We are in a challenging time. It has made me reflect on the many things we take for granted. And everything that once made our lives easier, from office space to school to the convenience and dependability of small businesses.

There’s the restaurant you can depend on for a fun family night out. The corner store where you can always pop in, last minute, for a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk. The trusty mechanic that changes your oil down the street. Don’t forget how you enjoy going to the bookstore, the bakery, the cafe. Or why you’re glad the dentist and the dry cleaner, with their personal touch, are there. The list goes on and on. They’re always there for us – so let’s be there for them now, when they need us most.

Thinking about these small businesses brings back memories of when I used to manage one. The hardest thing for me when one of my ventures failed was to accept it did so because of something I had no control over. For an entrepreneur, admitting defeat to an externality is incredibly painful. It’s a hard reality to wake up to. Now there are millions of entrepreneurs facing that situation, with their businesses on the line – along with the livelihoods of those who depend on it.

Today, I want to let those entrepreneurs know they are not alone. There are many ways we can’t control the ongoing situation. What we can control is how we respond to it, and how we support small businesses.

 

Why small business is a big deal for Australia’s economy
 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 884,821 Australian businesses were employing people at the end of June 2019, and just 4,271 of those employed more than 200 people – making the overwhelming majority small (up to 19 employees) and medium (20-199 employees) businesses. An additional 1,490,932 businesses were non-employing, meaning they were owned, run and staffed by the one person.

Between 16 and 23 March this year, the ABS surveyed Australian businesses of all sizes about the current and expected adverse impact of COVID-19 – approximately half of small and almost 60% of medium businesses had already seen adverse impacts. In both categories, more than 80% expected to.  

Across all business sizes, a reduction in local demand was the most common adverse impact, cited by 82% of respondents. We only need to think of the nature of the small businesses we considered earlier to see who is going to feel the greatest pinch from a reduction in local demand – the corner store, the dry cleaner, the mechanic, the cafe.  

The ABS also notes that the response rate to this survey was significantly lower than its usual response rate – and that if non-response is related to impact of COVID-19, the findings are likely more optimistic than they should be. 

The implications are pretty clear. Our local small businesses don’t just make our lives more convenient, they’re essential to our communities and our country. They are a critical component of our economy and society, and they are vulnerable.

Here’s how we can support them now.

 

1. Shop local, even when you shop online


Don’t assume a business is closed just because its doors are locked. Look online to see if it’s still operating. Some businesses have cut hours to keep their shelves stocked and their employees healthy. Some have pivoted to online sales. Others are opening pop-ups. Sit down restaurants and bars may offer delivery and takeout for limited hours or at reduced prices.

If a business’s website doesn’t have up-to-date information, check its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, sign up for its mailing list, or give it a call.

 

2. Tell people about great local small businesses 


Your opinion matters – 85% of small business owners say word-of-mouth referrals are the best way to acquire local customers, so spread the love. Follow the social feeds of your favourite businesses too, and like or comment when they post.

Even better, take a picture of a product you purchased (or the results of a service you received) and post it to your social feed along with a shout-out using #SmallBizLove.

 

3. Purchase gift cards for later


I love giving gift cards for small businesses because it’s a great way to put your money where your mouth is. You not only guarantee income to the business you recommend, you also send a new customer to its store or website.

You can also buy gift cards now with the intention of using them yourself later. It’s like giving a business a small personal loan when times are tough. If it’s in your budget, pick your top three small businesses and buy two gift cards from each – one for you and one for a friend or family member. I’ve also already paid for my next three haircuts, even though I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get them! Try to think of similar advances you can give to small businesses for future services you might need. 

 

4. Write an online review


If a small business has done you right, return the favour by leaving it a glowing recommendation on a review site. Be sure to mention it's a small business. Share the name of the owner or any employees who gave you great service. And be specific about why this business is one of your favourites.

 

5. Order takeaway or delivery


Experts differ on the risk factors associated with takeaway and delivery, and everyone needs to weigh up their own risk and decide their best course of action. The fact remains these services are an essential lifeline for many people. 

Some delivery services are offering contactless delivery where they’ll leave food at your door and let you know when it’s arrived. And even if you never see your delivery person face-to-face, now’s the time to embrace tipping – many cooks and drivers are working harder than ever, in fewer paid hours. 

 

6. Shop small, even from the big marketplaces


Can’t imagine shopping without Amazon? That doesn’t mean you can’t support small businesses at the same time. More than half the items Amazon sells worldwide are from SMBs.

When you’re browsing, pay attention to who the seller is. If it’s Amazon, look for language like, ‘All Buying Options’ or ‘Other Sellers on Amazon’ to see if you can buy the same thing from a small seller.

 

7. Do an online fitness class


This suggestion is as good for you as it is for your local gym or fitness studio. Many gym instructors are independent small business owners (contractors) who depend on customers taking their classes to earn fees.

It only took a few days of social distancing before I started to feel sluggish and stir-crazy. Luckily, some small gyms and studios are offering new fee-based online classes, with live-streaming boot camp classes and challenges. Look for these online fitness options and join in!

 

8. Donate to a small business


Some hard-working small businesses simply won’t make it through the crisis without a helping hand. Check online to see if your favourite SMB has set up a fundraiser.

The toughest times are more manageable when we stick together. So stay safe, stay healthy and don’t forget to support the irreplaceable small businesses that make our communities thrive.

For more advice and expert how-tos for leading your businesses or team through COVID-19, check out the ‘Leading through Change’ series