Last November, right after the election that turned the world upside down, I wrote about five reasons for hope to be found in the Handmade community and the economy around it. Almost a year later the world looks even more chaotic and overwhelming than ever. Some days I wonder if there is anything that will keep us from sliding over the brink. But on other days (like today) I remember that I, and many of you, have a way to speak louder. We run businesses that speak to people every day, on social media and in the products and services we put out into the world. And we can use our voices to take action.The idea that businesses should steer clear of politics has always been a badly hidden lie, designed to hide the endless exchange of money, influence, and access between business and the politicians who write the rules that the businesses play by.
Of course you only need to hide something like that if you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you aren’t playing dirty being openly political enhances a business’s reputation, and its identity. It lets that business’s customers know what it stands for, and it strengthens a bond based on shared values and a commitment to take action in their defense.
Those of us with small businesses can do this too. It can be intimidating because if people disagree with your positions they aren’t calling your PR office to complain. They’re emailing you, or tweeting at you, or posting on your wall. And it can get a little personal. But if something is important enough it’s worth enduring some of that, as much as you can.
Since every business owner is comfortable with different levels of publicity, here are a few ideas for taking action with your business’s voice that go from private to as public as you can be. Every one helps.
Set up Recurring Donations
This is probably the easiest thing you can do. Pick one, or two, or five organizations that do work that you want to support, and set up a monthly recurring donation. Most let you use either a credit card or a checking account to make it automatic. Organizations that depend on donations love this, because each recurring donation is money that they can count on, and make plans based on. Even $5 makes a difference.
Support a Cause Related to Your Business
Making a connection between what your business sells and a specific cause is incredibly powerful. Look at Tom’s Shoes, for example. Or Patagonia. Or my fellow Denver business Canned Goods, which sells jewelry made from used food cans and makes a donation to local food pantries with each item sold. This one is a double win: you support causes important to you, and you also promote those causes every time you promote your business’s involvement with them. Everybody loves free publicity.
Promote Causes to Your Audience
We all work our butts off to build “audiences” for our businesses. They can be on an email list, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or anywhere else you’ve chosen to reach out to customers. No matter how big or small your audiences are, they are a group of people who you can reach out to directly to promote a cause or a position. I’m sure many of you have run special promotions to benefit victims of recent natural and man-made disasters, and those are a perfect example of how having a business can amplify your voice.
Build a Community
Here’s one for the extroverts. If a business can amplify your voice, imagine what a group of businesses and organizations could do? Starting—or joining—a community dedicated to taking action on a specific issue, be it local, national, or global, extends the reach of your message and creates access to even greater resources. On the business side, it puts you in touch with potential partners or collaborators in your community. And even though I said this was a job for extroverts, you can build communities like this online as well if that’s more your thing.
Your Business Has a Voice
Businesses—even the huge ones—are made of, and run by, people. While I’m not on board with the idea that corporations are people, I do believe in enlisting your business in your efforts to make the changes you want to see in the world. Do it respectfully, professionally, and most of all passionately. We all have voices, and they all should be heard.