Small businesses create jobs, drive innovation, and contribute to the vitality of our communities. However, these same businesses also face significant challenges in today's rapidly changing economic landscape. From the impact of COVID-19 to the rise of ecommerce and shifting consumer preferences, small businesses are navigating a complex and ever-evolving marketplace.
That's why it's more important than ever to focus not just on National Small Business Week, but on building a sustainable future for your businesses in the long term. This requires a collaborative effort from individuals, communities, and policymakers to provide the resources, support, and regulatory framework that small businesses need to thrive. There are also ways you can broaden your community of business owners through networking to share knowledge and grow collectively.
Strategies for building a sustainable future for your business
- Advocate for policy changes: Small businesses can be at a disadvantage when it comes to navigating regulatory barriers and accessing funding and resources. Advocating for policy changes at the local, state, and federal levels may help level the playing field and make it easier for small businesses to succeed. This might include advocating for tax incentives, access to capital, and streamlined regulatory processes. A simple way to start is to get read up on policies in your area that impact small business owners through your local chamber of commerce.
- Embrace innovation and technology: The rise of e-commerce and digital platforms has created new opportunities for small businesses to reach customers and grow their businesses. Customers and buyers alike have changed the way they like to research and purchase products. Embracing innovation and technology may help you stay competitive and adapt to changing market conditions. This might include investing in an updated website, using online sales platforms, launching marketing via social media or email, and staying on top of additional digital tools that may help you expand your reach and connect with new customers.
- Collaborate and form partnerships with other businesses in your community: Collaboration and partnerships can be powerful tools for small businesses. Working together with other businesses and community organizations may help you access new resources, expand your networks, and tap into new markets to find customers. This might include partnering with other businesses to offer joint promotions or discounts, or working with local nonprofits to support community initiatives and events. Consider starting small and seeing what works best for your business.
- Prioritize sustainability and social responsibility: Consumers are increasingly looking for businesses that prioritize sustainability and social responsibility. In fact, a 2021 survey by IBM found that 57% of consumers are willing to change their purchasing habits to reduce their environmental impact. 79% of consumers consider a company's social and environmental commitments when deciding where to shop according to a new report.
By adopting sustainable business practices and supporting social causes, you may not only attract new customers, but also build stronger connections with your community. This might include sourcing locally and responsibly, minimizing waste and energy use, and supporting community initiatives and causes that align with your business's values.
Also, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed on where to start, but one simple place to jump in is networking. Networking is essential for business owners as it allows them to connect, learn from others, and explore new opportunities. Here are some places where you can start both on and offline:
Offline networking opportunities
Chambers of commerce: Chambers of Commerce are local business organizations that bring together businesses in a particular area. They often host events, such as networking breakfasts or after-hours events, that allow business owners to connect with one another.
Professional associations: Professional associations cater to specific industries and offer opportunities for professionals in those industries to network and share information. Attending industry events or joining local chapters of professional associations can be a great way for small business owners to connect with others in their field.
Local meetups: Meetups are informal gatherings of people who share a common interest. There are often Meetup groups dedicated to small business owners or entrepreneurs that offer opportunities to network and learn from one another.
Business Incubators: Business incubators are organizations that provide resources, support, and mentorship to startup companies. They often have shared workspaces where entrepreneurs can work alongside one another, allowing for natural networking opportunities. InBIA® is a global nonprofit organization that has a network of incubators, accelerators, and other entrepreneurship centers.
Online networking opportunities
LinkedIn and Facebook offer a range of features, including groups and messaging, that allow small business owners to connect with others in their industry, based on shared interests or in their geographic area. Twitter Chats are scheduled conversations on Twitter around a specific topic or theme. Participating in relevant Twitter Chats can be a great way for small business owners to connect with others in their field.
Online forums, such as Reddit® or Quora®, offer opportunities for people to ask and answer questions related to specific topics. Participating in forums related to one's industry or area of interest can be a great way to connect with others to learn and share knowledge.
As you work towards building a sustainable future for your business, keep in mind that it takes a village. You'll need to collaborate, innovate, and advocate to achieve your goals. Remember to look within your community and partner with other businesses to maximize your impact. By supporting fellow small businesses and contributing to the economic and social vitality of your community, you'll not only succeed but thrive for years to come.