For the third month in a row, small-to-medium size businesses outside the hard-hit sectors of retail, tourism and hospitality are proving confident, optimistic and actively planning for their future beyond COVID-19.
Our September Pulse Check shows exceptional levels of confidence and optimism with business levels booming or the same as last year, relatively unchanged levels of employment and sustained sales.
More than 80% of you are confident you’ll make it through, more than half report sustained or improved business levels, nearly two-thirds are optimistic about the next twelve months and 65% are already working on future strategies and getting business plans in place.
On the downside, 2020 has taken a toll with business owners feeling exhausted and that’s a real concern. Government support and business advisors have helped get through the difficult days of 2020 but despite weathering exhaustion, lockdowns, alert level changes and varying levels of uncertainty, you’re not giving up and have your head down, planning your way to the future.
For some, the forthcoming election, mainstream media stories and government policy are reducing confidence, while for others, their own resilience drawn from past experience, government policy, and the thought of open borders is a confidence booster.
Stephen James observed: “Our members are, for the most part, outside the sectors acutely affected, such as retail, tourism and hospitality. It may seem that member confidence levels and optimism are at odds with other commentary but our small business owners are efficient and resilient because they have to be. Small business owners regard their employees as family, do their utmost to retain them and are able to adapt and evolve business practices swiftly with the right support, even among those hardest hit.
“It’s heartening – and speaks volumes for business owners – that so many have got through with relatively unchanged levels of employment, due in part to the government support people have turned to and a willingness to change where necessary.
“One of our priorities will be to help business owners cope with the high levels of exhaustion they’ve reported. We see this as a danger area as, no matter how resilient they may be, working through an ongoing crisis is hard and it is draining. Supporting our business owners helps them to help their business, so developing strategies and solutions to what we know will be an ongoing challenge is an area we will be working on with our boards and through our coaching sessions”.
Gordon Stuart takes a look at the recent changes made to the government’s Business Finance Guarantee Scheme.
The eligibility criteria for a Business Finance Guarantee Scheme (BFGS) loan have been loosened from the initial terms detailed back in April. The maximum amount of the loan is now up to $5m. Note the first version announced by the Government in April provided $6.25b but was largely unsuccessful with only $150m taken up by 780 customers.
The BFGS loan use criteria have been widened, so your business (which can be a company, sole trader, partnership or trust) can use credit for (a) working capital (b) funding capital assets and/or (c) projects related to responding to, or recovering from, the impacts of COVID-19. Previously it was for working capital only.
I expect take up will be better this time towards the end of the year, as forecasting hopefully becomes easier.
Recessions since 1987 have generally reduced business revenues and cash available for debt servicing. This has resulted in longer debt payback thereby creating term debt needs.
To be eligible to apply for a BFGS loan your business must:
Be a New Zealand based business
Have annual revenue of $200 million or less in its most recently completed financial year
Not be on your bank’s credit watchlist as at 31 January 2020 (for retail customers) or 30 September 2019 (for non-retail customers)
Not be a residential or commercial property developer or investor, or a local authority or council-controlled organisation
The Participating banks ANZ, ASB, BNZ, Heartland Bank, Kiwibank, SBS Bank, TSB, Bank of China and Westpac are under pressure from the Reserve Bank to lend to their capped amount. However, their requirements for financial forecasts will still be tough. The better the quality of information you submit, the higher the likely success rate and the quicker the loans can be processed.
Here are some key points worth noting:
Under the scheme, the government will guarantee 80% of the risk associated with eligible loans.
The interest rate charged is lower, reflecting the Government’s 80% share of risk and should be (c.2.5% – 3%), up to 5 years and up to $5m. For Regulatory Capital Purposes the Government is zero risk weighted. The benefit borrowers receive is a lower interest rate.
If your business defaults, your bank will follow its normal process to recover the debt. If the debt can’t be recovered, the bank can claim 80% of any shortfall from the Crown. Note that the Government guarantee does not limit your business’s liability for the debt
For borrowers that have fixed rate lending already in place, consider break costs if you refinance existing fixed rate debt via a BFGS loan early.
The BFGS loan needs to be repaid over 5 years but can be repaid earlier at no break cost.
This scheme is also available to clients who are already on COVID-19 relief packages provided by the banks or have received the wage subsidy
The Scheme is open for applications until 31 December 2020.
Cannot be on the bank’s credit watch-list at 30 September 2019 and 31 January 2020.
