Small businesses are important to the customers and communities they serve, as well as to the entrepreneurs and employees who rely on them for income. It can be particularly difficult for small businesses (SMBs) to weather challenging times that result in a significant downturn in business. If you are a believer in shopping local and supporting entrepreneurs, it's natural to wonder what you can do to help support SMBs being negatively impacted by difficult circumstances.
Supporting Small Businesses Through Covid-19
While challenging times don't have to reach the scale of a worldwide pandemic to have a negative impact on small businesses, the coronavirus certainly had a swift and wide-reaching impact on the business community, impacting organizations of all sizes in extreme ways. Many small businesses immediately lost their entire revenue streams as the scope and impact of the virus became clear and the very necessary social distancing requirements went into effect. While the promise of government relief packages came quickly, the reality is that it takes time for such measures to come to fruition. Knowing that some funding may be on the way provides a light at the end of the tunnel, but it doesn't solve the immediate reality of having no way of serving customers, insufficient funds to pay employees, and no money to cover overhead expenses and other costs. This reality led to business owners and their teams seeking creative ways to bring in money and customers wondering what they could do to help their favorite small businesses survive.
Ways to Help SMBs Facing Temporary Closure
To a small business owner, the need to close temporarily - for any reason - leads to fear that the closure might be permanent. Whether the business is closed due to a public health emergency, natural disaster, road closures, or any other reason, being unable to generate revenue is a frightening proposition for an entrepreneur. Even when a business can't conduct business as usual, the expenses don't stop. If some of your favorite local service providers or stores are facing this kind of situation, there are a number of ways you can help.
- Book services in advance, while the business is closed due to a crisis, and either pre-pay or make a down payment. For example, if you need to book a caterer for a party, wedding, or other event, go ahead and make arrangements with your favorite local restaurant or catering company now. If you go to the same nail salon, hair salon, or massage therapist every month, make your next few appointments (well into the future so the closure will be over) and prepay for them. In that case, consider if you might be able to get a discount if you pre-pay for a full year. That would be a win-win; the service provider would get some money right away and you'll save money in the long-term.
- Purchase gift cards or gift certificates to use at a later date. You may be able to order via the company's website. If not, check to see if a supermarket or drug store in the area has gift cards available for the company. Alternately, just reach out via the 'contact us' form or email address listed on the website with a brief explanation of what you'd like to do along with your contact details. Another option is to call the business; chances are that the owner is answering calls or checking messages.
- Leave a positive review for the business on Yelp, Facebook, Google, and/or other online resource that prospective customers might use when they're looking for the type of products or services that the company provides. While business isn't open now, having a good selection of positive reviews may play a role in helping the company when the situation that causes the temporary closure is over.
- If you feel very strongly about helping the business and you think others in the community share your emotions, consider setting up a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the organization. For example, you could open a GoFundMe campaign to aid the business, then promote it via your social media profiles and encourage others to do the same. It just might go viral and raise enough money to help the small business through the current situation.
- Consider if you may be able to offer assistance unique to the situation. For example, in the case of a restaurant that has had to close, consider offering to buy some of the perishable or frozen food they have on hand if you can use it at home. If you'll be doing your own nails for a little while as a result of the crisis, as the nail salon manager if you can purchase a DIY manicure kit from their supply inventory. Both of these items will help the business owners realize some revenue to apply to their expenses.
- Sending a message of support to the business owner and employees. Let them know that you empathize for the challenging situation they are facing, that you appreciate what they do, and that you are pulling for them to weather the storm. Let them know they have your support and assure them that you'll continue to purchase products or services from them when they reopen. Consider enclosing a grocery gift card or a Visa gift card with your message.
How to Support Local Businesses Facing Difficulty
Not all situations that impact small businesses negatively require them to close completely. Whether a business is having to function at a reduced capacity or if a situation is causing them to lose business, your actions as a loyal customer can have a positive impact on the situation. The above suggestions for businesses that are closed can also help in this situation, though there are also some other things you can do.
- If the business is offering modified services, consider how you can best utilize what they have available. During the Covid-19 pandemic, restaurants had to stop serving in their dining rooms but were allowed to continue to offer takeout and delivery. The obvious way to help a restaurant in this situation is to order food from them for pickup or delivery, but it's possible to help on a larger scale.
- If your neighborhood has a Facebook group, consider posting that you'll be picking up food from X restaurant on a certain date and time. Encourage anyone who is interested to place an order, using a code word that you've worked out with the restaurant in advance, for you to pick up. You can pick up all the orders at once, and either drop them off on neighbors' doorsteps or have them come and pick up from your porch within a certain window of time.
- Another option is to help spread the word about which restaurants are operating during the emergency. Collect menus from local restaurants that are open for carryout and share images of them via your neighborhood's Facebook page, or via Nextdoor. You can also spread the word more broadly in the community by posting these images on your own social media profiles, along with a blurb about your positive experience with them.
- Spread the word to your local contacts that the business is open, operating, and a good resource for whatever type of product or service that the company offers. Word of mouth is a great way to do this, but you may also want to ask the business if they have any brochures or business cards you could share with your network. Let your contacts know why this particular enterprise is one that you feel strongly about supporting.
- Be respectful of any limitations the business has implemented for the safety of its employees and customers. For example, following a natural disaster, businesses may reduce their hours of operation to accommodate curfews or to ensure that employees can commute to and from work during daylight hours. They may also ration certain types of items, to help ensure sufficient stock is available to meet the needs of all customers. Be patient and adjust your plans accordingly.
- Sometimes small businesses face difficulty as a result of a few disgruntled customers leaving negative false reviews online. In this situation, you can help by leaving positive reviews to counterbalance the negative comments, and encourage others who have had positive experiences with the organization to do the same. Leave a positive post on the company's social media pages as well as sites where customer reviews are posted. Offer to provide a testimonial the business could publish on their website. If the business is one that customers visit in person, consider writing a thank-you letter that the owner could hang on a bulletin board near the entrance.
Do Your Part to Help SMBs Through Challenging Situations
These may seem like small steps to take, but everything you do to help small business product or service providers through a difficult situation can really make a difference. What seems like a small gesture on your part can make a huge business to an entrepreneur who is struggling to stay in business through challenging circumstances. Your support just might help turn a bleak business outlook into an entrepreneurial success story.