Since COVID-19 has become a full-blown pandemic, unemployment rates have skyrocketed as businesses are forced to shutter their doors for the sake of public health.
It is certainly a stressful time, especially for small business owners who have much smaller coffers to sustain them.
If you’ve checked your email recently, you may have noticed all the businesses sending out notifications letting their consumers know how they are trying to help.
It is admirable to see individuals and organizations coming together to offer assistance to those in need.
If you would like to join the ranks of the helpful, here are 17 ways to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19.
1. Volunteer On Behalf of Your Company
If you are not a member of the at-risk community, consider getting out there and doing some hands-on volunteering on behalf of your company.
Meals on Wheels expects the number of individuals in need of their meal delivery service to increase and is actively looking for volunteers.
You can also do the out-and-about – like shopping or picking up prescriptions – for at-risk individuals in your neighborhood.
Post on a community Facebook group or, if you live in an apartment building, help your direct neighbors by putting a notice in the lobby.
If you’re not able to brave the outdoors, but you have a sewing machine, you can join the ranks of people making homemade non-medical masks.
They are easy to make, and a growing number of hospitals are requesting them to help extend the life of their N95 masks, which are in desperately limited supply.
2. Take to Social Media & Amplify Messages
Instead of spending your days listlessly scrolling, make an active effort to follow and share the posts of companies you want to support.
Make a Twitter list so that you can make this an ongoing effort.
Amplify messages from small businesses with minimal effort and provide them with the most valuable advertising there is – word-of-mouth.
If they’re running an awesome promotion to boost their sales, retweet it to your followers.
If you have a loyal following, your social media boosts can also add credibility to the company you’re vouching for.
3. Choose Credits Over Refunds
If COVID-19 prevents a company from providing the product or service you ordered, wherever possible, choose a credit rather than a refund.
With the economic hit of the pandemic on small business owners and entrepreneurs, this distinction might be the difference between them making rent this month – or not.
4. Order (More) Take Out & Delivery
You may finally have the time in quarantine to cook your own meals, but don’t forget to consider the dire situations of your favorite restaurants.
Usually, restaurants only make a small amount of money from take-out orders.
However, with dine-in temporarily restricted in most cities and towns, take-out and delivery have become most restaurants’ sole source of income.
Order online and you can keep a Grubhub or DoorDash driver employed as well.
Just make sure that you’re tipping well – these people are working on the front lines of dealing with a dangerous disease.
Toast is a popular Point-of-Sale (POS) system for the food industry that has created a website to facilitate take-out and delivery purchases.
Rally for Restaurants lets you add your favorite restaurants for consideration and will even make a donation to other organizations feeding the community.
5. Buy Credits or Gift Certificates to Use Later
If you can’t frequent a business right now, either because you are in quarantine, or the company is temporarily closed, consider purchasing credits or gift certificates that you can use later on.
This cash flow will mean a lot right now while incomes are lean, and you can make use of your purchases when it’s safe to do so.
In Asheville, a public relations and marketing and agency called Bright Planning started a website – Asheville Strong – where consumers can find a directory of local small businesses that are offering gift cards.
If you have the skills, consider making something similar for your local community.
6. Use Your Expertise to Help Struggling Businesses
If you have the time and ability, consider using your skills to build an ecommerce website for a brick-and-mortar business to move their sales online.
Or, if you’re an expert in enterprise and have strategies that can help small businesses bounce back from the economic upheaval of COVID-19, you’re in a unique position to offer tangibly useful information to the companies that need it.
For example, Ahrefs is currently offering premium content for free – their popular blogging for business course.
If you don’t have a course already built, put together a webinar filled with detailed, helpful content that you’re uniquely qualified to teach.
You can combine your audience with someone who works in an adjacent position to make a presentation that goes further.
And if hosting a complete webinar on a brand new topic is more than you can commit to right now, trying making things simpler.
Erin Flynn, of Successfully Simple, sent an email to her subscribers asking for any business questions they had and responded to all of them with personalized Loom videos.
7. Organize Your Expert Friends to Share Knowledge
If you’re especially well-connected in your industry, you can go beyond a webinar and organize a virtual summit.
Gather experts and offer free access to their presentations for 24 hours.
After that, you can host the content and charge a small fee that will not only add value, but also help recoup any costs.
Give your experts an affiliate link so that they are incentivized to share it with their followers.
Whether you decide to organize a virtual summit or stick to a simple webinar, remember that the goal here is to serve, rather than profit.
8. Offer Free Office Hours
If you’re a business that is geared toward helping other businesses, you can offer free consultations to small businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19.
First, take the time to listen so that you understand the current state of affairs and problems they’re facing.
Then, use your expertise to tell them how to generate more leads, market their business on social media, or whatever your company is best positioned to offer.
Note from the author: this is something that I’m doing – tweet me for my calendar scheduling link!
9. Advertise Free Offers From SaaS (Software as a Service) Companies
Many SaaS companies are offering incentives to counter the negative impacts of COVID-19.
Share their offers with the small business owners who can use these discounted services the most right now.
They might find something that is not only inexpensive in the short-term but indispensable to the growth and success of their company as we come out of the crisis.
