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Live Local: How to Support Small Business in Your Community

By Kelly Jessup
a woman making coffee using coffee machine

Tips on how to support small businesses in your community, from the team at Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development

It has been over 6 months since the offices at Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development (PKED) closed to the public due to COVID-19. Like many other organizations, we too had to adapt while staying focused on our vision to see Peterborough & the Kawarthas become the most sustainable and innovative community and economy in Ontario. Our staff have been working remotely to support as many local businesses as possible. Staying the course during a global pandemic has offered up a variety of new challenges to overcome, both here and around the world. It has also presented opportunities to re-think what it means for businesses and the regional economy to be sustainable and innovative. We’ve seen bricks and mortar businesses pivot to e-commerce, restaurants turn to take-out, curbside pick up and delivery, manufacturers, distillers and makers shift to the production of vital PPE and list could go on…

Sufficed to say, this community has stepped up in inspiring and collaborative ways, however; we cannot become complacent in our efforts to support the local economy. While many businesses are learning how to operate in this ‘new normal’, we must also remember that not all businesses have been able to make the transition as quickly or easily. Now, more than ever, opportunity exists for this community to lift up local businesses so they may not only make it through this pandemic, but rather, come out on the other side stronger and more resilient.

Why support local businesses and entrepreneurs? They are the backbone of our local economy – they bring growth, employment, innovation and creativity to our communities. They care about the community and quietly give back by volunteering and sponsoring festivals, events, minor sports, social causes and so much more – they are our neighbours, our mentors and our friends. They add colour to our main streets, towns and villages. They bring local food and drink to our tables, art to our homes and joy to our hearts through live performances. They add a distinct character to our small towns and mid sized city, which makes this place attractive for visitors, investors, residents, students and other entrepreneurs, but most importantly – they need us now more than ever.

PKED staff have compiled a list of tips to support small businesses, not only in October, but all year long.

How to Support Local Small Businesses

Ideas to spend your money locally, if you have the means…

  • If you need to buy – buy local first wherever and whenever possible.
  • Buy a local gift card for yourself or a family member or friend instead of giving cash. Buy one and donate it as a token of appreciation for a front line worker or employee. Use it now, save it for later or buy it with a future purchase in mind – this helps business with much needed cashflow, especially when business is slow or products are limited.
  • Order take out, delivery or curbside pick up from your top local restaurants, or even better, ones you’ve never tried. Tip: Try to order directly from the business when possible to ensure that your dollars are supporting the business and not paying fees for non-local service providers.
  • Shop local online – resist the urge to visit those large retailers and non-Canadian or Ontario-owned companies – look local first, you’ll be surprised how much you can find right here in your own community if you take the time to look. Many local businesses have created drop-off services, parcel pick ups and delivery services.
  • Skip the refund – if you missed a concert, theatre performance or paid for a workshop, class or camp and have the means, consider writing it off as a donation instead of asking for your money back, especially for those non-profits!
  • Taco Tuesday? Spaghetti Sunday? Turn your meal traditions into local food adventures by committing to order take out or delivery from a different local eatery once a week, once a month, or for special occasions.
  • Subscribe to and/or join a membership with a local non-profit association, or continue paying even if services aren’t available just yet. The revenue is needed to get back on track.
  • Schedule a service – if you’ve been procrastinating getting those odd jobs done in and around the house and find yourself with some disposable income, consider hiring a local contractor to help you out.
  • Treat your family to a getaway close to home – stay in a local hotel, resort or B&B for a break from the stresses of school and work. You don’t have to go away, to get away.
  • Plan a fun holiday shopping trip with friends or family – check out the main streets and downtown areas in our community like Peterborough, Millbrook, and Lakefield – stop for great local meals and treats along the way.
  • Consider ordering catering from a local catering company instead of slaving over the stove all day when gathering (safely) with family or friends, or delivering meals to loved ones.
  • Look for local products while shopping at the LCBO or Beer Store, or visit a local winery, distillery or brewery to buy right from the source.
  • Eat and Drink local – why not have an authentic taste of place, and cut down on your the carbon footprint of your meal at the same time?
  • It’s Canada! Bundle up and take advantage of patio season for as long as you can.
  • Check your labels – just because you can get it here, doesn’t mean it is from here – hyper local purchases keep your dollars in the local economy.
  • Consider buying groceries at a local market – the product is fresher, the carbon footprint is lower and you have an opportunity to talk to the farmer about how and where it was grown, raised or produced.
  • Try local retail shops for specialized purchases – instead of heading to a big name brand where there is an aisle for everything on your list, take the time to visit a local health food shop, a small locally owned pharmacy, flower store, tailor or vehicle repair shop instead.
  • Check to see if your local service providers are offering services online – many therapists, personal trainers, physiotherapists, financial planners, music teachers and coaches are offering their services virtually, so check with them first before you stop going.
  • Finding yourself with more time on your hands? Find a new hobby – local hobby shops, crafters, and makers offer the kind of expertise you need to become an expert yourself.
  • Tip like your server or delivery driver is kinfolk, if you have the means.
  • If you are a local business that’s doing ok, considering partnering with other local businesses to help them promote their business – buy local products/services and give them away in a contest, start a referral program with your neighbouring businesses by providing a small discount or added value item if they patronize your other fellow businesses.
  • Donate to a local non-profit that supports local arts, music, history or culture. Find local causes that support locals first.
  • Volunteer! Many local businesses have had to dedicate well qualified staff to cleaning and sanitization duty, contract tracing and admittance control – some local businesses might appreciate a few hours of your time to assist so paid staff can focus on revenue generating activities instead.
  • Skip your big name drive through caffeine fix and try buying from a local coffee shop or café instead – whether it’s beans to grind at home or walking to the nearest shop from work or home (plus, you’ll get extra steps in as a bonus!)
  • Don’t save your dollars for a flight across the world in year or two – discover the places and spaces that are near by planning a local vacation – you don’t have to go away, to get away, especially here in the Kawarthas.

