this attitude change by creating new loan programs and revamping old systems. Twenty years ago, the SBA understood the role small business played in our economy and started making changes in how government lending was done.
You may remember government loan programs involving mountains of paperwork, red tape and a seemingly endless list of questions and requirements. Those days are gone.
Two decades ago, the SBA practiced direct lending to small business. In an effort to be more efficient, it has since turned this task over to banks and locally-run, nonprofit, certified development companies like Columbus Countywide Development Corp. Certified development companies help small business owners through each step in the process of government lending.
The intention was to shorten approval time, reduce paperwork and provide assistance in compiling business and financial information.
The SBA 504 loan focuses on fixed asset lending. It was designed to help the entrepreneur by requiring only a 10 percent down payment and offering a fixed interest rate, as well as a 10- or 20-year term. The local bank participates by financing 50 percent of the project. The SBA lends 40 percent and the owner invests 10 percent.
Closing costs can be financed into the loan package. Also, ownership in the company applying for the SBA 504 loan does not have to be identical to ownership in the company holding the asset being financed.
To reduce paperwork and delays, the Premier Certified Lender Program was created. This delegates more authority to your local certified development company to process, approve, close and service SBA 504 loans and can reduce turnaround to funding by almost a month.
The SBA 504 loan is not the only area of changes. It was determined that small businesses needed access to smaller loans, existing businesses needed less paperwork and women, minorities, veterans and rural-based businesses were experiencing difficulty in accessing loan funds.
The SBA created three programs to meet these needs:
- The SBA Low Doc program began with a maximum loan amount of $100,000 and has been increased to a maximum of $150,000. This financing can be used for real estate, machinery, equipment, inventory, working capital and some refinancing of debt.
The program requires the small business owner to work with his or her local SBA-approved bank, which submits nominal paperwork to the SBA for a guarantee on the loan. The bank limits its risk with SBA backing and is more likely to approve financing. Turnaround is usually less than a week.
- The SBA PreQualified Program began as the Women's Prequalification Program. Minority-, veteran- and women-owned businesses, rural-based businesses and businesses in exporting needed better access to funds. This program allows businesses to get a preguarantee from the SBA, with a maximum guarantee of 80 percent on loans of up to $250,000, by working with local approved certified development companies.
The entrepreneur can then approach the bank with the guarantee in hand. This decreases the bank's exposure and risk and increases the probability of approval.
- The MicroLoan Program is designed for financing businesses with greater risk levels. The maximum loan amount is $25,000, which can be used for inventory, equipment, working capital and machinery.
Government financing has enhanced the way we grow businesses in Central Ohio. The SBA is changing how we perceive government lending programs and making funds more accessible to the small business community. Andrea Brocklehurst is marketing director of Columbus Countywide Development Corp.
Did you know you might be able to lower the interest rate on your business loan? Have you heard about the most recent changes in public financing programs?
Here's the scoop.
To lower your interest rate on a business loan:
- Use the Linked Deposit Program for Small Business run by the Treasurer of State. This program may be able to reduce your interest rate up to 3 percent below the current market rate for the first two years of the loan commitment, with a possibility of a two-year extension of this fixed rate.
Your banker submits the forms to the Treasurer of State and approval is made based on the number of jobs you are creating or saving and the unemployment rates in a given county. Call the Public Affairs Office, Treasurer of State, at 466-8855.
- Combine public financing with bank financing. This can be done in many ways. For example:
1. If your business is in a declared disaster area, use the Physical Disaster Loan and Economic Injury Disaster programs. With 4 percent or 8 percent financing, these can help get your business back on its feet. Contact the U.S. Small Business Administration in Atlanta at (800) 334-0309 or (800) 359-2227.
2. Are you in manufacturing? A wholesaler? A distributor? Do you need to purchase real estate, build or renovate? Need machinery or equipment? The Ohio 166 Loan Program can give your business an interest rate that is two-thirds of prime rate, fixed. These loans are seven or 15 years, with 10 percent down. Contact Community Capital Development Corp. in Columbus at 645-6439.
3. The Ohio Mini-Loan Program is available to businesses with fewer than 25 employees and offers an interest rate not to exceed 5.5 percent on the guaranteed portion of the loan. The bank sets the term of the loan, not to exceed the life of the asset or 10 years. This program may be used with the Linked Deposit Program described earlier or with other federal or city loan programs. Fifty percent of the funding is allocated for businesses owned by minorities and/or women. Contact the Office of Minority Financial Incentives at 644-7708 and ask for Natalie Burley.
4. The Minority Direct Loan Program is available if you are a certified minority business enterprise, an industrial, distribution, commercial or research and development business. The interest rate is 4.5 percent, fixed, and proceeds can be used for real estate, machinery and equipment or renovations and leasehold improvements. Contact Burley at the Office of Minority Financial Incentives at 644-7708.
5. Need to build or buy a building? Use the SBA 504 program along with your bank loan. The SBA 504 portion is a fixed rate (January's rate was 7.81 percent) with a 10- or 20-year term. You also generally get the luxury of 10 percent down. Contact Community Capital Development Corp. at 645-6439.
6. If you are within the corporate limits of Columbus, the Working Capital Loan Fund may be able to help. This program has a 5 to 7 percent rate with five- to seven-year terms. It will subordinate collateral to the primary bank lender. Seventy percent of the funds are targeted for minority businesses and you must agree to make new jobs available to persons of low to moderate income households. You can use the financing for working capital, leasehold improvements or equipment. Contact the Columbus Development Department at 645-8172.
Not only may you be able to reduce your interest payments by using these strategies, you may find getting a loan easier these days thanks to recent changes in the lending landscape.
United Way now has funds available to provide gap financing for nonprofit development organizations located in targeted distressed areas of Franklin County. The funds can be used in the development or redevelopment of underutilized or distressed commercial real estate. The program's interest rates are well below prime and the loan is subordinated (has a last position on all collateral) to all other public and private lenders. Total funds available as of Feb. 1, 2001, were $100,000. Contact Fredericka Wallace-Deena, director of neighborhood development for the United Way, at 227-8704.
The Seed Capital Loan Program provides "patient" funding, which means you get very low interest rates and, on a case-by-case basis, interest-only payments for the first year. This program also takes a "last position" on collateral so other funders will have a greater comfort level in making a loan for you. The program is available for businesses in the Empowerment Zone. Call Community Capital Development Corp. for more information at 645-6439.
The SBA MicroLoan Program is now available in eight counties of Central Ohio. In addition, the maximum loan has increased from $25,000 to $35,000. The program is now able to do "participation" loans, too. An example: You approached your bank for a $100,000 business loan for equipment and working capital. The bank does not feel you have enough collateral to cover this amount or your business is too new, and you are declined.
The MicroLoan Program could finance $35,000 of your working capital, inventory and small equipment needs and you could ask the bank to do a $65,000 loan for the remainder. In this scenario, the bank gets first lien position; therefore, you may have enough collateral to cover the $65,000. Now the bank may be able to do the deal.
There are many publications that explain the city, state, county, and federal loan programs available in your area. Among the best is the SBA Small Business Resource Guide. Your local SBA office can get you a copy for free if you call 469-6860. Andrea Brocklehurst is director of marketing and special projects for Community Capital Development Corp., formerly Columbus Countywide Development Corp.