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What is it about the small things that we love so much? Is everything in miniature just that little bit more wonderful? Is it really just an emotional extension of our love for babies, puppies and kittens?
When it comes to small business, it turns out…. No.
Yes, there is absolutely something that speaks to our nostalgic side about the small local butcher, baker and candlestick maker, even when it is now an artisan smoke free soy candle maker with a global distribution hub. But their enduring appeal, and in fact growing appeal in recent years, is down to much much more than something you would see on a greeting card or bumper sticker.
As Small Business Saturday announces its return for a seventh year, aptly on the 7th December in 2019, I find myself reflecting on why this campaign as well as the national fervour for small business has grown so stratospherically since 2013.
We have long been seen as a nation of shop keepers. Perhaps some of the answer comes from the original Adam Smith quote from Wealth of Nations, “To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.”
As the government has indeed been increasingly influenced by small businesses in more recent times than Adam Smith, we have seen a boom in the number of start ups and support services available to small businesses. The dream of being an entrepreneur has never been more accessible or more attractive. Stories of start up success and the triumph of the little guy have inspired and ignited a flame of passion in potential entrepreneurs. Added to this, women have increasingly also become part of that story as the number of women starting their own enterprise has also risen as they find the freedom to pick an alternative path.
Still, there is a deeper attraction to the small business that this can’t explain. That comes much more from the local and the personal, the way that small businesses impact our lives every day, even when we take it for granted.
We know small businesses are huge drivers of GDP, contribute to the nation’s wealth creation and provide over half of private sector jobs. But these are just meaningless statistics to local communities. What does have meaning is the business that goes the extra mile to create an opportunity for a local person; what has meaning is the business that supports their local community organisations such as schools, hospitals or sports teams; and what has real, long term meaning is the business that is there for you come rain or shine as they really value you as a customer and neighbour and friend.
Michelle Shulman, founder of La Bella Cake Company, puts it best when she says, “Independent small businesses really know their stuff and can provide such amazing help and service. Small business owners LOVE what they do and can help you get the right product. You’ll get so much more for your £10 from a small business.”
At the end of the day, people really like people. We like to buy from, and trade with, people we know and trust. Big businesses have been trying to capture that for decades since the “golden age” of advertising began. Small businesses are doing it instinctively.
Putting customers, staff, relationships and local communities at the heart of what they do builds formidable long term relationships for small businesses. It creates a bedrock, and a safety net in many cases, for the community to fall back on in times of hardship. And they are the people the community turns to for celebration in times of success.
Small businesses are everywhere – 5.5 million of them employing 16.5 million people. They are our sons and daughters, aunts and cousins, neighbours, friends and much much more.
So it is for this reason above all others that we still find that small is indeed beautiful. We still need to recognise the economic impact, and the government needs to continue to listen to the nation of shopkeepers, but right at the very heart is our wish to engage with the people who make up the fabric of our lives.
This is why I will be celebrating Small Business Saturday again this year – for the small, for the beautiful, for the whole nation of businesses. I hope you will too.
April 2, 2019 at 12:11AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs