There are approximately 30.7 million small businesses in the United States, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA), which accounts for 99.9% of all US businesses. They really are the backbone – in fact, pretty much all the bones – holding the US economy together.
Over the past year, the small business community has felt the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many struggling to survive through mandatory closures and significantly reduced sales and footfall. Recognizing this, Hartford Financial Services Group (Hartford), which insures over one million small businesses across the US, went above and beyond to provide extra support for its small business customers via its HartMobs program.
The HartMobs program was created in 2012 by a small group of Hartford employees who wanted to show their appreciation to the insurer’s small business customers by gathering friends and family together to “cash mob” a business. They would don their Hartford t-shirts, all meet up at the same small business (whether that’s a children’s bookstore, or an independent café) and they would show their support for that business, while also generating hype for it on social media.
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“HartMobs has grown organically over time to become one of what we call our Human Achievement Programs,” said Sarah Morin, assistant director of community relations at The Hartford. “To date, we have engaged with thousands of small businesses through the program. As an insurer, we created a team dedicated to small business more than 30-years-ago, and this program is really in tune with what we know. It combats the fact that 50% of small businesses say that finding new customers is a challenge – and that’s pre-pandemic. This is just one way that we can take action to show how much we believe in small businesses and hope they will continue to achieve success.”
The HartMobs program has always had some virtual components, but the insurer had to ramp up its virtual approach during the pandemic. It did this in a number of ways. It created an employee-facing online directory of its small business customers, as well as an external-facing online directory of any and all small businesses via www.bighartforsmallbusiness.com. The insurer has also created seasonal curated guides, packaging listings on its online small business directory by business category and location for Hartford employees to consider during the holidays.
“Our small business customers are always top of mind, especially during a time when we can’t get together in person and we can’t physically descend upon the business to show our support in real-time,” said Morin. “We also came up with a few unique ideas, such as HartMob-in-a-Box, which is a team-building exercise that employees can do from afar, such as all buying lunch from the same place or ordering cookies from the same bakery online. And we’ve done some of what we call ‘Surprise and Delight’ mailings to our professional services customers, for example, sending children’s books to a paediatrician’s offices or providing tax folders to accountants. We’re always looking to pair one of our small business customers with another to show that support.”
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Through the pandemic, The Hartford has also been running a HartMob pop-up webinar series that put the spotlight on its small business customers and enabled people to “get together” and network in a virtual setting. This, according to Morin, has “removed the barrier of geography” and enabled hundreds of employees to engage with small businesses across the country, to hear about how those businesses were created and how they’ve fared through COVID, while also going to their websites and purchasing their products.
“Ultimately, we get to have pretty intimate one-on-one dialogue with the business owner, gaining appreciation for the background of the business and what inspired them to start the business,” she commented. “There are always hiccups along the way, and that’s not always apparent when you buy products from a small business. I think we’ve all done a lot of online shopping over the last year [so our philosophy was], why not do it from one of Hartford’s own small business customers and learn a little bit about their experience at the same time?”
While ramping up the HartMobs program, the Hartford also partnered with Main Street America as part of its COVID-19 response efforts, donating $1.5 million to be used as grants to help small businesses respond and adapt to the pandemic. The donation was split into two rounds of funding, which were made available to small businesses nationwide, regardless of whether they’re a customer of The Hartford. The grant proposals were judged based on the extent to which the money would help address an acute business need or help a small business owner implement innovative solutions.
“Just as we were pivoting our HartMob program, all small businesses with the opportunity to do so, were also pivoting to try to do things in new ways, but [many] just didn’t always have the capital to do that,” said Morin. “A lot of these grants put that within reach for our small business friends across the country.”