The pandemic has created challenges for many retail entrepreneurs. Lockdowns and capacity restrictions have limited business, forcing small business owners to get creative in how they market and sell their products and services.
Now, more than ever, entrepreneurs need support. By the end of August 2020, nearly 100,000 small businesses had closed their doors for good, according to a Yelp analysis. The role of entrepreneurial support organizations (ESOs) is increasingly important in continuing to foster innovation and entrepreneurial resiliency within communities during this challenging time.
A New Type of Support
Technical assistance for entrepreneurs in the pandemic environment looks very different than what many entrepreneurship support organizations (ESOs) have traditionally offered. In place of (or perhaps in addition to) business and marketing plans, entrepreneurs caught in the midst of the pandemic most need help now with pivoting to online sales and attracting customers to shop those new local marketplaces. While we’ve written previously about how important shop local efforts are, below we offer five key ways to support local retailers during this holiday season, when your support is more important than ever before.
Pivot to Online
As more and more entrepreneurs move at least part of their business online to reach consumers who are increasingly turning to virtual shopping, support organizations need to offer both educational and marketing support. Online seminars that address the nuances associated with selling in an online environment can help business owners to better understand the challenges and benefits of an online presence. Helping entrepreneurs to understand best practices and consumer expectations of an online marketplace can give them a hand up on the way to success.
But it’s not just the nuts and bolts that small business owners need help with. Money may not be available to get the word out about their online storefronts. Combined marketing efforts like a small business gift guide or a directory of local businesses and online contests are the perfect way to help entrepreneurs attract more business, especially during the holiday season.
2. Encourage Local Buying
With in-person shopping being discouraged, it’s easy for shoppers to just pull up Amazon or Target.com and click away to fulfill all of their retail shopping needs. However, some consumers want to support their local businesses, and ESOs can help bring needed attention to local businesses – even during the pandemic. Consider creating a local business spotlight or a local business directory. Highlight the business’s products as well as any services that make it easier to shop there during the pandemic like contactless pick-up or home delivery.
Consider sponsoring a Buy Local campaign on local radio and TV stations. Leverage media contacts to become the go-to source for information about how local small businesses are weathering the effects of the pandemic, which will allow you to encourage watchers and listeners to shop local.
3. Offer Ideas for Brand Advocacy
While not everyone has the means to buy local this holiday season, it’s important to remind consumers of other ways to keep local shops top-of-mind in your communities. From something as simple as following, commenting on, and sharing brands on social media to recommending favorite local brands to friends, getting the word out goes a long way for small businesses.
According to MOSourceLink and KCSourceLink Marketing Director Sarah Mote, 72% of shoppers are more likely to purchase from a business they have seen a positive review for. Leaving a positive review for a business not only gives them a boost in the eyes of researching shoppers, but also gives that business positive content for SEO and lives online in perpetuity – to encourage shoppers to return when the pandemic ends.
Finally, posting pictures of a business’s product or services, sharing local resources like gift guides and using trending, local hashtags like #shoplocalKC, the one used in Mote’s community of Kansas City, Missouri can help keep your favorite business active in social media algorithms.
4. Encourage Expertise Sharing
No surprise, entrepreneurs are experts in all things related to their business. Local support groups can help these small business owners create avenues to share their expertise to create a new stream of income by offering classes on how to create an online course or tips and tricks for creating great videos. Sharing a resource list of available courses on social media channels can encourage people to check out the wide range of local expertise available. Beyond a source of revenue, online courses are a great way for small businesses to build engagement and reinforce value among their customers.
5. Connect Entrepreneurs with Emergency Resources
Help is out there for small businesses, but many entrepreneurs may not be aware of the help available to them. Create processes for educating small business owners about emergency funding from federal, state and municipal governments, including online guides and phone or Zoom sessions. Offer virtual networking opportunities for entrepreneurs to share their concerns and gain insight from other small business owners who are facing the same challenges.
A Spark of Hope
With the approval of COVID-19 vaccines, relief may be in sight, but until then, entrepreneurship support organizations can provide valuable support as business owners navigate new ways of doing business. Whether it’s online sales or finding emergency funding, entrepreneurs can benefit with help navigating the current turbulent waters effecting retail businesses.
Feel free to share additional ideas on ways to support local businesses.