Every year, the U.S. celebrates National Small Business Week (NSBW) to honor the vital contributions of small businesses to their local communities. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has sponsored this week since 1963, and year after year, it has proven beneficial for the businesses it celebrates. These benefits are especially easy to experience when you actively participate in your local community.
This community involvement is beneficial outside of NSBW as well. You can — and should — keep up this involvement throughout the year to bring continued benefits to your business. Here are six simple ways to build community relationships during National Small Business Week — and sustain them long after.
The below six steps for getting your business involved with your community during National Small Business Week are just the tip of the iceberg. While these steps are the most reliable, you can certainly get creative and try other ways to build and grow community connections.
To benefit your community and its organizations, offer free products and services to schools, libraries or nonprofit organizations, said Desiree Thomson, horticulturist at Gardening Services London.
“That will help strengthen your public image and more people will learn about you,” said Thomson. “Brand exposure should never be underestimated. Plus, it’s a good way to give something back to your community.”
You can also offer special discounts for loyal clients via email rather than on social media, Thomson added. This will make your customers feel special and appreciated. For example, UPS regularly runs special promotions and discounts to help small businesses. Once you fill UPS in on certain details about your business, you’ll get a discount designed just for your needs.
Marcus Miller, SEO and digital marketing strategist at Bowler Hat, said that his company offers workshops that cover digital marketing subjects for local small businesses. Many people respond positively, saying their advice helps them understand where to spend their time, effort and money.
“Sometimes this turns into business for us when there is someone we can help,” said Miller. “Our entire focus is helping small businesses with their marketing, so we find if we do what we can to help, then the work we need comes to us.”
For example, the city of Oakland typically offers a variety of free workshops and events during NSBW. The topics covered have historically included finance, digital promotion and general entrepreneurship matters.
Every town and city has sports teams, theater productions, parades and other community events that rely on donations from individuals and businesses in the area. Rob Rae, corporate vice president of community and ecosystems at Pax8, said small business owners should consider banding together to sponsor one of these organizations.
“Offering sponsorships for local groups or events is a great way to show support for the surrounding community,” Rae said. “You can sponsor Little League teams, or support your employees who are involved in marathons, races, etc.”
You can also get involved with charity organizations, such as your local food bank or shelter, Rae said. Charitable efforts will get your name out to the local community and help a worthy cause.
If small businesses are the backbone of the economy, loyal customers are the backbone of a small business. A survey by Mint found that 70 percent of Americans said they intentionally shop from local businesses in-person or online. Among survey respondents, 57 percent said that their main reason for doing so was to keep money within the local community. Similarly, 38 percent expressed a direct desire to support their community and the creators within it.
During NSBW, it’s especially important to reach out to the customers who have helped make your business successful, said Allison Checchi, COO of Invisible Universe.
“Giving consumers an opportunity to share positive stories about their favorite employee or most memorable experience helps grow and foster customer relationships, which are so crucial to long-term success as a business,” Checchi said. “At the same time, it has the added benefit of increasing awareness of your business at the precise moment when people are paying so much attention to small businesses.”
If you want to get involved in your small business community in a big, tangible way, Rae recommended joining your local chamber of commerce.
“Membership offers you an awesome opportunity to network with other small business owners, and will help you build recognition as a local expert in your field,” Rae said.
John Swanciger, head of business development and strategic alliances at the POS system provider Toast, agreed, noting that getting involved in this type of organization can help you seek out partnerships with complementary businesses near you. Find a local chamber here.
Throughout NSBW, the SBA hosts events in cities across the country. These panels, discussions and webinars cover a wide range of important small business topics, from how to start and grow a business to the business of agriculture.
“Small Business Week is about creating opportunities … to drive conversations that arm local business owners with insights, tools and resources they need to power their business,” Checchi said. “Local business owners should take advantage of these moments to network and gain knowledge.”
NSBW events are typically livestreamed from the SBA website or the SBA’s Facebook page, so even if you’re not in the area, you can still tune in and benefit from the expert insights. The SBA often offers a virtual NSBW summit too, with registration usually available in the weeks prior to NSBW. To learn more about participating in National Small Business Week, you can visit the SBA’s landing page, or follow the Twitter hashtag #SmallBusinessWeek.
Getting your business involved with your local community can prove beneficial in all kinds of ways. Here are just a handful of the most exciting reasons to get — and stay — involved.
Engaging your business in your community automatically increases local awareness of your brand. Through the conversations you have with local folks and the work you do to benefit everyone in the area, more people inevitably encounter your business. And if you’re a charming conversationalist whose efforts yield positive, tangible results for the community, your company’s reputation will blossom.
This is basically word-of-mouth marketing for your business. As more people come to trust and regularly shop at your business, they’ll naturally tell others about it. You know this from your own personal life — you’ve probably told friends about a nearby business you explored for the first time and loved. When you build community connections, you set up this outcome for your own business too.
As you build connections within your community, you’ll likely encounter other business owners. Some of these business owners might offer products or services that are complementary to yours.
For example, you might meet a nearby flower shop’s owner as you interact with the community on behalf of your home decor business. You may find that this business owner is open to a partnership with your business. This could take the shape of customers who shop with you automatically getting a coupon for the flower shop. Or it could mean that when customers shop with the flower shop, they get a coupon for your business. Either way, more sales are likely for both businesses.
According to Qualtrics data, 56 percent of employees only consider jobs at businesses with values similar to theirs. You can safely assume that most local potential hires value improvements to the community. As such, prioritizing your community can improve your recruitment prospects.
Keeping up with your community efforts after you’ve hired these employees is key too. In fact, Qualtrics found that 70 percent of employees whose values align with those of their employer would recommend working for the business. This is another key way in which community engagement bolsters your recruiting prospects.
Although unpaid internships are generally frowned upon, the impulse to save money on interns is nevertheless understandable. Small business budgets are tight, and you might feel that your money is only well-spent on top talent. Staying involved with your community can help you find this talent — you might meet high-school prodigies as you connect more with locals. These students boast the talent to be top-notch interns and lack the degree required to demand a high salary. You’ll get more hands on deck while spending only a modest amount.
The more events you hold within your community, the more chances you give your team to bond outside work. When employees bring these stronger connections back with them to the workplace, improved collaboration results. So too does improved company morale — teams full of people that get along swimmingly enjoy their work more. Streamlined teamwork and strong employee attitudes greatly benefit your business — and, by extension, your community.
Involving your business with your community can improve its reputation, employee and intern recruitment prospects, team collaboration and employee morale. It can also open the door to highly beneficial partnerships with other businesses in your area.
Taking active steps to participate in and improve your community isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also a sound business strategy that improves your operations and bolsters your standing with local customers. Plus, getting to know the people in your area and participating in community events can be lots of fun. Sure, business is a serious matter, but enjoying yourself — and engaging with the people around you — is a fast path to success.
Max Freedman and Jennifer Post contributed to this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.