Calling all UAE residents: Your local small business needs you
Everyone is struggling these days, but it's not true that there's nothing you can do to help.
I was talking to the janitor of an office building the other day. "What happened to that dance studio on the 8th floor?" I asked. "Shut down," he responded. I soon discovered two other small businesses in the building had closed down as well - a salon and a restaurant. "Many more are waiting to see how the last four months of the year pan out," he said. "It all looks very bleak."
Small businesses around the UAE are currently facing the biggest challenge of their existence. And the next few months are a fight for survival. The local gym, the bakery down the road, the local fashion label, the neighbourhood salon are desperately gathering all their resources, trying to stay brave and wondering how they will sail through this storm. As a friend put it, "This is the 'rainy day' my mother always warned me about - my mother and everyone else who warned me against entrepreneurship."
In businesses such as these, there are no 'verticals' or 'departments'. Everyone does everything. All clients are known by name. And every purchase, every order, every sale means a meal on a dinner table and school fees paid and a job saved. But most importantly, it means survival.
A small business is doing everything that the giants are doing right now - cutting costs, re-strategising, reimagining what they did and how they can continue to do what they believe in - but with far fewer resources, less back-up in the bank and added costs with social distancing rules.
If you know someone who runs a small business right now, know this. It is a confusing and lonely time for them, one where they are burning the candle on both ends to make it through, one potentially ridden with guilt and regret, and one where they need all the help they can get.
So, how can you help? Allow me to give you a few ideas.
1. Give them time. If you can take on some of their tasks to give them more time to work on their business, do it. Pick up their kids, drop off their groceries - whatever gives them an extra 30 minutes to make that call.
2. Give them social media support. For most small businesses, it is unthinkable to spend on marketing right now. Word of mouth means more than you can imagine. Whatever the product they sell, a shout-out on social media, however small or large your following might be, can help keep them afloat.
3. Choose wisely. The food you order, the shoes you buy, the gifts you are planning to spend on - take a few extra minutes to see if there is someone small and local doing it. The million-dollar chains don't need you as much as these businesses do.
4. Reach into your network. So often, we don't even know how many of our acquaintances are small business owners. Ask around, identify and then connect. If you feel that you cannot help with recommendations, purchases or time - try connecting them with someone you know. Someone else who could offer one of the above.
5. Offer your expertise. I was struggling with designing a social media campaign the other day. It took me three hours to figure out what these complex words and graphs meant. A friend, who is a digital marketing head at a massive multinational, took one look at the page and, five minutes later, the job was done. It might seem simple to you but, at a time like this, small businesses can't afford experts - and your knowledge could be of more value than you estimate.
Choose any or all of the above, but reach out to small businesses you know. They need you now more than ever.
Malavika Varadan, Managing Director, The Hive