Just a post about how we can help small businesses survive during this coronavirus time.
I haven’t had that much time for blogging lately, because I’ve been super focused on my PhD studies and seminars, sorry. 🙂 However, I felt the need to write this post, because one of the aspects of this coronavirus pandemic is the impending disappearance of small businesses. You may think that we have bigger issues and of course we do, but this one sneakily and indirectly affects us all.
A small business can be anything, from a local shop specialising in fancy gourmet chocolates, handmade fashion boutiques, family companies, hostels, local farms or my boyfriend’s part time geek crafts Etsy shop etc., to freelance individuals providing a service, such as plumbers, tourist guides, business consulters, tutors, lawyers, hairdressers… Although it can be practically anything, they all have something in common: they’re always built on someone’s dream, fuelled by their passion, their hopes and desire for independence when it comes to work. Most of these people could’ve worked for larger companies or organisations, where they would be financially safer, but restricted by the rules and policies of the company. They wanted to be able to do things differently, to be their own bosses and contribute something original into the world in their field, which is exactly why we need them. Because yes, we definitely need small local businesses.
The importance of small businesses
Simply speaking, small businesses bring variety to the market and give us choices that large companies don’t. Imagine a world where all you can buy are clothes from large clothing companies – they may come in different shapes and sizes, but they’ll never be unique, and if you don’t agree with the company policies, then tough luck. Similarly, what if your only option for accommodation while travelling were hotel chains? The price is high, the rooms are all the same no matter the destination and you have zero contact with authentic local experiences. Perhaps you need a lawyer, but you can’t afford one, because all the ones from the huge firm are expensive, or maybe you’d like to talk to an unassociated journalist – independence is both the advantage and disadvantage of small businesses and freelancers.
In order for a large company to survive, it needs to be stable and organised, which can only be achieved through a structured set of protocols, but their strict rules are also their disadvantage, because small businesses can develop and implement innovative solutions faster. They are less rigid and can often take higher risks, even though that sometimes collapses their whole venture. As tragic as it may be for the actual owner, the turnover and failure of small businesses and start-ups is actually a good thing on the whole, because it gives both the owner and the community the option to learn from what happened and rebuild, driving economic growth in our current system. In fact, the very existence of small businesses ensures that there’s competition on the market and prevents the monopoly of a single large company, which would be able to dictate consumer habits and prices.
Additionally, small businesses operate within local environment, keeping the money flow close to home, paying taxes within the country, providing employment opportunities in local communities and employing people that may not be employable by the larger companies. Since they are local, they usually care more about their workers and the community as a whole. They are normally also more sustainable, because they aren’t moving their resources around the world like multinational companies and can often provide better quality products, particularly when it comes to food. A local farm will produce far better food than a giant corporation shipping food grown in greenhouses allover the world, and the farm might even be cheaper, because they don’t need to pay for said shipping and import, again providing healthy competition. I could go on, because this is a super complex topic, but by now you probably get the basic idea of why we absolutely need small businesses to survive in our current economic system. The system itself is of course far from perfect, but this is what we have to work with right now. If you want to read a bit more about the importance of small businesses, then you can read some better articles by people who are far more involved in this than me, like these two here and here.
Supporting small businesses
Starting a small business is hard and often takes years of hard work to get it running properly, and even longer to be able to survive and live comfortably off the earnings. Most small businesses operate on the month-to-month basis with very little reserve, struggling to stay around positive zero if they’re lucky. Unlike larger companies they don’t have the benefit of solid governmental support or the option of taking out large bank loans etc., because they’re small and unessential players in the market. With the lockdowns in effect all around the world, lots of them have been forced to stop working and most of them won’t survive corona. In fact, in Slovenia some of the people I know have already closed their independent businesses and signed up for unemployment. Although the business legislation and government bailout strategies are different in every country, the universal fact remains: if there’s no work, there’s no income.
