When you’re struggling to get everything done or even to make ends meet as a small business owner…
…making your business a force for good might be the last thing you’re thinking about.
But with almost 10 years of serving small business owners under my belt, I believe it’s the first thing you should be thinking about.
The first step in making your business a force for good is making sustainability your highest priority. What is sustainability when we’re talking about small business?
It’s the commonly thought of things, sure, like environmental sustainability and community contribution. But it’s also financial and operational sustainability from the inside out.
In other words, small businesses need to think about whether the way they’re doing business today can be sustained for the next 5, 10, or even 20 or more years. They also need to consider whether their business practices are leading to greater sustainability in the communities they operate in because — whether they feel like it or not — small business owners are leaders in those communities, too.
Putting an emphasis on doing business sustainably means that it becomes easier to get everything done, it becomes easier to make ends meet, and that your business is contributing to overall welfare of your community by ensuring that you’re doing business in a responsible manner.
Plus, putting an emphasis on sustainability is a great way to connect with the right people as customers and partners, too, since more people are looking to do business with those who share their values.
Now, I know it can be a challenge to try to fit one more thing into your juggle as a small business owner.
That’s why the CoCommercial team and I have compiled a list of 10 things that can make a huge difference in how you do business — but only take an hour or less to implement. You’ll find them below.
This is not an exhaustive list. We want to hear from you, too! What other things can small businesses do — in about an hour or less — to make their operations, environmental impact, and community contribution more sustainable? Tell us in the comments below!
1) Write down your mission statement.
Why does your company exist? To what end on your focusing your effort as a small business? These are probably questions you can answer if given a bit of time.
But, the first step to making your business a force for good, is to ensure that the answers to these questions are set, known, and baked into every business decision you make.
That’s why, if you haven’t yet, it’s time to write your mission statement. Your mission statement goes beyond the value proposition for your business as a whole and speaks to the ripple effects that you want your small business to have in your community or market.
Once you have your mission statement set down, make sure to review it with everyone who is coming into contact with your customers or helping you create value — that could be your employees, your contractors, or… just yourself. Even if you’re a team of 1, reviewing your mission statement on a regular basis will help you become a better, more creative decision-maker for your business.
2) Set up a recurring donation to a charity or non-profit organization aligned with your company’s mission.
It helps to know who else is on your side. If you don’t already know of a charity or non-profit organization that’s working toward a similar mission to yours, do a little research. If you can find one in your local community, you can even get involved beyond a financial contribution!
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Setting up a small recurring donation — even $5 per month — puts your money where your mission is. It’s a simple way to remind yourself, your team, and your customers that you’re making money for a reason.
Later on, you could consider donated a certain percentage of profit or donating an amount per item sold.
3) Make your office “paperless” and create a recycling policy.
You’re probably already a good recycler in your personal life and you might not even think about recycling paper for your business — it’s just what you do!
But that doesn’t mean that having a policy for recycling can’t do some real good. As your business and your team grows, you’ll want to make sure you’re managing your environmental impact proactively.
Create a simple policy that sets the expectation that any waste that can be recycled is recycled properly.
Since creating the policy should only take you a couple of minutes, spend the rest of your time on this line item signing up for as much “paperless” billing or communication as possible. Consider your credit cards, suppliers who send catalogs, utilities, and really anyone else who is sending you mail on a regular basis. Sign into your account on those websites and find the paperless communication option.
It might not catch everything (the IRS will still send you a bill!) but it will dramatically cut down on the waste your small company creates.
4) Choose your suppliers based on your values.
Businesses do a lot of business with other businesses — regardless of whether they’re B2B or B2C. Making sure the businesses your small business buys from fit your standards for sustainability, diversity, and ethics goes a long way to increasing the positive impact of your own.
Make a list of the top values and ethical standards your small company has. Maybe your company really values environmental sustainability, giving back to the local community, and women or minority ownership.
Then, look back through your business expenses to see how many of the companies you do business with on a regular basis share your values and standards. Make a list of the ones that don’t seem to. You can email them for more information or shop around to see if there is another option that works for you and has a more explicit stance on the issues or values you really care about.
You might not be able to “be perfect” but there’s a great chance that simply being more intentional when it comes to the companies you do business with can help your business do more good.
5) Do business locally.
Small businesses often implore customers to shop small and shop local. Rightly so! But how often are those same small businesses making the (not so) difficult choice to shop locally themselves?
Even if your business is primarily digital, you have local options. You might be surprised to find out what kind of technology or business support options you have locally.
