When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, communities around the U.S. rallied to help small businesses by launching “shop local” initiatives, purchasing gift cards and starting fundraising campaigns.
Now that states have begun to roll back social distancing restrictions and vaccination rates continue to climb, small businesses still need continued support.
“When we shop local, the statistics have shown us that more money is put into your community, which you then benefit from,” says Ash Cintas, founder of City Shoppe, an e-commerce platform serving local retailers and products in multiple cities.
Every dollar that’s spent locally helps businesses get through this challenging time so that we keep our communities and the character of our cities, she says.
We talked to small-business owners to find out how consumers can best support them as they slowly transition out of the pandemic. Here are five of their tips:
1. Change your mind-set
Put small, local businesses at the forefront of your mind — and your shopping list. Although large retailers like Amazon
offer speed and convenience, ask yourself, “Can I purchase this from a small business instead?” Patrick Connelly, co-founder of Stellar Villa, said in an email.
“It’s important to remember that the cheapest option isn’t always the best,” said Connelly, whose company sells art from Brooklyn, New York. “Oftentimes, small businesses can offer unique products (opposed to mass-produced), a more personal experience and superior customer service when compared to huge corporations.”
2. Do your research
Explore your local area, browse for small businesses online and, if you travel, check out the businesses in those areas too.
“Depending on where you live, most communities have pop-up markets, flea markets and, of course, local boutiques,” says Cara Luke, owner of Hope Street Candle Co. in Providence, Rhode Island. “(They) are really needing people to come and shop, and at least where I live in Rhode Island, they’re still taking a lot of precautions to make sure that consumers feel safe.”
Luke recommends searching online or local community publications to see if there are business directories in your area that highlight small businesses to support. A city’s chamber of commerce website may have a list of small businesses, or you can check sites like Tripadvisor or Yelp.
3. Tell a friend
Don’t underestimate the power of word-of-mouth marketing. Tell your friends, family members and co-workers about your favorite small and local businesses — and suggest that they do the same.
“Small businesses are at a distinct disadvantage to being found online compared to their large counterparts,” JB Manning, owner of Wimberley Puzzle Company in Wimberley, Texas, said in an email.
“Telling our friends, neighbors and social media world about great products with excellent service will be not only the key to success for small-business recovery but future growth as well,” Manning said.
4. Get digital
Instead of just following your favorite small businesses online, share them with your own followers. If you have a particularly enjoyable visit or purchase, create a post and be sure to tag the business.
Subscribe to newsletters, attend virtual events or workshops, add local products to gift registries and write reviews.
“If you love what we make or had a great experience with our team, share it,” Zox CEO Jason Kuipers said via email. Kuipers and his brothers have been selling collectible wristbands in Los Angeles since 2011.
“In a time where many people only bother to leave a review if they’re upset, letting others know when you’ve found a company that goes above and beyond helps more than you could ever realize — it’s how even small brands end up with a big following,” he said.
5. Think creatively
If a shop near you is struggling, consider launching a fundraising campaign, volunteering to set up a booth or sell goods at a flea or farmers market, donating your professional skills or helping to organize an event in support of small businesses in your area.
Avani Modi Sarkar, co-founder of Modi Toys in Edison, New Jersey, recommends supporting local businesses in small-business grant competitions.
“I have entered a couple of grant competitions where finalists were selected based on the number of votes they garnered from their supporters. This is the easiest way to support a small business since it doesn’t cost a dime,” Sarkar said via email.
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When in doubt, talk to local small-business owners about what they need and where you can help. And remember, the pandemic has been a tough time for small businesses and consumers alike, so a little kindness and compassion can make a real difference.
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Randa Kriss writes for NerdWallet. Email: r[email protected]