What is a small business?
You might be hearing people shout from the rooftops or rather sharing on social media to #shopsmallbusiness.
While all that chatter is good and usually said with healthy intention – I want to take a moment to rethink what it means to shop small business.
First, let’s define what is considered a small business. Well – the answer might surprise you. The Small Business Administration (SBA) says that to be regarded as a small business, you have to be Between or below 50 and 1,500 employees, AND be Between or below $1 and $41.5 million in annual receipts. This is all depending on your industry. That’s a pretty large range, right? So while a small business might come to mind as a small mom-and-pop store struggling to get by – that’s not always the case.
The SBA also says that you have to be independently owned and operated (you don’t have a parent company). So take, for instance, a fast-food restaurant chain that may be locally owned in your town, but it is operated based on the regulations of their parent company. And finally, you can’t be the majority of the national market share for your industry.
I think this definition makes it clear why small businesses make up about 44% of economic activity in the United States. But there is more than just choosing to shop small.
To help you understand where I am coming from, I have a few questions to get you rethinking #shopsmallbusiness:
- Do you want to support a small business if they donate their money, and by association your money, to organizations that fuel inequality or lack of access?
- How do you feel about supporting a small business that imports its products from exploitive countries?
- What about ones that only carry products that are unsustainable for the environment?
- Do you feel comfortable buying from businesses that aren’t inclusive?
These questions help you to get you thinking about your values, although there are many more questions that could be asked here.
Here are a few more questions to ponder:
- Does that small business have a plan in place for fixing its shortfalls?
- Are there any barriers preventing the small business from fully aligning with the values that protect the earth?
- What obstacles do you or your community have that may require them to shop the way they are?
Shopping a small business is not just a black and white topic. There is so much gray, and we need to think critically about these things if we want to advance as a society. Rigid thinking has gotten us into many of the problems we face today.
So instead of saying small shop business, I want to alter that and encourage you instead say, “Shop small-scale, locally owned businesses who support your values” It doesn’t make that great of a hashtag – I admit too many words. Still, we must recognize the difference and talk about it when having these conversations.
Shopping small, locally owned, value-aligned businesses could be the answer.
Local, small business versus big business
Large corporations get a lot of media time. They’re the ones who are in the spotlight when it comes to having an opinion on political issues, diversity, where their money goes, their impact on the environment and people, and more. And while it is true that a handful of large corporations are the heaviest hitters to our environment, why can’t we be asking those same questions of our local small businesses? The Biden-Harris Administration reports that “98 percent of small businesses have fewer than 20 employees.” And, small businesses create two-thirds of net new jobs. That’s millions of people out there either working for small business owners or owning a small business.
That is unspoken power.
That is a power that we could really leverage if we tapped into it! It takes the seemingly impossible fight against big business to a local level – one that isn’t as daunting, where people could have these conversations about sustainability with these small businesses and start working to change the narrative from the small businesses on up.
growth and intention
Keep in mind, not all small businesses will stay as small as they started – some will grow. What happens when a small business becomes a big business? If you supported a business you don’t align with, you may have just provided them a larger platform for a voice you don’t feel good about. Does that mean you should stop shopping with them? Not necessarily. But you should pay attention to their practices upfront. Shop small and sustainable when you can. Voice your values with your dollar—Voice your concerns, ideas, and solutions. Build a community.
On the other side of the coin, Not all small businesses will grow or even stay open forever. It’s just the nature of the game. But when businesses are here, we can thoughtfully and intentionally shop from them. Talking to your local business about the things we have been learning in this podcast can make a massive difference for your community, and in turn, the planet. The motto goes: Think globally, act locally.
So let’s talk about small business benefits.
Small business benefits
Shopping small, locally-aligned businesses has a few awesome benefits that you may not have heard of. The main proponents of small local businesses are that they keep money in the local economy, which they do. NerdWallet says that “When you spend $100 at a small business, $48 stays in the community. Spend the same $100 at a big-box store or national retailer, and only $14 stays.”
community + happiness
And, as I just mentioned, you are supporting local jobs and supporting your community and the entrepreneurs that live there. Your help provides jobs for your neighbors, family, and friends. Those jobs are likely to be more fulfilling for the individual than working for a big box store. One study by Aflac showed that employees feel happier working for small businesses, that they feel like they can have more of an impact, and that their voices are heard. What did I tell you? That’s unspoken power.
Shopping small local businesses is also helping to reduce inequality. The Insitute for Local Self-Reliance notes a few studies that find reduced income inequality stating “the increasing size of corporations is driving inequality, while local and dispersed business ownership strengthens the middle class.”
They also find that “locally owned businesses are linked to higher income growth and lower levels of poverty, while big-box retailers, particularly Walmart, depresses wages and benefits for retail employees.”
Reduced environmental impact
Small, locally-owned businesses also have a reduced environmental impact. Because of the nature of wanting to be centrally located, small local businesses are typically close to one another, contributing to less physical spread, which can mean less habitat loss, less driving to distant locations, which means less pollution, and easier access for public transit. This is more challenging for smaller, rural America, but many local businesses are still located along the same main street, even in small-town America.
By shopping locally at your farmers market, for example, you know your food is locally grown, unlike many grocery stores where your food travels for over a thousand miles. This cuts down on fuel, pollution, energy, shipping facilities, packing facilities, waste, and refrigeration.
Overall, the carbon footprint is smaller when you shop at small, locally-owned businesses.
And the last point I want to make about rethinking what it means to shop small business: we need to Rethink the word support.
I feel like often the word support in the small business world is that these businesses are on life support, and if you don’t “support them,” they will close up shop. But your small businesses aren’t all charity cases – you should support them because they add more value to you and your community, have quality and integrity, provide you with a better experience and more expertise. Not for the sole fact that they are there.
You can also support your small businesses in more ways than just giving them your money for goods.
Spread the word
You can Spread the word. This means word of mouth or sharing on social media. It keeps the business top of mind and is a good form of marketing. The pandemic put pressure on many businesses, putting marketing last on the list. This helps them to be seen and heard by your community. Leave a review for a small business you love so someone passing through or looking for somewhere new can read your kind words.
People aren’t always going to buy local 100% of the time, but you can help keep these businesses coming to mind first. Even for yourself, you can practice seeing if the item is available locally by searching social media or asking a friend before ordering from another small business that isn’t local online or going somewhere to get it.
show up for your community
You can also attend events that support your local small businesses. Many businesses have pop-up events, events where they have promotions to try to drum up new business, even circumstances where they have sponsored a team or item. Showing up (and maybe even bringing a friend) shows you care for your community- even if you don’t spend any money.
And finally, you can also show support by giving these small businesses a break. Local small businesses are the people who are wearing many hats at once to try to make you, the customer, happy. You may not get next-day delivery and dirt cheap prices like you can see at Amazon. Still, being patient and understanding will help you connect to the fact that there is a real human on the other end of a product putting in their time and energy – and that is valuable.
Something to grow on
On this week’s something to grow on, I encourage you to find a new-to-you local small business that aligns with your values. Ask a friend, search on Yelp, Search your location on social media and see who has posted, look on your city’s website – most of them have all of the businesses in town listed.
And if you’re from a small town like I am where you know all of the small local businesses, maybe search a city or two over. Try out Etsy and find makers that align with your values. You can even search your state and see what sellers listed their goods.
Then, choose one local small business to reach out to about their sustainability measures and start a conversation.
Sustainability begins in your community and in your small businesses. We are all in this together, neighbors.
Until next time, thanks for joining me.
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