The BIG Power of Small Business

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

I love this phrase I "stole" from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Alumni Summit. And, it perfectly summarizes the story I have for today's blog post.

As business leaders, we often have a very personal connection to our businesses and the needs of our customers. What if we dug deeper in your business to unpack a way it can impact the world?

My bakery business was in the restaurant industry, specifically in the business of direct to consumer retail and business-to-business through wholesale. We had both customers coming through the door and orders coming in from third-party sellers like coffee shops and grocery stores.

The niche we filled (our “why”) was to offer safe baked goods to people eating gluten free. Our customers were gluten intolerant, living with the autoimmune disease Celiac, and people experimenting with a healthier lifestyle.

In my business, I knew my customer because I was our target demographic dealing with the health issues associated with gluten intolerance. I was intimately involved in every aspect from product development and displays to selling and marketing.

In my business, as I’m sure you can imagine, we had a lot of entry-level positions at any given time. In the Seattle area, a new $15 minimum wage bill passed in the city and, though we were already paying our people $2 above the minimum wage, this law going into effect caused our employment pool to dry up. We found it incredibly difficult to find people to work $15 - $17 an hour. And, the shift happened very quickly. Within weeks our job postings went from getting a handful of qualified candidates to none.

My search for employees brought me to realize that there are a handful of non-profit organizations that are training people to get to work. Programs like New Horizons Barista Program, FareStart, and the correctional facility’s baking program - they all have graduates that are trained and ready to work. This employment pipeline is called “second chance/fair chance” employment. So, I set up meetings at each to get a steady flow of employees.

Though we were a very small business, I envisioned we could be a stopping point for people to get work experience, and get established. Our goal was to move people up and out of the bakery and into higher paying jobs - with the bakery being their first stop and a place for stability and growth.

I feel like I should mention that we paid our fair-chance/second-chance employees the minimum wage of $15 an hour and gave merit increases every four-to-six months. This wasn’t a money-saving initiative - it was an opportunity to access qualified employees.

Through those partnerships, we were able to hire individuals who needed to get on their feet after life-altering events. We started small with the desire to employ 25% of our people through the first-chance/second-chance employment partners. With little effort, we got our count to 50% of employees.

I can tell you there is a lot of joy from working with this population. When I got to see our employees purchase their first car or get their first apartment, the lightness and the feeling of unlimited possibility they exhibited, still brings tears to my eyes.

This might not be the recipe for your business. But I challenge you to think about how your business can make an impact on the world. Let’s talk about a couple other examples.

You may have heard the news of Gravity Payments where their CEO cut his salary and raised all employees' starting wage to $70,000 (read about this incredible story in this INC Magazine article. Can you imagine the employee loyalty? Turnover is virtually nonexistent. What kind of money is this business saving in recruiting and training?

Or, the now famous “buy one give one model” started by TOMs Shoes in 2006. They’ve expanded from giving a pair of shoes away to tackling the world’s vision problem by donating eyewear. Read more about what they’re up to in this 2019 Fast Company article.

In any case, there are ways to scale and grow your business with equity and inclusion top of mind. At the core of business is people - let’s bring that to the table and put it at the center of what we’re doing. Business can make money and do good too.

Let me know what ways your business looks outside of the box and makes a social impact. How do you incorporate social impact into what you do every day?

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