How to Help Ohio Valley Local Business During Coronavirus Pandemic
Ever since Ohio, Pennslyvania, and West Virginia closed down many of our local restaurants, bars, and shopping locations, we have been forced to cook and find entertainment within our own home.
We are only a week into this madness and I'm sure some are dealing better than others. A natural hermit like myself hasn't felt the effects quite yet. I enjoy being locked down and finally I didn't have to make excuses or argue about why we shouldn't leave the house. I often lose these arguments.
This week we stayed in.
The Effects of Not Going Out
My wife and I both have jobs that are continually operating during the Coronavirus pandemic. We both will take some economic hits, but nothing like many of the other residents and local business owners in the Ohio Valley. Just this weekend, we managed to save money by eating in and not shopping. This might be a positive for our bank account, but that also means we didn't have a server to bring us drinks, a cashier to check out our purchases, and a business owner having to order more products for next week.
Sadly, we know that many people in the Ohio Valley are going to find their paychecks a bit smaller or even non-existent. As much as we would love to help everyone by shopping local, not every local business has the resources to make this happen. More so, not every employee will be staffed (and/or paid).
Having many friends that are local business owners and others that are employees of small businesses, I was hoping I could help.
A Call From Someone Who Can Help
I received a call from Sherrie Dunlevy this Friday. Sherrie and I met a few months ago when I joined the Wheeling Chapter BNI (Business Network International). Many of the Ohio Valley natives might know Sherrie as Sherrie McCutcheon from Steubenville's WTOV 9 television station. Besides a very successful career on television, she also was a very successful voice on the radio. She is an author, a public speaker, and has coined the term Inspirationista.
Sherrie is a truly genuine person who wants to help. After a few conversations with her at BNI, I knew this was someone worth partnering with. I started following her blog, joined her Facebook group, and subscribed to her videos. My wife has been working with Sherrie for years, so I always knew of the wonderful things she was doing for the community (and society as a whole) - I just finally witnessed it first hand.
Although this might sound like a sponsored post about Sherrie Dunlevy, let me assure you it is not. The reason she gets a shout-out is because of her idea. She called on Friday to convince me to use my resources and ability to help our businesses in the Ohio Valley.
Time to Nerd Out at BNI - Every Week
Every Thursday I meet at 7:45 am in the lunchroom at WTRF in Wheeling. The BNI Excel Chapter gets together and practices our normal weekly routine. For those that are new to BNI or have never heard of the group, in short, a group of local business owners/employees meet, inform, and give referrals to those in the group. I joined in the early 4th Quarter of 2019.
Part of the meeting is going around the room and everyone informing or educating the other members about what is going on in their business. We each get 60-seconds to talk about whatever we want. Many offer the latest sales and promotions, others educate on their family business, and I get sixty seconds to nerd out.
The goal, of course, is to ask for specific referrals. "I would like to talk to the owner of SUCH-&-SUCH business in Weirton, West Virginia." or "If anyone knows the Marketing Director of THIS-&-THAT business in Steubenville, Ohio". I have used this practice, but often I just spend my sixty-seconds to talk about ways the people in the room can hack their way to the top of Google or the latest trends for digital marketing.
More than once I have talked about leaving reviews on Google, Yelp, Facebook, and anywhere else applicable.
Sherrie knew this and that's why she called.
Leaving Reviews: Here, There, Everywhere You Can
Sherrie made the recommendation that I post a video on social explaining why and how reviews can help our local businesses. I couldn't argue the fact that a video like this would be super helpful and more than likely get noticed. I was actually all geared up and ready to go...then I realized that making a video with three kids at home (one being a 3-year-old) would be super difficult. Let's stick with my forte (at the moment) and that is a simple blog.
Why Do Reviews Help?
Yes, we might lose some money during the coronavirus pandemic, but we don't have to lose momentum. People are still searching online. Users are finding interesting articles on social media platforms, reading, and sharing. There is no reason why you can't increase your business's online visibility while we are all shut-in. One major way we can build our online status is by soliciting reviews.
