With all of the divisiveness in the economy, media and politics we read about in the headlines, I believe that small businesses can be an answer in healing and creating a sense of unity in our society (or community).
There is one thing that connects people of all backgrounds and of all cultures: that is our collective desire to thrive, grow, create, live in peace, and prosper. When an environment allows a business to prosper, the ecosystem it is a part of also prospers. The ecosystem I refer to is all of the people who interact with that business such as contractors, distributors, suppliers, and clients. By community, I refer to the social unit that surrounds the small business. When a community supports a business, that community often feels a sense of ownership and pride in the business’s success. The community identity can even become intertwined with the brand or business’ identity.
So what kind of impact can small businesses have on a local community? I think the most evident is that business is able to help solve problems within their community. As a business grows and thrives, they create jobs and opportunities. Many businesses and business owners make philanthropic investments in their communities as a way to give back. These investments can also be part of a growth and branding strategy. Think about listener supported radio stations such as NPR or public television. Look around your town or city where businesses exist – it’s not difficult to find examples of business sponsorship at local sports leagues, concerts, festivals, and parks. Then as a business grows, there is another less intentional impact, one that is less noticeable on the local level but still very important. That business’s ecosystem begins to grow and it is not only impacting their local community, but the effects of that growth begin to extend beyond the businesses’ local community. Gradually, that business has a broad reach, even beyond state lines and national borders. This broad reach is especially evident in internet based businesses.
So what happens when a small business based in one location has a broad customer base in multiple locations? They not only serve a local community, but their technology based business reaches many communities. In many towns and cities, marketing campaigns to “buy local” and “support local” brick and mortar business are pushed by a local community. This is a very effective movement to produce personalized goods that represent a region or an area of the country. I think this is very helpful for the educated consumer when it comes to sourcing products that have fresh food ingredients and when an area is known as a source for a rare commodity. However, when the term is used only as a reference to where a business is located and it does not actually refer to a true locally sourced commodity, it sounds a bit convoluted. Like many marketing terms, “local” is a context and it does not necessarily mean they sell products with the best quality. It also does not mean a business produces a 100% locally made product nor does a business with a local label necessarily use ingredients or materials all from local sources. It may only mean that a piece of the production or a storefront is local. The term in this context is then used as a competitive means to prevent people from purchasing from internet-based businesses and I don’t think this hurts true “local” businesses. It’s interesting that as a service provider who does all my business online, I often do not identify as a local based business yet I still give back to communities wherever I am based. The work I output has a direct impact on my clients’ success and my clients are businesses located around the country. My community is a network of businesses with similar missions who support a greater movement to help better society and my community extends beyond a single location. I aim to support businesses based within the U.S. and U.S. territories and I outsource some tasks to contractors within my military spouse and design community. It is more important to my business to hire talent regardless of where they are located because doing so ensures quality, that I can work within a client’s budget, meet a production deadline, and this is what makes my business thrive. As Corinne and I have learned over the past year, there are benefits as well as challenges to overcome when you work with one another across time zones, but it is something that has defined us. This has made my business model much more flexible and we use tools that have made us incredibly efficient. A term I’ve embraced for this is digital productivity: technology has made it possible for us to work together from remote locations almost as smoothly as if we were under the same roof.
The reality is this: whether you run a small locally based brick and mortar business or small online business, we live in a digitally connected world and global exposure is one post away for your company and brand. Do we fight the challenges the internet creates or accept the opportunities it provides? Can we take pride as a business or consumer in knowing that we are purchasing a product that in its production has required parts or services from small businesses who are helping many different communities? How do we as businesses help bridge the gap between various communities and cultures in different places for people who still feel heavily reliant and connected with one community or culture?
We hope our videos featuring the stories and advice from entrepreneurs that Corinne has met in her travels around the world will inspire you and show that we all live very similar lives beyond our borders. Our main difference is that some of us have the privilege to live in a stable country while others live in countries that are bordered with finicky political and economic climates. What can we learn from our friends who live and work in places challenged with instability?
We will also highlight some of our small business clients who are locally based and have an internet-based presence. We hope that you will share their stories and help others realize the common connection we all have no matter where we are located around the world.