‘Tis the season for decorating, gathering over Zoom and seeing #ShopLocal trend on Instagram. Helping local entrepreneurs is always important during the holiday season, since that’s when many businesses make the bulk of their sales. But shopping small is especially crucial during the current COVID-19 pandemic, when so many local faves are at risk of shutting their doors.
READ MORE: Why you should shop local
Of course, you could help them out with your dollars, but (understandably) many of us can’t do so right now. After all, we’re dealing with the pandemic, too. Don’t worry, because there are so many ways you can support small businesses, even without spending a dime. In most cases, all you’ll need to help out is an internet connection – and it doesn’t even need to be a fantastic one.
How to support small businesses for FREE
You might want to take notes here, because there are honestly so many ways you can #SupportSmall without actually shopping or paying for services. If you have social media accounts, you’re already part of the way there. Make sure you follow your favourite local brands, creators and designers, and then use your accounts!
1. Engage with small businesses on social media
If you love a certain maker or company, chances are you already “like” their posts when any pop up in your feed – but those little hearts and thumbs-up help businesses more than you might know.
In a nutshell, more engagement (in the form of likes, comments, shares, retweets, pins and saves) means social media platforms will put those popular posts in front of more eyes – which then gives your fave business more chances to sell their products or services.
There’s a bit of a hierarchy when it comes to post engagements, and I’ll use Instagram as an example. On IG, “saves” are basically treated as super-likes, because they show you love a post so much that you may want to revisit it. “Shares” are also important, because they indicate content is worth, you know, sharing to others. Comments and likes might not rank as high on the scale, but don’t forget about them, too!
Engagement takes other forms, especially when it comes to social media stories. Again on Instagram, it will help brands if you respond to polls, answer questions and complete quizzes. A lot of these are pretty fun (bonus), and most creators make them to learn more about YOU and what you want to see from them.
To make sure that you always see new content from your favourite businesses, turn on post notifications! That way, you’ll hear whenever they upload something new, and you can help ’em out with a like or comment.
2. Watch, read and consume their content
Don’t use social media? That’s no problem. So many local businesses, creatives, freelancers and designers exist on the internet in other places – and no, I’m not talking about their online stores.
You might be surprised to learn how many shops and people (ahem, us!) have blogs. If you’re interested, read them! This is another case where more views (and the occasional like, comment or share) will help get even more eyes on a specific post or page.
It’s also worth signing up for newsletters if you really love a brand … especially if they send along a coupon code for if and when you’re able to shop or spend money again.
And don’t forget about video content! I know YouTube and Twitch are technically social media platforms, but some of your favourite creators and streamers can make money off your views. Just sit back and watch – and try to be patient when ads pop up. After all, that’s how they pay the bills!
3. Recommend them to a friend
Referrals keep small businesses alive, so why not do your part? If you’ve tried a product, service or fancy cocktail you loved, tell people about it! You can do this in person (whenever that’s safe again), spread the news on social media or leave reviews.
Think about it this way: how often do you buy something if it doesn’t have any reviews? Would you visit a new restaurant without checking it out on Yelp first? Reviews help local entrepreneurs get noticed, and good reviews go the extra mile.
Many businesses let you leave reviews in a few places. We’ve all probably used Google Reviews, which pop up whenever you search for a brand or location. Just hit the “Write a review” button and get typing! Star ratings are always helpful, but descriptions of why you left a certain number are even better.
If a local shop has a Facebook page, you can leave reviews on there! And finally, you can usually review individual products on a store website. Even if you tried, say, our Sweet Spice Essential Oil months ago, you can help us and future shoppers by saying what you thought.
And don’t forget about the last way you can tell people about a brand or product you love: wish lists! The holidays are coming up, after all. If there’s something you can’t splurge on yourself right now, who knows? Maybe you’ll still find it under the tree …
How to support small with your dollars
For those of you with the means to shop small, the possibilities are pretty much endless. Over the past few months, more local stores, businesses and restaurants have pivoted to make online shopping, delivery and pickup even easier. And you can always check out places like Love Local Manitoba that make it easy to shop local goodies all in one stop.
1. Purchase from small businesses in-store and online
In-store options might be limited nowadays, but take advantage of small businesses that are still open when you can. Otherwise, look and see if your local boutiques, makers and artisans have online shops. If possible, opt for pickup, since that will save them the cost of packaging materials, labels and shipping fees.
A lot of people forget that local restaurants, bars and cafés need our support, too! If you’re ordering takeout or delivery anytime soon, consider an independent restaurant instead of a chain pizza place.
2. Sign up for subscriptions, online classes and virtual events
The world doesn’t stop turning just because there’s a pandemic, and, in a lot of industries, the show must go on. Theatres are moving performances online, and while some viewings are free, others require registration and tickets. The same goes for webinars, Zoom concerts and panels. If you planned to attend anyway or want to try something new, why not go for it?
Some local professionals also offer their services online. If you’re in the market for a tutor, counsellor, therapist, fitness trainer, coach or marketing professional, it’s always worth seeing who’s available. You might not have that in-person connection, but FaceTime, text and emails are so much better than nothing.
And don’t forget about gyms! Most are shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but you can still rent equipment to use at home, sign up for online yoga classes or purchase memberships for the future.
3. Pick up gift cards to use later
I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for gift cards. They might seem like a cop-out gift, but I love being able to choose my own presents – and exactly when I want to shop, go out to eat, order in or see a show.
I’ve noticed a lot of local businesses now offer gift cards or gift certificates. You can use some of them to shop online, but many can be redeemed for services after quarantine. One of my favourite photographers offers gift cards for future shoots or mentor sessions, and it’s worth checking in with your hairstylist, esthetician or tailor to see if they can do the same.
Did we forget anything? Let us know how you support small businesses in the comments below! And if you’re a local shop or entrepreneur, what can people do to help you out?