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There’s been a lot of talk about supporting local small businesses in the era of the COVID-19, which is terrific. If there is one thing I am incredibly passionate about on this blog, and in my daily life, it is supporting local small businesses. At home, I rarely order anything online, unless it is some crazy emergency. I have a policy that if I can’t find it in my city, I don’t need it. If I’m not willing to ride my bike or take the tram to get it, then I also probably don’t need it. It is also for this reason you don’t see me promoting Amazon products on my blog, I boycott nestle, H&M and a whole other slew of mega-brands – Except Disney – I love you forever.
So, as someone who has spent the last several years moving my money away from large corporations and investing in small local businesses, I have a few tips to help us all get through this crisis together. I’ve broken them up into different categories for those that still have disposable income and for those that might be a little strapped for cash themselves. Before we get into my tips, though, I’m going to offer some sound advice that should apply to everyone – no matter where you are in the world.
If you’re like me and you have a big heart with a lot of empathy to boot, you’re probably going to struggle with this. However, you must remember that while a lot of us together can achieve great things, it is not your job to save the economy single-handedly. You might feel a lot of pressure to do so. You might have people reaching out to you, asking for money or help, and unless it is something you are comfortable with doing and can sustain, you will need to get into the mindset that you can’t always be the hero.
In a perfect world, your government should be the hero, but that isn’t always the case. Even when governments do step up, there is a sense of calm when the community comes together to help each other, and there is nothing wrong with offering to help out how and when you can. But, before you do anything, take care of yourself and then see how you can provide aid to your community, but you don’t need to take the whole responsibility upon yourself.
Know available resources in your area/country
Before rushing to give extra support to your friend’s or neighbor’s small business, consider your location, and know what options are available for small businesses. For example, here in Germany, I was going to offer to continue paying my cleaner, but she can and did apply for something called Kurzarbeit – so she still gets paid the majority of her wages. I offered to pay her, but she declined. Here in Germany, the government should be taking the brunt of this crisis, and it is acceptable to let them do so without me stepping in to offer my cleaner cash. Several of my small business friends and freelancers here in Munich can apply for help from the government. Even if you are in the U.S., chances are your friend’s business has some options to explore, and maybe the best advice you can offer is some resources for them to explore to utilize the aid available to them.
It is important to note that that government help can be cumbersome and take a while to process, so if you’re in the position to help and someone is willing to take it, by all means, step up and help your community.
Buckle up for a wild and traumatic ride
No matter what our governments or we do, we are going to have to face the reality that businesses are going to close, people are going to go broke, startups will collapse, and even large companies may not survive. Hope for the best, but mentally prepare to no longer have your favorite pho place down the road, or for that Kickstarter you invested in to fail. It will suck, but it will happen, and we have to get through this one way or another.
You will have to go online
This is something I have been struggling with during the last few weeks. As someone who never buys online, I need to come to terms with the fact I live with an immune-compromised partner, and most companies are operating online now. This month I have made more online orders than in the last year it seems. So, if you’re like me and struggle with online delivery, relax it is ok, you can still shop local – just online. I’ll offer some tips for doing this a bit later.
Health before the economy
If some of these businesses are putting their employees at risk to make money, you might want to reconsider supporting them. Certain companies might be forcing their employees to work without taking proper safety measures or operating while disregarding local quarantine guidelines.
Make sure those you are supporting are doing so while being mindful of their employees and customers. Most ethical companies will have posted a COVID-19 response on their website to inform you of the measures they are taking to keep you and employees safe.
So, how can you help local small businesses, freelancers, your community and creatives during the COVID-10 pandemic.
Things (Most) Everyone Can Do
If you’ve been laid off or live paycheck to paycheck, these mostly free options are things you can do at home to help support your community.
If you haven’t subscribed to that YouTube account you started using for daily at-home workouts – do it now. If you haven’t followed that vegan baker whose recipes you’ve been reading every day on Facebook – go like their page. If you’ve been looking at dreamy travel photos – then go to Instagram and follow some of your favorite accounts. This method doesn’t apply just for creatives or creators, either. You can find just about any small business in your neighborhood that has a social media account. Now, go type their name into Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Google and follow all their accounts.
