Across Manitoba, we’re finding ourselves in a place we hoped we wouldn’t get to: Critical restrictions (RED) on the #RestartMB Pandemic Response System.

Whether your business is limited to 25% capacity, or you’re the  owner/operator of a service or retail establishment deemed non-essential and required to close your physical establishment to customers, it’s likely very difficult for you to maintain a positive outlook at this point.

It has been nine long months since the dawn of the pandemic, and Manitoba’s business community has pivoted and adapted to changing circumstances many times over. You’re likely questioning how to serve your customers well and how to thrive amid these incredibly difficult conditions.

If you’re a local independent business, here are some tips to support your survival:

1. Investigate all available COVID-19 emergency funding, grants, and programs — provincial and federal — and apply for those that suit your organization. Since the launch of emergency relief for individuals and businesses, many eligibility requirements have changed, or have been proposed for changes and awaiting legislative passage.

    • Manitoba Bridge Grant – $5,000 grant for businesses affected by public health order closures. This new grant application process from the Province of Manitoba opened November 16 and closes December 15, 2020.
    • Manitoba Back to Work Wage Subsidy – Previously, applicants were required to pay approved employees up front, after which an amount of $7/hr up to $5,000 per employee (for up to 20 employees) would be reimbursed (pending the filing of payroll paperwork). The Province of Manitoba recently changed the program’s design to allocate $1,500 in advance for each employee approved under the program. Maybe this could help you bring back a laid-off employee?
    • Canada Emergency Business Loan (CEBA), now open available for application until December 31, 2020, is awaiting legislative approval for an increase from $40,000 to $60,000, with 20% forgiven if loan re-payment occurs before December 31, 2022. This loan is also now available to sole proprietorships, which it wasn’t initially.
    • Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) has also been amended and extended, and although it’s a complex application process, this type of support can help you keep employees on the payroll by defraying the cost of wages according to a scale of decreased revenues.
    • Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) – Keep your eyes peeled for details about and application dates for CECRA’s successor (pending the passage of legislation in the House of Commons and Senate). CERS will provide direct and easy-to-access rent and mortgage support to qualifying organizations. Qualifying businesses, charities and non-profits would receive a subsidy of up to 65% of eligible expenses until December 19, 2020. Qualifying organizations that have been significantly affected by a mandatory public health order issued by a qualifying public health authority would receive an additional 25% of rent support through the CERS. Combined with the other support received under the CERS, this means that hard hit businesses, non-profits, and charities could receive a rent subsidy of up to 90%. The CERS including the Lockdown Support would be available until June 2021

2. Get a powerful and secure e-commerce site up and running QUICKLY (for example, using SquareSpace or Shopify). This can open up your market, not just to Manitobans staying home, but beyond borders. Need some guidance? Register today for Shopify workshops brought to you World Trade Centre Winnipeg & TechManitoba! The three sessions, presented by Dylan Keenas, Growth Manager at @bold_commerce, will take a deep dive into understanding and setting up your own online e-commerce store: ow.ly/dAJK50ClTlq

3. Leverage your existing online presence and social media:  If you’re not doing too much on sites like Instagram, Twitter or Facebook yet, get started now. Here are some helpful intro resources:

4. There is a definite appetite to support the local business community at this time, particularly with the upcoming holiday season. Think about your unique value proposition — what do you offer that’s truly original or different? Craft your story, and tell it often.

    • Feed your website and social channels regularly with fresh content, including visuals. Share photos of interesting product lines, propose gift ideas, or show followers what it’s like to make your handmade products or menu items.
    • What’s your start-up or origin story? Can you weave it in to your social media posts to connect with followers and bolster their support for you?
    • Eighty per cent of all content consumed on social media is video. Although it’s great to have professional videography, think about what you could do quickly and efficiently with your smartphone. Be your authentic self. Consider profiling products, or promotions/special offers, and reach out to loyal customers and request that they share their own video testimonials about your business or products.
    • Do you have a database of customer emails (with permissions) or “subscribe” capabilities on your website? If so, now is the time to use them to communicate. Be clear about what you’re able to offer right now — are you processing orders by phone and/or online? Can you offer curbside pick up or delivery? Could you re-assign a staff person to do deliveries for you, and deliver products directly to local addresses? Could you start selling gift certificates for future redemption?
    • Is your community or local Chamber of Commerce running a “buy local” promotional campaign? If so, make sure you’re ready to participate and use any social media hashtags established to promote it, for instance, #SaveMBRestaurants #ShopLocal #ManitobaMade #BuyLocal #CodeRedBuyLocal, Use them before we lose them #ShopLocal, Friends Only Let Friends #Shop Local.

5. Lean on your network – Local Chambers of Commerce have been excellent allies throughout the pandemic, collecting and sharing important information about health protocols and changing orders, as well as helping to shape and announce emergency relief programs. Be sure to stay tapped in to your chamber network, as well as to your local business community, so you’re aware of any new developments, campaigns, etc.