Finding Ways to Cope

It was supposed to be back to normal after Labor Day, but businesses continue to figure things out.

And we’re back! Here’s hoping you had a nice break. There’s a lot to catch up on.

Here are today’s highlights:

  • Installment payment services and travel agents are having moments.

  • An entrepreneur makes the case for business coaches.

  • Meet the Zillow mafia.

FINANCE

The SBA is expected to increase its EIDL loan limit, which could cause a mad dash: “The cap was set at $500,000 in March 2021, after the SBA spent several months approving only loans of up to $150,000. Traditionally, the EIDL loan program--which has a 30-year maturity date--has a $2 million cap and loan interest terms that range from 2.75 percent for nonprofits to 3.75 percent for businesses. Despite the promising news, not every business will have access to the expanded funds. The amount for which you qualify now is based on your 2019 total revenue minus your cost of goods sold, less any EIDL already received. Plus, it's not yet clear what the requirements will be regarding whether you have to prove economic injury.”

  • “The other fascinating development is that the SBA is expected to widen the eligible expenses that may be paid for with an EIDL.”

  • “Borrowers may be able to use the money to pay off any commercial debt, including credit cards and government-backed debt.” READ MORE

ECOMMERCE

Installment payment services took hold during the pandemic and are still growing: “The option to buy now and pay later has soared in popularity, accelerating last year as consumers bought almost everything online at the start of the pandemic. But the little buttons under those Lululemon leggings or that new TV that suggest spreading your purchase over six weeks or more — often at no cost — are expected to change spending habits in lasting ways.

  • “One major provider, Affirm, announced a deal last week to offer its service on Amazon, the nation’s largest retailer.”

  • “And Square, the payments firm run by the Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey, agreed to acquire Afterpay for $29 billion in early August, a deal that will open installment payments to millions of small businesses that process sales through Square’s app.” READ MORE

PRICING

Travel agents are making a comeback and rethinking their pricing: “Now more training is required for agents. And if trips must be rebooked, advisers may end up spending hours and hours on hold with airlines, property-rental firms and others. ‘For a $40 service fee, that’s not great math,’ [ASTA CEO Zane] Kerby says.

  • “Kareem George, who runs a three-person agency called Culture Traveler in Franklin, Mich., now offers an annual retainer or $2,500 in addition to a fee structure ranging from $100 to $500 per trip.”

  • “He says more than 40 percent of his current clients are new to travel advisers as a result of the pandemic. Services perhaps offered only to the best clients now may be mandatory, like restaurant reservations or local transportation arrangements.”

  • “‘Consumers really get it more than ever,’ he says. ‘Now is really an opportunity for those not charging fees previously to introduce fees.’” READ MORE

BUSINESS TRAVEL

So far, business travel isn’t coming back: “Airlines and hotels had hoped that business travel—one of the most lucrative pillars of their business—would start to bounce back in the coming months. Those hopes are fading as the busy summer travel season peters out, and the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19 postpones some companies’ plans to return to offices and resume in-person meetings and events.”

  • “Delta said U.S. corporate travel returned to about 40 percent of pre-pandemic levels this summer, and the airline was predicting it would climb to 60 percent by September. ‘We won’t be at 60 percent,’ [Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Officer Ed] Bastian said.”

  • “About 60 percent of the more than 400 business travelers who responded to a survey by Morning Consult for the American Hotel & Lodging Association said they would postpone coming trips.” READ MORE

MANAGEMENT

The case for business coaches: “The best coaches encourage executives to work on who they are, to face their deepest, darkest issues. I’m talking about fears, insecurities, character flaws, and relationship mistakes, among other things. Some people may dismiss this as touchy-feely or simply find it uncomfortable. But the truth is that a business is affected by these issues, whether addressed or not.”

  • “When entrepreneurs reach a revenue milestone, it’s all too normal for them to feel like they’re set for success and don’t need to change a thing to achieve the next milestone.”

  • “To become a coachable mentee, it’s crucial that you be vulnerable. All too often entrepreneurs don’t want to ask for help, or dive into their own limiting beliefs and loaded issues, which are the very things that can keep them stuck in a plateau.” READ MORE

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HUMAN RESOURCES

Tyson Foods is offering workers more paid time off—if they get vaccinated: “Tyson Foods said it would provide 20 hours of paid sick time a year to fully vaccinated employees to enhance benefits for workers willing to receive coronavirus vaccinations. The new benefit, announced on Friday, followed discussions with the United Food & Commercial Workers, which represents several thousand Tyson workers, over the company’s requirement that all its U.S. workers be vaccinated ‘as a condition of employment’ by Nov. 1. The paid sick leave policy takes effect on Jan. 1, and also applies to all nonunion employees.”

  • “The union initially expressed reservations when Tyson announced the vaccine mandate last month, but applauded the paid sick leave benefit on Friday, saying it was the first national agreement that provides such a benefit to meatpacking workers.”

  • “On Friday, Tyson said about 90,000, or roughly 75 percent, of its U.S. workforce had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.” READ MORE

Looking to hire and retain workers, more employers are offering emergency savings accounts: “Under way since before the pandemic, the trend has picked up steam in recent months, with companies encouraging employees to fund emergency accounts, in some cases by offering them cash and other incentives. ... Employers are taking action, in part, because the pandemic ‘highlighted how unprepared many Americans are for financial emergencies,’ said David Amendola, senior director at consulting firm Willis Towers Watson.”

