American Express is still reminding you to Shop Small. Kudos to them. Their work over the years has directed some holiday shoppers toward small businesses—many of whom can't offer the doorbusters and midnight madness shop-a-thons like the big box retailers.
But here's a secret: no matter how much AmEx spreads the good word, small businesses are going to have a hard time that weekend (and every weekend until and after Christmas). COVID rates are drastically spiking again. Cities are ramping up restrictions. A lot of folks don't feel safe venturing out, especially to stand and shop shoulder-to-shoulder (stay six feet apart!) and mask-to-mask (wear a mask!) with others.
It was worth a shot, American Express. Thanks for the free tote bag.
Equally as worthless? The long list of classes and workshops I see offered by chambers of commerce, entrepreneurial organizations, and community groups. As if better understanding our marketing or learning a new accounting trick is going to help small businesses keep doors open. (If that's all it took, then I'd expect that the 100,000 small businesses who have closed to be open by the time you get to the end of this article.)
I'm waiting for a chamber to offer a class called, "When to Close Your Business So You Don't Go Bankrupt" or "Going Out of Business With Class and Grace" or "How to Live to Fight Another Day With Another Idea Once COVID is Over." Sadly, but truthfully, that's what I see many of my small business brothers and sisters really need: tough love to make a hard decision, not "before-times" knowledge broadcast over Zoom so everyone can feel good that they checked some boxes to please a donor.
As I've written before, what small businesses really need right now are customers. The only thing saving small businesses will be demand, but unfortunately, this disease doesn't care about that. Mandates are inconsistent, but this virus is consistent.
So cities: stop filling time by sending invitations to abstract classes for entrepreneurs. Instead, look hard at your own purchases. Where are you buying your supplies for still open government buildings? Who's catering meals for your task forces? Because if it's not a small business, your course catalog is as laughable as your enforcement of mask mandates.
One of our purveyors, Joe Scott of Postre Caramels, told us, "The pandemic pushed us out of our comfort zone in so many unpleasant ways, but also in a few good ones. We began to focus on long neglected areas of our business growth model. This is empowering as an entrepreneur, to actually have the time to take a look at your business from way up high, rather than consumed in all the day to day tasks."
In other words, typical for many entrepreneurs and small business owners, we'll figure it out. We will grind and we will hustle. We will fight for every customer. We will learn all we can. But, we need allies in cities and governments fight alongside us.
So, Shop Small (virtually) as much as you can, then ask your politicians to follow suit, both with policy and payments.
And hey - why not send your mayor our Small Business Pledge? We'd love for them to take it and shift those tax dollars toward growing small businesses (but not with handouts; with actual transactions).