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Small business rules. Small businesses employ most people. They give the highest percentage of revenue back to their communities. Small businesses are what make our communities ours.

The COVID-19 epidemic in 2020 pushed and inspired many small businesses to explore ecommerce. It also affected the business processes for small businesses that were already selling online. As the pandemic continues to shape the future of business and the global economy, it’s time to rethink how we shop small and support small business.

Shop Small: 12 Ways to Support Small Business Online

1. Support local business
2. Connect through organizations
3. Niche connections
4. Value connections
5. Start shopping small
6. Reviews
7. Social media
8. Online events
9. Teach a class
10. SEO made simple
11. Write a guest post
12. Talk about customer service

Whether you’re an avid shopper or a local business owner, there are several ways that you can keep supporting your community without leaving your home. This is your guide to shopping small online.

The origins of shop small

Many associate the phrase ‘shop small’ with American Express and Small Business Saturday, a holiday that lives between Black Friday and Cyber Monday on the calendar. This annual event is a big deal for many small businesses. It’s helped most shoppers understand how valuable they are to mom and pop stores, microbusinesses and other local business.

A store during the holiday season because that's what many think about when they hear shop small or Small Business Saturday

The question is, if you can’t head out to shop at your local store, how can you support small business? If you’re a small business owner, how can you support other local businesses online?

A lot of new customers are getting into ecommerce, but many have gone from the local grocery to big online sites like Amazon or Walmart. While it’s worth the time and effort to shop small, it can be difficult to connect with customers that are new to shopping online. How do you reach customers who don’t know you’re out there? How can you compete?

Start building partnerships

A key to support is connection. If your storefront is next door to a popular restaurant and someone asks where to have lunch as you ring up their purchase it’s easy to refer them to the place next door. It’s not always as simple to have that same conversation with a customer online. The best way to recreate that situation digitally is to work together with others in your community. The secret is to combine forces.

A couple with a brick and mortar store moves online to grow their business during COVID-19

Partnership marketing has been a buzzword for several years now. Digital marketing makes it easy for businesses to amplify each other’s voices and businesses. It also points the way to a smart strategy to support small business this year.

Choose the right partners

First, select your partners. Selling online means that you and your business can be part of many communities at the same time. These communities can help you decide the best partnerships for your business.

1. Support local business

Connect with other local businesses in your neighborhood. If you are the only hair salon in town, let your loyal customers know about other local businesses who recently jumped online.

In your content, emphasize what makes your local community stand out and include stories about local figures, highlight neighborhood schools and teams and show people what makes your community special. 

Encouraging people to shop small means showing how your community is impacted by your business (and vice versa!).

Read more: 30 Business Ideas for Small Towns to Expand Your Local Business Online

Mom and pop shops are having a hard time, and it's an important moment to support small business by shopping online

2. Connect through organizations

Every town has a wide range of organizations to support. Whether it’s the local rotary club, an annual craft fair or your neighborhood farmer’s market, reach out to other businesses that are part of your favorite organization, then promote together online.

Look at your shared values and emphasize those points in your promotions. Create a unique brand around your organization and make sure you talk about why each business has joined this particular organization. How do the individual businesses in your group make the whole stronger?

3. Niche connections

Small businesses stand out because their products are specific and quality-driven. Some of your most loyal customers found you because your product gives them something they can’t find anywhere else. So, figure out who offers products that complement yours in a specific niche. Choose channels for cross-promotion that are beneficial to any business in that niche.

A man making unique products by hand shows what is special about small businesses

4. Value connections

Look for partners who share the same values and causes that you do. You may already be working for change with other members of a group in your free time, and this is a way to extend those efforts. Your small business will be stronger if it reflects your values and supports them in a meaningful way. These partners can help you grow in more ways than sales!

Put your partnerships into action to support small business

Once you’ve found the right partners to collaborate with, you’re ready to start supporting small business on different channels.

A grocer calls his new partners to move sales from his store to his website

5. Start shopping small

How you spend your own money speaks volumes, so buy from your favorite small businesses. If they aren’t selling products online yet, buy gift cards over the phone. Ask if they’ll accept an IOU or offer to help your favorite local business set something up online.

You may already be an active online shopper. If your first impulse is to buy a product on Amazon, look at the company you’re really buying that product from and consider buying direct from their site. 

