Good Business Sense: Supporting the Community

Growth and strategy

7 August 2018

Getting behind local causes and creating business partnerships.

What goes around comes around - often in some marvelous ways. If your small business is involved in local issues, you can expect people in the community to sit up and take notice.

As well as being great for PR, it's also a good way to build friendships and lasting connections with people in your area. If you're not sure where to begin, we've got a few suggestions to help you get started.

Donate to local charities

Our survey found that a third of small local shops already fundraise for local charities. You don't need to stick to money, either - you could also give goods. Donating stock to food banks or local animal shelters is a good way to support the local community. Remember, you can claim tax relief on donated money and goods (a nice bit of instant karma).

Volunteer at local events

We found that, while 64% of shopkeepers in affluent areas donate cash to charities, business owners in less well-off communities tend to donate time instead. Helping out at events that can better the community (such as tree planting initiatives) or can grow neighbourhood spirit (such as street parties) will get your name out there as a force for good in your area. You can find more volunteering opportunities on websites like Do It and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

Employ local people

Putting up adverts for staff in your window rather than advertising online is likely to attract people who live nearby. Giving local teenagers the opportunity to cut their teeth with a Saturday job is a good way to build on community spirit, while employing customers who are struggling on benefits is a kind gesture that small business owners can easily make. Compassionate hiring is a good way to raise your profile as well as your feel good factor. A successful example is Edinburgh sandwich shop Social Bite - its initiatives to employ local homeless people attracted the attention of George Clooney.

Stock local food

Local produce is better for the environment and better for the community. It usually tastes better too, as it hasn't had to travel very far to reach your shelves. Searching for local suppliers is as simple as opening your Internet browser, but if you get chatting with your customers some are bound to know people who are searching for new vendors. A good place to start is with local farmers who are already selling their products on a small scale through veggie box schemes. Small local bakers may also be happy to supply you with bread and rolls, in exchange for a bit of cross-promotion.

Partnering with other neighbourhood-minded local businesses is another great way to ensure your enterprise stays at the heart of the community, while also giving something back.

Whether you're giving back to your area or simply keen to establish a bigger presence, there are plenty of people to buddy up with and original ways to make the most of the partnership.

We've got some suggestions to get you started:

Healing hampers

Whatever you sell, you can join forces with other small businesses and create local-produce quality hampers. Start the offer as a one-off to raffle for charity, and if it's a success there's the potential to start a regular seasonal product - perhaps donating a portion of profits to good causes. Alternatively, for every hamper sold you could deliver one to a local charity.

Exciting events

If hamper-sized produce isn't your specialty, use your business acumen to put on a show for the community. Local schools and amateur dramatic societies often welcome the help of audio-visual or costume companies when it comes to play time. Arts and crafts shops can also contribute, although your place to shine may be more in parades, fêtes and local celebrations. You won't be alone in supporting these activities either; local shops help put on an average of two community activities every year in each of the UK's towns and villages.

Public improvements

We've found that every year, 28% of local businesses club together and invest in the upkeep of their community - but it's not just cash injections that make a difference. Youth clubs, green spaces and other community facilities can all benefit from the products and expertise housed across the UK's small businesses. So, whether you're a florist with a tree to plant or a hardware expert ready to pitch in and help fix the Scout Hut's wonky window, team up to make your community spaces even better.

Coffee and company

One of the best gifts local stores can give to small communities is daily human interaction. The elderly, for example, rely on the lifeline services provided by small businesses across the country. But if you pool your resources, you can spread the love even further. Local coffee shops and bakers could team up to cater coffee mornings in communal spaces or retirement homes. If there are no public spaces, a mechanic or car dealer could provide a vehicle to make you mobile, so you can get the best local produce out to the more isolated satellite communities.

Sharing skills

Local shops aren't just a place to pick up goods - they house some of the UK's finest experts in their fields. So why keep those skills to yourself? Whether you're a baker or a florist, you could team up with nearby cafes, galleries or pubs to put on craft days or training events. Helping spread skills through the local community will attract visitors, boost skills and generate interest in your craft. It's a winning formula for everyone.

Getting involved in the community all starts with a friendly attitude and openness towards your customers. Even if you're unable to volunteer, donate, or employ anyone, you should be prepared to step in and help on any occasion: it could be something as small as holding back the last copy of The Sunday Times for a regular, but it'll make all the difference.

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