Small businesses have been particularly hard-it by pandemic restrictions that limit their ability to service customers. Traditional brick and mortar retailers have had an even harder time. But local governments are stepping in to help these businesses pivot to online sales with expert advice, tools, training, and support.
Here are some of the hands-on assistance different cities offer to help businesses survive the trials of COVID-19.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Garcetti announced LA Optimized, a local initiative to help small businesses expand their e-commerce capabilities with support from design and technical professionals. They plan to allocate $1.5 million in services to 1,000 local businesses over the next year.
Partnering with ArtCenter College and Design and the creative services agency verynice the program will provide services like graphic design, photography, video, and branding to small businesses. Priority will be given to brick-and-mortar businesses located in low-income communities.
In Mesa, Ariz., local business owners can apply for the free Mesa CARES Small Business Technical Assistance Program. The program is made possible by the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund under the CARES Act.
It provides one-on-one business coaching and free classes on everything from business plans during COVID to marketing, accounting, IT, web hosting, technical services, and accounting.
Digital Main Street
In Canada, the city of Toronto partnered with large companies like Google, Mastercard, Facebook, Square, Shopify, and Microsoft.
The Digital Main Street program offers businesses three avenues of support.
- ShopHERE creates free online stores for businesses with less than ten employees.
- The Digital Transformation Grant provides up to $2,500 for training and guidance on moving online.
- The FutureProof program assists in finding new markets and developing a deep overall transformation plan.
Start Small Think Big
Local governments aren't the only groups looking for ways to help small businesses. Many nonprofits have also shifted their missions in response to new needs created by the pandemic.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Start Small Think Big, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting entrepreneurialism in underserved communities, has provided opportunities, including pro-bono legal, financial, and marketing services.
"This year, we will have supported over 3,000 businesses all across the country. 97% of our entrepreneurs are people of color and women, 35% live below the federal poverty line, and 70% have businesses located in high-poverty communities," says founder and executive director Jennifer DaSilva. "We have also launched an Emergency Relief Fund, which provides immediate cash relief to meet a variety of expenses and keep businesses open."
Business helping business
Even business-to-business startups have been adjusting their own models to help struggling customers maintain revenue from home.
"A loyal customer contacted us in March to unsubscribe because her beauty salon would be shutting down. She had three employees, and with the pandemic, it just wasn't feasible to keep running," said Michael Astreiko, CEO and Founder of Synder, a financial management app for small businesses
"We had a brainstorming session thinking about what we can do to help businesses like hers. We got back in touch with her to offer our payment link functionality, which she ended up using by teaching online beauty classes on Instagram Live."
Survival is in everyone's best interest
The survival of small businesses through this turbulent time is important to everyone. Whether from local government, or another small business, as the world grapples with a struggling economy, small businesses may find the help they need in unexpected places.