Growth Strategies

With a (Very) Little Help from the Feds

Small businesses aren't high on the notion that government bailout funds for big banks will trickle down to their rescue.
Josh HyattDecember 1, 2008

When the nation’s largest financial companies were deemed too big to fail, the Treasury Department swooped in with a $700 billion–plus rescue package. But what about businesses that are deemed too small to rescue? They can only hope that their homegrown approaches — pruning costs, postponing growth plans, and hoarding working capital — will see them through. “Do we, as small companies, feel ignored? I would say so,” says Jamie Pennington, founder of Flexible Executives, which offers interim executives to firms with revenues of $40 million and under. “As important as a company like AIG is, we are the ones who drive the economy.”

In theory, the federal government’s bailout actions should provide trickle-down relief to small businesses, as banks loosen their lending policies. Furthermore, the Federal Reserve’s October decision to cut interest rates reduced the cost of capital for all borrowers, including small businesses and their suppliers and vendors. And the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. began providing full insurance coverage for non-interest-bearing accounts, which are often used by small businesses for payroll.

Still, “it feels like the government should be paying more attention to small companies,” says Mark Volchek, co-founder and CFO of Higher One, a $50 million financial-services firm in New Haven. He would like the federal government to offer incentives for those who build businesses or invest in them. One hopeful sign: President-Elect Obama has proposed using tax credits to reward businesses for creating new jobs and to ease the burden of employee health-care costs.

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But for now, entrepreneurs, who are nothing if not habitually upbeat, are openly worried about their prospects. According to a recent survey released by PNC Financial Services Group, nearly 30 percent are pessimistic about the six months ahead. “They need something to bridge the lack of commercial credit out there,” says Ken Cook, founder of Peer to Peer Advisors, which facilitates advisory groups for entrepreneurs. “In the meantime, they have to rely on microeconomic tactics — stretching payments out, retooling their marketing efforts — to get them through this macroeconomic mess.”

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