The COVID-19 pandemic has gone from being a global health crisis to becoming a full-fledged humanitarian and socio-economic crisis. Businesses across the board are bearing the brunt of challenges brought about by the new norms around social distancing and self-isolation. Small businesses in particular have been hit hard. Many have reduced the scope of their business temporarily, while many have shut shop permanently. There are those who have tried to pivot but not without a struggle. This is as true for India as it is for many other global economies.
According to a June 2020 report by the Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship (GAME) titled Improving Economic Dynamism and Accelerating MSME Growth, 57 percent of micro-enterprises no longer have cash reserves due to the extended lockdown in India. Another 65 percent have had to dip into their personal savings to manage operations. 73 percent of India’s MSME businesses have reported a drop in orders and 50 percent indicated that inventory levels were up. The report projected that 30 to 40 percent of MSMEs in India may cease to exist as the pandemic drags on.
It’s not the economic impact that’s the only cause for concern. The sector employs approximately 11 crore people, i.e., nearly 40 percent of India’s non-farm workforce. That’s why the revival of MSMEs is even more critical.
With small businesses facing unprecedented struggles, the government and corporates have pitched in to help in a number of ways. While the government has announced a financial stimulus package, corporates are setting up online resource centers, extending mentoring support and even providing grants in many cases. Yet, small businesses continue to remain vulnerable. They need support from consumers, the most important part of the value chain.
The Prime Minister’s call for Vocal for Local only reiterates the urgent need for consumers to support small, medium and micro businesses. While the easiest way to help is by shopping at neighbourhood stores and local businesses, here are other ways in which consumers can contribute to the survival of small businesses.
Search and shop from local businesses in your neighbourhood
A lot of us prefer to buy from large marketplaces, service providers or big brands, mainly because of convenience and visibility. But unknown to us, there might be neighbourhood mom-and-pop stores or small local brands that offer great quality products and services. You can discover such shops either by asking around or looking online on Google Maps or Google Search and shopping from them.
Take to social media for shoutouts for small businesses
Given that people are now spending more time on the internet, the power of social media can be truly leveraged. Make a conscious effort to appreciate and recommend small brands and businesses that you support. This takes very little effort from you, but it helps young brands in a big way. Because, word of mouth recommendations from people in your circle add to the trust factor and convince more people to buy. Say you know of a small brand that’s running a promotional sales campaign to boost their business, just a simple share on social media and online communication platforms would work wonders for them with the number of eyeballs on their offering going up exponentially.
Leave positive reviews on Google, websites and share testimonials
Our online community may be limited to family and friends who already know a lot about the brands you trust or buy from. In that case, you could even leave positive reviews on the brand’s website or share a testimonial that they could use. Even though a lot of small neighbourhood shops like bakeries, grocery stores or stationary shops do not have a website of their own, they are most likely to be listed on Google Maps or Search. All you need to do is just find it and write a review. This simple exercise will go a long way in adding credibility to their business. The positive Google reviews can also play a pivotal role in boosting a listing’s overall search ranking and thereby attracting more customers. Given that customers are often influenced by reviews and often turn to Google reviews, a positive review will go a long way in empowering small businesses. If nothing else, it does give the small businesses the validation they need and the strength to go through the hard days.
Buy credits or gift cards
Go back to a small brand whose product or service you had bought in the past and loved. Even if you don’t need those products now, you can choose to buy a gift card or buy credits which can be redeemed on a later date. This will help the small business maintain its cash flow in tough times.
Be patient and kind
The post pandemic world is a new world filled with uncertainty and ambiguity. For businesses, it has disrupted almost everything – from supply chain to demand. Businesses are hustling hard to adjust to the new normal. Some have had to go digital almost overnight, and others are having to streamline their operations taking into consideration the needs of consumer and employee safety. All of this has meant that there are chances for slip-ups. It is up to us as consumers to be patient and, more importantly, empathetic to the challenges of the businesses.
Consider continuing to pay even if services are temporarily unavailable
Before the pandemic, you might have benefited from the weekly yoga lessons, enjoyed working out at the local gym or surprised yourself with your prowess at learning a new dance form While you may no longer be able to hit the dance floor or gym, you could consider still paying the businesses and avail their services when things finally get better. When loyal customers do this, it helps the business stay afloat.
Use your expertise to help a struggling business
Some of us have a way with the written word while others have a good network in the larger business ecosystem. Some of us know what it takes to build an e-commerce business or how to push sales online through social media marketing. While these skills might have helped us move up the career ladder or helped clients, it’s time that we leveraged those very skills to help small businesses. In case, you feel you do not have the requisite skills but know experts who can help, you could organise a webinar or put together a detailed online resource that will help these small businesses.
Publicise free online tools and resources
Today, a lot of SaaS companies, both big and small, have a freemium business model. This has helped them build a user base, penetrate deeper into the market and develop a strong foundation for growth. On the other hand, it has helped users leverage the free software tools to address key challenges or tap into opportunities. However, many are still unaware about these resources. So, if you know of such software solutions, it’s time you let the small, medium or micro businesses know and, if possible, tell them how they could leverage these to address key business issues.
Make small strong
All of us, as consumers, have the capacity to help small businesses tide through the challenging times. If there is anything this crisis has shown, it is that we all need to stay strong and be humane. It’s a tough time for everybody and it takes very little for all of us to come together as a community to help one another. Whether it is buying from the local neighbourhood store, helping a business go online, creating ripples of positive social media shoutouts or just ordering in a takeaway, every bit counts. To put it simply, it’s time to search for, shop at, review and share information about and support small businesses.
With an aim to propel communities and consumers into action and to promote small businesses, YourStory and Google India have launched the ‘Make Small Strong’ initiative. Through a series of inspiring interviews, webinars and stories, this initiative aims to give people the knowledge and confidence that they can offer a helping hand for the recovery of small businesses. More details here
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