A very popular software called Podium wrote a wonderful article about how reviews help your rankings. I won't hijack all of their content, but what they say is true. Now they might want you to pay a few hundred dollars a month to use their service (hence why they are writing the article) but I agree with them. Showing up in the local map-pack is critical for getting more website visitors and leads. Your reviews help you gain that visibility and more importantly those clicks.
Giving a business you like and support a five-star review is great, but it's also very important to tell the business and everyone else why you gave them a review. These descriptions (along with the keywords used) help the search engines and users understand what the business does (and did). This helps the business show up for related searches by other users in the future.
What Platform Should I use to Leave a Review?
You can leave reviews all over the web nowadays. I've seen websites where you can review the article you just read! For a local business, I think Google is your most important.
88% of America uses Google for search. Reviews on Google are front and center when a customer is searching for your business. Those stars do matter.
Update: Google has limited some of the features during the COVID-19 situation. New Reviews is currently unavailable and/or not showing. Learn more about the limitations.
Yelp might be known as a huge deciding factor in some communities - but the Ohio Valley is a bit sluggish with Yelp usage. Yelp actually hides reviews from users if they haven't left a ton of reviews in the past. I had three (very real) people leave me a review last month, but since they don't leave reviews for other businesses frequently, they don't even show up.
Facebook is another location that solicits reviews. Leaving a nice recommendation on Facebook is great and a lot of people might see it, but the user intent is not 100% relevant. Users on Google are specifically looking for that business. Most users on Facebook are browsing for entertainment. Facebook isn't your #1 source for finding information about a business.
Other Review Sites and How they Help
There are plenty of other review sites (especially for specific categories). Here is a nice little article on WebFX that gives you some additional review sites. One thing to note is that these reviews sometimes help boost your ranking in Google. The goal of the search engine is to gather information about your business and display the results. Sometimes search engines gather reviews from other sites (especially if you don't have reviews on their platform).
So What Exactly Are You Saying? Leave a Review for My Favorite Local Business?
Yes. I am saying exactly that.
Let's pretend it is the first week of February. You make it through the workweek. It was extremely stressful. It's Friday and you want to go out to eat. Where are you going to go?
Do you have your answer?
Now type that business in your search engine. Do you see the location on the map? Maybe it's on the right hand of your screen. Go ahead and click where it says "leave a review". Now type exactly how you feel about that location...why do you wish you were there right now?!
Maybe you didn't send them a direct check, but that review might help them show up in the next search for "places to eat near me". That might earn them an extra click, a phone call, and a reservation for a party of 10.
That local business owner will make a few extra bucks and that server is going to get a nice tip. All because you went ahead and helped them out with a review - today.
Not Just Restaurants
Truth be told, restaurants get a ton of reviews. People really like to talk about food.
Our local mom-and-pop stores don't get a ton of reviews.
No one really thinks about reviewing the paper supply store (unless they give you the wrong stock). You would be surprised by how few reviews are left for local businesses in Wheeling, Steubenville, Martins Ferry, Weirton, etc... It's not that our businesses don't deserve them, we just aren't naturally trained to leave them.
These businesses need our help during and after this pandemic. We are all trying to be creative to keep the doors open and serve, but let's not be foolish. 2020 might not break any records for earnings. The least we can do is show these companies we appreciate them and help them move to the top of the ranks when we all can go back out and shop again.
Confused, Don't Know How to Leave a Review or TLDR?
Okay, it's not unusual for me to tell a long story when I really only need bullet points. So for all of you that just want the specifics, here we go:
- Leaving a review on Google makes a pretty big impact on the business showing up for searches.
- Here is how you can leave a review (Step-By-Step Directions)
- Facebook, Yelp, and other platforms are helpful, but Google is your best place.
- Sherrie Dunlevy is the inspiration for this post and also your Inspirationista. Go buy her book or book her for an event/coaching.
- Let's come out of this stronger online than we came in. Write content, leave reviews, and support local business in the Ohio Valley.
If you need a place to start, here is a list I made for my BNI friends a few weeks ago.