From the day I started my first business six years ago, I have read everything I could get my hands on about this new world of Conscious Capitalism and Certified B Corps. From the first time I heard Virgin Group founder Richard Branson talk about unlimited vacation, to reading TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie’s book, to attending conferences for purpose-driven businesses up and down the East Coast, I have soaked up the philosophies, gains, and struggles of leading with your values. I was delighted to learn that there was an entire movement of business owners who believe that when you consider more than just profits, you will not only have a more successful business but you will also have an immense impact on your community — and sometimes the world.
And yet, over the same six years, when I’ve approached small-local-business owners about incorporating the principles of Conscious Capitalism into their business plan, I have been met with blank stares, explanations of not enough time to learn something new, and even a polite, “Thanks. We’ve found who we are looking for.” Small-business owners are some of the busiest people I have ever met. Many of us are spinning our wheels just to find our customers and clients, keep the lights on, pay our staff, and put food on the table at home. The idea of learning a whole new concept or needing to label their business to fit in is just one more thing on their long list of to-dos.
In contrast, when I talk to one of these business owners about how they can incorporate their values into their everyday business decisions, their face lights up. They respond with, “Oh! That’s why I started my business. Because I…” What follows is something like one of the following statements:
- I wanted to put more ____ into my community and less ____.
- I believe that ____ should be available to people of all income levels.
- I see a world where the local ____ is more successful than the national ____, and I wanted to be part of that movement.
- I knew that the only way I could truly provide for my family was to run my own shop and set my own rates.
- I was burned out by the corporate world and being “on” all the time. I decided to start my business so I would never have to apologize for leaving the office to support my kid/have lunch with my spouse/take a nap.
…and the list goes on.
What follows is usually a joyful and inspired conversation where this business owner details all the reasons they started their business and what goals they have for it. This transitions easily into creating a plan to keep those values at the forefront of all of their decisions.
We’re all familiar with the saying, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I never understood the complexities of this question as my answer was always a swift, “YES.” I have always believed that truth is not dependent on who experiences it; it just is. And so, too, it is with these hyper-local-business owners. “If a business owner is employing conscious business practices and no one congratulates them or sends them a membership card, are they still a conscious business?”
And yet, we all need community. Shirley Suet-ling Tang, an Assistant Professor in the University of Massachusetts Boston’s School for Global Inclusion and Development, goes so far as to say community saves us from the isolation and alienation we fear and helps us put order in a fragmented world. So yes, the truth is that conscious business owners are conscious business owners whether any one knows about it or not. The reality is that by not being part of the community of conscious companies, they are left without the support system and order that comes from being connected to people who share their purpose.
As leaders in the conscious company movement, it is our job to bring these small business owners into our community; to share our resources with them in ways that alleviate stress, not cause more overwhelm; and to encourage them to incorporate more and more conscious business practices into their business decisions.
There are over 30 million* small businesses in the United States. Of these 30 million, about 25 percent go on to hire employees, but only 2.8 percent will have more than 20 employees. When you look at the revenue of these small businesses, a survey from Business Know How showed that only 13 percent will ever cross the $500,000 a year revenue mark. These are not the hot new start-up. These are not people who are hoping to get VC funding and have an IPO in a few years. These are not businesses that want to scale nationally or internationally or sell their products in Target. They are the owners of taco shops, HVAC companies, yoga studios, and dry cleaners. They are consultants, graphic designers, and virtual assistants.
And we need them. Helping businesses of this size and nature incorporate conscious business practices has the power to create massive grass roots change in our communities. If a taco shop pays their employees better than a living wage, serves only organic local food, and participates in community activities, it will have a ripple effect throughout the entire community. The employees feel stable (somewhat unheard of in the hospitality industry), and stable employees invest in their families and futures. They are also generally more joyful people. If the community is able to eat fresh, local food on their budget, they start to realize that eating healthy isn’t out of reach, and they look for more ways to bring healthy food into their homes. And, if the community knows that they can count on this taco shop to support the issues that are most important to them, they feel like they are heard and have the backing they need to keep keeping on.
Of this, I am 100 percent certain. Because there is a taco shop in my tiny beach town that is doing just that. These small hyper-local businesses are doing all they can to make our communities better. It’s time we returned the favor.
*Although this number includes every person who files a Schedule C on their tax return and not just people who are “incorporated” or have payroll, for the purposes of this conversation, that is less important than it is in some other conversations.
LaKay Cornell is a culture critic, writer, speaker, and feather-ruffler. She is on a mission to change the way we create change. Using her unique combination of exciting anecdotes and enticing data, she positions her clients’ work in the context of the social problem they are solving. LaKay also writes, speaks and moderates discussions on Intersectional Feminism, the Language of Empowerment, and Womxn’s Entrepreneurship. To learn more, visit lakaycornell.com.