7 Ways To Help Small Businesses NOW & Realities of COVID-19

I have gone through this information in my mind SO many times now, and based on some feedback from friends, family and social media, it seems that a lot of people don’t really know what is going on with small businesses. The lack of information is REAL – and so is the desire. People want ways to help small businesses right NOW, and the offer and desire is SO APPRECIATED. Especially when it comes to service based businesses, that don’t necessarily have online stores.

So buckle up buttercup! (What can I say, days spent with my kiddos mean lots of new little phrases… can you relate?)

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Here we go, with the realities of small businesses and COVID-19. First, let’s look at the reality of what’s happening right now. Quite frankly, the first part sucks – so if you just want to know how you can help, skip down a bit and look for the huge headline. Because this first part is going to seem like a complaint article – and it’s absolutely not. I just want everyone to really be INFORMED.

In Colorado, the governor ordered all non-essential businesses to be closed down and cease doing business in person as of March 19th. Every state has been different. This includes photographers, stylists, some tradesmen and service people, nail technicians, and more. I’ve seen some AMAZING ways that businesses are being so creative right now, and have been going out of my way to help or purchase wherever possible, but the bottom line is, there are so many of us that can’t work right now because of government mandated closures.

You’re probably reading things on the news that show BILLIONS of dollars allocated for small businesses – HOORAY, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. These ways to help small businesses have basically turned into empty promises, which is so frustrating. I really don’t want this to be a Debbie Downer type of article, but it’s important that you know that what you’re seeing on the news is absolutely not true. At the risk of oversimplifying it, there are three primary ways that small businesses and self employed people can get help right now.

1. Unemployment – the federal CARES act was supposed to offer help for self employed people for the first time, YAY! But the federal act was signed into law on March 27, and most states still are not read to process all of the claims coming from this act. Basically, most states’ systems are closer to the year 2000 than 2020, and the antiquated systems aren’t ready or capable of handling this. So what does this mean? Even though the CARES act SAYS that self employed or small businesses can get unemployment, it’s not happening. There have been several dates that it “should” be live, but the reality is that it just isn’t happening. Colorado said April. Then April 10. Then mid-April. Today is April 15, and still nothing. The money allocated by the CARES act is still in limbo, and most of us wonder if it will ever reach the people that really need it right now. Which is kind of an ongoing theme with all of these, as you’ll soon see.

2. EIDL Loan – the Economic Injury Disaster Loan was supposed to have billions of dollars for small businesses, according to the Small Business Administration. YAY, right? Wrong. Originally the promise was a $10,000 advance to make up for a loss of revenue from being forced to shut down. Businesses couldn’t have more than 500 employees, and the advance was supposed to happen in 3 days. The advance was also something that wouldn’t have to be repaid – to keep businesses afloat and pay for things like rent, team members, and more. I personally applied on March 31, 2 days after we were “allowed” to apply. Yesterday (April 14) was the first day that I had any communication whatsoever, and they said that the $10,000 advance will now be $1,000. There is also news that if you applied initially – meaning you took action early and were on top of things – you now have to apply AGAIN using a different form. Sending you to the bottom of the list, with hopes that it will A. get processed at all and B. there will be money left. Sound awesome? Yep. It is.

3. PPP loan – this is a loan with interest, that is MAYBE forgivable if you use it for payroll or certain operating expenses. Which expenses? Who knows! The terms keep changing over and over again, so your guess is as good as mine. These loans are now being done through the BANKS, which means that the banks have the final say on who gets them or not. So who is the money going to go to? The larger corporations that will yield a higher return for the banks. Even though this is not the banks’ money to begin with. So in short, any small business or person that is self employed – 1-5 employees or similar – will likely get nothing. Additionally, the banks are overloaded with applications right now, so I have tried to apply twice, and am “in queue.” Waiting for over a week now to even get the ball rolling or do something.

ALL of these things are the harsh reality of what is happening to small businesses right now, and while these have been my experiences, I am not alone. There are SO MANY small businesses that are hurting right now, and yet the news and the politicians keep telling everyone that they’re “helping” small businesses. Most of you know that I also teach other photographers when it comes to business skills, and I work with a LOT of small business owners – my experiences are not abnormal. Unfortunately, they’re happening over and over again, daily, when it comes to small businesses and self employed people. I’m not political at all, I have zero political affiliation but I’m sharing this information because I want people to know what is REALLY happening right now. This “help” for small businesses isn’t help. We are at home with kids too, can’t work because we’ve been shut down, and being forced to jump through hoop after hoop after hoop trying to get some of this “help” only to find out that it’s basically smoke and mirrors.

SO – that was pretty depressing, right?

Again – I totally don’t want this to be a complaining piece, which is why I’m going to highlight the next line, because THAT is really what this article is all about!

7 Ways To Help Small Businesses NOW (and some are free!)

{Especially service based businesses that don’t necessarily sell tangible goods.}

1. Be patient.

I know this is hard. You might be waiting on something to be completed, or waiting for something specific. We are waiting too, and it is SO frustrating not to be able to serve our clients right now. Know that we are humans that LOVE what we do – we wouldn’t put ourselves through this if we didn’t. We adore our clients and the service that we are able to provide. We were forced to shut down, and for many of us, that means no revenue, which then means not being able to pay our team members and having to severely cut their hours, or ask them to step back completely. Which is HEARTBREAKING for small businesses. We aren’t large corporations that have employee ID numbers and have no idea who is helping us. We know every team member very well, and their families. And not having their help anymore means that everything we do will take a little bit longer. YES we have more time now – but much like you do, we have the kids at home, doing the homeschooling thing. Making what feels like a million meals a day. Trying to figure out how to get through all of this, and still keep our businesses afloat, without the added people to help that we originally took on because we NEEDED it. So please, be patient. Love on the small business owners in your life. 

2. Buy gift cards.

For service based businesses – like my own – including photographers, hair stylists, artists, nail people, cleaning services, etc., they don’t have tangible goods that they can still sell. They don’t have online stores where you can go and buy soap or something special that they’ve made. Our art or service is what we provide, and most of us are damn good at what we do because we LOVE it. One of the best ways to help small businesses is to buy gift cards or vouchers for future services. Gift cards are a way that you can help now, to generate some revenue for these small businesses. Of course, not everyone is in a financial position to be able to do this right now, and believe me, no one understands that more than we do right now! But for some people, this quarantine and shutdown isn’t a huge concern for them. Maybe they already work from home, and their jobs are not in jeopardy, their income isn’t taking a hit. If you know of a small business that you will work with in the future, buy a gift card or a voucher for future services. I know they would appreciate it.

3. Purchase goods that don’t require in person contact.

This can be hard for a lot of service based businesses, but some of them are getting creative. I’ve seen some salons offering DIY kits, complete with some time on video chat for them to teach you to use it. I’ve seen newborn photographers offering instruction on how to get those precious photos that have to be done at home right now, without a professional, because the ten day squishy baby look only lasts for a very short while. For me personally and other photographers, if there was a print that you wanted to order for your wall, or a special album that you wanted to create for a birthday or special date coming up – NOW is the time. There will likely be a delay in getting them to you, because several printers and other services that we rely on are also shut down right now, but not ALL of them are. We are all getting creative, and will do our best to figure out how we can help you, because we appreciate you reaching out!

4. Refer friends.

I know that I offer a pretty sweet referral program (if you didn’t know about it, click here to check it out!), and other service providers often have them too. Refer friends NOW, so that they can get those services booked for later in the summer, or whenever they’re ready. Not only do these referrals help small businesses, but with some awesome referral bonuses, they can be a bonus for you later too, it’s a WIN WIN for everyone! If the business has a Facebook group or online community, share the group. Invite friends into the group. Of course, don’t be THAT weird marketing person that just adds all of her 2,000 friends into someone’s Facebook group. Make sure that the people you invite and refer will appreciate the offer. When you share our services with your friends, we appreciate you SO much!

