As Manhattan braced for lockdown in early March, the main street of Fredonia, New York, was still buzzing with activity. The town had been chosen as the location for season five of Small Business Revolution, a TV series hosted by Amanda Brinkman in which the shops in a particular community get a makeover, and filming was underway. “We wondered if Covid would end up showing up in the narrative of season five,” Brinkman mused. Now, “the entire season is going to be about how we were able to help these businesses through this crisis.” As the chief brand officer of Deluxe, a small business financial services company, Brinkman has long been devoted to helping those companies serve their communities and adapt to ever-changing commercial and digital landscapes. The coronavirus pandemic has forced many to evolve overnight or risk going under, and she’s working hard to help.
Last Friday, Brinkman joined Nicholas Thompson, WIRED’s editor in chief, for a conversation over Facebook Live. She explained the full extent of challenges that small businesses across the country are facing right now, and the steps some are taking to stay afloat not just this spring but hopefully long after. The key to remaining viable, Brinkman said, is to be searchable and active online. People everywhere want to be supporting small businesses, but they need to be able to find them. “Many businesses that previously thought of themselves as just local businesses are now able to be global businesses—if they have the right online presence,” she said. “We’re talking to a lot of these organizations that say, ‘Why didn’t we do this before?'"
As Brinkman sees it, companies that have successfully pivoted online can offer services that customers want—from personalized deliveries to virtual classes—and can’t get from larger retailers like Amazon. What’s more, whether they’re supplying meals to medical workers or manufacturing PPEs, many are giving back. “Businesses can do well by doing good,” she said. “We need to use technology right now to help us help other people.”
Hundreds of readers watched and submitted questions for Thompson and Brinkman to answer live, and this was the third in a series of four conversations presented by Salesforce in which WIRED will explore what the coronavirus pandemic means for the future of business, education, technology, and health.