5 ways to support local businesses by doing more than spending money

Small actions can strengthen the backbone of our economy, says NAIT grad

Many local business owners are in trouble. On-again, off-again restrictions and rising unemployment driven by the pandemic mean fewer people are spending, and more businesses are permanently closing or at risk.

As a blogger who focuses on local events, initiatives and businesses, I receive frequent pleas from entrepreneurs asking for help to spread the word about their products and services. And the statistics show how dire the situation is too.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business reports that one in five Alberta small business owners are “seriously contemplating permanently closing.”

Meanwhile, the province leads the country in the number of small businesses already closed due to effects of the pandemic, at 22%.

Closer to home for me, my parents have owned King Noodle House Pho Hoang, a small Vietnamese restaurant in Edmonton, for 26 years. They’ve seen revenue drop 80% since the pandemic began.

These businesses are the backbone of local economies. Their losses are our losses, as they employ more workers in Canada than any other size of companies and, for every $100 spent at a local business, about $68 is invested back into the community. Supporting them, in many ways, means supporting ourselves.

Buying products and services or gift cards to use later is one way to do that, but we as customers may be experiencing similar financial strains. With so many businesses in need, our dollars can only be stretched so far.

There are other ways to help. Just as every dollar matters, so does every action. In addition to spending what we can, here are five ways to see local businesses through the tough times of COVID-19.

1. Leave a Google Review

online reviews

Google Star Ratings and Reviews help customers decide where to spend their money. In fact, 88% of people trust online reviews written by other consumers (even strangers) as much as they trust recommendations from personal contacts. So post them and star ratings for local businesses you love. Be specific. If it’s a restaurant, recommend a dish. Talk about the service. Share a short anecdote. Include a photo. Be brief, but compelling.

2. Subscribe, share, like, engage

social media hearts

Follow up on that Google review with more online advocacy. Does that local business have an email newsletter? Subscribe! You’ll be the first to know of specials, deals and other ways to support the business. Are businesses posting promotions or deals on social media? Share them on your own platforms! Like and leave comments, too. Send posts privately to a friend. These actions take seconds and may not seem like much, but they can mean that more people may see the post, which increases the chance for more shares and sales.

3. Donate your skills or share advice

man working on laptop at home

Perhaps you have a specialized skill or expertise that could help a local business. You could offer marketing advice, design for advertising, or videography skills to showcase products or services. Or, you can just point out small changes that can help a small business, such as adding contact information to their Instagram bio. Gently let them know.

4. Provide constructive feedback – privately

feedback emojis on see saw

No one needs to be kicked while they’re down. During a pandemic, there’s going to be some impact on quality or customer service. If you had a poor experience with a local business, offer constructive feedback privately. Don’t call them out online as a first tactic in trying to right some kind of wrong. Give businesses the benefit of the doubt and a chance to fix things privately. If they don’t, move on to a competitor; others will likely do the same. And hey, if you had a great experience with the business, tell them – publicly or privately!

5. Focus on businesses that aren’t online

buy local or bye bye local sign

The pandemic has shown the value of an online presence, especially when customers could no longer just drop by. But some businesses – many of which are family and BIPOC-owned – aren’t active on social media and may not even have websites. That might leave promotion up to you. Go out of your way to recommend them to friends and to try to create conversations about them online. Think about those pre-pandemic days of just walking by and discovering such hidden gems. Let’s help them be less hidden now, so that they’re there to enrich the community post-pandemic, too.

Linda Hoang (Radio and Television ’11) is an Edmonton-based social media consultant and blogger.

Banner image GrapeImages/istockphoto.com

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