Ideas that cost nothing, but mean the world…

  • Write positive online reviews for your favourite local businesses. These business leaders are doing their best to pivot and make adjustments to stay open – when you see them doing great work, especially during these difficult times, let your network know about it, take the time to review them on Google, Trip Advisor, etc.
  • Be patient – in many cases, business operations have changed significantly, without the advantage of time to train staff, or the space/materials required to ensure seamless adjustments can be made. Expect that your experience will be different from what you are accustomed to, may take longer than usual, or that offerings may be limited or different. All of the changes being made are in an effort to follow public health guidelines for the safety of customers and employees. Kindness and compassion will go a long way.
  • Be kind – mental health is a serious concern for many small business operators trying to figure out how make ends meet. Let local businesses know how much you appreciate them, and how thankful you are that they are open and taking measures to keep people safe – a little goes a long way. An email, private message or thank-you note might be just what they need to get through a tough day.
  • Follow local businesses on social media – spend some time on their sites, engage with their posts and share your great experiences with your networks. If you buy a local product, order a meal from a local restaurant, or receive top-notch service – share online, tag the business and use their hashtags. Your rave reviews will go a long way, and while it’s free for you, that promotion is incredibly valuable for a small business.
  • Refer friends and family to local businesses first. Ask for local recommendations from them.
  • Do you have skills that might be helpful to a small business? Consider volunteering some time to a sole proprietor – as they adapt to the new normal, they may need some advice from seasoned professionals on web design, e-commerce, digital marketing, logistics etc. Why not ask a local business if you can help? (Don’t be offended if they decline – just keep in mind that many are overwhelmed right now and they may be in a position to accept your gracious offer, yet. And it might lead to referrals for you!)
  • Browse local shops and put some items on your wish list for special occasions. Try taking the kids or loved ones on a window shopping adventure where they can take photos of items they might like, so you can go back another time, or send the list to your family for gift ideas.
  • If your favourite local businesses isn’t online, let them know that you would support them if they were. Sometimes it just takes positive reinforcement to take the leap to something new.
  • Share local restaurant menus, upcoming promotions and news with your networks – your feeds are full of great information and a share is just a click away.
  • If your beloved local food and drink establishment doesn’t serve local items on the menu, encourage them to do so – and if you’re not sure, ask what’s local before you order. If the business doesn’t sell local items, encourage them to do so.
  • Educate yourself on what your community has to offer – visit local municipality, chamber of commerce, business improvement area and tourism sites to discover new experiences and businesses.
  • Cancel culture is tough. If you’re not in a position to, or you are not comfortable venturing out to support your local hairdresser, massage therapist or nail tech right now, that’s ok – book in the future, so they can plan for better days ahead.
  • Tell your government representatives just how important local businesses are to you. The collective voices of a community can be a force when the message is clear, and these businesses can use all of the support they can get.
  • If you’re a fellow business owner, support the local multiplier effect – if a restaurant buys ingredients from a local farm, and the local farm uses a local repair shop to fix farm equipment, and the local farm equipment shop uses a local web design firm to build a new website and that local web design firm hires a local college student and that local college student buys a home… get the point.

In the wise words of Peterborough County Warden, J. Murray Jones

We are all in this together!

Peterborough County Warden J. Murray Jones

If you are a local small business owner, or considering becoming one we encourage you to connect with our Business Advisory Centre team for support, advice and resources.

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