Community support is crucial for businesses recovering from the financial effects of COVID-19 closures. To reopen safely, welcome customers back, and rebuild the local economy, business owners should work together. Here are some examples and suggestions for collaborating during the new normal.
“A sudden downturn in business takes a toll on a business owner,” said Traci Bisson, the owner and founder of It Takes a Village Pet Care in New Hampshire. “After taking time to adjust to your new circumstances, you realize the way you used to do business may no longer work.”
That’s why it helps to “reach out, commiserate, and talk about what comes next” with other professionals in your industry, Bisson said.
According to a May 2020 survey from Alignable, small business owners said the best recovery resource—beyond financial assistance—would be a discussion with business owners in their industries and communities.
It’s invaluable to have input from other business owners on how they’re opening after COVID-19, said Gabriella Braddock, co-owner of The Vault Music Studio in New Jersey. “The ideas and gems that can be dropped during this conversation could be the difference between you being hesitant to open versus feeling empowered, educated, and confident.”
Whether you’ve recently reopened or are in the process of creating a plan, connecting with local and faraway business owners can help. Here are five easy ways to collaborate with and support other businesses.
1. Join industry organizations and groups
You can chat with business owners in your industry through online discussion forums, groups, and professional organizations.
Bisson founded the NH Pet Industry Professionals Group, where members “share ideas, tips, strategies, dreams, and goals for advancing the pet industry in New Hampshire as well as in their own businesses.” Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the group has held online meetings to network, discuss new protocol, and brainstorm ways to address customer concerns, Bisson said.
“Using Facebook Live and StreamYard has also been a great way for us to stay connected and offer expert advice to other group members,” she added.
If you’re not yet part of an industry organization, union, or group, consider joining one or creating your own. Having a space to discuss the future of your industry with other professionals—whether they’re experienced or new to the field—can give you the knowledge and motivation you need to pivot your business model or upgrade your marketing plan upon reopening.
2. Connect with local business owners
In addition to talking with people in your industry, it may be helpful to reach out to business owners in your community. Braddock recommended starting a Facebook page for all the businesses in your area. “Allow each business person to add their social media channels, their websites, specials, and promotions,” she said.
You can also use the page to host virtual events, coordinate Zoom meetings, post COVID-19 updates, and share suggestions for improving safety practices and increasing foot traffic, Braddock said.
How quickly your business recovers after reopening depends on a number of factors, one of which is your community’s ability to come together and support small businesses. Reassuring the community starts with local businesses supporting one another and being transparent about their reopening procedures, Braddock said.
“Check in on each other, promote [each other] on social media, keep all communication channels clear, and hold weekly meetings to work together to ensure each business is fully covered,” she said.
If you want to extend your reach, get in touch with your city’s business council organization, join a local SCORE chapter, or look for the Small Business Administration’s closest Small Business Development Center. These organizations offer resources like free business mentoring, workshops, newsletters, and networking events.
3. Partner with businesses for promotions and events
Partnering with other businesses can help you boost your revenue and expand your customer base upon reopening. “You get double the brain power and double the network reach,” said Bisson.
Reach out to other business owners in your area or industry to discuss the potential for collaboration. You could partner with another company to promote each other’s services or content in blog posts or email newsletters, Bisson said. “This also offers critical backlinks,” she said.
Cross-promotions are also helpful. If you own a flower shop, for example, you could partner with the boutique gift shop across the street to give customers a 15% discount code. The key with referrals and discounts, Braddock said, is to “give your customer base an incentive to follow through on that other business’s offer.”
Partnerships can also take the form of events, like teaming up with other local businesses to organize a monthly farmers market or artisan day. If you’ve never worked with another business before, now is a great time to consider a collaboration. Thoughtful partnerships can have short-term boosts and long-term benefits for both businesses involved.
4. Get involved in your community
As cities and neighborhoods begin to reopen, it’s important to show your support. Getting involved in your community can help you bring in new business and rekindle relationships with previous customers.
To do that, Bisson founded the NH Dog Walking Club, a community outreach program dedicated to improving the lives of pets and pet owners in her area. “Quarterly, we partner with a New Hampshire-based pet charity to create awareness and raise funds for their mission,” she said.
“We also host live Q&A sessions where pet owners can ask questions and engage with dog trainers, veterinarians, canine enrichment experts, animal communicators, pet first aid/CPR instructors, sustainable pet care experts, and more,” she said.
There are plenty of ways to participate in your community’s reopening and growth. Depending on what your community needs, you could consider donating a percentage of your profits to a local charity, hosting a community clean-up event, or offering to sponsor a community member doing valuable work in the area.
5. Embrace outsourcing and referrals
Supporting other businesses shouldn’t be a short-term goal, but a lifelong commitment, Braddock said. “Whenever you are given the opportunity, outsource and refer to local small businesses.”
If you run an architecture firm, for example, you could use local restaurants for your team meals or outsource your marketing to local freelance designers and writers.
It’s also a good idea to refer other businesses on your social media platforms, Braddock said. “Use your stories and, if comfortable, your posts to highlight [someone else’s] business and promote how it might apply to your client pool and follower base.”
Taking the time to advance other businesses sets a good example for business owners everywhere, and helps foster a culture of support and community.
Collaborating with other businesses isn’t just a nice gesture—it’s a good way to rebuild your operations after COVID-19 shutdowns. In addition to promoting other businesses, focus on forming meaningful partnerships and participating in community discussions. For more information on reopening your business, see our comprehensive COVID-19 resource guide.
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