Now that you’ve followed all your favorite accounts and local small businesses, it is time to engage with them. One of the great things about supporting content creators is you often don’t have to do anything other than engage with, watch, or read their content. After that, it is up to our ad company, or YouTube to pay us. So, for nothing other than your time, you can support creatives and content creators. Yes, that is how many of us make money is by you spending time reading and engaging with us. I’m not sure if many people realize how much power just spending time on websites and engagement can be, rather than endlessly scrolling your Facebook feed,ƒ open a blog and engage!
Set up a twitter list of your favorite accounts, turn on notifications on Instagram, and make sure you are following them on Facebook. As soon as they post something new, head over to their account, like it, and leave a meaningful comment. Don’t just scroll past your favorite account – engage!
For bloggers, take time to read their content – read that entire recipe -even the part about how grandmas cornbread was the best in the county, and this recipe embodies that because every second you spend on our pages, we make money.
If your favorite local bar shut down and your county’s most notorious band was supposed to play, get on Spotify and leave that artist’s music streaming all night. Spend some time to find obscure indie bands or your homegrown jam band, rather than streaming Tiesto all night.
So, open that page and then add a couple more tabs and read that content (or at least pretend to)—Stream Youtube and Spotify – even if it is silent in the background. Write comments and use the thumbs up. Let the creators in your life know that even if you can’t help them financially, you’re supporting them with your time.
FREE: Leave Reviews
Maybe having some extra time on your hands has left you editing photos from that trip to Italy you took last year. Wasn’t that a great vineyard you went to, with that fantastic wine? Hop online and leave a positive review. If you’re missing dining out at your favorite hole in the Chinese wall restaurant – let them know how much you love and miss their food.
When our economy slowly begins to recover, these positive reviews will help boost the company’s reputation to get them back on their feet more quickly.
TIP, TIPPING and more TIPPING
Chances are your favorite restaurant is offering delivery options on a platform like GrubHub, Uber Eats, Lieferando, Deliveroo, etc. Some of these platforms are canceling delivery fees or offering free delivery. That does not mean you should not tip. Always tip your delivery drivers. We’ve doubled our tip amount here in Germany to anyone bringing our food. If you’re feeling extra generous, you can tip any of your delivery people from DHL to UPS. They are out there working double time and potentially getting exposed, do it is a nice gesture that you can do to support independent contractors like food delivery or show your appreciation for the mail people. Even if you are struggling financially, if you are still taking advantage of delivery services, please, please tip.
FREE: Ask What People Need
Sometimes our idea of what small businesses need is misguided. When I was volunteering in a refugee camp, we would get clothing donations of skimpy summer dresses and high heels – which I assume you are not what a 15-year-old refugee teen wants to wear in a muddy tent. But whoever was donating their clothing, was like, “I donated. I did a good thing.”
The moral of the story is you might not know what a company needs until you ask. Reach out to your favorite blogger and ask, “how can I help you?” We might send you some articles for you to read, or ask you to follow us on social media. The restaurant down the road might say, “We just started offering contactless delivery – please tell all your friends!”
FREE: Don’t Be Racist
Seems easy enough, right? Well, unfortunately, a considerable portion of the population is racist, whether they admit it or not. You should be supporting small businesses owned by a Chinese person just as much as Karen’s vegan bath bombs. Don’t spread sinophobic or xenophobic hate, which can seriously add to the collapse of small businesses.
If you’re not a racist – congratulations, but now you need to speak up. Did someone leave an awful review on a quilt company owned by a Chinese woman? Leave a kind and positive review. Speak up, stand up, show up.
FREE: Offer to Translate
As a freelancer living in a foreign country, I can tell you right now the hardest part of all this is dealing with German paperwork that can save my income but also makes me want to rip my hair out. Offer to help a Spanish speaking family or a Cantonese family navigate the online resources and paperwork offered in English so they can apply for government aid – if available.
FREE: Start a Small Business Thread
Many small business owners aren’t great at marketing themselves – so you might have a lot of friends offering products or new services during COVID-19 and not even know it! Log onto Facebook and post something like, “for any of my friends that are offering products and services online or contactless leave a link to your business below.” Make that shit public, so other people can use it as a resource, and you can support your friend’s businesses.
I know volunteering can be a grey area right now. However, I guarantee that animal shelters could use a foster parent for a fur baby to reduce costs. Or someone to take dogs on walks. Maybe your favorite local NGO needs someone just to volunteer to help them with social media promotion during this time, and you can manage that while working from home or if y
There are loads of people asking for volunteers to make face masks and other products for first responders, get a group of sewers together, and create a pattern and get sewing.
