Business Unusual

Business Unusual: Self-Employed and Struggling With PPP

What do you do when searching for PPP money becomes a full-time job? One freelance photographer shares his story.

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This story is part of our Business Unusual series. Each week, we share real stories from small business owners and how they are adapting to a new world of work.

The obscurity of where people can access Paycheck Protection Program loans is leaving some sole-proprietors on a goose chase.

The money for the PPP dried up in less than 2 weeks, and the second round of funding is expected to last only a few days.

“At what point do you make your full time job hunting [PPP loans] down?” asked Bradford McArthur, a 33-year-old freelance photographer and videographer who regularly contracts to National Geographic.

McAurthur’s business is a registered sole-proprietorship in good standing since 2009. He’s been a Wells Fargo customer for 23 years. But his business finances run through a personal account. Wells Fargo, which has its own stipulations on who can apply for PPP money, denied his application to receive funds.

“At what point do you make your full time job hunting [PPP loans] down?”

Sole-proprietorships are not legally required to have a separate business and personal bank account, and estimates suggest 77% percent of small businesses finance their startup with personal funds.

These folks, and McArthur, are now forced to approach other banks, where they have no decades-long loyalty — in hopes of goodwill.

The problem is, it’s virtually impossible to know which banks will actually accept a new-client application. At one point, an analysis of the top 100 Small Business Administration (SBA) lenders found that only 17 were offering online loan applications without explicitly requiring a prior customer relationship.

If you’re lucky enough to get someone on the phone, not many people seem to understand the program, its implications, or how private banks are meant to respond.

McArthur happens to be interested in economics and is currently producing a documentary on U.S. economics. At one point, he read the bill out loud on the phone while talking to bank representatives.

“It’s kind of an impasse,” he said with more than a shadow of doubt in hopes of actually obtaining PPP funds.

Many freelancers are faced with a dilemma: how should they spend their time? They can either spend hours every day searching for a lender that will receive and approve their PPP applications, or they could focus on their future of work by looking for new jobs, starting a new business, or pivoting the business model they already have.

What the federal government forgets is that most small businesses don’t fit into a box.

“The (U.S. federal) response, which needs to be quick and efficient, is very streamlined and homogenous,” he said. “Unfortunately the small business world is often complex and nuanced.”

His global photography business, for instance, accepts multi-national currency for payment. This is just one way McArthur has diversified his business.

Luckily for McArthur, he’s getting federal aid much easier from a different federal government: Canada.

Luckily for McArthur, he’s getting federal aid much easier from a different federal government: Canada. 

McArthur, a naturally-born U.S. citizen, is also a permanent resident of Canada, residing in British Columbia. His status is such that he pays taxes in both countries. So he applied for federal aid in both countries.

McArthur applied for both the U.S.’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), and the Canadian equivalent, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) within days of their availability. Both promised a 3-day turnaround on funds posting to his account.

At the time we spoke, McArthur hadn’t received any money from the U.S., but had received full funds from Canada.

Thirteen days later, and he’s still waiting.

In the meantime, Bradford has pivoted his focus from photography gigs to the still unfunded documentary series and bracing for a slow economic recovery.

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