COVID-19

How one small business pivoted when it couldn’t get a PPP loan

Justin Ho Dec 22, 2020
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images
COVID-19

How one small business pivoted when it couldn’t get a PPP loan

Justin Ho Dec 22, 2020
Heard on:
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

When the pandemic started, Sherard Duvall realized that his South Carolina production company, OTR Media Group, was going to have a hard time producing short films and feature-length documentaries.

“We’ve got associate producers, camera guys, audio guys, lighting guys, grip guys,” Duvall said. “It’s very hard to do that distanced.”

His company has other lines of work. It helps develop film education curricula, and it helps consumer-facing companies market product launches in the Southeastern U.S. But when the pandemic hit, all of that work fell off a cliff. 

Duvall tried to keep his business alive. He applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan in March, but like a lot of minority business owners, he kept hitting dead ends.

When I talked to him in June, Duvall said he had submitted seven applications without any luck.

“In June, I was sweating bullets,” he said.

Duvall turned to nonprofit groups for advice, and the answer he kept getting was to pivot.

“They were always saying, ‘Pivot, pivot, pivot,’ ” Duvall said. “To be honest with you, it was pissing me off at one point.”

Duvall said at the time, he had no idea what the company was supposed to pivot to.

“When you’re talking about someone like us, a service-based business that has a specific model, particularly based around media, you’re already doing all the things you’re good at,” Duvall said.

But then, the lightbulb went off. Duvall realized the pandemic had created demand for video work the company hadn’t been doing: building and installing livestreaming equipment.

“We did end up pivoting,” he said. “And that pivot really saved us.”

OTR Media landed gigs with a church and a synagogue. It started helping teachers set up home studios, and it produced videos for universities to use in online lectures.

“It saved our business,” Duvall said. “There’s no doubt about it. You know, I was joking with my accountant, and I was like had it not been for that, I really don’t know what I would do.”

Duvall’s business had already started to improve by the time he finally got a PPP loan in July. He said he spent it within days to pay staff and settle utility bills that were long overdue. That freed him up to focus more on advertising the business and setting up a website.

The company is more robust now, but getting there was not pleasant.

“When you’re not sure how you’re going to pay anybody, and you’re three months behind on bills, I don’t see how you see that as a positive at all,” Duvall said.

Even though Washington has authorized more Paycheck Protection Program money, Duvall said he probably won’t apply. He doesn’t feel like going through that process all over again.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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