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The local business world, much like the natural world, functions as an ecosystem.
This doesn’t mean that businesses are decomposing and releasing carbon, but it does mean that individual companies operate in conjunction – and sometimes competition – with one another. It also means that business and community success are closely related and usually interdependent. While some business owners still view community involvement as an option, the smartest and most successful make it a priority.
Community involvement builds awareness, trust, and loyalty. Studies show that customers view community-oriented companies as more authentic, and businesses that engage with their communities are more likely to build a devoted customer base. It’s also been shown that companies who are involved have higher rates of employee satisfaction, better name recognition, and overall increases in sales. So how does a business get involved in its community? Let’s take a look at ten of the best ways.
Business is far from a zero-sum game. In fact, when it comes to local business, supporting fellow small businesses is crucial for your own success. Small businesses are better for the local economy and lead to more money circulating in your community. Having successful businesses in the area also gives you the chance to share knowledge, utilize each other’s products and services, and collaborate on community-based initiatives.
There are plenty of ways you can support other local businesses. One of the simplest and most straightforward methods is to purchase and use their products and services. Vouch for them through word-of-mouth referrals and social media posts. Many business owners collaborate with other local businesses through sourcing and referral systems, displaying their flyers and business cards, offering discounts, and creating business networking groups. For example, The Women’s Creative, a women-owned small business collective in St. Louis, helped launch the #314together initiative to help boost local business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local businesses have the opportunity to support the organizations working to make their communities better. Supporting a charity that aligns with your own values is a great way to make a difference — and it’s good for your company. Businesses can fundraise and make donations to local charities, attend charitable events, or even create their own. For example, Tiesta Tea, a Chicago-based online tea store, hosts the annual Spread the Warmth event to provide warmth and everyday necessities for Chicagoans in need.
TorHoerman Law hosts an annual Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway in collaboration with other local businesses. The event supports community members struggling to provide food during the holiday season.
While community involvement is a great business strategy, it doesn’t take much strategy to get involved. Sometimes it’s as simple as just participating in community events. The local talent show? Get some of your staff to put on a performance. Maybe you run a creative business that could showcase some of its creations at a local art fair. Have your employees walk in the next homecoming parade. Even attending your local city council meeting is a great way to get involved and earn your business some name recognition. The opportunities are endless — your business just needs to get out there.
If your community does not offer a lot of events for residents, maybe you should consider starting an annual event. It’s a great way to encourage community interaction and build your brand.
Sponsorship is a great way to get involved in your community and to advertise your company. Sponsorship typically involves offering funding, services, or products to support events, organizations, or teams. In exchange, your business receives community exposure and the chance to make new customers. It also gets your name and logo on flyers, signs, social media posts, uniforms, and other promotional materials.
You can sponsor things directly related to your business, but they don’t have to be.
Just look at the Bach Society of St. Louis’ partners and sponsor list. The connection between the organization and Chorus America is obvious, but larger and seemingly unrelated corporations like Ameren and Wells Fargo also understand the value of contributing. Consider sponsoring things like local community food banks, animal shelters, or sports teams.
You can improve your city and strengthen your reputation at the same time. Developments like new walking and cycling paths, beautification projects, public transportation updates, and museums and cultural centers can all improve the health, safety, and prosperity of your community. They often also rely on outside support.
For example, City Plants, an organization working to plant and distribute trees throughout Los Angeles, has over 15 different sponsors that financially support its mission. The Naperville Park District in Naperville, Illinois, has sponsors ranging from local auto dealerships to multinational corporations. Search for the sort of opportunities where you can make a difference in your community.
Contests and competitions help foster collaboration and camaraderie. By hosting or sponsoring a local contest, you can bring community members together while simultaneously gaining recognition for your company. Participants are likely to share contest details with their friends in person and on social media. This gets more people interested and involved, and it serves as a low-cost, low-effort marketing tool.