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My referral program could mean you’re traveling when it’s safe to travel… just sayin’.

5. Review, review, review.

If you have worked with a small business you love – and I’m assuming you adore them if you want to help them – chances are you probably MEANT to leave a review but time got away from you. We know that it’s not intentional, and that you love us anyway. ;) But if you have an extra five minutes, NOW would be the time to review them. Each business is different as far as what they prefer, because their clients often come from different places, but positive reviews can be SUPER helpful on Google, Facebook, Yelp, and other places. Two things to consider with the reviews: First – write it out in a note on your computer first, so that you can read it over and tweak it as necessary. You can even ask the business what they prefer in reviews. For instance, when it comes to my clients and boudoir photography, “she takes great photos” is vastly different than “Brooke made me feel SO comfortable even though I had next to nothing on in my mom bod.” Consider how that small business made you feel when you were working with them. Do you feel welcome? At ease? Were you afraid, and they helped you with those fears? All of these things can be SO helpful with reviews and testimonials! Second – you can copy and paste the SAME review to multiple sites. If you write a beautiful review on Google, copy and paste it into Facebook or Yelp. You don’t have to write a brand new one every time. You can make it super easy on yourself, while helping out these small businesses that you love & adore.

6. Shout out on social media.

Yes, I know that these can feel awkward. I think I’m going to start doing one every week, for all of the small businesses I love, or maybe even create a page on my website for them. Actually you know what – let’s make EVERY Saturday into Small Business Saturday right now! I’m going to say it – it’s a thing now. Basically, if you love them, TELL people. You never know who might be watching your Facebook or Instagram feed that might need that service in the future – even if it’s not right now. We appreciate these shout outs SO MUCH! It can be as simple as taking a photo of something they’ve made or done for you, or sharing a photo from your photographer – with credit. Shout out to those small businesses that you love working with, it means so much to us.

7. Engage with their social efforts.

MAN. This one seems so silly, but it really, really matters in the world of social media and algorithms. Sometimes, and especially right now, it can feel like we are talking to NO ONE. I can’t book clients, so my social media posts feel like I’m saying HEY LOOK WHAT I DO… and crickets. People are worried about their own homes and families right now, and we absolutely understand that! But while you’re scrolling on the social media outlets, if you can “like” or comment on a small business post for that business you love, it means so much to us. If you’re a part of a friend’s Facebook group but you don’t really participate – start participating! Even just a comment, or a share that is relevant. Those communities MATTER for small business owners, and right now we are having a hard time being ALL THE THINGS to everyone. Your help matters, and really makes a difference, for two reasons. First, it helps us to know that we aren’t really talking to no one – which is always lovely. ;) Second, it means that others might see our posts more because of the social media algorithms. On both sides, it is a small action that doesn’t cost anything, and we really, really appreciate it!

Small businesses and entrepreneurs are SO incredibly important to our economy, in so many ways. I was hoping, when the CARES act passed, that congress was recognizing this. As you now know, that is not the case. But YOU can still make a difference!

So many people have been sharing small business wins and creativity online, and again I want to tell you, we SO appreciate it. We are in business because we absolutely love what we do. We love serving our clients and our communities, and working with people to get those small WINS that can end up being so incredibly important in our lives.

For me personally, my clients are the lifeblood of my business. They mean THE WORLD to me. Sometimes they will respond to my emails just to say hi, and it makes me smile EVERY TIME. The small businesses that you love are hurting right now, and your desire to help is so incredibly important and appreciated.

To my clients – I always say that I work with the most amazing women in the world, and people are like “yeah yeah everyone says that.” No, really, I do. I work with women who have been through hell, have come up out of the ashes, and come back to kickass – and not only do they kickass for themselves in their own lives, but they LIFT OTHERS UP TOO.

I hope this has helped with some ideas. We will get through this, all of us. It is dark right now and difficult for myself and other small business owners, but we WILL get through this. And your help means the world to us.

I love you all and hope you are healthy, both physically and mentally. Remember to take care of yourself, not just others, through all of this.

Love & Adventures,