WordPress is a powerful tool that can quickly be levereged to help people in need.

Helping Small Businesses During A Pandemic

In mid March 2020 it was clear that the coronvirus pandemic was going to have drastic consequences for daily life. Many local shops, market stalls and other food outlets would struggle to keep in touch with their regular customers. It was also worrying that lots of people would be stuck at home with only the internet and phone as ways to keep in touch with their local shops.

Getting Started

I decided to create a small site for local shops (and other related businesses) to put their contact info on so that people could get in touch. I bought the domain name www.cambridgelocalshops.co.uk and got started. I decided to have several main sections – shops, food outlets, local support, delivery companies and activities.

I add most shops that request to be added – small national brand supermarkets as well as independent shops. The only shops I’ve decided not to include are ones that could be misconstrued as giving medical advice.

This whole site is required because of a medical emergency and clear messaging on that topic is vital.

Some pubs and restaurants have started doing take-away food from their kitchens, and in addition offer a grocery ordering service. It’s a great way to keep their business open and offer really useful support to their community. Watching businesses change how they operate to help their communities is inspiring. I’ve heard that many neighbourhood ‘mutual aid groups’ have found the site a useful way to get information about shops out to people who are isolated at home.

Spreading The Word

I shared the site on twitter and various other local groups I’m a member of. The number of hits I was getting on the site daily showed there was a need. The local university printing office, just before closing for lockdown, ran off 10,000 leaflets about the site. The local bike courier company delivered them door to door free of charge. For them it was a way of supporting local businesses and shops that are their key customers in more normal times, and providing an important community service right now. The photos are all from unsplash.com – free of charge and great quality.  Jo at Kabocreative designed the great logo and shared it with me.

Having designed the site in a morning using TwentySeventeen as the theme and using Atomic Profile Blocks for the individual shops I realised I needed something a bit more streamlined.

Juggling this clunky way of editing a site alongside home schooling two children and facing the challenges of life under lockdown was not viable. I started redeveloping the site behind the scenes, using posts instead of pages for each shop, categorising them according to type of shop and their location, and then building a site structure out of that categorising system. I also switched to GeneratePress for the theme (I love it). It all kind of worked.

Reaching Out

Then I got in touch with Topher DeRosia asking if he’d like me to write this up for his wonderful HeroPress blog aimed at the WordPress community. Many towns and districts around the world could do with a site like this and it’s a perfect way for a WordPress person to support their local shops and neighbours at this time.

Topher did way more than that, coming on board to take a look at the back end of the site, make some brilliant changes and also contacting WSForm for a pro plugin to help with the process.

Now, when someone completes the form to request an entry on the site it automatically creates a post with that shops’ details already pre drafted.

I just need to add the categories, check the details, and publish it. It is a dream to manage as it is so fast to add a new shop. I am hugely grateful to Topher for dedicating so much time and care to this when all I expected was the chance to share an idea with others.

The site already has a sibling – www.stivesandvillages.co.uk – set up by my friends Penni and Jo at KaboCreative. If you’re interested in creating something similar to support your community while under lockdown check out Topher’s technical tips and some special offers we’ve negotiated with WSForm and GeneratePress to make your life easier and a bit cheaper! Thanks to these companies for their support.

What We Learned

Here are a few key tips I gave Penni when she got in touch to ask about using my idea for her local area:

  • don’t use logos – everyone will want their logo used and file quality will vary. So it doesn’t look like favouritism just make a blanket ban. Choose nice pictures from unsplash.com instead, or simply have one single photo of your town or village in a banner image place. Maybe feature a local photographer who can donate a picture.
  • try to focus, at least at first, on shops that are selling vital food stuffs and household goods – this is what people are looking for urgently.
  • don’t just request info about how they deliver; in a rapidly changing environment shops will be adapting and doing different things. In my area many are doing ‘timed collections’ where staff pack your goods for you based on a phone order, and you collect at a specific time by agreement so social contact / crowds / queues are minimised. Some shops are also doing special hours for key workers. Make sure your form is flexible enough to cope with variety and change in how shops are operating.
  • be open to including places that don’t normally sell groceries – eg pubs have been doing fresh food deliveries to local people and providing a valuable service in my town. They get listed under both ‘pubs’ and ‘groceries’ on my site.
  • create a leaflet that people can print off and share with others, that shops can send out with deliveries – here’s an example (opens as a PDF).
  • many shops won’t have an online ordering system – offering them the chance to put a Word document or a PDF order form on your site can be a vital way for them to get information out about their products and contact info. It also means people can print these off and share them with neighbours who don’t have computers or smart phones.
  • make it useful beyond shops – include local community groups by linking to any reliable pages (eg local municipality / council site) that list them.
  • include some medical links to reliable sources (World Health Organisation or national government sites, for example).
  • include some activities for those stuck at home – we have a knitting shop, a martial arts class that’s now online by video, some arts resources and a dance school doing online lessons! It keeps it local and friendly and relatable for people who know their local area and are looking for reassurance.

I’ve enjoyed putting this site together, interacting with all the business owners who’ve entered their details, and making new friends when other people got involved. I highly recommend it as a way of doing something useful in these strange times.


Editor’s Note

Topher here. Part of the plan all along was to make it so other people can easily replicate what Elisabeth did. You can find a post on my personal blog detailing how it all works, and you can download the plugins, theme, and export files.

If you think your local business area could use something like what Elisabeth built, now you can easily do it yourself.

GeneratePress and WSForm are both commercial products, but for this project they generously offer a 20% discount to anyone building something like Elisabeth’s project. You can find the discount codes on the blog post I mentioned above.

Thank you Elisabeth for doing such a great work, and thank you for allowing me to be a part of it!

3 comments

  1. Dheeraj says:

    This is such an amazing initiative! Yes, small businesses do need all the help they can get and this is really helpful for all of us reading it on how to get there. Thank you!

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