For a lot of people, business and community leadership are like water and oil — they just don’t mix.
This preconception is unfortunate because, in fact, small business owners have the power to become excellent local leaders and effect positive changes in their communities. Running a small business in your neighborhood gives you more than practical knowledge of administration and financing; it allows you to understand the needs and assets that community has. This knowledge can help you make a difference in the lives of others.
All that’s left for you to learn is how to transfer those leadership skills out of your place of business and into your community’s streets.
Before exploring how you can use your business skills to help others, it’s useful to know why you should become a community leader.
Helping Others Will Help You
It’s true. Getting involved in your neighborhood can be as beneficial to your company as it is to your neighbors and customers.
In fact, entrepreneur Faisal Hoque considers connecting with the public one of the essential principles for growing small businesses. “Your objective is to make your audience feel an emotional attachment to your brand,” Hoque writes.
Small business owners aren’t just merchants who sell products and services to the local people, they can be agents of change: Local entrepreneurs are the key to generating wealth and change in the area.
And the change can be truly transformative. Betty Hoge, director of the Central Virginia Small Business Development Center in Charlottesville, tells C-VILLE Weekly that small businesses can impact lives on a daily basis.
“Many more of those dollars stay in the community and get circulated multiple times so that the economic impact is huge,” she says. “I want people to really understand and appreciate the value of small businesses to our economy and the quality of life that we live.”
How to Become a Community Leader
Now that you understand that giving back to the local arts community or spearheading fundraising efforts will grow your business as it benefits those around you, it’s time to look at how to become an effective community leader.
Build Strong Ties With Your Community
As a local business owner, you relate with your neighbors on a daily basis. This gives you a fantastic opportunity to make yourself known and impress your local customers with your honesty and fair prices, but also to get to know their problems, hopes, and dreams. As your business starts to grow you might also need some extra hands to help. Hiring locally is a great way to root yourself and become a positive force in your neighborhood.
Always stay in touch with local problems. Look around you and talk with your clients to understand what’s missing in your area. Is the local school struggling? Does the church have resources for its youth programs? Getting involved in your neighborhood beyond a business level is the first step to becoming a local leader. Make sure that you know what’s missing in your community and what you can do to help out.
Become an Agent of Change
If knowledge is the first step towards change then action would be the second. Rather than waiting for others to propose and execute solutions, become the one who pushes for change. Create opportunities to help solve some of the local issues. It could be running a fundraiser for charity, volunteering to help at a local nursing home or homeless shelter, or supporting an event that will raise awareness about an important local issue.
Use your personal and professional relationships to increase the impact and reach of your activism. Good leaders understand the power of teamwork and know how to integrate others into the overall plan. Your own neighbors and customers are the best allies you can have, as they are the ones who will benefit the most from these positive changes. Organizing them around a specific cause will allow you to cement your reputation as a community leader and a catalyst for change.
Sponsor Local Initiatives
There’s a time to lead from the front and a time to lead from the back. Being a local leader is more about becoming an agent of change than about finding opportunities for self-aggrandisement. Sponsoring local initiatives that need financial support and exposure is an excellent way to establish good relations with the community and spread the word about your commitment to social change.
Whether it’s buying new uniforms for the little league baseball team or contributing to special events, sponsoring local initiatives gives you the flexibility to support a cause without having to be involved with the nitty-gritty of its organization. Moreover, sponsoring demonstrates to the community that you care about what’s going on in it, helping you to earn their respect and consolidating your reputation as an active local leader.
Let People Know You Care
Actions do speak louder than words, but even the best actions can go unnoticed if you don’t publicize them. Once you’ve started leading and promoting local initiatives, it’s a good idea to let your customers know exactly what you’re doing for the neighborhood. Once the word gets out, your business may well attract more local customers and the cause you’re supporting will likely get more volunteers.
Using local media can also help shape how your business is perceived. Running ad campaigns on radio, local TV, and social media will increase your exposure in the community. Social media is particularly effective since most people spend a significant part of their time online and are more likely to see a local news story on Facebook than listen to it on the radio. Regardless of which platform you choose, what matters is that you use it to make yourself known in the area and let people know you care about issues that affect you all.
Small business owners have the power to become agents for positive change in their communities. Hardworking values, business savvy, and a talent for organization and networking are just some of the qualities that make them excellent candidates for local leadership positions. Whether you’re trying to improve your neighborhood for your children or grandchildren, or want to use it as an opportunity to give your business more exposure, becoming a leader in your community is one of the smartest decisions you can make as a businessman and a human being.