Anyone who knows me in person knows that I am a champion for small business. I shop small as much as I can—so much so that it defines my whole lifestyle. For almost object I own, I can tell you where it was made and who made it. I also source much my food locally, and when I eat out I support small, independent restaurants.
But it took me a long time to get here. I know that for others the ideal is a struggle. I hear from a lot of folks that they want to shop small, but have to choose between two conflicting desires—maybe they want to support a local business, but they also want to save money, and the small business charges more. Or maybe they want to choose local food joints when they’re on break for lunch, but they also don’t want to have to wait long, and small places just don’t always have the systems in place to expedite food prep. Maybe they want to shop at that sweet boutique or eat at that cute breakfast place, but those businesses are way off the beaten path, not on the way to or nearby anything else.
So I thought about all the ways I know to support small business that don’t require a ton of effort (or budget changes), and I came up with ten I thought were actually pretty easy. If you, like me, want to support small business, but you often feel forced to choose between your small-business values and your budget or time, consider these ways you can support small business without radically changing your habits or budget.
1: Change the way you follow your favorite small businesses on Facebook.
This one is super easy, and it will benefit both you and the businesses you love.
Go to one of your favorite business pages and click that drop-down next to the “Following” button. Several options will appear. Select “Show first.” And bam! You’ve just made a powerful change in the way you get to interact with the posts on that page.
Here’s why: Facebook’s algorithm for business pages is basically to bury their posts under all the other stuff personal users see in their home feeds. This is intended to benefit the average user, who is a an individual mostly just trying to connect with friends and family. But we personal users hit that “Follow” button on business pages for a reason! I’ve missed out on many a flash sale, coupon code, lunch special, giveaway, and contest opportunity because of the algorithm, and I know others have, too.
For the record, selecting “Show first” doesn’t mean that every time you log on, the first thing you see in your feed will be that business’s posts—it just means that Facebook will read the page as a friend instead of a business, and put their posts at the top of your feed with your friends’ posts instead of at the bottom with the posts that Facebook deems as potential spam.
2: Engage with small business social posts.
By “engage,” I mean like, comment, and share on Facebook; favorite, reply, and retweet on Twitter; heart, comment, tag friends, and regram (with credit) on Instagram; comment on blog posts and share the links—you get the idea.
This does two things: One, again, it helps to beat the algorithm on any given social platform. The more you interact with small business content, the more likely you will be to see it in your feed—and on some platforms, it also increases the likelihood that other people will see it, too. (Obviously if you “share” anything, people will be more likely to see it, but platforms like Facebook and Instagram also make suggestions and recommendations to your friends and followers based on your behavior on the platform.)
Two, it provides encouragement to the business owner or the person in charge of social media at that business. This is invaluable—you cannot understand unless you own a business or run a small business social account yourself. There are weeks when it feels like all work with no return; but seeing that people out there still support even if they can’t be in the store today is a huge boost.
3: Leave reviews.
You may have heard before that for every one positive experience a person shares with friends, he shares three negative experiences. Statistically speaking, people are more likely to speak up if they have a bad experience at a business than if they have a good one.
If you love a local grub hub, support a friend’s burgeoning quilting business, or praise God daily for the small-town daycare center that holds onto your little ones while you’re at work and makes them giggle with delight—leave a review on Yelp, Facebook, TripAdvisor, or anywhere else you can to talk up that small business. Be honest, obviously—don’t leave a review to support your sister when you’ve never worked with her personally, or give 5 stars prematurely to a restaurant that’s still working out their menu kinks and customer service. But if you can honestly endorse a place, give that place a leg up and leave a good review.
4: Sport their stickers.
Many small businesses offer free stickers as a way to get some marketing exposure. It’s such a small thing, but honestly, if I see someone at the library with a Tandem Coffee sticker on their MacBook Pro, I instantly feel a sense of kinship with that person; or if I see a sticker over and over for someplace I’ve never heard of, I’ll eventually ask, “Hey, what’s this place? I see this sticker everywhere!” and then I potentially get a new place to check out. And bam! That business makes a new customer.
5: Say where you went.
This applies to both social media and everyday conversation. In some ways we’re more trained nowadays to give credit online than we are in face-to-face interactions, because we’ve translated that tree-falling-in-the-forest idea to social proof—“If you go to a coffee shop and get a latte, but you don’t post a picture on Instagram, did it really happen?”
