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 public school for our children 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 wine. The trusty auto repair shop that changes your oil down the street. Don’t forget how you enjoy going to the bookstore, the bakery, the café. 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, 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 such a big deal
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration there are 30.7 million small businesses in the U.S. that comprise 99.9% of all businesses. These small businesses employ 59.9 million people or 47.3% of all U.S. employees. And, those employees support families and circulate significant capital back into our economy.
The implications are pretty clear. Small businesses don’t just make our lives more convenient, they’re essential to our communities and our country. To me, small businesses are the most critical component of our economy and society, yet the most vulnerable.
Eight ways to support small businesses
Small businesses across the U.S. need our support. Here are eight meaningful ways to do that now.
1. Shop local — even when you shop online
Don’t assume a business is closed just because their front doors are. Look online to see if they’re still operating. Some businesses have cut hours to keep their shelves stocked and their employees healthy. There are some that 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 their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds. You can also sign up for their mailing list or give them a call.
2. Refer your friends and neighbors
Your opinion matters — 85% of small business owners say word-of-mouth referrals are the best way to acquire local customers. If you’re practicing social distancing, spread the love on social media. The simplest way to do that is to follow the social feeds of your favorite businesses 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. Be sure to include helpful information like special offers, discounts, or free delivery.
3. Purchase gift cards or pay in advance
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 their 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 favor by leaving them a glowing recommendation on a review site like Yelp, Zagat, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, Groupon, OpenTable, or GrubHub. Be sure to mention they’re 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 favorites.
5. Order takeout
While experts differ on the risk factor associated with takeout and delivery, the fact remains these services are an essential lifeline for many people. Some delivery services, including Postmates and Uber Eats, offer contactless delivery where they’ll leave food at your door and let you know when it’s arrived. Other delivery platforms like Slice focus exclusively on small or family-owned restaurants. Even if you never see your delivery person face-to-face, don’t forget to leave a generous tip! Many cooks and drivers are working harder than ever, but have fewer paid hours.
6. Think small on Amazon
Can’t imagine shopping without Amazon? That doesn’t mean you can’t support small businesses at the same time. Amazon reports that over half the items they sell worldwide are from SMBs, and U.S.-based SMBs alone sell more than 4,000 of those items every minute.
When you’re browsing Amazon.com items, 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. Take a virtual fitness class
This suggestion is as good for you as it is for your local gym or fitness studio. Many studios operate a model where the 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. Many studios across the nation offer online classes like Camp Gladiator, an option with 10,000+ live streaming boot camp classes and challenges. Look for these online fitness options and join in!
8. Make a donation
Some hard-working small businesses simply won’t make it through the crisis without a helping hand. Check online to see if your favorite 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.
Want information on how to navigate your changing business during these times? Listen to the full, on-demand webinar with Mark Cuban.
And if you want more tips on navigating change, read other articles in our Leading Through Change series. Find thought leadership, tips, and resources to help business leaders manage through crisis.
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