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Creative ways to improve your cash flow despite a global pandemic (we’re serious)

(FINANCE) Keeping the lights on has become a major priority for many businesses country wide, so how do you keep your cash flow up during this crisis?

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cash flow

More than ever, cash is king. How can you stimulate cash flow in this era? How do you turn a trickle into a flow?

Business is down globally, with large and small businesses struggling with cash flow and supply chains everywhere you look. People are staying home and trying to spend less money, as many of them have lost their jobs or income.

We’ve rounded up the best advice from several sources to help you make some sense of it all–and hopefully some money, too. Nothing is foolproof, but we sincerely hope these tips help you and your business hang in there. These times are challenging, but we know things will improve eventually.

One piece of advice each of these experts notes is to look at your business differently during this period. One way to do this is to prioritize short-term gains vs. long-term plans. This doesn’t mean to act recklessly, but rather to evolve a little. Let’s face it, if you aren’t bringing in money and reining in costs at this point, you may not survive to bear that long-awaited fruit of your labor.

An outstanding example is the restaurant industry. Since most restaurants around the country have shifted to takeout only, the ones who are staying open have been creative in transforming their business model. Some clever shapeshifting I’ve seen in restaurants include: offering family packages, offering meal kits (i.e., uncooked meat, pasta, and sauces to be cooked at home), offering a popup market for basic groceries, offering virtual tastings (where you pick up the food, and they conduct the tasting or class online), giving discounts on gift cards, and offering cocktail kits.

Another key factor is to treat people well during this time: employees, customers, and suppliers alike will remember your behavior during the crisis once we return to better days. Remember, they are likely hurting, too. Ask yourself how you can best bring value to them while taking care of your bottom line.

Here is some specific advice we’ve collected from experts such as The Harvard Business Review, Deloitte, KPMG, and ECG Management Consultants.

  • Adjust variable costs to the extent possible. Of course, curtail non-essential company travel plans, training, meetings, and entertainment costs. Looking at labor costs, it is more challenging. Yet, try shifting contract work to permanent employees as a cost-saving–and employee-saving measure. Consider encouraging employees to take available paid leave, and encourage voluntary unpaid leave.
  • Verify your own lines of credit. Make sure your sources of financing are going to remain available to you.
  • Be cautious and do plan ahead with your inventory. You want to confirm that your supply chain of essentials is likely to remain reliable, but plan for a disruption. You may want to seek out additional sources or viable alternative products and raw materials. You need to be able to continue to supply YOUR customers.
  • Look realistically at any possible delays in your payables. Check in your area–you may be able to defer utility payments temporarily, or make a mutually agreed-upon arrangement with one or more of your suppliers to change the way you pay them. Do not do this willy-nilly, though–those supplier relationships are crucial, and you definitely want to keep the actual lights on.
  • Review your invoice and collection practices. At all costs, invoice on time with clear payment terms.
  • Consider your customers, their payment history, and reliability. Ask yourself–or them–how hard hit their industry is, how likely they are to struggle with payments. An honest, up-front conversation about ensuring payments (even if through a new agreement, like the ones you want to make with your suppliers).
  • Elect to deduct 2020 Disaster Losses on your 2019 taxes. Section 165(i) allows for this accelerated loss deduction on your tax return.
  • If you own or run a larger company or one with an almost certain return to good times and can afford it, you may even benefit in the future by pausing or greatly reducing your larger salary in order to keep paying employees and keep the company flush. I know, I know, this option sucks, but it garners good will among employees and the community that should ideally come back to reward you sooner rather than later. Save the company’s butt? You get a juicy bonus on the flip side, no doubt!
  • Throw out the rule book for some things. Waiting to release a product or content for a traditionally optimal time? Reconsider that–would people benefit from it? If it’s software, training, or intellectual property such as a book, musical content, or film, get that out the door NOW. People want it and need it. This means new customers! You may want to offer these cheaper than usual or even free, as an investment in the future.

Look into funding through no-interest or low-interest loans and grants. In addition to the SBA Disaster Loan government loan, search for additional sources of funding through private sector grants. Here’s a partial list of entities offering this type of relief, particularly for small businesses.

  1. Facebook is offering $100 million in small business grants, given in cash and also some Facebook ad credits.
  2. Amazon is offering $5 million in a Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund for Seattle businesses.
  3. Kiva, the international microloan organization that offers small businesses zero-percent interest loans of up to $15,000.00, has recently expanded their loans available to U.S. entrepreneurs.
  4. The Opportunity Fund offers grants and low-interest loans mainly to small businesses owned by underserved entities, such as women and minorities. They are expanding their resources in light of the coronavirus impact.

I hope these tips help you with your business. I’m not only a writer cranking out content, but I’m also a small-business owner biting my nails over the income loss this has brought. I’d love to hear any ideas you have that you’re implementing for cash flow and survival. I want us all to make it!

