Small and medium enterprises are the backbone of local communities. They are essential to the health of their neighbourhood, creating jobs, products and services while giving a community its character and individuality.
But it is a two-way street – SMEs cannot prosper in a vacuum and they need the support of their neighbourhood too; that’s where many of your customers are and where your employees live. Businesses that forge close links with their communities have higher profiles, better reputations, stronger networks, more customers and happier employees. If you are a local business owner, getting involved with your community is not only good for others, but for you too. Yet, according to a recent survey by the Telegraph, only 22% of business leaders see community support as a priority. In these hard times, many of us are time-poor and budgets are more pressured than ever, but there are many ways you can get close to your community without breaking the bank.
Here are 4 ways you can give back and reap the benefits.
Charity Work & Sponsorship
A tried and tested strategy, partnering with local non-profit organisations can raise your profile, amplify your reputation and build lasting business connections. When COVID-19 abates, you can keep it simple by sponsoring an employee in a local marathon or organising a company fun run for a nearby charity, a wonderful way of supporting neighbourhood causes while employees will feel they are helping people and places they know. Take it one step further by donating bottles or kit, paying for water or snacks; all can be branded with your company name. All communities will have local charities looking for company sponsors to help with the cost of events or even to be a headline supporter of their brand; getting involved in that way will give ongoing promotion to your organisation and a great way of marketing your business locally. Offering work experience and training to local young people supported by local charities is another way of getting your company invaluable PR and column inches in local media. Team sponsorship is a cost-effective way of linking with the community – paying for the equipment of a kid’s football team or having your logo on your local team’s jersey will raise your standing and there are usually ways of getting involved with school events and teams too.
Although time is a precious commodity, many of the biggest companies in the world recognise the PR value of allowing a specific number of hours a year for their employees to volunteer at a charity or cause of their choice, and that’s something you can replicate locally. Whether you are helping out at a food bank, planting trees in a field, clearing up a children’s park or decorating a community hall, volunteering is a powerful tool in fostering community links, while promoting team building and employee morale in your business. Lead by example and encourage your staff to get involved – remember that everyone has different passions, so getting involved with a variety of local causes is the best way forward. It always works best when time off to volunteer is during working hours and is paid for – even a handful of hours a month will deliver value to your community and your business.
Work with local businesses
One of the best possible ways to support your community is to collaborate with and support nearby businesses. Make sure you always buy supplies, materials and services from local companies wherever possible and forge partnerships to deliver positive results for you, them and the district around you. If you own a bakery, and the lady next door runs a café, then you need to be working together! Not every potential link-up is as obvious, but there are many hidden gems to unearth and you won’t find them unless you ask. Actively promote the great local businesses you work with – encourage your customers to use them, leave reviews on your website and theirs – you can even set aside an area on your site to link to other companies to help with SEO efforts, give them space to advertise or invite them to write a guest post to feature on your blog. Making these investments, cross-networking and setting aside time to help your fellow business owners will prompt them to do the same – you’ll make new contacts and reach new customers, all while supporting your local economy.
Donate Your Skills
As a business owner in your community, you will have a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience. Think back to when you were starting out; there were probably many questions you couldn’t answer and problems you felt you couldn’t solve. Maybe you got lucky and muddled through by trial and error – or maybe you had someone who showed you how? Your expertise is invaluable – and you will find many people will jump at the chance of hearing what you have to say and learning from you. Share your success by mentoring new businesses just starting up and guiding them through their early times. Think about offering free classes on business, marketing or entrepreneurship at your local college or school. Skills can be shared in workshops – especially valuable to people who have been out of work for some time. While COVID-19 is with us it is difficult to do this in person, but you can always upload educational videos for people to watch any time of day. When you share your knowledge about how you achieved success, you will probably come across a few revelations of your own. And remember – communities thrive with strong local businesses and the more people you can inspire to follow your example; the more businesses will launch and succeed. New partnerships blossom, new opportunities flower and the community prospers.
Over to you
SMEs and local communities are invested in each other’s success. Giving back boosts your reputation, opens the door to new customers and opportunities and makes for a happier, motivated workplace. The smallest of gestures can make a huge difference in your neighbourhood, and while we live in tough times, surely communities have become more important than ever as we battle the pandemic. Anything you do now will help to ignite positive change and build for the post-COVID world. How will your business support your community in 2021?