Wednesday, March 17, 2010

10 ways big business can help small business

Many businesses that target the small business market agonize over how carving out a leadership position in the SME space. Some put on awards programs (think of Ernst & Young with its Entrepreneur of the Year program), some put out specialty publications and newsletters (think Visa, some of the banks), some sponsor SME websites and blogs.

I’d like to see these companies think bigger. Instead of creating a new SME medium (e.g., newsletter) and then struggling to create content for it (advertising is easy, content is hard), why not get involved in issues that matter to independent business?

With luck, you can get market exposure and credit for doing the right thing, without having to do all the heavy lifting of actually starting and running a program of your own.

Here are 10 issues in which small business owners would love to see big businesses get involved. You can probably think of more.

1. Encourage coalitions of companies to form one big portal for small business news and advice (instead of all the mediocre competing players that are out there now). Support the site with advertising, sponsorships and even content (when available and relevant).

2. Sponsor programs for startups at the local level, through Community Futures and other regional economic development offices

3. Sponsor and encourage your organization's executives to volunteer with local mentorship programs (e.g. CYBF, local chambers of commerce, etc.)

4. Fund small-business research in universities and colleges

5. Actively promote a “speakers’ bureau” of business experts from your organization (and perhaps others) to speak to students at high schools and colleges. Let impressionable young people know that going into business doesn't mean selling your soul

6. Create transparent processes in your own organization to make sure SMEs are included in procurement, outsourcing, etc.

7. Assist retirees in your organization with starting consulting businesses aimed at SMEs. Their life experience could be a lifesaver to a local entrepreneur. You might also provide occasional meeting spaces for entrepreneurs who don't have their own.

8. Support local social entrepreneurship initiatives. Young people across Canada using business tools to create social change deserve your encouragement.

9. Here’s a toughie: Pay bills from small business more promptly

10. Collaborate to create and fund centres of excellence around key management issues, such as exporting, small business advisory boards, or innovation. A little effort can make a big difference!

You can probably think of more activities. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at Rick (at)