For Those with Steady Income
If your income and budget haven’t changed, you can still spend the same amount every month just in different ways than beforehand. These ideas focus on maintaining a daily “normal” life if your income allows.
Shop Local, but Online
If you are about to buy something on Amazon, stop, and look at the brand selling the product. If you must shop on Amazon, look for small brands. Put their name on Google to learn more about the company. Are they from your home country? Do they have a nice about me with a person’s face front and center? For example, I love buying the products of a zero-waste company here in Germany called Nature Nerds. Right now, I can’t get to my zero-waste store to buy their products, but you bet I can order from them directly. They are even on Amazon in a pinch.
Take a gander at Etsy – if you need a new workout band for your at-home fitness routines, maybe someone in your area is hand sewing some. If you want some bath salts for a relaxing evening, perhaps someone is making them locally and selling them on Etsy.
Here in Munich, we have an alternative to Amazon called Manufactum. It is a local German company taking care of its employees in the era of Coronavirus, and they feature all locally handmade products. I’ve been ordering from them when I can to support local – you might have that option as well. Also, the coffee roaster down the street from me is offering to deliver beans I order online. You know I am taking advantage of that service!
However, your best option is to utilize social media to find local small businesses near you and order directly from them. In this day and age, you can shop online, but local. Sure, it takes longer to shop this way, but if you are already going to spend money on online products, see if you can find a local small business to order from directly or at least order from a smaller business on Amazon.
Buy Creators a Coffee / Being a Patreon
If you’ve been bored lately and your favorite creator hasn’t been creating much for the public, it might be because they are struggling mentally and financially. Offer to buy them a coffee – which is a common term for donating the price of a coffee to your favorite creator. Many of your favorite creators will have a “buy me a ko-fi” button on their website. Click it and toss them $3.00. If they have a Patreon and you’re a bit more flexible with your budget, sign up for exclusive content to keep you entertained when at a time you may become bored.
Buy Gift Cards & Vouchers
If you have a budget for eating out, monthly shopping, getting your nails or hair done, or entertainment and that amount hasn’t changed, then buy gift cards and vouchers to your favorite stores. BE CAREFUL: don’t buy gift cards from mega card companies like Giftcards R U.S. or something because your local small business isn’t going to see that money until it is redeemed. Instead, buy directly from the restaurant, cafe, or boutique store. Numerous companies have started offering online vouchers you can purchase directly from their website or on social media. They get the money now, and you can treat yourself later.
If you don’t see your favorite small business offering anything, reach out to them and let them know you want to buy a voucher for the future, and they will probably work something out. You can also prebook and prepay. Call your local nail salon or hairstylist and book your next session for a flexible date and prepay.
Gift cards could go in any category because they can range from $5 to $500, depending on your current situation.
Buy Indie Games and Self-Published Books
Chances are you are going to be buying more board games, video games, and books. Rather than going for the latest Nintendo blockbuster, check out some indy developers such as Image and Form. Rather than buying Monopoly or a Hasbro game, check out board game geek for some obscure local games. I legit just purchased a card game designed by a local in Munich about the Munich tram line – those weird games are out there – you just need to find them.
I guarantee you know someone who has self-published a book. When posting on social media asking for book recommendations, include – do I know anyone who knows anyone who has written a book, and you might be surprised. Look up “local Munich authors,” or “local stories about Anchorage.” Buy those, instead of your 10th limited edition of Harry Potter – but also buy that edition because of H.P. for life.
Don’t Cancel Memberships / Offer to Pay
If your income hasn’t changed at all, and you have a local gym membership, a monthly wine club delivery, an annual pass to a local club in town, a virtual assistant, or a cleaner, don’t cancel them or at least offer to pay them.
If you love your gym and want to continue paying membership fees, then, by all means, don’t accept a refund. If you have a cleaner who DOESN’T have access to a safety net offered by the government (perhaps they don’t have social security, or they are a freelancer), you should cancel their services, but offer to keep paying them. If your income and budget haven’t changed, there is no reason to cancel subscriptions and not pay for services.
My blog traffic has tanked recently, but that doesn’t mean I am going to fire my Virtual Assistant. I’m keeping her on because my partner’s income hasn’t changed, and we are comfortable enough to do that.
