Businesses of all sizes have been hit hard in this challenging new age of social distancing and self-isolation, but the blow has been catastrophic for small operations that rely on in-person transactions.
A new survey from WalletHub found that 87 percent of small business owners say they are struggling due to the coronavirus.
Rachel Beider, an owner of Press Massage in Brooklyn, is one such owner. Since “shelter-in-place” orders forced her to temporarily close her massage therapy business, she has had to lay off over 30 employees and nearly a dozen independent contractors.
“I have only been able to keep two salaried employees on”, she says.
With no precise ETA on when doors can reopen, businesses like Beider’s are in danger of closing forever — a loss not only for workers and their communities but also for the American job market at large. According to the Office of Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses account for 44 percent of economic activity.
In addition to state and federal aid, small businesses need our support right now. Here are 11 ways consumers can help.
1. Buy a $10 gift card for a friend — and encourage them to buy for someone else
“Purchasing gift cards is a great idea for businesses that you are going to use anyway,” says Dennis Shirshikov, an economic analyst at Fit Small Business. “It gives [businesses] like salons and yoga studios some cash to support employees and reassures them that they will still have customers.”
If you have the means, think of approaching gift cards like you would a chain letter. Send a $5 or $10 gift card to your favorite business to a local friend, and then ask them to do the same for another business.
“If every customer purchased a $10 gift card to give to a friend that didn’t have any prior awareness of the business before, that person who received the gift card is more likely to purchase at least one time, then depending on their experience and satisfaction, become a repeat customer over time,” says Latrice Love, founder of the vegan beauty brand Liplove, who normally relies on pop-ups and other now-canceled events to sell products and gain brand recognition. “This can create a ripple effect on customer acquisition and retention over time.”
2. Order takeout — it’s deemed safe by experts
Ordering takeout is one of the best ways to support restaurants right now, and provided you wash your hands thoroughly before and after eating, there is no added cause for concern over COVID-19 contamination.
James Henry Dunne, assistant professor in the department of hospitality studies at the New York Institute of Technology, notes that even restaurants that traditionally don’t offer pick up or delivery are getting in on the action. Where the law permits (or has been loosened, as in New York), many restaurants are also touting alcoholic beverages along with to-go meals, “and in some cases even selling grocery items like paper goods and cuts of beef, on an informal basis,” he says.
3. Salons are selling DIY kits, virtual consultations and ‘buying time’ promos
If you’re overdue for hair treatment but the salon is closed, check to see if they are providing virtual consultations and/or custom color kits.
“The salon I go to just announced it would create custom color kits for clients, providing everything they need to touch up, plus FaceTime support,” says Kristen Elworthy, founder of Seven Hills Communications, a marketing firm that works with small businesses. “All these things can be picked up or dropped off curbside.”
Danielle Cohen-Shohet, CEO of GlossGenius, a company specializing in software solutions for small businesses, sees salons getting creative with promotions, including offering customers the option of “buying time”, meaning “a gift card will increase in value every month from April to July.” Salons are also offering virtual web consultations and whatever else might help keep that vital connection with their clientele alive. Reach out to your stylist directly or tap into “local social media to learn about promotions that salons are doing,” she says.
4. Social media shoutouts are free. Give them generously.
“With more businesses going digital and needing to build traction, ‘liking’, commenting, reposting, tagging us in your purchases, and unboxing videos [on social media] really helps with engagement, which, in turn, leads to more visibility and sales,” Love says.
Social media plugs are a free way to show your support and the payoff is almost instantaneous. “[Liplove] has seen a significant increase in engagement and shares as our customers began to promote our messages of love and empowerment to their networks during this season. This has caused a boost in not only traffic to our website that originated from social media, but also from organic search.”
5. Refill booze — and hand sanitizer — from local distilleries
With hand sanitizer sold out just about everywhere, various distilleries have stepped up to meet the demand. Crater Lake Spirits in Oregon, has made complimentary sanitizer available to customers, a spokesperson for the brand confirms. Rollins Distillery in Gulf Breeze, Florida is giving hand sanitizer away on a first-come, first-serve basis. So, next time you’re looking to stock up your liquor cabinet, call your local distillery to see if they can also throw in some hand sanitizer. Plan to get there early and to BYOB (bring your own bottle).
6. Need soap? Visit a local artisan’s site
“Remember: You don’t have to visit a physical store to shop at a local business,” says Michael Bonebright, senior blog editor at DealNews. “Many small stores have websites that take online orders. Mega-retailers like Amazon are struggling to keep up with the demand for important items like soap, so check in with local artisans in your area. You have to wash your hands more often anyway, so why not treat yourself to handmade soap?”
7. Shop at niche groceries and sign up for a CSA to support local farms
“If you’re finding empty shelves and long lines at big retailers, please think about whether there is a small niche market nearby that you could support instead — especially if it’s a local market that supports local farms,” says Mike Geller of Mike’s Organic market in Stamford, Connecticut. “A lot of farms rely significantly on business from restaurants, so getting more orders from the local grocer will help to offset some of the setbacks. One practical way to give back and support the farms is to sign up for a CSA, or community-supported agriculture. We are offering our customers the opportunity this year to sign up for a CSA which will provide them with local and seasonal food throughout the entire summer and fall and in turn guarantees many small farmers a source of revenue throughout the growing season. It also supports our business as a small grocer in the community.”
8. Many indie bookshops are still fulfilling orders
Megan Birch-McMichael, manager of Silver Unicorn Bookstore in Acton, Massachusetts, is used to selling books onsite, but since COVID-19 forced the shop to shut its doors, for the time being, she’s shifted to online sales.
“We’ve been offering free media mail shipping and local delivery,” Birch-McMichael says. “We have a ton of curated lists and book bundles on the website. We also have a weekly newsletter that details upcoming new releases and other information. For now, the community has responded positively and we’re so grateful.”
Sign up for your local bookstore’s newsletters and follow them on social media to learn how they’re handling orders. You might also consider buying via Bookshop.org, Indiebound.org, and Libro.fm (for audiobooks) to help support indie bookstores.
9. Donate your expertise with a free consultation
“Business owners need legal, accounting and insurance help negotiating issues, outstanding debts and granular disputes,” Baron Christopher Hanson, lead consultant and owner of RedBaron Consulting, says. “If you are a CEO, CFO, or in-house lawyer stuck at home, try calling your favorite local businesses to simply consult with them, help answer pressing questions, and alleviate fears.”
10. Been meaning to leave a positive review? Now’s the time to do it.
“People have more time to leave positive reviews and personal testimonies on Yelp, Google, and other online platforms,” Elina Fedotova, owner of Elina Organics in Chicago and Kalamazoo, Michigan, says. “That can help to direct new clients to [the business].
Love adds that a glowing review also “helps us business owners stay sane by putting a smile on our faces”.
11. Be patient. We’re all adjusting to this new normal.
“The pandemic has disrupted nearly everything for businesses — including supply chains, vendor reliability, and employee productivity,” says Abhi Lokesh, CEO of Fracture, a small business focused on photo decor in Gainesville, Florida. “Much of the business world is scrambling to keep things together and adjust to this new normal. It’s always uplifting and morale-boosting when we hear from customers who are empathetic to what we’re going through.”