Cannot be a residential or commercial property developer or investor or a local authority or council-controlled organisation.
Cannot be used to fund dividends – note:- there is a guaranteeing group exclusion that you should discuss with your Bank.
Cannot be on lent outside the business.
Cannot re-finance or repay more than 20% of the business’s existing term debt (term debt only). Note – there appears to be an exclusion if debt facilities mature before 31 December 2020. Discuss with your bank.
Note:- Businesses do not have to draw down all existing facilities before applying for a BFGS loan as previously required in April.
As part of your bank’s approval process for a loan under the scheme, your bank decides:
The loan amount (up to $5 million under one or more loans), term (up to five years) and the interest rate
What businesses should provide to demonstrate ability to repay the debt, such as a cashflow forecast, business plan and details of assets
Whether it will rely on existing or require new security and guarantees to support the debt (this is not a Government requirement)
Whether it will approve or decline a loan under the scheme.
Finally to reiterate two common misunderstandings.
Is the Government guaranteeing the loan? No. You will need to provide security for the loan as you would normally. The Government and participating banks have agreed to share the risk in case of default only.
What kind of security do I need to provide for the loan? While banks remain in control of their own lending decisions there is no Government expectation or requirement that lending requires a general security agreement or personal guarantee. Note – Banks will require security! Their job is to take minimal or no risk for maximum return.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone and thought to yourself “Great! We’re on the same page”, only to find out later you were talking about apples and the other person thought you said oranges? The result you thought you were going to get turned out to be completely different to what you visualised. Of course, this has happened to us all. Why is it that people just don’t listen? In your mind it was clear, concise and really simple. This is the source of many conflicts and frustrations as a business owner. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?
The first thing to understand is that communication is all about what’s received not what’s sent. It’s all well and fine for you to know exactly what you mean, however, how can you be sure that the other person does as well? Often times we believe they were just not listening, or they deliberately did what they wanted as opposed to what we asked them to do. Sometimes this is the case but more often than not it was because of a misunderstanding.
We all have different styles of communication and this includes our listening styles. The key is to know yourself and to know others. To take it to the ultimate level is for all of us to know each other. One of the best tools I know to help do this is a behavioural assessment tool called DISC. Interestingly the creator of DISC, William Moulton Marston, was also the first person to develop a functional lie detector and, also created the Wonder Woman character (remember the lasso of truth?).
DISC is based on 4 different behavioural styles.
D – Dominance. People with this style tend to be ambitious, forceful, decisive, strong willed, independent and goal oriented. They want you to communicate in a clear, specific way and for you to be brief and to the point. Stick to business and be prepared with supporting material in a well organised package. They tend to like to do things the Fastway. Approx. 18% of the population are highest in the D style.
I – Influence. People with this style are usually magnetic, enthusiastic, friendly, demonstrative and political. They like you to create a warm and friendly environment, are not keen on hearing the detail (if you want them to get it then put it in writing) and you need to ask them feeling questions to draw out their opinions. They like to do things the Funway. Approx. 28% of the population are highest in the I style.
S – Steadiness. People with this style like you to start your communication with a personal comment to break the ice. Present your case softly and in a non-threatening way. They like how questions as this will draw out their opinions. They like to do things the Traditionalway. Approx. 40% of the population are highest in the S style.
C – Compliance. People with this style like you to prepare your case in advance. Stick to business and be accurate and realistic. They like the detail and for everything to be factual and to be achievable. They like to do things the Proper way. Approx. 14% of the population are highest in the C style.
When we have a good understanding of our own behavioural style, including our strengths and our weaknesses, we are better equipped to develop strategies to meet the demands of our environment. And being a great communicator will certainly help. Interestingly enough almost all of us exhibit all four behavioural styles to a certain degree of intensity. The next and more important aspect is to understand others. When we communicate to others in a way that suits their style best, then its highly likely that what they hear is exactly what we meant them to hear.
The benefits of great communication are huge. You may not have the “lasso of truth” however your can greatly enhance your ability to have everyone on the same page at the very least. Talk to your local Alternative Board Facilitator to find out more.
Contrary to ongoing ‘doom-and-gloom’ commentary, there’s a strong, steady pulse beating in New Zealand’s small business sector as owners display remarkable resilience, high confidence and a pragmatic approach to the challenges of COVID19.
The Alternative Board’s August Business Pulse revealed 95% of small-to-medium size enterprises are confident they’ll get through. More than a third of small businesses have benefited from government support with only a small percentage anticipating job losses once the wage subsidy ends. Banks have been understanding, helping where necessary or carrying on with business as usual, and jobs are holding steady.