When you can’t patronize businesses that are owned locally, even supporting businesses that are operated locally — instead of shopping online — can keep more dollars in the local economy. When you make doing business locally a company initiative, you’ll start to look for ways to prioritize taking the extra step to buy local first.
Now, I fully recognize that finding local options when you’re used to doing business online can be tough! An easy place to start is to get involved with a local networking group. Even if you don’t need the services of the people in the group right away — you’ll know exactly where to go when new needs pop up. Either they’ll be able to help you directly or they’ll know someone who can.
6) Pay yourself, your employees, and your contractors a living wage and fair market rates.
Many small businesses are unsustainable even if they’re regularly bringing in new business and closing deals and that’s because the people who make them work (often just the owners) are subsidizing the true cost of business by accepting unfair pay.
How much does it really cost for you to do the work you do? Consider the fair market rate of your own job. Do you have a baseline salary based on that rate? Are company profits distributed back to you as the owner above and beyond that fair rate? If not, your business isn’t truly sustainable.
How much does it really cost for your employees and contractors to do their work? Where else could they go to do similar work and what would they be paid? Also consider the benefits of employment or work elsewhere. Are you providing commensurate benefits?
Now, before you panic at the perceived costs of paying employees and contractors well — including their benefits, do your homework. I see many small business owners paying contractors extravagantly for limited work when choosing an employee relationship and being a little more thoughtful about compensation would actually save them money in the long run, produce a greater scope of work and support, and would prevent turnover. That’s a really sustainable choice that preserves the dignity of workers.
It might take time to increase your own pay or that of your workers but you can make the decision today to make it happen and start making a plan for seeing it through.
7) Create a standard and practice for transparency.
Sustainable businesses work toward generous standards of transparency. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone on your team needs access to your Profit & Loss statements but it does mean that your standard operating procedures, policies, and basic business fitness information is available to everyone involved.
At CoCommercial, all team members have access to every operating procedure for each area of the business — except the most sensitive like HR. We discuss decision-making at our weekly meeting as well as team needs for keeping the company healthy. Plus, our company policies are laid out for each team member in Asana, as well as in a digital employee handbook so that everyone knows what’s up.
Small business owners have a tendency to silo themselves and their decision-making. This makes it really hard to get buy-in from team members and to create succession-planning for the future. If you want to help your business stand the test of time, transparency is a key piece of the puzzle.
8) Create a time off policy.
Even if you’re a team of one, you need a time off policy because, sometimes, the last person to take a break is you.
You might be surprised just how freeing it is to know exactly what you expect of others — and yourself — when it comes to taking time off from work. Plus, having a time off policy makes working for you more sustainable. When people know you support their whole lives — and not just the time they spend behind a desk — they’re more likely to stick around and do great work with you.
How often should you or your team members be taking some time off? How many paid days off are permitted (or encouraged)? How much notice is needed for time off? How is work managed when a team member is off work? When is time off compensated and when is it not?
Work through these questions and commit your policy to (digital) paper.
9) Dedicate a day of service or a monthly allotment of time for team members to spend giving back to the community.
There are so many ways you can spend just a bit of time giving back in a big way. If there’s a cause you and your team are passionate about, dedicate some time to volunteering for that cause. If you have skills that can be of use to underrepresented or marginalized communities, share your resources with them.
Or, if local governance is your jam, you can do what the folks at Radius Cowork in Erie, PA did and organize a day to come together in service of local government’s efforts to bring major investment to the city.
10) Create an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy.
Too often, small businesses don’t create policies until there’s a problem. But smart policies don’t just prevent problems — they change the way we approach everyday problems.
If you don’t have an anti-discrimination or harassment policy, there are plenty of great Creative Commons-licensed policies available online to get you started. Google has an anti-harassment policy for its events that can be easily modified for your business. Workable has a template for an anti-discrimination policy.
Even if you have no plans to hire employees or other team members, these policies are must-haves for doing good business. You want to protect and reassure your customers, local community, and business partners. If you do business, you do business with people — and those people deserve a safe and supportive environment.
Alright, time to get cracking. Which of these items will you tackle first? Which do you already have done?
Don’t forget to leave you ideas for making your business a force for good one hour at time in the comments below.
It’s Rebels With A Cause month at CoCommercial and that means we’re examining how to build more sustainable and ethical small businesses in the New Economy. We’re talking B Corps, Fair Trade, ethical marketing, and much, much more. Get in on the action by requesting your invitation to CoCommercial by clicking here.