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VIEWPOINT: Pandemic-Recovery Tips for Small Businesses Going Forward

By Jonathan Spilka

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As businesses and consumers adjust to the latest shifts related to the pandemic and the economy, we are all mindful the many changes we have experienced in the last several years and are asking ourselves and others, “What’s next?”

For small businesses, the challenges have been relentless to say the least. With inflation, supply-chain issues, rising interest rates, and the potential for a recession ahead, it does not look like things are getting any easier. Here are a few tips for managing what lies ahead.

Pay attention to your liquidity and cash-on-hand

Depending on your specific business and the industry you are in, supply-chain issues could pose a major challenge — and it could be ongoing. International-shipping rates continue to go up, and recent spikes in COVID infections in certain areas coupled with subsequent lockdowns in China are just two issues that could impact your own supply chain. Many businesses are struggling to get the parts and supplies they need to stay operational and provide timely service to customers — if they can receive their needed parts or supplies at all.

Having sufficient liquidity enables you to adjust and find other suppliers if needed or at least “weather the storm” in the short term. Additionally, purchasing equivalents to remain in business may rest on payment ability, so having enough cash on hand at a level higher than pre-pandemic times is most likely be warranted.

Lines of credit are always helpful but could be a necessity now

Along a similar track, think carefully about lines of credit. If you have a line of credit, you might want to think about increasing it so that you have an additional working-capital cushion. Inflationary pressures seem not to be abating anytime soon and having enough in your line of credit might help you keep operating smoothly without disruption —either from your customers or suppliers.

Small businesses that do not have a line of credit should consider putting one in place. Having funds available for unanticipated expenses, repairs, or similar situations is important in this unsettled economic environment. The ability to draw on a line of credit could make a significant difference in the days to come. 

Rising interest rates 

If you have a variable-rate loan that can be converted to a fixed-rate product, it would be a good time to seek to lock in your rate now. The Federal Reserve kept interest rates at near zero throughout the pandemic. With inflation staying stubbornly high, the Fed is likely to continue increasing interest rates in an effort to cool things down. If possible, locking in a low rate now may save you a considerable amount of money in interest payments going forward.

If you are working with adjustable-rate loans that cannot be changed to fixed-rate, work with your business banker to develop a banking strategy that may help protect your bottom line. While it’s unlikely that we’ll return to the sky-high interest rates this country experienced in the early 1980s, a lot depends on how the economy responds to these modest interest-rate increases. Having a plan could make a big difference.

Employee retention

Don’t forget that your employees are feeling the pinch of this unsettled economy, too. And, with job openings plentiful, they have more options than ever. Understand the needs of your employees. You don’t want to lose employees for reasons that you can control and address — especially in this environment. That might mean pay raises, changes to benefits or greater flexibility. You might look at your balance sheet and think it’s impossible to increase salaries or offer more benefits. Keep the tight labor market in mind and be creative. Talk to your employees about what matters to them most. 

Cybersecurity 

The pandemic has increased remote-work situations and amplified a reliance on online banking. Combined with recent global political unrest including the war in Ukraine, cyber threats have increased significantly. Small businesses need a level of protection that they have probably never had before, and threats seem to be coming in many ways. If your employees have remote access to work systems on their home computers or mobile phones, something as seemingly innocuous as clicking on a certain link or video could unleash malware that compromises your network. Check in with your business banker and your business-insurance provider for help reviewing your cybersecurity-risk profile and what you might need to put in place to protect your business.

It’s premature to say that the pandemic is in the rearview mirror, and it’s hard to say what will come next. That can leave businesses feeling unmoored. It helps to be proactive, and one of the best things you can do right now is to map out plans that address multiple contingencies. Stay in touch with your bankers — they can help by offering expertise that will help your small business thrive.                        


Jonathan Spilka is a senior VP and business banking business development manager at NBT Bank. He is responsible for leading business banking production for a team of regional managers across New York state.