For Strathmore social media and marketing strategist Amanda Corica, helping a bushfire-impacted small business has been a two-way street.

Her social media advice has given Bruthen General Store in East Gippsland a new lease on life. Hearing owner James (Nico) Nicholas’ bushfire story has been “a humbling experience’’ for her.

The pair were connected through the free Help a Small Biz program which matches small businesses directly and indirectly impacted by the 2019-20 bushfires with business “buddies’’ who provide compatible goods, skills and services needed to recommence trade and thrive.

Help a Small Biz is operated by corporate2community (C2C) founder Renae Hanvin, who developed the initiative to fill the gaps in current support for small and micro businesses.

“While the many government grants and initiatives currently available to small businesses do a wonderful job and are providing unprecedented support to these businesses, we are still hearing of many who are falling through the funding gaps,’’ she said.

Now further impacted by COVID-19, problems for Bruthen General Store began when lightning strikes about 1.5km east of the town on November 23 evolved into a 10,000ha inferno that took a month to contain.

Flames marched on Bruthen from the north/north west between Christmas and New Year. One night the fire had a 28km run to the north of Bruthen.

On December 30/31, a fire from the west approached Bruthen and tore through many neighbouring areas, destroying 68 houses and many out buildings. Roads and communication were cut.

Trade at Bruthen General Store all but ceased.

Mr Nicholas was then hit by another challenge: Bruthen and surrounding towns were inundated with donations of groceries.

“The trouble with that is, I’m a grocery store. Trade literally stopped.’’

Generous people from around the nation were effectively killing his store and others like it throughout country areas with kindness.

To save his business, on January 5 Mr Nicholas took over all the store roles which took him off the away from some of his volunteer CFA duties, a significant loss to the brigade given he was its captain.

The bushfire impact was sharper and more severe than the 2007-08 global financial crisis, he said: “This one came out of the blue and punched us in the face.’’

He reached out to Help a Small Biz to salvage his business and build future resilience by overhauling his social media and engaging with customers online.

“[Ms Corica provided] very efficient advice to get my Facebook page up and going,’’ he said. “Her suggestions were practical and have given me a structure that I can aim for and a means by which I can now post a variety of information to keep the page interesting.’’

Ms Corica (amandacorica.com.au) was equally grateful for the chance to give practical help: “I’ve volunteered most of my life in one way or another, so this was right up my alley and using my professional skills.’’

Help a Small Biz founder Renae Hanvin said: “It’s so satisfying to see how a seemingly small gesture can make such a huge difference to someone struggling, but I also really love the effect helping has on our volunteers.’’

Can you help a small business directly or indirectly impacted by the bushfires?

To offer help, business employees complete this simple form.

To request help, small businesses complete this simple form.

Suitable businesses will then be paired with business “buddies’’ who will help address their needs so they can recommence trading and go on to thrive.