Small businesses face big challenges. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted revenues and operations in unprecedented ways. According to an RBC small business survey, four out of five businesses have experienced revenue declines during the COVID-19 period, and two-thirds have experienced a drop of more than 50 per cent.
Small businesses experienced almost double the job losses compared with mid-sized and large businesses. And nine out of 10 owners reported not knowing what the future holds.
That makes it more important than ever for small businesses to expand and tap into their support networks. A range of vendors, services, associations and corporations can help small businesses navigate their uncertain futures and thrive, which is critical not just for the businesses, but for Canada’s economy.
“If Main Street is in trouble, then all of us are in trouble,” says Laura Jones, executive vice president at the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB).
Small businesses contribute 42 per cent to Canada’s GDP, represent 98.2 per cent of all businesses and employ almost 70 per cent of the private sector workforce in Canada, according to the Business Development Bank of Canada.
CFIB is one of the organizations small businesses can lean on more heavily for clarity and support. Ms. Jones says calls to their help line have shot up. The organization provides advice from business counselors, and offers various tools and templates to help manage a company.
Ms. Jones says a number of larger corporations have also stepped up to help small businesses with timely support.
That includes Staples giving small businesses access to a digital platform, American Express providing rebates for shopping locally, Ebay and Shopify making it easier for small businesses to sell on their platforms, and Canada Post offering valuable shipping and marketing discounts to help small businesses keep their doors open.
Rod Hart, chief customer and marketing officer at Canada Post, says there is some encouraging news. He cites a recent Canada Post survey that showed 85 per cent of Canadians who bought more online from small businesses to support them will continue to do so.
Mr. Hart adds that their Think Small program tapped into the growing movement to buy local and support small businesses across Canada, as they faced the challenges of COVID-19.
The program offered additional cost savings for shipping across Canada, discounts for direct mail campaigns so businesses could more easily connect with their local markets, and resources that could help bricks-and-mortar stores pivot to e-commerce platforms.
As small businesses look to continue to prosper, their support networks have proved invaluable. For instance, Extrusion Profiles, a custom plastics manufacturer based in Markham, Ont., was classified as an essential business during the pandemic, but faced a logjam in its supply chain.
“It was only through the help of inter-connected industry associations that we were able to get the range of materials to meet our requirements,” says Deo Jagbeer, the company’s general manager.
Small businesses should also take this time to solidify their informal circles of advisors. These are the people you can turn to around key topics, and at critical times. Ideally, that includes finance, legal, HR, tech and sales experts, along with a business mentor or coach.
To help small businesses with financial questions during COVID-19, Advocis – the Financial Advisors Association of Canada – launched a free online service to match small businesses with financial advisors.
The advisors have answered questions on government relief programs, and also provided high-level guidance on the state of their small business. Greg Pollock, president and CEO of Advocis, said the goal is to help “small business owners across the country weather this unprecedented storm.”
Many local business networks are sharing resources, too. Linda Ockwell-Jenner, co-founder of the Small Business Community Network based in Waterloo, Ont., says her organization is offering free virtual events and video presentations on brand building and how to build trust in a virtual environment.
Membership in the network is usually subscriber-based. But events are currently free because, says Ms. Ockwell-Jenner, during the pandemic, small businesses “definitely need extra help to stay visible to their target markets.”
Adds Mr. Hart: “We want small businesses to recognize that they are not alone as they try to navigate the new landscape.”
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.