I'm the editor of entrepreneur-ette magazine... and founder of the entrepreneur-ette community. Like lots of other women in business, I started my business with a dream (mine was to start a magazine for women in business) and along the way I've met lots of inspirational women and learnt lots too... I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and stories from other women in business here.View all articles by Fiona Powell
In the early days of dreaming up Her Business I read one of Anita Roddick's books on her business philosophy – and one particular comment struck a chord with me; that we can't rely on governments or churches to change the world – but business can; through social responsibility and good business practice.
That made me excited about being in business – not only could my business be used as a tool to create my own financial freedom, but through my business positively impacting on the lives of others, I could make an even bigger difference to the world than I could alone.
Sure, big business holds the power – 200 of the top companies in the US have a combined annual turnover that approaches the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the US. Extend that to include the top 1,000 companies and their sales would equal the GDP of the US, Japan and the UK combined. The sheer economic power, potential and influence sitting with business leaders is phenomenal; but each one of us as a business owner can make an incremental difference.
Our actions, business values and principles can create a ripple effect, impacting on our customers, suppliers, and employees, through to our communities. The spin off is your business will more than likely be rewarded with loyal, satisfied staff and customers and an increased bottom line.
While many 'socially responsible' initiatives seem obvious common sense, and just plain good business practice, it pays to be absolutely clear of your intention.
Here are just some ways your business can make a difference:
¡Define your principles and values so you, your staff and your customers and suppliers are very clear about what you believe in and what's important to you. Employees want to work for companies with similar values and customers and suppliers want to work with businesses they can trust. Define your purpose - why are you in business? Being focused inspires your staff and attracts customers as your reputation develops.
¡Be innovative. Develop commercially viable and socially responsible products and services. Read books or websites for ideas and strategies around 'triple bottom lines' and 'socially responsible' businesses. (Ricardo Semler in his book 'Maverick' describes many revolutionary culture changes - like employees choosing their own pay rate).
¡Recycle paper and toner cartridges and eliminate as much waste as possible. Review your packaging materials, your energy consumption and think 'green'. Support suppliers who do the same.
¡Support worthy causes within your community by offering sponsorship, donations or even better - your products and services. For example an advertising agency in New Zealand supports a large non-profit by donating their services and expertise.
Impacting on your staff has the greatest 'ripple effect' for a small business. A positive, fulfilling work environment, which recognises that staff do have lives outside of work (complete with other interests, dreams and relationships), produces an employee who goes home happy.
¡Apply Equal Employment Opportunity policies (check out www.eeotrust.org.nz) when hiring, remunerating and developing staff. This means creating a fair and equal working place, 'hiring based on talent and promotion based on merit'.
¡Ensure staff are safe, healthy and not unduly stressed. (check out www.osh.govt.nz for health and safety requirements and tips). Go the extra mile - provide filtered water and fresh fruit.
¡Explore initiatives like flexible working arrangements (which could be anything from working four ten hour days a week with a three day weekend, to early start or late finish times), childcare help, job share schemes (where one staff member works in the morning and another the afternoon, or on alternate days) and allowing employees to work from home (which could include half days at home, specific days at home or as required).
¡Make certain your staff take all their holidays rather than stockpiling them. We all need time off to relax, unwind and rejuvenate. No-one is indispensable at work but time with family is essential, and good health paramount.
¡Involve your staff in the business's goals and vision, keep communication open and honest. Invite employee's families to functions or to open days in recognition of their support roles.
¡Discourage the culture where long work days are regarded as a 'badge of honour'. Encourage staff to work smart, not long, hours. Progressive businesses turn off the lights at 5pm, sending the clear signal to workers to 'go home to your family', while others allow staff to leave when they've accomplished their work for the day, even if that's three o'clock in the afternoon.
¡Promote a learning environment by offering staff time off to study or by subsidising course fees. Some businesses even subsidise hobbies outside of work (from learning French to pottery classes) figuring that nurturing the learning habit is just as important as what's being learnt.
¡Give staff time off to participate in volunteer organisations in the community. The ANZ bank offers employees a paid volunteer day per year. Agree on a team project or give staff information on opportunities offered through Volunteer New Zealand (www.volunteernow.org.nz).
Your business can be the medium with which you can make a positive difference to the world.
Fiona Powell is the founder and past publisher/editor of Her Business magazine and her latest project is entrepreneurette.com, an online community for women in business.