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Staying Alive – Tips for local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things about the way we live and work. Among those hardest hit by these changes are the owners of small local businesses.

Hamilton Skyline

Many of us are aware of this and are doing what we can to support local restaurants and services. Here are some thoughts about little things that local business owners themselves can do to meet your clients half-way.

Focus on the local

Focus on your neighbourhood; it’s filled with people who are spending more time walking these days. Clean up your storefront; make your display windows ‘delightful’ and even ‘shareable’. It takes creativity, and maybe some investment.

A recent CBC article told the story of a barber who was giving a five-dollar discount to anyone who makes a purchase from another retailer on his street. Giving people incentives to ‘shop local’ will help everyone and build a community spirit. There is a lot of goodwill and sympathy for small businesses these days; work with it to build a stronger community.

Do what you do best

If you make donuts, now is not the time to switch to inferior ingredients to save a bit of money; your local customers will appreciate the great taste and freshness of your baked goods and come back for more. Stay true to your quality and the essence of your business which your customers fell in love with in the first place.

Adapt when necessary

Some businesses have had to adapt more than others due to the very nature of their service and product offering. A great example is CityFarm catering, run by Chef Scott Bailey, who saw his once-thriving catering business that supporting local vendors evaporate at the start of the pandemic.

To adapt to the lack of event gatherings and weddings during what traditionally is the busiest time of the year for the catering industry, Scott launched a prepared meals and grocery delivery service that allows you to order professional catering for a dinner for two and get that exquisite taste of professionally cooked food delivered straight to your door.

Relationships count

Child standing
22-month-old CEO of Bitton, Emma

Find ways to reach out to your customers and let them know that you care. That could be in the form of an inspirational message or joke on a sandwich board that changes every day. Doing this says that you are aware of your neighbourhood and you care about them.

Make the call. A phone call is more personal than an email or a text. Taking the time to reach out to your customers by phone will do you both good. Churches and clubs that were used to meeting in person should be keeping the phone lines hot when they are not ‘visiting’ on Zoom or Teams.

Help is here

The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce has released a program called Digital Main Street which focused on assisting main street small businesses with their adoption of technologies. Digital Main Street is offering qualifying small businesses a $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant to offset the costs of adopting the digital tools needed such as web design for a new website or online ordering system. Through a partnership with FedDev Ontario and the Province of Ontario, grant opportunities are available to enable this digital transformation process. The application deadline for this program is November 30th so don’t delay!

Another great news is the recent status of Hamilton has been named a Foreign Trading Zone, which will allow local businesses more information about importing and exporting, as well as tax, tariff, and duty relief. Mélanie Joly, the country’s Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages said in an interview on Monday afternoon, “We know Hamilton has a strong economy and has been diversifying itself in recent years. Of course, it is a steel superpower, but also, in the tech and health and life science sector.”

The combination of these two initiatives will hopefully bring additional opportunities for local businesses and communities to help adapt during these times of crisis.

Give ‘the web’ its due

As you work on connecting with the people on your street and providing the best service you know, spend some time helping your customers spread the word about you. The best way to do this is by having at least one social media channel (the one best suited to your customers) and maintaining your Google My Business (GMB) listing.

Give your customers something worth sharing (for example a photo of a new product or sale). If you’re participating in a street festival (or in CovidTime, if you’re remembering a street festival) share something from it.

If you are a restaurant, there is no good reason anymore why you can’t let customers order (and perhaps pay) online for their meal.

Doing our part

We have some great clients, and we’ve been trying to spread the word about them in our weekly blog where we feature a different client every week. We know that happy customers bring other customers, and so we welcome any opportunity to serve our clients. While we can’t help with all these areas, we absolutely CAN help you update your GMB or update your website with a fresh new web design. And if you are looking for a reasonable and effective online ordering service, ask us; we know!

Helping your neighbours is good for business. When all is said and done, all business is local.

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