18 Ways to Help Small Businesses Survive Right Now

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Small Business Support

There's no doubt we're all aware of the effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the economy in general, and on small businesses in our own communities even more so. Many small-business owners are struggling to keep their companies afloat. There are, however, ways that each of us can help. From easy actions that don't cost a thing to suggestions that might require you to open your wallet just a bit wider than usual, here are some ways that could help keep your local corner store or favorite nearby boutique open for business.

Related: Cash-Based Businesses That Must Change to Survive in the COVID-19 Era

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restaurant takeout sign

Buy a Dining Bond

The Dining Bond Initiative calls itself "a continuous lifeline for restaurants that are facing challenging times." It works like this: You click here, find a restaurant near you (or one in a city you're planning to visit in the future), and buy a bond for a future meal. It really is that simple, and it's a good deal — bonds are worth more than you pay for them, so a $75 bond might buy you $100 worth of food. All money goes directly to the participating restaurants.

Related: 15 Chain Restaurants That Are Closing Locations This Year — and 9 That Could Be Next

Smart Online Shopping Tips

Buy Gift Cards

If your favorite small business still isn't open or if you don't feel comfortable shopping in public yet, consider buying a gift card. Buy one for a friend, and encourage that friend to pay it forward.

If your local shops and services aren't offering gift cards …

"I Won't Know What to Do When I Get There"
Donate Through GoFundMe

Recommend Other Resources

There are some other resources out there that your local small businesses might not know about. For example, Mercato is a service that can help struggling small grocers, and Fisherman is a site offering pandemic-related support for restaurants in a few ways: matching customers with local restaurants they might not know about; letting people refer local restaurants who might need extra support; and a donation fund for "service workers bearing the brunt of the economic crisis caused by coronavirus." Sites like Graffito have a list of COVID-19-related resources (scroll down on the page) that might be helpful, too.

Related: 20 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference in the Pandemic

bartender wearing a mask

Help a Local Bartender ...

Missing your favorite local barkeep? Not even sure if he or she still has a job? You can still donate to the Bartender Emergency Assistance Program (BEAP) set up by the USBG — United States Bartenders' Guild — National Charity Foundation, and there is more information on this organization's COVID-19 response here (including a donation link). 

Uber and Lyft
small town main street

Check For Local Social Media Groups

Many municipalities have set up social media groups to help small businesses get the word out about what they're offering, when they're open, what health and safety measures they have in place, and the like. Take, for example, Facebook group "Broomfield-Area Business Strong," in Colorado, where local businesses from restaurants and retail to tree-care companies and local photographers post about specials, discounts, and more.

boutique clothing store

Shop Local

Zac Owen of personal finance site The Ascent, noted that in a recent study his company conducted, 55% of respondents said they'd "make most purchases at a big box store or chain," 30% said they'd do so online, and only 14% said they would "make most purchases at a local store." Some communities are richer in retail services than others, but the next time you think about hitting up Amazon or Walmart, consider supporting a small nearby business over a retail giant raking in billions.

local restaurant takeout

Order In (and Also Local)

Consider local restaurants over chains right now. The Applebees, Red Lobsters, and Chilis of the world might still need your business, but the little guys need it more. Ask friends for recommendations if you don't normally eat at non-chain restaurants. And fear not — ordering food for takeout or delivery has been rated a relatively low-risk activity.

third-party restaurant delivery

Don't Use Third-Party Delivery Services

While we're on the subject of ordering delivery for dinner, try to eschew sites like Doordash, GrubHub, and the like. As noted in Cheapism's "The One Thing Restaurants Wish You Would Do Before Ordering Delivery," there can be massive fees that eat into profits. Find restaurants with their own delivery drivers, or get out of the house for a bit and order takeout.

grocery delivery
Alex Potemkin/istockphoto

Be a Big Tipper ...

If you can afford it right now, try to tip liberally, and not just at restaurants. Tip your grocery delivery person or the person who brings the groceries to your car if you're doing a pickup order (you might have to be insistent as some stores have policies that make workers decline a few times before accepting). Tip that hardworking guy or gal bringing your growlers of beer to your car window. Tip your landscapers. You get the picture. Investing in the financial health of local workers helps everyone, including small-business owners.

barista wearing a mask
Manuel Milan/istockphoto

… And Don't Ask for Discounts

We all love a good bargain, but Alexandra Evans, director of the U.K.-based business Club Mob & The Tailors, notes that now isn't the time to push for discounted services or products. "The amount of work (small-business owners) have to do to provide your service is the same, if not more, than pre-pandemic … and the business also may have already dropped their prices post lockdown in order to get more customers through the door," she notes. "Think about that when you're looking to save a little money, and be kind in your interactions. At the end of the day, there is a person behind every business, and they deserve to be paid fairly for their work, especially now."

hair stylist products

Think Outside the Box

Try to think outside the realm of your usual small business haunts, or outside the realm of what services might be available from your favorites. An example? Sure, you might not be going to the salon for some time, but your salon could be offering at-home hair-color kits you didn't know about. Similarly, a lot of local liquor stores are selling hand sanitizers brewed up by local distilleries.

curbside pickup sign

Consider Curbside

That business that you assumed was fully closed might be offering curbside services right now and desperately need your business. These include retail, restaurants, breweries, and the like. Before you write off a business as one you can't help, be sure you know the particulars.

Related: These Restaurants and Retailers Offering Curbside Pickup


Talk It Up — It's Free

There is no better time than right now to jump online via Yelp, Facebook, Google, and other sites to write a glowing review about great service you received, stellar sanitation protocols you witnessed, or just to give kudos to a longtime favorite. Similarly, recommend places you've enjoyed to friends and family.

graphic designer

Offer Your Own Talents

If you've got the time on your hands and can afford to take on some unpaid work, use your own professional talents to help the small businesses in your community. Web designers can help build e-commerce sites for small retail shops; graphic designers can help build branding material for local restaurants and breweries; accountants and CPAs can take on a pro-bono client or two. It's great professional karma that will likely come back to benefit you one of these days. 

chairs stacked outside empty restaurant
Alfred Smatlanek Sikula/istockphoto

Look for Fundraisers

"Crowdfunding continues to grow as a source of funding for businesses that are having trouble getting traditional financing," says Gerri Detweiler, education director for Nav, which matches small-business owners with financing options. Some affected businesses are using sites like GoFundMe to keep the lights on and stay afloat. You can search that site's database of small businesses in need by city/ZIP code. Other sites are doing similar things. Kickstarter, for example, has a Lights On project, designed to help qualifying small businesses "sustain (their) cultural space, event series, creative organization, or independent business."

Kiva Card

Loan Via Kiva

This crowdfunding site is loan — not donation — based. The site and its users have often focused on small businesses on other continents, and in the wake of the pandemic has launched its Global COVID-19 Response fund. You can contribute once or monthly, and there's a Kiva U.S. section if you'd like to find a business nearer to you that needs your help. "These loans are made at 0% with no fees," notes Detweiler. "Although you won't earn a financial return as a lender on Kiva, you'll get the satisfaction of knowing you're helping entrepreneurs through this tough time."