Monday, 22 June 2015

How can small businesses be a catalyst for big changes?

Many of us already know that the sole trader, micro and small business community is where we must look for the changes in our fortunes. This is on a personal level, local community level and a national level too.

There are often clamours for more support for the small business, changes in legislation and tax breaks for those taking the risk of setting up a business and often going it alone. Makes sense doesn't it? If we're going to dig ourselves out of the hole we are in, then encouraging the small business with incentives will help them grow, it will drive employment up and make a massive difference.

But... and it is a big but... The government (or local councils for that matter) neither have the resources nor the inclination to favour those who choose to be in business any more than they do now. If you choose to be in business, then there are the rules and good luck is about as much support as you are going to get, look what happened to Business Link! Nope, you are an enterprising bunch you entrepreneurs don't look to the government for help or inspiration... They chose working in the civil service!

... plus... It is a known fact, entrepreneurs in general will look at all other possibilities before taking on staff as a last resort. If you are self employed with a skill (doing something you love) you might just get hired for projects as a supplier though... A glimpse into the future there...

So... What is a good way forward for self help for a small local business?

We are all part of the local community in which we live whether we choose to run a business or not, and if you are in business it's great to be able to meet others also in business. But you know what? 70% of what goes on in the community is nothing really to do with local business and herein lies a huge problem. Business and community are undeniably linked very closely, and yet there is virtually no mechanism for business and community to engage on a regular recurring basis.

One concept to bring business and community together was corporate social responsibility (using CSR here on in). The concept was introduced mainly for large corporations in an effort to encourage them to give back to the community in return for the vast profits they extract from us. With a few exceptions this has largely been adopted in a kind of 'lip service', 'tick in the box' way, with schemes that represent a fraction of what they could do. Almost nuisance projects, allowing them to legitimately record them into their annual reports demonstrating how they are giving back to community. The tangible signs of these projects however, are far and few between.

Asking large corporates and shareholders to 'donate' their profits to community voluntarily was always going to be an uphill battle. Perhaps the concept of helping out with the local community ought to have been directed elsewhere... at a different audience.

And here is one solution. What if we could create a way to bring business and the community together? What if local businesses (sole traders, micro and small businesses) could engage easily with local charities and social organisations and find ways to help out? If local business people started to take a keen interest in local community issues (and contribute) their reputation would grow rapidly, as would the respect of those in the community.

When respect and reputation go before you, so do recommendations and referrals. People refer people they like, but if you are a giver too? Go straight to the top of the referrer board! By raising your profile through community engagement local businesses are effectively delivering CSR not necessarily through monetary donations, but through interaction and time.

Link4Growth is about to launch Link4Business, a place where local businesses can meet together, to get connected, find suppliers, share tips and tricks, knowledge and expertise... But couple this with the community events, we provide a fast track route for businesses to learn about the community needs around them, and play an essential role in rebuilding our communities.

With local small businesses leading the way, helping to rebuild our local communities, taking an increasing share of business from the multiples perhaps corporates will begin to learn the message of CSR. It would appear the only time big business listens is when something affects negatively the bottom line.

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