Community is the life-blood of small businesses. Whether that is the neighborhood outside their door, a community of like-minded people in the area, or a community formed solely online – what you do as a customer or follower of these brands makes a big difference.
Obviously the best and most impactful way to support small, local businesses is to spend money with them. Every dollar that you spend is a vote being cast, so make sure that you are mindfully spending. If you want your downtown to have a lower turnover rate for shops, make sure that you patron the ones who are there now!
But not everyone can afford to shop/eat local every day. Good news is in; you don’t have to spend money with a business to support it. There are so many ways to be a cheerleader for your favorite shops, and most of them can be done on the very phone/tablet/computer that you’re reading this on.
#1. Interact with them on social media
I’m talking likes, shares and comments, folks. Sites like Facebook and Instagram have made it hard for businesses to reach their own followers (unless you pay them to promote), but one way around that is to have a lot of interactions on a post. The more comments and shares a post has, the more people that these sites will show it to. Plus, it lets the business know when you really like something! That helps them plan for the future, and know that they are on the right track with their products or offerings.
#2. Write a review
Reviews are a great way to help out small businesses – and it’s free to do! The majority of people will now check out a shop/restaurant on their phones before deciding to go in person. Alongside the content that the business posts, reviews are the biggest way to give a good impression. Did you absolutely love a signature appetizer from that new restaurant down the street? Write a review saying that! Experience great customer service at the local hardware store? Tell others about it! You never know when your words will tip the decision for someone else to choose a small business over a chain store – and the local place will appreciate it more. And as a business owner, can I say how AWESOME it is to read a 5 star review! We may be running our dream business, but we have hard days like everyone. A good review can change my whole week.
The flip side to this is when you have a bad experience at a local place. I firmly believe in being honest with reviews, but make sure you realize when the business is the cause of the problem, and when they are not.
For example, a few years ago I traveled to Savannah, GA and while there I did a walking ghost tour. The tour began at a bar, and you were allowed to bring drinks along the tour. When my friends and I arrived, there was a large bachelorette party who were quite rowdy and loud. Even though my experience was negatively affected by this group, I didn’t give the tour a low rating when I reviewed it – because it wasn’t the company’s fault. Our tour guide was great, handled the loud folks as well as he could and the locations we stopped at were incredible. Similarly, I have seen 1 star reviews on local restaurants, with the reviewer saying the food and atmosphere were amazing, but the group next to them were loud or that they overheard employees talking about their personal lives while they were dining. To me, that is a review that is only hurtful, not helpful. All of this to say that I caution you to against giving a 1 star review unless the establishment itself was the direct cause of your bad experience.
Popular review options: Facebook, Google, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Bing
#3. Take photos and share your experience
This may sound like #1 and #2, but what I am talking about here is taking your own photos and posting them to your private accounts. This is a personal recommendation at the highest level, and personal recommendations mean the most. You’re telling people who already know you and trust your judgement that this place has your approval. You don’t have to spend money to do this – you can take photos while walking the store, or post a photo using an item that you’ve had for a while that was purchased from that store. Make sure to tag or link the business’s page so that others can find them!
Even more, are you seen among your friends as a local expert? Create a list of suggested places to shop for the holidays, or make a wish list for your birthday that only has local places on it! Top it off with dinner at your favorite locally owned restaurant (maybe someone will buy your birthday meal) and you’ll have significantly contributed to your community. A lot of local boutiques (and maybe even a certain pottery shop) do wedding registries as well!
#4. Take your friends and family to their store on an afternoon outing.
You don’t have to spend a dime, let your people spend their money! This is especially good for out-of-town guests who want to experience your community. We see this a lot in our store, and we are always so grateful. If you’re game to spend a little money, invite your friends who live nearby to your favorite restaurant for dinner one night. They may never make a point to give it a try unless you give them a reason!
#5. Speak the word
One issue faced by local places is small town or community gossip - whether that is positive or negative. The language you use and the words you chose to speak have such a powerful impact, so why not use that power for
good? I challenge you all to think of 5 things off the top of your head that you like about your downtown or neighborhood retail hub - these can be as basic as the light fixtures, to your favorite shop, to the landscaping.
Small town word can be lethal when framed in an ominous or negative light. And I know that your sister-in-law’s hair dresser is married to the shop owner’s cousin, but maybe somewhere in that long chain of conversations, some facts were lost. That’s hard to admit as a southern lady, but there it is. Even if you hear it from the shop owner themselves that they aren’t doing well, discussing how 'they will be closing soon if people don't come out to spend money' with your neighbor isn’t helpful. Instead, maybe do suggestions #1-4 above to see if you can help them out a bit!
#6. Look for your answer before asking the question
Shew, of all the suggestions on this list, this one is the point that will actually save the business owner A LOT of time and headache. Please, please do a little research before commenting, direct messaging, calling, or emailing them with questions. Most businesses have spent hours filling out information on their website, their Facebook page, their Instagram, their Google listing, Etsy, Trip Advisor, Yelp, Kayak, Bing – the list of websites goes on. And many, if not all, of those places have basic information such as store hours available for viewers.
I know someone may mean well when asking, but a 10 second search of the business’s page would tell them that the store closes at 6 pm tonight. And sure, it might only take the owner 10 seconds to respond with that information. But when that same business owner has to answer 5-10 different inquiries a day on 2-5 different websites/social media, that time adds up quickly. Try to not take up any of their time when the answer is already available to you. But it is okay to ask specific questions! If you’re interested in booking a class on a certain day, or want to know about a custom order, please ask away. There are many good questions that shop owners want to hear.
There you have it! Six things to do to help your favorite local spot that won’t cost you a single dollar. Supporting small businesses is the only way you can keep those shops around, so please make sure that you are doing your part to ensure their presence in the community- even if you’re broke. Every good review, recommendation, positive comment or well wish means so much to the people who run these businesses. Never doubt your ability to make someone’s day brighter!