While empty Main Streets have been crippling many small businesses in the current crisis, there’s a different trend as well – of businesses tapping into their own creativity and resilience to help themselves, help each other and help the broader community during this time of need.
Fallout from the pandemic has hit small businesses everywhere. Through no fault of their own, many simply can’t do business, and for others it has become much, much harder because customers are staying at home. Less than half of U.S. small businesses are fully open and operating right now.
In response, Main Street is shifting their business online and entrepreneurs are changing the way they operate – offering online classes, relying on delivery service, and shifting budget to conserve stock or increase online advertising. They are also building community through donations to frontline workers and others in need and opening up their own web sites and other tools to fellow businesses that have fewer resources.
Every small business has a unique story. At Facebook, we have a front-seat view of the gut punch small business owners have taken, and we remain in awe – but not surprised – at the grit, determination, courage and innovation they’re bringing to these unprecedented times. Following are some of the trends we’re seeing that will sustain small businesses for years to come as they recover and rebuild.
Shifting to virtual experiences
From virtual fitness training and live yoga, to shopping for clothes, the legions of small businesses that are finding creative ways to reach customers with both free and revenue-generating experiences was one of the fastest emerging trends. Seemingly overnight, entrepreneurs have taken to Zoom, Facebook and Instagram to livestream or showcase merchandise on social media. With schools closed in New Jersey, Michael Napolitano’s Rockness Music goes live twice a day for a Music House Party, equal parts fun and music enrichment for kids and adults – with real rock and roll musicians and people chipping in via Venmo or PayPal. With stores shuttered in San Francisco, women’s clothing retailer Isalis uses Instagram Stories to encourage online shopping, with employees modeling products. The dollars may not be huge, but these consumer-friendly social tools are helping keep businesses afloat, and they could have staying power as they become more familiar.
Sharing reach and resources
Some enterprising entrepreneurs are going a step further by getting creative to not only help their own business, but others as well – whether by sharing new tools or leveraging their own larger social reach with smaller businesses. In Maryland, craft brewer and wholesaler True Respite ramped up development of a direct-to-consumer platform for pickup and delivery just as the state’s governor closed restaurants and bars. Owners Brandon and Bailey O’Leary opened it up to other craft beverage makers and word soon took off. Their biermi.com site is now in use by more than 100 other operations in over two dozen states. And after seeing small businesses in their hometown of Charlottesville, Va., struggling, charitable clothing brand Two Blind Brothers found an avenue to help. Thanks to their own national exposure, brothers Bradford and Bryan Manning have used the company’s social reach to produce and run ads for local businesses that don’t have the online presence to get their message out digitally. Bradford recently uploaded a 30-second video to Facebook for Baggby’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop, which historically depended on physical foot traffic, to help inform its local customers that it was still open for take-out options. Bradford says that taking just 10 minutes to set up an ad for a local small business has shown that a little bit goes a long way.
Rethinking business basics
Seasonal businesses like event photography or catering, and artisans who count on selling at warm-weather month fairs, are thinking particularly hard about business basics. In Washington state, half of Heavenly Soap‘s revenue comes from events, many of which have been put on hold. Owner Patti Gibbons, who is celebrating nine years in business, is focusing on online advertising and sales to make ends meet and holding back on large purchases until local festivals are rescheduled. In this environment, digital gift cards have become not just a marketing tool, but a vital cash flow stream and avenue for customers to show their support. A National Retail Federation poll in April found that half (49%) of consumers have made a purchase specifically to support a local small business during the pandemic.
Giving back to the community
So many small businesses are finding ways to give back to their local community. In Toronto, baby food startup Fragola is delivering free baby and toddler food to moms in need. Rhode Island soap maker Bubble Bee Soapery has given soap bars to first responders and medical and school staff. Giving back is in Bubble Bee’s DNA – as part of its business it donated a portion of proceeds to local bee farms. Others are enlisting the community to help scale give-back efforts: Bread Basket Café and Bakery in Danville, Ind., invited patrons to sponsor a meal for regional healthcare workers.
While no one can be certain how soon business is going to go back to normal as they begin to re-open, the resilience we see from small business everywhere demonstrates that it’s clear, rebuilding has already begun.
Rich Rao is the Vice President, Small Business at Facebook.