Small businesses across the country faced many challenges since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, including impacted revenues, reductions in foot traffic, and supply chain delays.
If you’ve been experiencing financial stress as a result of these or other concerns, you might be wondering how you’ll pay your bills on time and in full—even if you received a Paycheck Protection Loan to cover wages, rent, mortgage, and utilities.
To help you continue to pay your business bills and stay cash flow positive, follow our four tips for negotiating business bills during COVID-19.
1. Prioritize essential expenses (and cut where needed)
Your first step is to get a crystal clear picture of your finances, which means listing out your overhead costs and other expenses, as well as your cash flow and profit projections. Knowing your numbers will allow you to gauge just how much you can afford to pay in a given time period. From there, you can prioritize the expenses that are absolutely necessary—like rent, wages, and utilities—and which ones you might be able to cut.
As you make this new budget, be specific about the vendors you use, how long you’ve been a paying customer, what your payment track record looks like, etc. Having this information organized and at the ready will help you negotiate as needed while you’re overcoming financial hardship (more on negotiating below).
2. Do your research
As you may already know, there has been an overwhelming amount of support for small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. From federal and state relief programs to local community outreach, small business owners like you have access to a number of helpful resources during this time. What’s more, certain companies (like mortgage lenders and utility providers, for example) are offering hardship assistance.
The key is finding out what support programs are available to you. Here are a few ways to start your search:
- Mortgage/rent help: As a business tenant, you are eligible for certain COVID-19-related state, local, nonprofit, and/or private resources. Find the full list here.
- State support: The National Conference of State Legislatures has compiled a list of the latest in COVID-19-inspired state legislation, which is updated several times a week.
- Local support: Check with your local Chamber of Commerce to see if they have any information or resources to help your business.
- SBA support: The Small Business Administration (SBA) has compiled a wealth of resources for U.S. small businesses, including information on their relief efforts, local support, financing options, and more.
In addition to looking at COVID-19 support programs, you can also research what assistance, if any, your vendors and suppliers are offering, which leads us to tip #3…
3. Negotiate with your vendors and suppliers
Your vendors, suppliers, and creditors all know that small businesses have been struggling this year. They might even be experiencing their own financial hardships as a result of the pandemic. So, they will likely be more understanding of your needs and willing to help. That said, you should still prepare for a negotiation and the resulting changes to your payment obligations. For example:
Preparing to negotiate
Before you call your vendors to ask about their hardship assistance programs, you’ll need to prove to them that you need help. As we mentioned in tip #1 above, this means updating your financials to account for your current expenses, cash flow and profit projections, and more. In addition:
- YOY financial statements: Plan to provide your year-to-date financial statements for 2020 and 2019 to show any drops in revenue.
- Applications: Show proof of application to any government assistance programs.
- Describe impact: Be specific about the impact on your business. For example, are sales down, is foot traffic nonexistent, or has your supply chain been disrupted?
- Update your business plan: Show that you’re being proactive about making up for your losses and planning for revenue improvements with an updated business plan.
- Propose a relief and repayment plan: Put together a formal proposal with a new (and temporary) payment plan that will benefit you the most right now. For example, you may benefit from lower payment amounts, longer payment terms, deferred payments, late payment fee waivers, etc.
- Be open to compromise: Because pandemic-induced financial hardships are widespread, your landlord, vendors, etc. might need you to meet them halfway. Prepare to discuss and agree on a solution that works for you both.
Negotiation best practices
To help give you a leg up on your negotiation and set your business up for long-term success, follow these three best practices:
- Give lead time: Don’t wait until your payment due date to ask for an extension. Instead, start the conversation early so you can both prepare.
- Show track record: Remind them of your current track record as a tenant or customer, including how long you’ve provided them business, what your payment history looks like, etc. If you have good credit with them, they’ll be more likely to work with you on temporary payment relief.
- Ask the right questions: If you’re able to get more favorable payment terms, first take a sigh of relief. Then, ask what will happen after the relief period. In other words, what will payments look like — will they return to your current/normal terms, or will payment amounts be higher to compensate for any discount they grant you? What will your standing be as a customer? How might your personal or business credit be affected?
Be prepared, fair, and straightforward with your negotiations.
4. Explore payment plans or loans
If you’re looking for ongoing or longer-term financial assistance, payment plans and/or loans might be a good option for your business. You could ask your vendors about any payment plans they already offer or look at a solution like BlueVine for funding options that are tailor-made for small businesses.
At BlueVine, we offer Invoice Factoring to help you turn unpaid invoices into working capital by getting an advance on them, up to $5 million. With our Line of Credit, you can get a credit line up to $250,000, draw only what you need (and pay only for what you use). With transparent terms and as fast as same day funding, you can take control of your finances, make payment obligations, and start rebuilding your business.
To learn more, visit www.bluevine.com
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