The Support Small Business Movement is Flawed
Unfortunately, I see the “Support Small Business” movement as all too often trying to prop up dying business models.
Mom & pop shops (virtual or analog) are often run in entirely unsustainable ways. They rarely translate sweat equity into financial equity. They often rely on cheap or free labor instead of trained employees.
I’m convinced that more-faster-cheaper big box stores won out in the Eighties and Nineties because the mom & pops more often than not failed to convince us that they had something better to offer.
I believe we’re not hardwired to prefer paying less, we’re hardwired to pay to get what we want.
Big box stores figured out how to present a package that appealed to us. Small business has the same burden.
When mom & pops provide a package that appeals to us more than the big guys, we pay more, shop shorter hours, and jump through more hoops. But so often, they do not.
Small business abdicated power to big business not so much because the big business muscled their way into the domain of small and more often because small business had failed to deliver a compelling reason for customers to jump through the hoops.
Maybe you’ve heard how a new Starbucks can actually increase business for popular independent coffee shops?
The Us (small business) vs Them (Big boy’s) paradigm we use to celebrate small business glorifies failing business models and practices. It glamorizes the refusal to evolve.
This isn’t Us vs Them anymore. It’s not Small vs Big anymore. It’s us and them. It’s small is big. Small is mighty. Small is powerful.
But not if being small means relying on the generosity of others to prop up what is broken.
So my question is, how do we encourage small business in an era when small is mighty?
How do we celebrate small business in a way that acknowledges its immense opportunity today?
Celebrating Small Business, The Right Way
1. Education is encouragement. Know a small business owner that doesn’t take credit cards? Introduce him to Square instead of cash mobbing him. Know a small business owner that is exploiting free labor? Let her know how much you value well-trained, engaged, attentive service.
2. Change public policy. Public policy in the United States was built for a different era of employment.
With small businesses and freelancers, often unincorporated, becoming a larger part of the workforce (estimates as high as 50%), we need regulations, policies, and laws that make the social safety net (including health insurance, worker’s compensation, unemployment, and bonus retirement savings) the norm for everyone.
3. Buy what you value. Don’t support a small business or friendly freelancer because they’re small. Support them because they create a quality product. Support them because they add value to your life through their work.
Support them because they believe in the same things you do, whether they’re family, faith, the beauty of finely crafted single origin coffee, or the importance of a dozen different mac and cheese recipes.
So yes, shop local and shop small this holiday season. But don’t do it out of sympathy. Shop where your values and value-desired align. Shop where you can get exactly what you want, the way you want it.
Celebrate the opportunities that await small businesses today–not their shortcomings.
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Photo: El Burgués
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