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Small businesses still adapting to the pandemic and labor shortages face yet another economic hurdle. Inflation is the top concern for 44% of small-business owners, according to a 2022 MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index. It could also be a contributing factor to their decreasing morale. The Small Business Optimism Index, measured by the National Federation of Independent Business, dipped below its 48-year average for the sixth consecutive month as of June 2022.
But there’s a sliver of hope, according to some entrepreneurs. When prices rise across the board, small businesses have a secret weapon that many big-box stores don’t: There’s a relatable person behind the brand.
“Overall, I think this is a place where indie brands can win — where we can be personal and open with our community,” says Leslie Valdivia, co-founder and CEO of Vive Cosmetics, an online culture-conscious beauty brand.
Here’s how customers can help small businesses stay afloat as the cost of doing business rises.
1. Leave positive reviews
If you have a great experience at a local restaurant or shop, pay it forward by letting others know. This is especially crucial for newer small businesses that don’t have an established reputation yet.
“Reviews are free,” says Jennifer Glanville, director of partnerships and collaborations at the Boston Beer Company. “Spread the word.”
2. Interact online
“Liking or commenting on a post increases that brand’s credibility,” says Glanville, who also oversees Brewing the American Dream, a program that provides coaching to small businesses in the food and beverage industry. “It can increase their following.”
And now that many businesses have tighter margins due to the impacts of inflation, they have less money to spend on advertising, adds Beverly Malbranche, founder and CEO of Caribbrew, a social impact-driven coffee company.
“Sharing is supporting,” she says, explaining that it can be as simple as posting an Instagram Story.
3. Prepay or subscribe when you can
When a business has less cash on hand, it can be a challenge to pay bills, stock shelves and pay employees. Paying ahead of time, when you can, improves businesses’ cash flow. And it’s why companies like Caribbrew offer prepaid subscriptions for customers who know they’ll use the product repeatedly. Subscription-based models, prepaid or not, also give business owners a better idea of how much income they’ll make in the future, so that they can plan ahead.
4. Pre-book appointments and keep them
Being a loyal customer helps small businesses immensely. Letting the business owner know you’ll be back ahead of time is even better.
Tara Ritchie, owner of Waggin Tails Pet Resort in Whitesburg, Kentucky, says pre-booking appointments is one of the best things you can do to help service-based businesses. When her clients do this, she can staff the salon appropriately and better predict cash flow. If you have to cancel, she adds, try to do it ahead of time so the business has time to fill the appointment. No-shows, on the other hand, leave businesses in a lurch.
5. Be patient when businesses are short-staffed
Fanni Xie, owner of Uni Uni Bubble Tea in Appleton, Wisconsin, says lines can be long when her bubble tea cafe is short-staffed. Instead of immediately leaving a bad review because of a lengthy wait time or a problem with an order, she suggests talking to the staff first.
“I hope the customer will be more understanding about our situation,” Xie says.
6. Buy local year-round
Shopping small applies beyond Small Business Saturday and holiday gift giving. Making a habit of buying local and spending your money within your community — no matter how small the purchase — is a good starting point for consumers.
“The reality now with inflation is that everything is increasing,” Glanville says. “So if you could put your dollars to work for a small business, that really makes a difference for them.”