But it can count for just as much—or more—if in your daily storytelling you include where you went. “I met my friend Deborah for lunch” is no simpler to say than “I met my friend Deborah at the Tea Space in Ogunquit.” In real-life conversation, the specific person you’re talking to has the context and opportunity to say, “The Tea Space? How is it? I keep driving by but I didn’t know anyone who had been in there yet.” And then you get the chance to speak on that business’s behalf, tell a little story, and inspire someone new to visit. Referrals count for something like 2/3 of business for most establishments!
6: Host your next gathering out.
We all have budgets, and sometimes those budgets are quite small, so it’s not always feasible to catch up with friends over coffee at the local coffee shop when you could more cheaply catch up over coffee at home. But if you have $3-5 extra to spare and you’re planning to meet up with a few friends, anyway, introducing them to a place that they might love and start spending their money is an option!
And it doesn’t have to be coffee. In my town, there’s a game and toy shop that hosts free game nights twice a week. There’s a bowling alley that gives “One Free Game” coupons away at sandwich shops, which is a way to turn a night out into a cheap date. There’s a letterpress shop that periodically hosts free cocktail nights, as well. All of these free or cheap options are opportunities to bring new people through the doors of local businesses. What’s available near you?
7: Use their hashtag, and tag your photos.
Lots of places have a hashtag posted somewhere inside, encouraging visitors to announce their experience on social media. It can seem hokey from the outside—but really it isn’t! Using a small business’s hashtag gives strangers a way to preview the experience of visiting that business through the eyes of other consumers.
Also, when a business is tagged often by people within the same social circles, then social platforms start recommending that business’s page or profile to other users who seem to be part of the same network. The internet can be be spooky sometimes—but sometimes it can be amazing!
8: At holiday time, make an effort to buy gifts locally.
If you are going to buy gifts, anyway, you might as well make them twice as meaningful and support the local, family-owned shops that depend on that money for their own holidaymaking.
If you’re thinking that this is going to cost you more than you would normally spend, consider that (1) people tend to appreciate small, fine things more than much of something that is generic or mass-produced; (2) if the options at a store you know your friend or family member would love are a little out of your price range, a gift certificate toward something at the store, wrapped nicely or delivered in a letterpress card, can still be a lovely gift; and (3) your whole gift to a single person doesn’t have to be locally sourced—you can combine something small from a local business with something you get with a coupon at Target.
9: Offer feedback (the way they ask for it).
Small businesses, especially ones that are only a couple years old, tend to change a lot. They’re always learning what their customers like and don’t like, when their traffic is at its peak and when it’s slow, how much help they can afford at any given time and when they need to scale back. While some changes will help the business grow, others send away customers who were attached to some aspect of the business before it evolved.
We all tend to take business change very personally. If our favorite menu item is nixed, we stop visiting the restaurant. If the shop decides to be closed on Monday, the biggest inconvenience of our week is that we made a special trip only to find the door locked.
If something like this happens for you, find the way that the business collects feedback and send your thoughts via the “sandwich method”—something kind, your constructive criticism, and lastly something to end on a positive note. Don’t simply post on their Facebook page for everyone to see or leave a scathing Yelp review. Instead, fill out the comment card, respond to the survey that came with your e-receipt, or send an email using the contact form on their website.
Also keep in mind that encouraging feedback is always appreciated!
10: Find out the story that makes the business stand out, and tell that story over and over.
We as humans thrive on story. The way that we build trust is often through story. We get excited or inspired or compassionate because of story. We can be motivated to act through story.
Young small businesses need their die-hard fans to be out there, telling their stories again and again, preaching on their behalf, connecting new people to their product or service because the stories are so compelling. If you know that a new local cafe is named for somebody’s dog, or that the tutoring center that just opened up was founded on behalf of a young girl who never made it to college because she died so young—tell the story. Pique curiosity. Compel people to look further.
What do you think? Are there other ways to support small businesses that don’t break the bank? I’d love to hear! Come tell me over on Instagram, @alexisthegreek, or leave a comment below!
What do you think? Leave a comment over on Instagram @alexisthegreek! As always, if this information was helpful, share it with a fellow business person and stop by my tip jar to let me know you appreciated it. And if there's a topic you'd like me to cover in a future blog post, let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.