Sales and orders remain buoyant with supply lines and international transportation links for exporters seemingly intact.
“Given we are awash with negative commentary, the results were heartening” said Stephen James of The Alternative Board. “I think, in part, the focus has been on the hit taken by more visible sectors like tourism and hospitality but our members are involved in many other activities and their perspective hasn’t necessarily been reflected to date.
“The strong Pulse Check was even more remarkable as the change to Alert Level Three for Auckland and Alert Level Two for the rest of New Zealand occurred during the consultation period.”
On the down side, mainstream media is reducing confidence levels and the wish-list of things that would help business owners get through the remainder of 2020 includes more customers, more government support – and a rest, as business owners report they’re feeling exhausted.
“It is understandable that business owners are exhausted. Although confidence is high and business steady, they’ve worked extremely hard to achieve stability in our tumultuous times. I would anticipate this pace will continue as they adapt and adopt new approaches or innovations. While things may change and outlooks darken, business owners are pragmatic in their determination – the Kiwi ‘can do’ approach to adversity and an unwillingness to be beaten is certainly in evidence. They are ‘COVID courageous’ and I think their confidence level reflects this.
The Alternative Board’s members and associates are primarily involved in industries that make, supply, service, fix, invent or build things and the results may reflect that this group has been under-represented to date, with focus falling on hospitality, retail and tourism in other surveys.
The Alternative Board supports small to medium sized businesses and their owners through advisory boards consisting of other local business owners, expert one-on-one coaching, a suite of business planning tools and business mentoring.
A sudden slip into Alert Level Three, the blast of the emergency ‘COVID’ warning through our phones and once again we’re into the balancing act of keeping our businesses moving in exceptional circumstances.
Last month our Pulse Check results told us how adaptable and flexible New Zealand’s small business are, with business owners altering operations and changing practice in order to survive the challenges that 2020 has thrown at us all. Just as we have rolled out our August Pulse Check – which you can access here if you would like to participate – the beat has changed again and, in Auckland, we are facing at least three days at Level 3, probably more, with the rest of New Zealand parked up at Level 2 for the time being.
We asked our Auckland team for their thoughts on the current situation and their advice was simple — we’ve been here before, rely on past experience and know that it will pass.
The Alternative Board’s managing director Stephen James said: “Knowing it will pass, spend some time addressing a few scenarios. For example, if Level 3 lasts, as announced, for three days what do you need to do? Or, if it remains in place for two weeks or if Level 4 is declared and we have full lockdown for an indefinite period — what then? Develop plans of action for each scenario and communicate these to your staff and stakeholders.”
Pulse check shows members are tackling the challenges of COVID19 head-on
We asked you how you were doing and you told us loud and clear — New Zealand’s small businesses are bravely facing the future, investing in growth and ready to reinvent themselves if necessary.
Our July Pulse Check revealed you are confident you’ll make it through — even though for some it has been touch and go.
Many of you are ready to reinvent yourselves if necessary, increasing spending on marketing, digital solutions and additional staff but you are borrowing more.
Your responses reflect what we’ve been hearing from our members — that it has been a very challenging time. What was surprising was the degree of flexibility and willingness to change.
There was no doubt that the coming months will be challenging but finding innovative solutions and meeting the challenges head-on are at the forefront of your thinking.
Government support has been the saviour for many and we were pleased to see that the majority of our members looked to The Alternative Board for help and advice.
The health and viability of our business owners is at the heart of all we do, which is why we feel this regular Pulse check is critical. Listening to you in this way means we can ensure you have the right support and advice you need not just to get through the disruption of COVID19 but to thrive and grow into the future.
Running a business in ‘ordinary’ times is demanding but it is even more so in these extraordinary times. We know members round the country have been working nonstop and, after many months, you have started to feel the effects with many business owners saying they need a rest. Unfortunately, any respite is out of reach right now as you strive to meet the many challenges we face so I would urge you to continue to look for support from your board and facilitator as the months progress and look after your physical and mental well-being.
The Pulse Check was conducted during July across its nationwide network of members and boards and we will be checking in with you again in August. In the meantime, a heartfelt thanks from all of us at The Alternative Board on behalf of all the Kiwis you work with, for and alongside – small to medium enterprises are the heartbeat of our economy and your drive and tenacity is incredible. Thank you – and remember we’re always on hand to help.