Next, look at your supply chain. If you’re using a big business supplier check if there’s a small business you can get your materials from instead. Think about manufacturing too. You may be able to save money and support local business at the same time.

A woman researches suppliers online to better support local business with Selz ecommerce

How you spread the word 

If your mom and pop is a brick-and-mortar store and you’re new to online selling you may not be taking advantage of all the possibilities you have with digital marketing. But if you’re already a whiz with social media or blogging you can offer your services to a local business as another level of support.

On the other hand, you may be seeing more competition from big online sites. If you’re in this situation, find new ways to emphasize what makes your products unique. Add a blog to your site and talk about the time and materials that you use and what makes those things important in the final product.

Find ways to educate customers in a fun way about what makes your product more valuable than something they can find in the mass market. Then it’s just about making your product easy to find

When you’re selling online, most conversation is through online chat or email instead of a quick conversation when someone enters the store. It may not feel as natural or organic to refer to your favorite small businesses online, but there are ways to do it and still keep your friends.

A small business owner writes a guest blog to support small business in her neighborhood

6. Reviews

If you can’t share your favorites with customers in-person, the best way to offer a referral is to leave a review online. There are many different places that online shoppers can leave reviews:

  • Review sites 
  • Google My Business 
  • Directly on their website

Ask your partners which review sites are most useful for them. When you leave your review, get into detail about your expertise and why you love their small business.

Social media is essential for partnership marketing

7. Social media

There are tons of ways to partner on social media that can be helpful to your partners and great for your audience too.

  • Take photos of your favorite products from local small businesses and tag those businesses in your photographs
  • Create co-marketing hashtags for posts that feature both of your businesses
  • Do a stories takeover on Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok for a week with a partner and show how their products have a place in your life and community 

Read more: Social Media for Small Business: Nurturing Leads into Sales

8. Online events

Co-host an online event on a video chat platform like Zoom or Skype and advertise your webinar or live streaming event with a little advertising. Donate products for a co-sponsored contest or giveaway to raise awareness for your small businesses.

A florist works on bouquets in his store for a social media giveaway

9. Teach a class

Come up with some ideas for a quick online class your businesses can offer together. You can offer live sessions or post one lesson at a time to your social media feed.

10. SEO made simple

Create a blog or page on your site where you can share links to partner businesses and other small businesses that you support. This lets your fans know about other businesses that you respect and love. 

Paying it forward is always a smart strategy. It’s also good for your SEO to link out from your site. This shows search engines the businesses you align with. You can also ask businesses you linked to for a link back!

Selz ecommerce SEO is a great way to build awareness and publicity for your small business

11. Write a guest post

Another great SEO option is to offer to write a guest post for one of your partners. Tell their readers about what you love about their business and products and why. If your partner can do this for you too, you’ll be creating great content for the small businesses you support while also raising awareness!

SEO is one of the hardest things to understand when you get online for the first time. If it’s something you’re comfortable with you can offer your partners valuable help and expertise. If you’re still learning, our ecommerce SEO services can help you get going fast.

12. Talk about customer service

Customers today care more about how customer service treats them than pricing or product availability. If your local mom-and-pop store was popular because of the way you make people feel in your store, find a way to recreate that experience online. 

Maybe you offered free cookies at the register? Add something special to packages before you ship them out. If you had reading nights or music events in your local bookstore, do a live feed at the same time each week to continue that feeling of community in connection to your small business.

A man playing a saxophone in a retail store shows how you can bring the feel of your mom and pop shop online with Selz ecommerce

Partners can also be helpful in this area if it’s too much to do on your own. Learning all the new technologies that can help you to share the experience of your local store online is time-consuming. You might have a partner in your community who can teach you or help out to save you some time.

Shop small every day

Supporting small business isn’t just something that happens in your local neighborhood or on Small Business Saturday. These are just some of the ways that you can effectively support small businesses today, especially businesses that have recently moved online. Whether you’re an online shopper or the owner of a small business, you can have a powerful impact. You can make a difference!

About the author

Jana Rumberger

Jana is a writer and Content Manager at Selz. She has expertise in ecommerce strategy, selling products online, and small business solutions. Jana combines diverse experience in education, design, and manufacturing to craft engaging content.

In addition to her writing, she is a visual artist and foodie in Portland, Oregon.