The Australian Small Business Blog

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Small Businesses: The Social Influencers

by Dr Greg Chapman

This is the full interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. Using the Yes campaign for example – a number of SMEs threw their weight behind the campaign. Federal and State elections and coming out about the importance of International Women’s Day are also great examples of SMEs getting involved in big social issues. What are the implications for small businesses who do this?

Q: Are these small businesses hoping to bolster sales by being outspoken on these issues that matter to Australians? Or, are these examples of outspoken individuals using their small business as a platform to have their say on these issues?
A:When you own a business, rather than just being the manager or CEO of it, you don’t need to ask anyone’s permission to speak about social issues if you feel passionately about them. The only thing you might consider is whether your customers and staff feel the same way about them. As the owner, you might feel so strongly you might not care too much what your customers and staff think and will be prepared to wear any adverse reaction from them. As the owner, it’s your call.

In some markets, speaking out on social issues might promote sales, but even in a suburb such as Fitzroy, many people might not care what a café owner thinks about gay marriage as long as they serve good coffee with good service, although they might react badly if the message is shoved unsubtly down their throat. People don’t like being lectured to, even on topics with which they basically agree- they see it as patronising and annoying, particularly if a lot of other people are doing the same thing.

Q: What’s prompting the rise in small businesses having their say on big issues?
A: There is a me too element in all such trends. Perhaps the first few who come out on an issue are taking a risk and being brave, but after a while there is a bandwagon effect, and it almost becomes a negative if you don’t jump on it yourself. At such a point, staying silent is actually the brave move!

Certainly some issues are popular and people want to make a statement, but when everyone is doing it, I don’t really thinks it adds much value to the business, although it might inoculate you against protests and shaming for not speaking out. It’s dangerous when supporters of a good cause become bullies and business owners should definitely avoid becoming one.

Q: What are the advantages of having your say on big social issues?
A: I think if you are one of the early ones to speak out, it will get you noticed, and those that agree with you may go out of their way to do business with you, but as the numbers speaking out increase, you have to do more to be noticed – shout louder, but then there is a danger that a loud voice becomes shrill, so a sense of proportion should always be maintained.

Q: Do you believe having your say as an SME could have a bad impact on your business and if so, how?
A: You are in business to provide a service to your customers, part of your job is to explain to them why they should choose you. If this message is drowned out by your dedication to your cause, people may notice this is not the same dedication that you are to providing to the satisfaction of your customers who, after all, are the only reason you have a business.

The other factor to be considered is whether your customers agree with you. Some might not care, as long as they don’t feel patronised, but some might hold very strong views against your cause, and even subtle messages may drive them away. Consider a business owner who was part of the 40% who voted No, if they were based in Fitzroy, what do you think would happen to them if they spoke out on a topic about which they were passionate. They would have to be very brave indeed.

Just a comment on International Women’s Day. This is quite different to gay marriage which was a very controversial issue. I doubt there are very many people in Australia who would be against equal rights for women, although there may be quite reasonable policy disagreements. I think for people speaking out on this this and similarly uncontroversial topics, there will be little impact on their businesses one way or the other. The complete published article can be found here..

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Dr Greg Chapman is the Director of Empower Business Solutions and is Australia's Leading Advisor on Emerging Businesses and provides Coaching and Consulting advice to Australian Small Business Owners in Marketing & Business Strategies Planning & Systems. He is also the author of The Five Pillars of Guaranteed Business Success and Price: How You Can Charge More Without Losing Sales.

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