By Hannah Curtis, SBDC Coordinator
In a world where we get a constant stream of information, it is safe to say we are all painfully aware of the issues we are seeing in our communities and beyond. As business owners, these issues call forth a decision, a fork in the road. Will we continue along on the wide, grassy path of convenience? Or will we choose to travel uphill on a fainter, rocky path of intention and action?
You may be thinking to yourself, “Do I really have a choice? I am already running full throttle trying to manage all aspects of my business, how can I possibly dedicate time or resources to other issues I care about”?
But I encourage you to take heart, knowing your business is not alone and you may have more support than you think. The issues we are up against are giants, but as a business community we can grow step by step in the right direction, together. Knowing how to jump in can be the biggest barrier, so read on for 5 steps to start taking action in your business.
1. Choose your influence
We can’t all do everything at once, but there are aspects to every business that make it unique. Align your business niche to complement your passion and your capacity for impact will become clearer. Consider the following examples of opportunities your business could take advantage of to make an impact:
Planet: We only have one! How do your business operations value the environment? Think about decreasing consumption by reusing as much as possible, buy from local suppliers when possible, or use energy and water efficient appliances.
People: Get creative with how your business impacts those in your direct sphere of influence. How are you taking care of your people? Consider employee ownership, implement employee volunteer time, or flex schedules.
Prosperity: A prosperous economy is one where all people are considered. Is your business creating an opportunity for someone else? Take a chance on employees who may have a harder time finding employment in traditional settings, start an apprenticeship or mentorship program, or make a commitment to prioritize diversity.
2. Inspire a shared vision
You can’t go it alone, nor do you want to! Ensure your employees are on board by building your values into your business. Communicate openly with employees about the values important to the business. Most employees will see these initiatives as an added bonus. Knowing their work is a part of something bigger than themselves provides an amplified sense of fulfillment.
If you don’t have employees, seek others who can help you stay accountable. Verbalizing your goals to family, friends, or other entrepreneurs is a great way to help you, and others, stay motivated and on track. For more on this important skill, check out the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.
3. Create a roadmap
We all know not to leave a meeting without action items and the same is true for implementing new ideas to reach your goals of impact. Break your initiative down into bite-sized chunks you can set deadlines to. You want to start a recycling program for your business? Great! Start by making a checklist of what needs to happen, who is going to do it, and when each step should be completed. Creating a framework for accomplishment will allow you to solidify a process for future initiatives as well, and make your goals feel attainable rather than overwhelming.
4. Seek help
As a business owner, you are used to taking the plunge. You are likely familiar with the feeling of adrenaline you get from starting something new and this is no different. Once you’ve done your research, you’ve planned a strategy, and you’ve built a support system, the next step is to start making your goal a reality.
There are many resources available to help guide and support you through this process! Some helpful places to start are:
- Your city’s website – Many cities have a sustainable business program specifically to help businesses achieve positive impacts.
- Good Business Colorado – Associations like GBC offer resources, education, and inspiration to keep you motived through each step.
- Colorado Green Business Plan – This program within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provides technical assistance, connections to resources, and environmental recognition.
- Other entrepreneurs – There is so much creative power in the mind of an entrepreneur and we learn best from each other. Join a community group for business owners to find out what is working for them.
5. Share your success
There is a movement among consumers to align their purchase power with their values. According to a 2017 study by Cone Communications, 87% of consumers will purchase a product because the company supported a cause that was important to them and 76% will refuse to purchase a product because the company’s products or services do not align with their own values.
Justine Roberts, Program and Communications Manager with the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility for the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder, spends a lot of her time with individuals who are working to magnify their commitment to social and environmental issues through their business. She comments that for businesses to succeed they must support their values with words and actions.
Roberts explains, “Consumers are increasingly demanding that businesses address social and environmental issues. This pressure from consumers is creating both a need and an opportunity for businesses to connect their brand to sustainability and social justice. Consumers can also see through glossy marketing campaigns and can tell the difference between meaningful change and virtue signaling, raising the bar for companies to shift not just their product positioning but also their policies and practices. The ability for businesses to choose when and how much to invest in these issues has shifted from a luxury to an expectation and companies need to adapt accordingly.”
Customers need to know about the efforts you are making to use your power as a business owner for a positive influence. Sharing your experience not only creates a transparent lens for your business, but can also motivate others, entrepreneurs and customers alike, to take actions of their own. If you are just beginning, engage your customers in the journey. You may be surprised by the support customers are willing to give to encourage your business when you share your goals and progress openly and genuinely.
Go for it
There are many responsibilities demanding your time as a small business owner, but taking advantage of these resources can help you reach your goals for impact. As Simon Sinek encourages, “Dream big. Start small. But most of all, start.”