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Here's how we can help keep our favourite small businesses alive

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Small businesses are struggling across Australia as the coronavirus outbreak unfolds. But there are ways you can help keep them going — and stick to social isolation guidelines.

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We’re all feeling the effects of coronavirus right now, especially with the way that we shop and pay for goods and services.

These changes are clearly taking a toll on many small businesses, who rely on the revenue from their regular customers to pay for staff, rent and even stock.

Some are already closing their doors for good.

The Federal Government’s latest economic stimulus package includes cash payments of up to $100,000 for small businesses to try to keep them afloat and banks have announced a pause on repayments for small business loans.

But in what small way can we, as individuals, also help?

How can we support our favourite store, café or hairdresser while we’re socially distancing?

Go online or pick up the phone

It sounds basic, right?

Put simply, your local store needs you, according to the Small Business Council of Australia.

“Let’s make sure that when we come out of this, the community looks the same as it did on the way in,” spokesman Peter Strong said.

With many states opting to shut down non-essential services, quite a few small businesses are adapting by offering online delivery services for the first time.

In Brisbane, cafe co-owner Priscilla Williams has started offering home delivery — a service that hadn’t even been on her radar a few weeks ago.

Like some other cafes, she has begun taking payment over the phone and drops the meals, which can be frozen for later if needed, at people’s front doors.

“We’re really not trying to make money off it, we’re just trying to keep staff employed,” said Williams, who owns two cafes and employs a dozen staff.

Cafe owner Vino Kumar is thankful for the community support in these tough times.

Other businesses are changing up what they offer.

Local Brisbane bar and kitchen, Ehden, in West End is doing a special promotion in an effort to keep their business going. They are offering free, ‘contactless’ home delivery to the surrounding suburbs plus special deals on their food.

Ehden is also launching a text messaging service to order from, on top of their existing phone line.

In Highgate hill, The Little Green Room cafe owner Vino Kumar has lost 40 per cent of his sales in the past three days.  He has been forced to cut staff and is now pulling cash orders and keep cups from their service, but is developing a small delivery menu.

“We are struggling. but there are countless other businesses out there in the same position to us.

“What matters is that we are going to get through this eventually. Our business, other restaurants and cafes … it will take time.

“The local community here is beautiful, we are very fortunate to have such a strong customer base that has continued to express their support for The Little Green Room.

“Their response to us has been amazing. The locals are beautiful people and we have offered up our own free time to help them as well.”

Businesses across the country will need to adapt new initiatives such as these in an effort to stay afloat.

Flowers aren’t exactly in high demand right now, so Melbourne florist Victoria Whitelaw took a sideways step into fresh produce boxes, delivered without any contact with customers.

The boxes have fruit and vegetables from Melbourne’s markets and some include produce from other Victorian businesses.

“I’ve got 23 full-time staff. On Monday morning I thought, ‘oh my gosh, we’ve lost all of our big events, weddings’,” she said.

“We’ve had 40,000 views on Facebook already.

“We’ll just keep doing it for as long as we can; people might want to keep buying it afterwards, who knows.”

Some customers feel so passionate about their local shops that they’re setting up crowdfunding pages to keep them in business, Deakin Business School associate professor of marketing Nichola Roberston said.

“I really think the choices we make as customers now have the potential to really meaningfully help those that need it,” she said.

Others are buying gift vouchers to use later — a way to help operators now. But you’ve got to be prepared to lose your money if the small business goes under.

Not everything costs money

If you’re personally looking at some lean months ahead, there are still ways you can help out without spending your cash.

For a start, Robertson said simply being more understanding when things go wrong.

“We need to be more tolerant if things fail. Expecting a more adequate service level rather than their desired service level, because we’re all in unprecedented times,” she said.

“A good online review is uplifting for the owner,” added Strong.

“It’s letting people know you do value them, that you really want them to stay open.”

And Robert said it was even better to spread positivity on social media.

“Telling others what the business is actually doing to keep its customers safe and healthy if they’re taking precautions … people can help by liking these sorts of posts, commenting, sharing and following,” she said.

Johann Kim, a founder and managing director of a giftware store, said social media encouragement could help business owners stay positive in dark times.

“It really is so important to know that others actually care,” he said.

Robertson said customers could even go a step further and give their favourite stores ideas of how they can help in this situation.

“For instance, what does the customer currently feel uncomfortable about and could the business potentially adapt?” she said.

She also said customers could offer more practical help.

“They might be short-staffed, for example, so could you do anything to help, almost like being a partial employee for that business?” she suggested.

Williams said the community spirit, particularly in her suburban store, was helping.

“We keep saying ‘we are stronger together’. I think I even saw someone make a badge out of that,” she said.

“I can’t imagine everyone would be able to afford to eat out every day, but maybe they buy from us where they can.”

– ABC / Peta Fuller and Emily Stewart, additional reporting by Fraser Barton

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