Living in Canada means being surrounded by small businesses that make almost everything we do easier, more enjoyable or both.
Some of us stop by the same pâtisserie or coffee shop every morning on the way to work. You might have a tailor near your home that’s ensured your clothes have fit for some of the most important occasions in your life. Among all the restaurants on a given street, there might be a hidden gem where the owner knows you by name, and squeezes you in for a reservation.
Go to your local Little League, art fair or other community event and you’re likely to see small businesses among the sponsors. Anyone who’s gotten to know their local florist, credit union or boutique probably has a story about being given a little extra help or more personalized service at some point.
Small businesses, in other words, are a big part of what makes Canada great. And now is the moment to show our appreciation in an equally big way.
According to a survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, more than 50% of small businesses have seen sales drop recently, and many are worried about their long-term future.
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.
According to Industry Canada, there are 1.18 million small businesses in the country, which comprise 97% of all businesses. Three out of four of these businesses employ between one and nine people. 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.
Small businesses across Canada need our support. Here are eight meaningful ways to do that now.
Don’t assume a business is closed just because their front doors are. Look online to see if they’re still operating.
Toronto-based Queen Street Books took to Instagram, for example, to let customers know they can still buy their favourite titles via its website or even by phone. It has also launched a delivery service or will arrange to run books just outside its physical location.
Some businesses have cut hours to keep their shelves stocked and their employees healthy. 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.
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.
While you’re on social media, meanwhile, look for small business leaders who are actively promoting their peers. A good example is Erin Bury, CEO of Wilful WIlls and co-founder of Country Wine Tours, who has been doing regular shout-outs on Instagram with ‘Shop Local’ ideas. She has featured more than 100 suggestions so far!
Another idea is to 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. Be sure to include helpful information like special offers, discounts, or free delivery.
I love giving gift cards for small businesses because it’s a great way to support them. 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.
Arts and non-profit organizations might be particularly hard-hit in these times, so think about whether this is the moment to become part of their VIP or “inner circle” sponsors. Ottawa’s
Mayfair Theatre, for instance, is letting patrons to "buy" a seat at the vintage cinema for $150 — and have their name put on it for posterity.
We’re all used to turning to search engines to find a business, but the current situation may call for a more curated approach. Many municipal business improvement areas (BIA), for example, have set up “Support Local” pages which organize small businesses which are easy to navigate, like this one from the Downtown Brampton BIA.
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.
While experts differ on the risk factor associated with takeout and delivery, the fact remains these services are an essential lifeline for many people.
Just look at Love Local, a new delivery service that recently launched in Ottawa and offers consumers meals from chef-run restaurants within a five-kilometer radius. Some of the options include ready-to-eat meals as well as meal kits.
In B.C., consumers can use a new platform called Adopt My Shop that’s been launched by Daily Hive and the West Coast Technology Innovation Foundation to suggest a local restaurant that should get assistance in moving online or offering online gift cards.
There are also organizations in Alberta like Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery (SPUD.ca). Its Be Fresh Marketplace serves as a digital platform for local food shops, artisanal brands and small, independent grocers. It’s not only still operating amid COVID-19, but has pushed back its order deadlines from 3 pm to 8 pm.
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.
Can’t imagine shopping without Amazon? That doesn’t mean you can’t support small businesses at the same time. Last year Amazon reported that 30,000 Canadian small and medium-sized businesses collectively exceeded over $900 million in sales on Amazon Canada’s online stores
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.
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 takes a few days of social distancing before you can start to feel sluggish and stir-crazy. Luckily, some small gyms and studios are offering new fee-based online classes. Flare Magazine recently published a roundup of gyms offering virtual fitness classes across Canada, including Misfit Studios, 6ix Cycle and more. Look for these online fitness options and join in!
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 – or offer your support through these organizations.
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? View our on-demand virtual event with Mark Cuban.