Here’s where the rest of us can come in: even though you’re probably not swimming in money or may be struggling yourself at the moment, there are still things we can do to help the small businesses we like survive. And really, why shouldn’t we? If you don’t want to think of it as altruistic, think of it as selfish: personally I want an economy where I can get custom handmade stuff, quirky jewellery, locally grown food, personal language tutors, artisanal cakes etc. and I want them to come from businesses that follow policies and principals I agree with, preferably within the local economy. If I’m helping someone live their dream as an independent entrepreneur than that’s just the cherry on top of the cake.
Spread the word and write reviews
They say sharing is caring and in the world of social media that is more true than ever. If the business is currently closed or you can’t afford to support them by buying their products/services, you can still spread the word about them online, like their social media accounts and help them get more revenue when they open up again. Any kind of free promotion goes a long way, particularly testimonials from previous customers and shares of promotional offers, as you may encourage someone from your network who has the money to buy from them (don’t overdue it though, no one likes spam in their feed, support the businesses you actually love). Now is also the time to write all those positive (and negative) reviews you’ve never found the time to write. Even if you can’t directly review the product if it’s been too long, you can still drop them a couple of likes or general reviews on social media and websites, or even just a positive feedback email to keep them going in these difficult times.
Buy their stuff in any form you can
If you have the money, then support them directly. You could of course simply donate money, but unless you feel you have too much money you probably want something in exchange for it, so here are some options:
Switch your grocery shopping to buying directly from a farm if you have the option (either by going there or through deliveries) and visit local shops or farmers’ markets instead of large supermarket chains. You might be surprised to find that the prices are not much higher (or at all). If you want to support independent craft shops and makers you can order products you’ve always wanted to buy in advance, even if they won’t arrive for a while due to the shipping blockades around the world, and buy things from their online shops. Support your local artists, musicians and other cultural workers by buying their work (prints, CDs and songs etc.) online, watching their live shows or taking part in one of their online classes, as most of them have tried to offer their work online in some way. The same goes for dance instructors, sports trainers, tutors etc., as most of them are offering online classes and advice. You can help out your local cafes and restaurants by ordering their food deliveries or getting takeaway if they’re offering those options, or resolve to visit them and get a large meal there as soon as you can.
Lots of businesses that have been put completely on hold, like the ones in the travel industry, also offer vouchers or gift cards for the future, such as hotels and hostels, airlines, train and bus companies and travel agencies. In fact, there’s a good initiative called Adopt a hostel, which lets you help a hostel survive by buying a voucher for future stays. Travel industry on the whole has been hit the hardest and most small local tourist businesses will probably never recover (travelling itself will probably look quite different for a while, here‘s an article about it). A similar idea are memberships and subscriptions, so if you’ve ever wanted to support independent creators on platforms like Patreons, then now is the time. Not cancelling the membership for your local gym, club or society will also help them survive, if you can afford that.
Naturally, I’ve put my money where my mouth is and have been writing reviews on Facebook for all the local businesses I like, buying local (which I’m doing anyway) and sharing my purchases on social media to spread the word. Here’s a couple of examples from my Instagram below and I’ll also post a list of small businesses (Slovenian and international) that I like and support:
So, look around you and I’m sure you’ll find easy opportunities to contribute. Right now it’s a fine line between saving money for an uncertain economic future and spending it to ensure that the economic future won’t be as bad as it looks. Our current economic system, which is some kind of capitalism in most countries, is based on the flow of money and the only way to keep the economy from plummeting more than it already has is to spend money, which goes against everyone’s instincts in a crisis, which in turn makes the crisis deeper. The entire thing is ridiculous when you really think about it: our society is happy to spend tons of money on frivolous dresses and things we don’t really need during normal times, which ensures that money is flowing through different hands and that the system is stable. As soon as the money stops somewhere though, the problems start piling up, which is why money sinks like millionaires are an actual problem and why a recession always follows massive societal events like wars, natural disasters and pandemics. We definitely need a new system, but I digress.
Go support your local businesses now! 🙂
P.S.: All of this also applies during normal times, but right now it’s particularly important.