Here’s something we ask ourselves a lot: What is a community? Is it only made of people as individuals, interacting on a social, cultural and municipal level, or is there more to it? We still don’t have definitive answers, but there’s one thing we’re sure of - A community consists of all entities that interact with each other - individuals and social organizations - sure, but also commercial entities, local businesses, and education and entertainment establishments. All of these create a network of human interaction that defines the way we live our lives.
So what is the real role of local businesses? Do they merely focus on generating profits, or do they have a larger calling? We asked around.
Turns out, owning a business, whether big or small, comes with a lot of power. Not only do you attract the local community by answering their needs, you also create a public space for meeting and interacting - a hub around which relationships are formed. Now, what would you do with that kind of power? Can you influence the themes of those interactions? Shed light on issues of importance? Mobilize a community towards a common goal? Sure you can. But will it detract from your commercial aspirations? Does it defocus you from making a profit? Let’s take a look.
A great example of a small (and successful) business giving back to its community is Anton’s Cleaners, who have been in business for over 17 years in Lowell, Massachusetts. Every year they participate in “Coats for Kids”. where more than 200 businesses in New England collect coats, which are then distributed to the needy through social service agencies. Anton’s provides flyers and posters to promote the program, and the company cleans all donated garments free of charge. Tens of thousands of coats were donated last year and that would have been impossible to do without a business to take real initiative and a community working together to bring some good to the lives of those who are in need. Anton’s also gives back to its customers, by offering deals every single month on different items that need cleaning.
Larger companies can have a major effect in communities as well, but on a much larger scale. A good example of this is TOMS shoes. They’ve been around for 10 years, an idea by founder Blake Mycoskie following the “one for one concept,” in which every pair of shoes sold is a pair of new shoes given to an impoverished child. TOMS has also branched out in the eyewear department following the same concept.
Businesses that strive to make a positive impact in their neck of the woods not only reap the benefits of having stronger connections with their customers, but with their employees. Employees who take part in giving back generally feel more fulfilled in the workplace, which promotes good business and ultimately leads to longer-term profits. Rieva Lesonskly, CEO of GrowBiz Media & smallbizdaily.com believes that doing good for your business and doing good for your community goes hand in hand. “Being a ‘good’ company enhances profitability when people WANT to do business with you because they know you care about others, particularly in the community”.
“These two outcomes aren’t mutually exclusive” says Denise O’Berry, Small Business Expert at www.deniseoberry.com. We spoke with Denise as well as a handful of other small business experts and supporters regarding our curiosities - and there are many more people who share her view. Can you run a small profitable business and give back to your community in conjunction? “ABSOLUTELY,” says Ivana Taylor, Small Business Influencer at DIYMarketers.com, “successful local businesses that are involved in their community are more profitable and more successful…the profitability detractions happen when the community perceives the business’ participation in the community as self-serving rather than supporting.”
So where do you begin to mix the two and how do you choose what role you want to take in the fostering of your surroundings? You begin by taking a good, hard look at your actual community. Is there a struggling animal shelter that could use the help to save stray cats and dogs? What about a local kids’ baseball team that needs a sponsor? Could an elementary school benefit from your neighborhood restaurant catering it’s weekly lunches? “It starts from within--by identifying a cause you care about. If you don’t care, your customers won’t care,” says Joe Waters, Founder & Blogger, Selfishgiving.com. Joe also pointed out that “community awareness enhances profitability when consumers see a strong and long-term commitment to a meaningful cause.” What’s more meaningful than a local cause? Your customers will give back to you especially if you’re giving back to them and the community in which they are a part of. “Acting in the interests of the community furthers the business’ brand.” adds Barbara Weltman, Publisher of Big Ideas for Small Business at www.barbaraweltman.com.
As far as we’re concerned it seems that doing good business and bringing good to your community CAN coexist. Actually, their coexistence amplifies your success all around.
To keep a good thing going, we’ve announced an annual Flok award for an #ExceptionalSmallBusiness. Check out the project on our Facebook page, and nominate yourself or your favorite business for the award!
Let’s keep our communities - and businesses - thriving.