As New York enters month SEVEN of the Corona Virus, small businesses all across the state have been struggling to survive. Restaurants have had every challenge from high delivery fees to high rents. While we can donate, reshare posts, and buy from our favorite small businesses, the reality is…they’re all short term solutions. In order for small businesses to succeed, business owners will need to adapt to survive in a digital-first, pandemic world.

But adapting? What does that even mean? There’s information overload out there, and what works for one business may not work for another. A quick google search and we’re led down a Youtube black hole of online courses, sales funnels, business consultants and social media experts who are charging thousands of dollars a month on retainer. For a small business or future business owner – there may not be the flexibility for these costs right now.

As small business owners ourselves, we know the struggle of pivoting and so, we decided to share this list of FREE resources offered for New Yorkers.

From old-time mom and pop shops needing to grow their digital presence to entrepreneurs turning towards the government as a prospective client – this article offers up programs that you can turn to, and hopefully get you some new ideas on how to grow your business.

Did you know that New York-based small businesses make up 98% of all businesses across the state?

Despite Starbucks and Chase banks overtaking every street corner, the vast majority of industry in New York is propelled by that of the small business owner. Continue reading for our guide to free but little known resources for small business owners in New York City. Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter and to share this with your friends!

Brick and Mortar Businesses Need to Go Digital (And No, We’re Not Just Talking About Instagram)

Governor Cuomo announced the launch of Empire State Digital – a free initiative to help NYS based businesses grow their DIGITAL presence with the help of major companies like Shopify, Square, Clearbanc & Etsy. The offering is pretty basic, consisting primarily of free/ lower-cost services from the above-mentioned companies but will most likely grow as the program develops. Honestly, sounds like a PR stunt from these larger companies to generate new customers, but hey, free is free right?


  • First 90 days free for new brick and mortar merchants registering before November 30, 2020
  • Free access to Shopify Point-of Sale (POS) Pro features until October 31, 2020
  • Free* contactless payment Shopify Tap & Chip Reader for new POS retailers (*limited supplies)
  • $500 in Shopify app store credits for new Shopify POS brick-and-mortar retailers
  • 24/7 support, including access to online educational resources and possible eligibility for Shopify Capital


  • Educational workshops for small businesses, including restaurants and retailers, interested in going online and dedicated office hours in English and Spanish 
  • Build a free website with Square Online  
  • Free processing on up to $1,000 in credit card transactions for the first 180 days after joining Square 


  • Educational content on improving the financial health of your business   
  • Discounted rates on funding 
  • Free company valuation and track growth week-over-week 


  • Educational content on how to start a successful online business  
  • Free listing credits for new sellers

When Posting A Black Square on Instagram Isn’t Enough…Here’s How Black Business Owners Can Find Help

NYS announced a new initiative to support Black Entrepreneurs called BENYC which offers free mentorship, resources and a $3 million accelerator program. While still in its early stages, the mission of BENYC is to grow and support black business in New York.

Reasons Why You Should Support Black Businesses (In Numbers)

  • While the Black community currently makes up 22% of New York City’s population (1.9 million), just 2% of NYC businesses are owned by Black entrepreneurs
  • Only 3% of Black-owned businesses have employees. This is less than any other ethnic group.
  • Black businesses had the largest drop, nearly DOUBLE the national average with a 41% drop. In New York State, Black business ownership fell by 70%.

According to the New York State website, “while the Black community currently makes up 22% of New York City’s population (1.9 million), just 2% of NYC businesses are owned by Black entrepreneurs“. On a national scale, the number of active business owners fell by 22% from February to April 2020. Black businesses had the largest drop, nearly DOUBLE the national average with a 41% drop. In New York State, Black business ownership fell by 70%.

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Women/Minority Business Enterprises

New York has an M/WBE program that encourages city agencies to procure goods, services, and construction from M/WBEs with contracts going as high as $500,000. Certified M/WBE companies can apply to win government contracts in industries as far and wide as construction, childcare, graphic design, and event planning. Apply for M/WBE online today for free. The application process takes about an hour but lasts for five years.

See the qualifications below (as listed on the M/WBE website).

1. The business is legally authorized to transact business in New York State.

2. The business has been in operation (i.e., selling goods and/or services) for at least one year.

3. At least 51% of the business is owned, operated and controlled by a U.S. Citizen(s) or U.S. permanent resident(s) who are women and/or members of designated minority groups including:

  • Black
  • Hispanic
  • Asian-Pacific
  • Asian-Indian
  • Native American

4. The business has one of the following legal structures:

  • Sole proprietorship
  • Limited liability company (LLC)
  • Corporation
  • Limited liability partnership (LLP)
  • Limited Partnership (LP)
  • General Partnership

Not for Profit Organizations are ineligible.

When It’s Time to Talk To The Experts

Sometimes, Google simply doesn’t have ALL the answers.

In those cases, you’ll need to turn to an expert for advice. The Small Business Administration offers up dope, FREE programs like SCORE which connects you to free mentorship. Advisors are volunteers who are experts in their industry and can guide you from idea to launch and beyond.

The New York City Bar offers free to low-cost legal services through their Moderate Means Program including advice on business structure, commercial leases, contracts, sales, and corporate tax, or other business-related legal problems. For additional help, turn to Start Small, Think Big, a program offering free resources for under-resourced entrepreneurs through legal, financial, and marketing services.

While navigating the world of being a small business owner during Corona can be scary beyond belief…we hope this gives you hope that a. you’re not alone and b. there are resources and people willing to help. If you’re looking for some guidance – feel free to DM us on Instagram or email us at We’d love to hear what your working on.

team ciaooo

ciaooo! is an NYC based editorial site, newsletter, and events company. We're the local's guide to conquering NYC. Follow us on Instagram @ciaooomag for the latest. Nice to see you here!

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