  • “According to a recent Willis Towers Watson survey of 464 employers, 26 percent offer an emergency account in their retirement plan and 19 percent said they are likely to add them.”

  • “In July, KFC’s nonprofit KFC Foundation began offering workers up to $240 over six months to match contributions to an emergency savings account.”

  • “Employers say workers who are stressed about money are often less productive.” READ MORE

While pressure to diversify has built for public companies, Andrew Ross Sorkin writes, private companies have not faced the same scrutiny: “What’s more striking about the lack of diversity among prominent private companies is what binds them: venture capital and private equity firms that ply them with money and influence their governance. The numbers tell the story. The 18 top venture capital and private equity firms in the nation — Andreessen Horowitz, Blackstone, Carlyle, Greylock, KKR and Sequoia among them — have invested in 843 private companies that have gone public since 2000. Collectively, those companies are now worth more than $10 trillion.”

  • “Of the 4,700-some board seats at those companies over the same period, only 49 have been held by Black directors, according to new research by the Board Diversity Action Alliance. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s only 1 percent of thousands of positions, spanning more than 20 years.”

  • “Those diversity gains, minuscule by any measure, have taken place very recently: 21 of the 23 seats held by Black directors of venture-backed companies in the past 20 years came in the past decade, the research reported.”

  • “Similarly, all 15 board seats held by someone with a Latino background were gained in the last 10 years.” READ MORE

THE COVID ECONOMY

Gene Marks says there are two main ways businesses are mitigating inflation: “The first is watching and analyzing for trends. We’ve seen significant increases in these core materials and services over the last year. But by looking at the timeline of the data you can start to see whether those costs are beginning to even out as the world’s supply chain recovers. For example, plywood prices are starting to decline, and the cost of freight seems to be leveling. The next thing they’re doing is reacting. If the trend of increasing prices continues to be significant, that’s reason to revisit your own pricing as well as take certain steps to control overhead, such as locking down long-term agreements with suppliers, key employees, landlords, and banks to keep these costs under control.”

  • “It may also spur more purchases — if possible — of inventory, property and equipment, which are assets that historically hedge well against rising inflation.”

  • “‘When prices go up, you can make money,’  [economist Mark] Zandi said.” READ MORE

Businesses that expected to reopen after Labor Day are now looking at next year: “Companies have new variables to consider, including mask mandates that have been dropped and ordered back; evidence that the effectiveness of vaccines, while still strong, may be waning; booster shots; and burned-out workers who are vaccinated at varying rates. There are also the differing infection rates across the country and a shifting power dynamic between employers and employees.”

  • “In addition to wanting to keep employees out of harm’s way, they are seeking an end to the roller coaster of anticipated return dates and further delays.”

  • “The fits and starts make it difficult for employees to plan, and the hope is that a far-off return date will not need to be adjusted yet again.” READ MORE

Meanwhile, here’s what it’s like at offices that have been open for months: “Some workers returned because their job descriptions required it, others because their bosses feared company culture would erode if they didn’t. Some never left. Many say they have learned to live with constant uncertainty as they navigate shifting safety protocols, sudden quarantines and occasional outbreaks. Despite the fits and starts, they say their experience is evidence that offices can function amid Covid-19 risks. In some cases, they say pandemic office life has brought them and their colleagues closer.”

  • “A key policy, [Sherry Leggett, director of people and culture at Certified Angus Beef] says, was disclosing to staff anytime someone got sick, so that workers would be assured they weren’t left out of the loop.”

  • “At Branson, Fowlkes & Co., a Houston wealth-management company whose office has been open throughout the pandemic, its nine employees started eating lunch in the office to minimize exposure at restaurants or take-out joints.”

  • “During the midday break, they watched the Showtime series ‘Billions’ together. ‘The collaboration and chemistry is much better,’ says President Jay Branson.” READ MORE

STARTUPS

Meet the Zillow mafia: “Founders of numerous funded startups all list Zillow among their former employers. Those startups include Sift, proptech startup Divvy Homes, health care financial wellness company Amino, proptech startup Pacaso–which helps people own second homes–as well as career and salary website Glassdoor. Zillow itself, now a larger branch on the Seattle family tech tree, is the product of older tech giants in the Pacific Northwest: The real estate marketplace has roots in Expedia and Microsoft.”

  • “‘The “PayPal mafia’ is probably the most prominent example of a successful venture-backed tech startup that produced a slew of others.”

  • “After Zillow acquired [Austin] Allison’s startup, Dotloop, in 2015, he stayed at Zillow for four years. He eventually left and founded Pacaso with [Zillow co-founder Spencer] Rascoff, whom he considers something of a mentor.”

  • “Rascoff typically began company meetings by stating Zillow’s mission, which Allison also did at Dotloop. That’s a practice Rascoff and Allison carried over to Pacaso as well.” READ MORE

THE 21 HATS PODCAST

 Episode 75: I Don’t Pay for Podcasts. Why Would I Pay for Yours? In our most recent episode, Karen Clark Cole, Paul Downs, and William Vanderbloemen start with a discussion of how 21 Hats might finally take the plunge into monetization. We also discuss Karen’s decision to forgo less-profitable revenue, William’s grand experiment of unplugging for seven weeks, and Paul’s attempt to balance personal and company responsibilities. Plus, we consider the impact of The Great Resignation, and we look for lessons to take from last week’s discussion about mental health.

If you see a story that business owners should know about, hit reply and send me the link. If you got something out of this email, you can click the heart symbol, you can click the comment icon below, and you can share it with a friend. Thanks for reading, everyone. — Loren