Joleen Jernigan is an ever-curious writer, grammar nerd, and social media strategist with a background in training, education, and educational publishing. A native Texan, Joleen has traveled extensively, worked in six countries, and holds an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language. She lives in Austin and constantly seeks out the best the city has to offer.

Business Finance

Small business owners furious over more PPP fraud this week

(FINANCE) With rampant fraud and huge companies receiving aid intended for small business… Who is the Payment Protection Program really protecting?

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Small business owner on laptop, stressed over Payment Protection Program fraud and struggles.

Small business owners are furious this week after yet another fraudulent PPP (Payment Protection Program) loan application was discovered. The program, which was originally conceived to protect small businesses with providing federal loans, was a part of CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, which was passed by Congress in March.

The application came from Houston resident Lola Shalewa Barbara Kasali (22) for almost $2 million. Kasali claimed she owned two small businesses – Lola’s Level and Charm Hair Extensions – and applied for two separate loans to cover her alleged employees and payroll expenses.

After receiving $1.9 million in loans, Kasali transferred the money to various other bank accounts. She was charged with fraud earlier this week.

Unfortunately, cases of PPP fraud are rampant, meaning that the funds allotted for struggling small businesses in the time of COVID-19 are being misused. While it’s easy to call out individuals who are scamming the system, we are seeing that everyone – even the rich – are trying to get a piece of this pie.

In April, fast casual giant Shake Shack returned their $10 million PPP back to the government in what many saw as a media stunt. Why did a multi-billion-dollar company apply to a program meant for small businesses anyway?

The same can be said about the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, the team does employ under 300 individuals. But do the wealthy members of a professional basketball team really need additional funds while the rest of the working class suffers?

Additionally, over 10,000 PPP loans were mistakenly dispersed to businesses that had already received a loan or those who were excluded from the program for various reasons.

Initially, the SBA put $349 billion into the program. Due to extremely high need – and many cases of mismanagement or fraud, like those mentioned earlier – the funds went in a flash. Though the SBA did replenish the Paycheck Protection Program with an additional $310 billion in April, the program expired on August 8th. And currently there is no solid plan to extend it, leaving small businesses to fend for themselves.

Another factor to consider regarding the faults of Payment Protection Program is the inherent discrimination. Experts say that, because of how the program is structured, more than 90% of businesses owned by women and people of color are or will be excluded from receiving funds from PPP. Our best bet for the time being is to help each other on a community level as much as we can.

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Business Finance

Small businesses: CapitalOne, GoFundMe want to give you money

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Capital One, GoFundMe, and others are joining forces for good, providing ways for consumers to help lift up small businesses in a time of great need.

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Black man and women in their small businesses attire

Small businesses account for around 44% of U.S. economic activity, according to USA Today. Finding a way to buoy them up now is crucial to their survival. We cannot afford to lose the 58% of small businesses who say they may go under forever.

Short of in-person shopping, how can we as consumers, help? Consumers can now help through smallunites.org, an organization pulled together to share several ways to support small businesses.

The Small Unites platform also provides ways for small business owners to connect with helpful resources, including business and marketing advice. In a surprising twist, the entities tossing this lifesaver to small businesses at risk of sinking are larger companies, including Capital One, HundredX, GoFundMe, the National Urban League, and Ogilvy, among others.

Six months after the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders were issued in the U.S., many small businesses are still struggling to stay afloat. Some are still operating through curbside or online orders only. Others are operating with a reduced capacity, limiting the number of people in their stores at any given time.

The PPP funds have been spent, as have stimulus checks, and many people are watching their budgets. Despite wishful thinking and finally some success with mask wearing, we are nowhere near a full reopening in this country. Even if it were allowed, the majority of people are still social distancing as much as possible and are finding other ways to shop – mainly online.

GoFundMe has a platform to donate money directly to a specific small business for those who can afford to. Consumers may also make a tax deductible donation to the overall fund that distributes the money through small business grants, such as the Small Business Relief Fund via GoFundMe. This money will be sent out in $500 grants to small businesses who apply and qualify.

Some people want to help but are also strapped for cash. Small Unites has come up with a way to contribute without spending or donating money. With HundredX, consumers write a review of a small business on the HundredX platform. HundredX will then donate $2.00 per review to programs in conjunction with the National Urban League to programs supporting minority-owned businesses. Each contributor is able to write up to 50 reviews for a grand total of $100.00 per person. HundredX will continue to donate per review, up to their $1M program cap.

Small business owners, things may look bleak from where you’re sitting. I urge you to seek out some of this support, provided at no cost to you. In addition to perhaps the most urgent need, money, Small Unites also provides tips and guidelines from Ogilvy to businesses that sign up for the program.