The best contests serve the best interests of your business and your community. Think of a local gym hosting a fitness competition. A car accident law firm hosting an “End Distracted Driving” Essay Contest. Or maybe a tutoring center holding a contest for the number of books a person reads in one month. All of these examples are in line with the business’s products and services while also promoting community and personal development.
Social responsibility is good for your community and for your bottom line. Employee volunteerism has been proven to positively impact employee morale, business performance, and a company’s culture and public image. So how can you encourage employee community service? There are plenty of options depending on your company size and budget. You can host a company-wide volunteer day, sponsor company community involvement programs, or offer paid-time-off in exchange for employee volunteer hours. You can also incentive volunteering by offering gift cards, free lunches, and other prizes to employees who put in the most time and effort.
For companies with a physical location, consider using your business as a shared space. Think of how your business can be a place where the community can visit, use, walk through, gather, and enjoy. This gives you the opportunity to build relationships and promote your products and services face to face.
Are there things lacking in your community that your business can provide? It could be something as simple as having a Little Free Library out front. Maybe you can host weekly movie nights or panel discussions. If your business has a lot of foot traffic, considering including a coffee shop or other space customers can take a break from shopping. Whatever you decide, be sure to consider public safety to avoid any accidents and premise liability lawsuits. You are welcome to consult with an attorney from our firm about liability if you are interested in creating a shared space.
Business owners can beautify their community by beautifying their own space. Does your business fit in with or enhance the aesthetic of the street it’s on? Consider how the front of your storefront or building looks. Look into improvements such as additional lighting, plants, and decorations. Add publicly accessible seating for community members to enjoy.
Are you keeping up with your property? Be sure to manage your property on a regular basis – cutting the grass, sweeping the sidewalk, managing your landscaping, and keeping your premises clean are all great ways to beautify your space and community.
If your business’ customers require parking, be sure to provide adequate parking spaces. Keep your parking lot well-managed and orderly with plenty of signs, clearly marked parking spaces, flow-of-traffic arrows and other necessary efforts to avoid customer car accidents. If you rely on delivery for your products, you can implement these same measures in and around your loading/unloading areas to avoid trucking accidents.
Some businesses are worth sharing with the community. Whether you are in a historic building, have a unique production process, or you just think people would find your company interesting — hosting tours is a great way to directly connect with your community in person. Business tours are popular with all sorts of companies; people tour Samuel Adams’ Boston Brewery the same way they would spend a day visiting the Museum of Modern Art.
If you’re considering giving tours of your business, be sure to plan out the logistics. Will they be formal, guided tours, or can visitors just roam through your building as they please? Consider the potential risks of accident and make sure to take the right precautions to ensure your employees’ safety with outside visitors in their work area.
These 10 community engagement ideas for companies to get involved with their communities are just a few of the many ways that businesses can get involved & facilitate positive relationships with their communities and neighbors.
Ultimately, helping your community can help your business too. Research shows that community involvement may entice consumers to choose your business over your competitors. So, what seems like a sunk cost of investing in your neighborhood could have great return in building name recognition and driving new business for you.
When a business helps a community, it benefits everyone.
“In the Ecosystem Economy, What's Your Strategy?” Harvard Business Review, 27 Aug. 2019, hbr.org/2019/09/in-the-ecosystem-economy-whats-your-strategy.
Karpis, Paulina. “Why Building Community Is Critical To Your Brand's Success.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 25 Feb. 2021, www.forbes.com/sites/paulinaguditch/2018/11/29/why-building-community-is-critical-to-your-brands-success/.
Kohll, Alan. “Why Volunteering Is Good For Your Employee Wellness Program.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 5 Sept. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2019/09/05/why-volunteering-is-good-for-your-employee-wellness-program/?sh=3472b99b80fa.
Panel, Expert. “Council Post: 10 Practical Ways To Support Your Fellow Small Business Owners.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 30 Oct. 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2020/10/30/10-practical-ways-to-support-your-fellow-small-business-owners/.
“Small Business Is Good for Local Economies; Big Business Is Not, Researchers Say.” Business News Daily, www.businessnewsdaily.com/1298-small-business-good-for-economy.html.
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