Many small business owners are still working to cope with the loss of foot traffic and sales that their business plan relies on and make up for lost sales from the past year. 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 if you’re still not doing much in-person shopping. 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.”
Many brick and mortar businesses are turning their focus to social media and online presence, and it’s become a lifeline for many small businesses trying to stay top-of-mind. Connecting on social media will help those owners build their networks and bolster their brand.
Many small businesses that were once storefront-only have transitioned into online services as much as possible. Connecting with them on social media helps them to build out their new way of marketing and adjust their business model.
Over the past year, many small business owners have pivoted their businesses to serve their customers in new, creative ways. New features go beyond curbside pick-up and takeout: restaurants are offering family meal kits, fitness studios are hosting virtual workout classes and businesses are livestreaming events that would normally happen in-person.
Stephanie Sauer, owner of Stephanie’s, a women’s clothing boutique in St. Paul, Minn. is now 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. Business owners are going out on a limb to keep their operations going, and giving their new services a try not only helps them bring in revenue, but lets them know that you’re still invested in them. Keep an eye out for special events like pop-up sales and social media livestreams. Attending online or in-person is a wonderful way to show your support.
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 keep their brick and mortar locations open. If you received money from a stimulus check and haven’t decided how to spend it, put it back into the local economy by buying a few gift cards from different stores in your area.
“We do electronic gift cards online in any amount for when you’re ready to come back and go shopping,” says Stephanie. 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.
Many local stores have added more online retail options for customers who prefer to shop from home. Forage Modern Workshop has also shifted much of its business to an 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 when you can’t visit each other in person while helping your community at the same time. “You can send someone a little something to brighten their day. We have candles and jewelry online,” says Stephanie.
Think of family or friends who might be alone or going through a 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 tough times.
Beyond your social circle, buying meals or treats from small businesses can be a way to show gratitude to employees who’ve worked on the frontlines all this time. 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.
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.
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