Helping to facilitate this connection is win-win for the SaaS company offering the deal and the small business owner taking advantage of it.
You can also take advantage of these offers yourself.
By adopting one of these tools, you are supporting their efforts.
Then, if you discover something you truly love and can’t live without, you can support those businesses further by upgrading to a paid service after a month or two.
10. Provide Free Access to Your Service or Platform for Specific Groups
If your company has the financial capacity to support a certain number of unpaid users, you can follow the lead of other businesses that are offering free services right now.
To reduce risk, consider limiting this offer to specific groups (medical professionals, educators, etc.) to make it reasonable for you, while still making an impact where it counts.
Many large companies who have the means are already doing this.
Adobe is offering temporary at-home access to students and teachers for free.
Multiple internet providers have stepped up as well, offering free broadband, equipment, and installation to students who are now learning from home.
11. Research & Recommend Funding Options
There are resources available for small businesses that are being hit hard by the effects of COVID-19.
You can do the leg work of researching some of these options and sending whatever seems like a good fit to relevant small businesses that you care about.
Businesses focused on the arts have quite a few relief funds set-up, both nationally and locally.
The Federal Reserve has also lowered interest rates to 0%, so many small businesses can take out loans to stay afloat.
Then, there’s the CARES Act, which can provide some relief for paying salaries, rent, and other related expenses in the form of forgivable loans.
On a related note, if you have any experience in applying for loans, you can directly help a small business owner do just that.
12. Extend Payment Terms
If you’re in a position to offer loans or you have business customers set-up on payment plans, you can extend the payment terms to help with their current cash flow situation.
If you’re a company that normally bills at net-30, you can temporarily change it to net-60 or more.
13. Shorten Payment Terms
On the other side of the coin, if you owe money to a small business and they have given you longer payment terms in the past, see if you can speed up the payment process.
Having good cash flow is more important now than ever for small businesses.
14. Create a Coronavirus Resource Center
On the other side of the coin, small businesses should also do what they can to efficiently help communicate the current state of affairs with customers.
Put together a page on your website that updates users on the details of your business (adjusted hours or pricing) and how you are helping (don’t forget to note COVID-19 schedule changes on Google My Business, as well).
You can include articles and resources that may be useful, including any grants or funding opportunities you’ve found that are relevant to your audience.
Make sure the page is easy to find, and focused on being helpful.
You can also start a hashtag to direct users back to this page, like GoDaddy has done with Open We Stand.
15. Encourage Your Employees to Buy from Small Businesses
If you are still fully operational, find ways to encourage your employees to make purchases that support small businesses.
Set up a program that covers the cost of virtual classes for fitness or job training.
Mark Cuban (of Shark Tank) set up an employee rewards fund that reimburses his employees when they make coffee or lunch purchases from local, independent businesses.
The key here is to focus on getting dollars flowing to small businesses, rather than large corporations that are better positioned to absorb the impact of the pandemic economy.
16. Adjust Your Methods of Support
Prior to COVID-19, most of us could easily support small businesses by shopping local.
But when “local” has come to mean your apartment or house, you need to adjust.
Instead of walking into a store, get in contact online or by phone and see if you can arrange for delivery or curbside pick-up.
Rather than going straight to the convenience of Amazon, consider what local businesses you can contact for the same products.
With their doors shuttered, most are ready and willing to bring their products to you.
17. Set up a Cash Fund or Grant
More than 37 million jobs are vulnerable to layoffs as a direct result of the COVID0-19 economy, according to a study done by the US Private Sector Job Quality Index.
Even more troubling is the fact they involve low-wage positions held by the people who can least afford to be unemployed.
The food, retail, education, and events industries will be hit the hardest.
If your company has the ability, you can set up a fund to help companies and employees that have lost income.
Even comparatively smaller businesses, like Wordfence, took aim at the financial impact of WordCamp Asia’s cancellation by setting up a $10,000 fund to help businesses and individuals who had arranged to attend the event recoup travel expenses.
If you don’t have a chunk of money to throw down, you can donate a portion of proceeds from a particular product or for a set amount of time.
This can go to any organization you choose, be it a nonprofit, small business association, or relief effort.
Consider the global impact of the virus and check out Kiva, which connects entrepreneurs with microloans, and has been doubling down on their efforts to help those impacted by COVID-19.
Jenna Kobryn, Local Search Expert & SEO Strategist at Healthgrades, suggests businesses:
“Partner with local charitable organizations to support members of the community who are most vulnerable during this time. Building goodwill is long-lasting PR and many are in need.”
No matter what you do to help, consider the fact that this crisis presents an excellent opportunity to create a positive perception of your business while actively helping where it matters.
Final Thoughts: 17 Ways to Help Small Businesses Impacted by COVID-19
The reach of COVID-19 is vast, and its economic impact is dire.
Small businesses are hurting the most. It’s up to us as a community to do whatever we can to help our neighbors.
Whether it’s with monetary support, volunteering our talents, or even just ordering some Chinese food from a local establishment, every bit counts.
If we work together, we can keep our bodies and our businesses healthy.