Buy Products and Swag
If your monthly beer budget is just sitting in a jar collecting dust, buy some sway from that craft breweries online shop. If you’re saving money cooking from home, but missing sauce from the BBQ joint down the road, order their homemade BBQ sauce and seasoning to bring the flavors home with you. If your vacation money is collecting interest in a bank somewhere, go to your favorite travel bloggers’ website and buy their custom-designed sun hat or Ebook to inspire you to travel.
So many companies have swag and products available online for purchase, so if you have room in your budget to move money from entertainment to get some sweet new products, then now is the time to take action.
For Those with a Large Disposable Income
If you’re sitting pretty and have enough money to go above and beyond your regular budget, then consider these options. These are all option you can add to
Commission an Art Piece
Hiring an artist to create during this time is one of my favorite ways you can give back to a small business or freelancer. If you’ve been meaning to get a custom art piece for the living room, or have been eyeing a local craftsperson for their custom made coffee tables, now is the PERFECT time to take action. The best part is the artist can create in their apartment or house – socially distant while working. A project can keep them busy and employed for a few weeks at a time. So, pull out those wallets and hire that artist and craftsperson for a one of a kind statement piece!
If your business is growing during this time – maybe you’re a YouTube fitness instructor that is KILLING IT, or perhaps you run a boutique toilet paper business that suddenly took off, the hire someone to help you out with social media or marketing. Virtual Assistants or V.A. are so valuable and worth investing in if your business is growing.
Perhaps you have a business you want to take online, but you don’t have a website, hire someone to design it, so you can start accepting online orders like a boss! I am about to hire someone for a complete rebrand. It is perfect for getting it done right now as I have a lull in my business, and I know it will help someone out.
You can even hire someone who knows how to sew or knit or quilt to make you a new quilt. Maybe you have a bunch of clothing that has holes on it, and you notice the seamstress down the road has closed their doors. Reach out to them and arrange a contactless hand off to get your clothing repaired.
Another great ideas it to ask your bartender or chef friend that was just laid off to do a virtual cocktail or cooking class. Start a video chat and get some tasty cocktail ingredients and learn a new skill!
Buy New Subscriptions & Memberships
If you still have extra money lying around after keeping your current subscriptions, then add some new ones. These days there is a local box delivery service for every city. Anchorage has Bear Box, which delivers monthly local handmade products from Alaska right to your doorstep. How perfect is that to find new local brands and support a small business.
If the farmers market you go to every Saturday closed, I bet local farms are offering to deliver fresh produce in a new subscription service. Whatever new cool box of the month or subscription service you can add to your monthly payments – known yourself out. You’ll find lots of great ideas and discover new brands.
Buy Dinner – Pay it Forward
If you really love that Chinese takeout restaurant down the road and know they are suffering, call them up and offer to buy the next 10 main dishes on the next 10 orders they receive. You can also offer to pay a flat $500 they can then put toward other customer’s orders. If you do something like specify a main dish or amount per customer – the person ordering delivery is more likely to add lots of sides, additional mains, or desserts because they are saving money. It is a win-win and a great way to pay it forward.
Invest or Back Someone
If you’re a real baller and this stock market roller coaster is nothing but a calm day at sea, then consider supporting or investing in someone’s business venture. Offer to pay the rent of that independent jewelry store you love, or whatever it is rich people do!
Don’t be a Salary Whore
You know if Jeff Bezos decides to read this, you could try cutting your salary for the year and taking care of your employees, offering them proper medical equipment and care and payment – or maybe paying taxes… or SOMETHING.
If you’re not Jeff Bezos and you are a regular salary employee with a secure job, be mindful of hourly employees. I’m ending here because my friend, who is an hourly employee, was recently complaining that her boss, who is on salary with a secure job, started taking tasks from hourly employees, leaving them with fewer hours. If you manage or own a business – even if it is a small business, don’t be a dick, leave some work for your hourly employees.
How Can People Help You?
Please let me know what industry you are in and how people can support small businesses in the comments so that I can add them to the list. The most important thing to remember is to reach out to your favorite companies and creative friends and ask them what they need. So many innovative business ideas are coming out of this and simply letting people know, “Hey, so and so is open for businesses, check out their new online shopping options!” can be a huge help. Hang in there friends; we got this!
Susanna grew up in small-town Alaska where the changing climate was always on her mind. Through traveling, she gained an interest in the power of sustainable and regenerative travel. She now attends a Master's program for Ecology and bridges sustainable travel with the science of ecology.