As COVID-19 unfolds, many people are facing major unexpected challenges. Throughout the country, small businesses are particularly affected, working to cope with the loss of foot traffic and sales that their business plan relies on. While owners are trying to find creative ways to sell their products and services, there are ways you can still support your favorite local businesses, even while you’re stuck at home. Here are six simple ways you can help out.
Reaching out to your favorite local shops and services through social media platforms can go a long way to drive optimism and boost morale. Even if you aren’t able to offer financial support, simply engaging online and providing words of encouragement can help ease the loneliness business owners are feeling as they adjust to not seeing their regular customers.
“You miss that community that you would normally have,” explains Rebekah Cook, owner of Forage Modern Workshop, a small Minneapolis business featuring home goods, furniture and work from independent artists and designers. “Whether you're a store, a restaurant or a coffee shop, you're so used to connecting with your people all the time. Remembering to stay connected with [these businesses] online is a huge support. Plus, it also helps with [social media] algorithms.”
A lot of brick and mortar locations may not have had the time to focus on their social media and online presence before, and now it’s a lifeline for them, said Morris Jackson, who leads U.S. Bank’s Las Vegas Consumer & Business Banking market. Connecting on social media will help those owners build their networks, and bolster their brand during this time.
“Most small businesses that were storefront-only have transitioned into online services to the extent they can,” Jackson said. “Connecting with them on social media helps them to build out their new way of marketing and adjust their business model.”
Buying electronic gift cards is another great way to invest in the future of your favorite small businesses. Whether you purchase one for yourself to use at a later date or send them to friends or family, the gesture helps local companies maintain revenue so they can reopen their brick and mortar locations in the future.
“We do electronic gift cards online in any amount for when you’re ready to come back and go shopping,” says Stephanie Sauer, owner of Stephanie’s, a women’s clothing boutique in St. Paul, Minn.
Reach out to local businesses to find out whether they have this option available. Many shops have convenient transaction options that are compatible with different customer preferences. “If you’re not an online shopper, we can do it over the phone,” says Stephanie.
Some local stores are also shifting their business to online platforms for the time being. Stephanie’s shop already had e-commerce set up and is now also offering FaceTime appointments so customers can safely receive style recommendations while social distancing. “We have only had one [staff member] in the store at a time, and right now, it's just to get deliveries out and check on inventory when it comes in,” says Stephanie.
Forage Modern Workshop is also working hard to shift over to the online space. “We're doing everything we can to try to get our products online and shipping safely when it's possible, and so going and shopping online helps. Because we support small makers, designers and artists, we are also trying to think of new ways that we can promote them and help them sell what they make.”
Take some time to browse local shop websites and see what’s available on their sites. If you need to make a particular purchase online, find out whether a local business can fulfill the need and look into ordering the item directly from them instead of a big-box retailer.
Purchasing a gift from a small business to send to a friend is a great way to reach out and stay connected during social distancing while helping your community at the same time. “You can send someone a little something to brighten their day, because everyone's kind of stuck of their houses, and that's not fun. We have candles and jewelry online,” says Stephanie.
Think of family or friends who might be alone or going through an especially tough time, and consider whether there’s a gift item you could send to raise their spirits. Forage Modern Workshop offers locally-designed notes of encouragement send out to those you’re thinking of during this time.
Beyond your social circle, buying meals or treats from small businesses can be a way to show gratitude to workers on the frontlines of responding to this crisis, Jackson said.
“You can pay it forward and show your appreciation to the people who are keeping our communities safe, cared for and fed while also helping out a small business in the process,” Jackson said.
Some businesses have also set up donation pages as a way to support their employees who are struggling financially due to COVID-19 and the lack of work it’s caused. “We were really hopeful that we could keep our staff on, but we quickly realized we had to lay off all of our staff,” explains Rebekah. “If you're able to financially support the businesses, they can bring back as many of them as possible when they can reopen.”
Contributions to these types of funds are greatly appreciated, no matter how big or small the amount. Receiving donations gives owners hope that their local shops will be able to survive the current period of uncertainty, and eventually reopen and rehire staff who they may have had to lay off.
As our communities and local economies evolve, it will be important to continue caring for local businesses as much as possible. “We just have to keep the momentum going, because it starts getting harder,” says Stephanie.
“As much as we need the financial support to be here on the other side of this, we also need the moral support, because it’s so hard to stay motivated,” adds Rebekah. As time goes by, keep offering encouragement, support and making purchases to help out your local businesses as you are able – these meaningful gestures will help sustain businesses and create hope for a brighter future.
U.S. Bank is here to help you navigate your financial well-being through COVID-19. Learn more.