These tips include marketing, social media, and communication advice. The Small Unites website also has a “Shop” section to locate small businesses in the immediate area where consumers can shop right now.

The U.S. can’t afford to lose its small businesses. These are often unique places infused with the owner’s passion. Small businesses often support local economies, too, providing a marketplace for local makers, farmers, and other creative people. They are vital businesses, often representing the beating hearts of our communities.

For the skeptical among us, of course Capital One, GoFundMe, and the rest are going to get PR brownie points for this. That doesn’t make the assistance any less significant to saving our small businesses. Motive matters, but let’s not starve on principal. It makes no sense. Someone at these large institutions must also realize that it’s the many small businesses out there that contribute 44% of our economic activity.

Helping the mom-and-pop shops isn’t merely a publicity stunt. It strengthens our economy as a whole. This lifeline also has the ability to strengthen morale and restore hope when they are in short—or at least inconsistent—supply. Knowing that a favorite business is managing to stay afloat amid turbulent waters buoys our spirits.

Small businesses, go sign up for all of the Small Unites assistance! Everybody else, let’s all pull together, with the help of these big corporations, to try and save our small businesses. We need them for our economy. We need them for our mental health. We need them, period.

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Business Finance

Bitcoins worth $300K recovered from an old zip file

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Losing the password to your Bitcoin wallet often means potentially losing your cryptocurrency. But this didn’t stop a Russian investor from getting his money back.

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Stack of bitcoins

At some point in our life, we’ve all lost or misplaced something. I’ve misplaced my phone and keys more times than I can count. They always have a way of finding themselves between the couch cushions. But have you ever lost the private keys to access your $300,000 worth of bitcoins? Neither have I. However, this is exactly what happened to a very unlucky man.

Last month, Defcon’s 28th annual event took place. The event is the most influential security hacking conference held in Las Vegas. Michael Stay, a reverse engineer and current CTO for Pyrofex Corp, shared the story with attendees. He started his presentation by saying, “And today I’m gonna to tell you about how we recovered several hundred thousand dollars worth of Bitcoin from an encrypted zip file.”

About twenty years ago, Stay published a cryptanalysis paper detailing how to break into encrypted zip files. This paper led an anonymous Russian investor to find Stay and send him a surprising message on LinkedIn. “So in October of last year, a guy contacts me out of the blue and says, “I read your paper on known plaintext attacks, and I’ve got this password that I’ve forgotten. Is there anything you can do to help?”” Stay said.

In 2016, the investor purchased $10,000 worth of bitcoins and placed the private keys in an encrypted zip file. After the Bitcoin boom, the purchase proved to be a great investment. There was just one slight problem: He forgot the password and had no way of accessing the Bitcoins.

After stumbling on Stay’s old cryptanalysis paper, he hoped Stay would help him break into the zip file and recover the lost keys. When Stay looked into the case, he soon realized this would be a difficult task. The attack he had written years ago needed five files to break into the zip file. This man only had two files in the archive.

With only two files, this would take Stay a lot of time and money to find a solution to the problem. After doing some calculations, he told the guy it would cost him around $100,000 to attempt to recover the keys. He simply couldn’t use regular “off-the-shelf software” to get this done.

The man agreed without hesitation. Stay’s mind was blown away with his response. “I knew he probably had several hundred thousand dollars of Bitcoin in this thing,” he said. The pressure was on!

To break-in, Stay enlisted his business partner, Nash Foster. Foster helped adapt his CPU based attacks to run on GPUs, and they rented a GPU farm. “Our initial expectation was we would do engineering for a couple of months, and then the attack would have to run for several months to succeed,” Foster told WIRED.

Four months after the initial LinkedIn message, they began the attack. “We had tried it in all our test archives that we’d created. It worked fine,” Stay said. They were hopeful. “Ten days passed, and it didn’t find a key. And we were distraught, pulling our hair out. What have we done wrong?” Stay asked himself.

After combing through the data, the investor, who is a programmer himself, discovered a bug in the GPU. Once Stay and Foster fixed the bug, they were able to restart their attack. Within a day and a half, they found the three keys they needed to decrypt the archive.

In the end, the improvements made to Stay’s old attack made a significant difference. Instead of the $100,000 and year of processing time that Stay estimated it would take, they were able to do it for less than $10,000 in two weeks of processing time.

“Our client was very pleased and gave us a big bonus! And that’s how we recovered his Bitcoin folder,” Stay said.

According to a 2017 research by analysis company, Chainanalysis, nearly 400 million Bitcoins are already lost. Although Bitcoins have no physical form, they can still be lost. Forgotten private keys and passwords, and discarded and lost devices account for this high number.

The Russian investor wasn’t so unlucky after all!

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