Rachely Esman CEO & Co-Founder of Wescover: building a marketplace to discover original art & design Creators. 

As we approach the end of an unprecedented year, I find myself hoping small businesses will survive the next decade. I have watched so many storefronts shut their doors, get boarded up and go vacant. It’s a familiar sight.

In September, a report from Yelp revealed that nearly 164,000 U.S. small businesses on the platform had closed since the pandemic began in March. Should we accept a future with fewer small businesses and more mass brands? I work directly with small creative businesses — artists, designers and craftspeople — so I can only hope that the response would be a resounding no.

While small businesses around the world continue to fail, some mass retailers are growing. For example, in July, Amazon reported a 40% increase in its second-quarter net sales compared to the previous year. Even Walmart’s e-commerce sales increased by 97% in the second quarter of 2020, according to TechCrunch. While I find this disheartening, it’s understandable: People want to shop from the comfort of their homes and don’t want to look too far to find what they need.

This presents a challenge to small-business owners, especially when many consumers rarely look outside of sites like Amazon. However, consumers have a case for resisting the impulse to shop mass. And business owners have ways to better connect with consumers looking to shop local. 

How To Shop Locally Online As Consumers

Through my experience shopping locally and co-founding an online marketplace for creators, I’ve seen that when shopping at local businesses, the moment of discovery is personal, and the buying experience is authentic. On a larger scale, I believe cities and towns are defined by their small businesses and the creative ingenuity of those who bring them to life.

When you shop “small,” your money is kept within your community, and you are encouraging brands you believe in to stay. In many ways, it is an act of love. I try to be this kind of shopper: someone who looks for things that are timeless and made by entrepreneurs like me. When I come home, I don’t just see products; each item has a story, and I know the face of the creator behind each one. 

But how can we find small and local businesses online? We all have the power to purchase consciously without leaving the house. The key is knowing how to find unique products, sellers and local brands online. Here are three ways I’ve found small businesses online: 

1. Make a list of your favorite local stores, and find out if they’ve transitioned to the web. Many have been forced to embrace e-commerce this year, so you might find the stores you love will now let you order online or via phone for delivery or curbside pickup.

2. Search online for things in your city. A good trick is to use Google to look for a venue in your city plus the product or service you’re looking for. I’ve found that local businesses often buy from local makers, so I look up products in places like restaurants and hotels. Combinations such as “San Francisco ceramicists,” “Bay Area tableware” and “Bellota restaurant chairs” have led me to great local brands.

3. Go the extra mile to find a creator instead of a product. You can commission a local to make exactly what you have in mind, whether it’s a custom couch or scent of perfume.

How To Connect With Your Audience As A Business Owner

Small businesses face a lot of challenges when it comes to getting discovered and standing out among mass brands online. Luckily, many new tools make it easy to bring the look and feel of your real-world business to a digital platform. If you haven’t been making direct sales online, it’s time to clean up your content and engage with your online community. Here are some tips on what to post and where: 

1. Make your products discoverable. Don’t rely on your website alone to bring in new customers. Take advantage of social media, online marketplaces and platforms that expose your products to new audiences. Just like finding a great retail location, bigger platforms are full of virtual foot traffic. Having a presence on multiple sites (and staying active on them) will increase your chances of getting found by the right buyer. 

2. Humanize your brand, and celebrate that you’re ‘small.’ The passion economy is on the rise. Consumers care deeply about who’s behind a product, and they value direct relationships with sellers and want to feel the buying experience is authentic. They want to support entrepreneurs, so celebrate the fact that you’re a small business. Share a photo of yourself and your team, the story of how you started, and the city and community you’re a part of. 

3. Create content that’s part storytelling and part sales. It’s great to announce new products, discounts and even giveaways online. Balance these promotions with equal amounts of content that is informative and inspiring. Leverage your existing clients for content. Right now, there is a collective understanding that we have to support one another. Your fans will share this kind of content, and the word will travel: You’re open for business. 

I hope that in the coming decade, all consumers will care about empowering small businesses — supporting sustainable brands and making a positive impact — and that all small businesses will know how to effectively connect with these consumers. Until then, it’s a daily choice — not just something you do one day out of the year on “Small Business Saturday.” Encourage your friends to do the same. This year, it is critical.

Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?

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