In a recent survey of small businesses by Goldman Sachs exploring the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, less than half of the 1,500 polled expressed confidence that they could continue to operate beyond 90 days. For local communities, small business owners, employees who work at these businesses, and our economy in general, this is a terrifying statistic.
This is a complex problem that can’t and won’t be solved easily. In this post I want to focus on the opportunity that lies before Fortune 500 companies, specifically those that provide B2B services to small businesses across the country, to deliver meaningful help to their most vulnerable local clients in this time of crisis.
The idea is simple: think free. Give small businesses free service, product and support during this time.
Imagine for the next 90 days the most endangered small businesses could access mission critical services such as software, cloud services, telecommunications, advertising, search and insurance (to name a few) at no charge. The money saved by local retailers or restaurants could allow them to stay operational, make payroll, pay rent and buy them much needed extra time once life returns to normal to restore their businesses.
Many B2B marketers have launched heart-warming campaigns expressing solidarity with their local partners. These messages mostly emphasize how much the big guys understand, appreciate and identify with small businesses threatened by the pandemic. Messages of solidarity are nice, but don’t mean much if you’re 60 days away from closing shop.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting our biggest and best companies turn themselves into charities. They have employees, shareholders and vendors relying on them too. Fortune 500 companies also are feeling pain, but none of them are facing an existential crisis like small business owners. Therefore, the terms of any “free” offer need to be carefully considered and potentially eligible businesses for such an offer must be qualified. Free could be delaying payment for 6-12 months with no penalty, or extending bonus inventory or support services at no charge.
The point is if you’re a multi-billion dollar company selling any number of critical services to small businesses it’s time to get creative about how you can extend free, or heavily discounted support, to your most endangered clients. Some large companies are way ahead of this advice and already have extended compelling free offers. This is very encouraging. Let’s hope it expands. I encourage corporate decision makers to be as bold as possible.
The short term revenue loss incurred by pursuing this strategy would no doubt hurt but are best considered a long term investment in the small businesses that drive our economy. Most importantly the post pandemic dividends in terms of loyalty, trust and brand affinity for big businesses among small business owners would be huge.