How to Support the Businesses You Care About During Social Distancing

Like a lot of people out there, I have a handful of local businesses that I really love. There are a couple local microbreweries in central Iowa that make amazing stuff and currently have the doors closed on their restaurants and pubs. There’s a local pizza shop that my family and I sometimes order from as a treat that has this amazing crust. I frequently attended a weekly community game night hosted by a local tabletop gaming store that’s currently closed. There’s a nice little independent bookstore nearby that’s closed. My family’s favorite ice cream parlor, which we’d go to every once in a while as a treat, is at least partially closed (I’m not 100% sure what they’re doing, honestly).

All of those businesses are struggling mightily. In most of the cases, the owners were frequently one of the workers, serving tables or helping customers, and I also got to know some of the other staff at those places, too. The workers are mostly sitting at home without work, hoping they have a job to come back to; the owners are hoping they even have a business after all of this.

As a patron of those local businesses and someone who really wants to see those businesses survive this current crisis, what can I do to help keep them alive? Here are some things you can do (if you’re financially stable) to help your favorite local businesses survive this crisis.

Buy a gift certificate online.

Many businesses offer some way to buy gift certificates online. This is a great way to help them stay afloat, as they get the money now and then you use the gift certificate later on to use the business when they get their feet back under themselves.

This is a financial risk, of course. If you buy a gift certificate right now for a business and they end up going under anyway, then that money is a loss for you.

However, buying a gift card right now does at least mean that there’s money flowing into the business, which can help that business pay the bills and keep services running. Along with any support they might be getting from the state, a few gift card sales can make a big difference.

If you can’t find any way in which your favorite local business is selling gift cards online, contact the business and ask them to set up such a service and, more importantly, clearly promote that service on social media and on their website.

Tell your local friends about the businesses you miss.

Simply put up a post on your favorite social media site(s) about the local business you miss and what you love about it. Drive by the business and take a picture of it to add a visual element, especially if you’re posting on Instagram.

For example, you might say that one of the big things you’re missing is the pizza from this particular pizza place. Talk about what you love about the pizza, their other offerings, and how you cannot wait until they’re open again so you can go back there and have a pizza again.

This will keep the memory of that business fresh in the minds of your friends and may even encourage them to give it a try once things return to normal.

Post positive reviews of the businesses on review sites.

For example, you can add a positive review of almost any business on Facebook and on Google, and you can review lots of restaurants and other services on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.

Think about the sites you use for local reviews and recommendations, as well as the sites you use when you’re looking for recommendations in a new area. Go to those sites and add a great review of that local business you care about.

Those reviews have value because they essentially function as free marketing for a business. A business with a lot of stellar reviews out there is going to have more incentive to keep the doors open if possible because of the marketing that’s already in place for them.

Check with those businesses to see if they offer pickup or delivery of their items.

Some retail businesses may be able to actually drop products off at your house or else make it very easy for you to do some form of curbside pickup of their products. This extends beyond restaurants; a shop owner might be able to go to their shop (if they’re close to you), get a few items out of storage, and actually drop them at your door, particularly if they offer an online payment tool.

There is one local business I’m aware of that is offering local delivery to your door for free. They ring your doorbell, walk away and lo and behold, the item is on your step.

If a local business isn’t offering something like this but could, whether for a fee or otherwise, suggest it as an option.

If someone does deliver something to your door, tip them. Tip extra generously, in fact. They’re the ones going out during a potentially unsafe period to make sure that items are coming to your door, so leave them a tip. If you can do this via your online payment, great. If not, leave an envelope on your front step with their name on it.

Keep your membership active.

If you’re a member of a local gym or other local membership-based service that you get a lot of value out of, leave that membership active during the downtime. Don’t cancel or pause that membership while the business is closed (unless, of course, the business owner is pausing them).

Again, you may be paying for a period of membership where you’re not using it at all, so it’s kind of a sunk cost, but it can be useful to help support the businesses you feel like you’ve received a lot of value from over the years.

Lean into their free online offerings and share them.

If your business is leaning into these kinds of social media endeavors right now, support them strongly. Watch their offerings and share the best ones online with your friends and family.

For example, one local gym is actually doing a ton of free online classes right now focused on equipment-free routines. I have seen these routines shared heavily amongst my social network, so I’m actually becoming more familiar with what that gym offers simply because that gym has a lot of happy local customers and is continuing to support their customers right now with online offerings right now to the best of their ability.

Consider booking local services and artists well in advance.

If you know that you’re going to need a particular service well in advance, make that booking and pay for that deposit now. For example, you might be already thinking about putting together a big party for someone in October with live music, so consider booking that act right away and paying a deposit instead of waiting until later. You can always cancel that reservation later on, but if you reserve now, you ensure that the service can stick around through this very thin period.

This extends to all local services you might intend to put to use several months down the road. Consider folks like caterers or bakeries or other services with which you can put down a deposit or a very early order right now, giving them some revenue and helping you to prepare for a big event later on down the line.

If it looks like you may have to cancel a service of some kind, postpone it.

For example, in many areas, people may have placed orders for services related to a high school or college graduation party that might not be able to happen at the originally intended time.

Rather than just canceling the service, contact that vendor right away and ask them if they can instead postpone that service to a later date.

This enables the vendor to not have to refund any deposits and allows them to keep a future engagement on their schedule, both of which can help keep that business afloat.

Remember the businesses that provide real value to you.

You shouldn’t feel obligated to buy gift certificates from every local business in your area right now. Rather, you should look at this as an opportunity to really help those businesses that have been a great value for you over the years, those that have gone out of their way to provide great customer care for you, and ones that you would be greatly saddened to see go out of business during this period.

Put your efforts into really supporting those businesses well and make sure that those businesses that have gone the extra mile for you are able to survive during these trying times.

Good luck!

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.