Is Community Engagement a Curse or a Blessing for your Business
People are watching. In addition to your valued customers, there are community leaders, elected officials and influential citizens that are eyeing your business. Here’s what they are looking for:
- Is your business an asset to the community?
- Is it clean and attractive in appearance?
- Does it “fit in” where it is located in both current and future plans for the neighborhood?
- Is it drawing the right crowd?
- Are you following the rules of planning and zoning?
- Is it in compliance with local, state and federal regulations?
- Are you reporting and paying proper taxes to local, state and federal authorities?
- Will the business add jobs, especially good paying jobs in the community?
- Will the business “do business” with others in the community?
Here’s what they are looking at regarding the owner:
- Is this person willing to engage the community with his / her knowledge and skill set?
- Will the entrepreneur participate in and support community activities with donations of time, resources, and money?
- Will this entrepreneur sit on community committees and boards?
- Will the owner be politically active and perhaps run for an office?
This list of questions may seem daunting to someone who just wants to “operate” their business. In reality, the whole first set of questions is essentially “doing good business” while the second set is a result of running a successful endeavor. And while you may have no interest in running for city council today, you will face these types of leadership opportunities on a regular basis. This is the world of small business.
Your business is a reflection upon the community. It is part of the neighborhood. When local customers speak about it, they often use possessive words such as “we’ll meet you down the street at our neighborhood pizza place for lunch.” Or “my daughter got a job at our town’s widget factory.” The widget factory has a name, but it is within the community. If a valued business like the widget factory closes, the community responds like there is a death in the family. If an unwelcome business closes, there is a sigh of relief. Therein is your choice as an entrepreneur. Do you want to be embraced and loved by your community or will they celebrate when you leave? It’s easy to identify the proper choice.
Successful entrepreneurs must engage their community. It should be a part of your marketing campaign. There should be a budget in place and a strategy that identifies what resources of time, money, facilities and skills can be contributed to the community. As a business owner, it is illogical to assume that this is a “waste” of these resources, sensing that they provide no real value outside of your pocketbook. Investments in the community should be identified as a way of giving back to the place that your business calls home. There will be returns on these investments that may come as easily identifiable as daily business revenue. It’s hard to measure loyalty, but it is valuable. Public actions that help the business to grow (like tax abatements and infrastructure improvements) may become vitally important in the future. You’re also more likely to receive good local employee candidates – so it can aid in productivity. It never hurts a business to be located in a happy healthy local economy surrounded by other successful businesses.
As business owners, you don’t have to run for political office (but be prepared to be asked). There are many ways to serve the local community with your skill set as a non-profit board member or advisor or benefactor to a cause you are passionate about. You can even donate some of your staff’s time to a good cause if you’re not available (read this blog to aid in the development of your community investment strategy: ). These “donations” convey to the community that the business is an active “good corporate citizen” that cares about its neighbors and employees. It’s essential to growing your business.