When given the choice, why more people need to support small businesses in the times of COVID-19 and beyond
A few weeks after the COVID-19 related disruptions began, small businesses bore the brunt almost instantly. Many saw the sharpest falls in sales and near-negligible cash flows. “I know of many small businesses who have piles of unsold inventory. Even though the economy has opened up, people still aren’t buying,” says Krithika Ramesh, a lifestyle blogger who works closely with small businesses.
People who lost their jobs have also started small businesses to sustain themselves, even as many others were forced to shut shop. All this has made it more important than ever before to drive the discussion to support small businesses .
In June, actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas took to social media to share profiles of small businesses run by inspiring women. In a video she asked her fans to follow these small businesses and, if possible, buy from them. She said this was a small step to lend support to small businesses amidst the socio-economic challenges brought about by the pandemic. More recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also called on Indians to support small businesses. The first week of October saw Google India launching the 'Make Small Strong' campaign to support small and local businesses in the country.
To further understand, deliberate and drive the conversation on the need to support small businesses, we spoke to professionals across walks of life to understand their perspective on the value that small businesses bring to everyday life and beyond.
A promise of quality
“2020 has been a very challenging year for the country and the economy at large. Now, that the movement to be self-reliant has taken root in the country, it can grow only if the millions of small businesses in the country continue to survive and thrive,” says Sanjivini Sharma, a dentist and a blogger. She adds, “At a basic level, when you support a small business, there’s more than just the promise of good quality. You are able to see the passion that the small business owner puts in.”
Echoing a similar sentiment is Karan Machado, popularly known as RJ Kay. He is an award-winning radio show host on 94.3 Radio and has been vocal about supporting small businesses. He says, “When I order from a small business, the quality is often better. This is because they have a small audience and can focus on them, and also because they are so passionate about what they do.”
As Sanjivini and RJ Kay rightly point out, most customers often return to small businesses because of the promise of quality, attention to detail and passion, something which becomes challenging for a large business as it scales in size. In addition, small businesses are constantly seen innovating to stay relevant and competitive, from adding new products to their catalogue or thinking up of new benefits for their customers.. They are able to also fill in small niches and offer a more personalised service.
Driving community growth and sustainability
But the benefits extend beyond the customer. For one, small businesses are an integral part of the local economy, creating a web of financial independence and fostering development. It is not uncommon for small businesses to hire locally or sell local produce. And, this helps create a thriving local economy and a symbiotic business community.
Shiva Kumar, a professional artist, photographer and designer, has been patronising small home-grown brands and local professionals - from getting clothes stitched from the neighbourhood tailor to buying groceries, fruits and vegetables from local markets. “A lot of small businesses I know are owned by individuals or small families to support themselves. A lot of what they sell is locally sourced. So vegetables or fruits are likely to be sourced from a farmer in a nearby village. So when I buy from a local vendor chances are that my purchase not only supports that particular seller but also others who are dependent on him or her. So in short, when you shop local, shop from small businesses, you support a community.” Divya Dugar, freelance journalist and documentary producer agrees, “With small businesses you know how the money will filter down the value chain, which is not the case with a large corporate or global brand. You know the money is going to the right place.”
The other impact is on driving sustainability, says Divya. “The first step in sustainability is understanding how a product is being made. And that becomes easier with small businesses, because it is easy to ask them questions about the process of creating and sourcing. And, they are more transparent. So when you are buying clothes from sustainable small businesses, you can understand more about the weave, the clusters of weavers they work with, among others.”
The other area where businesses bring significant value is by creating a connection. “With small businesses you are most often directly interacting with the owner. This direct connection helps to establish a relationship that is meaningful and valued,” says Shiva. This sentiment is shared by RJ Kay, “When you buy from a small business, you tend to become part of their extended family and not just a percentage or number on their revenue economics. As a customer, that makes me feel happy.”
Left to Right: RJ Kay, Krithika Ramesh, Sanjivini Sharma, Shiva Kumar, Divya Dugar
Rally and support in action
In addition, to further support small businesses, Krithika, Sanjivini, RJ Kay, Divya have been leveraging their social media presence to rally for support. While Sanjivini says she often recommends the small businesses she trusts, she also collaborates with others to increase their outreach. Krithika actively undertakes collaboration projects with small businesses. “ Recently, I have started hosting live videos and pop sales on social media to support these businesses in their customer outreach efforts. In addition to the direct impact on the business, it has also helped them gain organic followers. I often recommend these small businesses to friends, family, acquaintances. We also work jointly on new marketing ideas, leverage current marketing trends to help them grow.”
While RJ Kay has been regularly featuring small businesses on his social media channels, the effort began with a campaign on his radio show. “Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I made it a point to support small businesses on social media because I genuinely believe that they can offer a lot more value to customers. The effort kicked off with a campaign I undertook on my radio show, where we featured small businesses, and thereby gave them a platform to reach thousands. We got thousands of requests and it was not practically possible to feature every single one of them on the radio show, so I took to social media.”
R J Kay says that beyond the power of social media or the radio, he hopes that the real impact will be the ripple effect when more people are inspired to support a local business.
“If I have a choice, I will definitely support local business,” says Divya. And that, perhaps, is the larger message - to exercise the power of choice to support local businesses.