Our American cousins may be flying the flag, firing up the barbeque, and preparing for a July 4th party to mark the country’s Independence Day tomorrow. But business owners on this side of the Atlantic are also gearing up to celebrate as part of their own Independents’ Day, an event to promote the efforts of independently-owned companies across the UK, and to encourage more people to support their local, smaller firms.
In honour of this occasion, we at Boost Capital decided to look at some of the main reasons why it’s so great to be an independent enterprise. And there are quite a few to choose from …
The sky really is the limit
Business ownership is undeniably tough at times. It’s down to you as the boss to bring in new customers, keep the staff happy, and pay all of the bills regardless of the state of the company’s finances. But on the plus side, anything is possible when you’re running your own show. You’re writing the rule book, so you can be as imaginative, and daring as you like. Running a delicatessen business that has a great cheese counter? Why not work with the wine merchant across the road to host wine and cheese evenings to promote both of your enterprises? You could even throw in some live music to get the party going. See a great opportunity that’s in a different direction to your current operation? Rejig the company to focus on this potential new revenue stream, and possibly change the face of the business altogether. Have you spotted a current trend you think you could exploit? With the right application, plans for business growth, and a little business capital, there’s no reason why today’s tiddler of a company can’t be the fast-moving household name of tomorrow.
Smaller, independent firms have the merit of being nimble, and quick to react to market changes. They haven’t got the legacy issues of larger firms, or the unwieldy layers of bureaucracy, and processes to be navigated before anything gets done. This means SMEs can be genuinely enterprising, innovative, and pioneering. Anything is possible. An intimidating thought, but an amazing opportunity for the imaginative, and the bold.
Consumers like unique businesses doing their own thing
Many people are increasingly concerned about the air miles involved in the things they buy, whether it’s a punnet of strawberries or a cotton T shirt. Small firms often sell items that have come from just down the road, at least compared to that sold by bigger rivals who have greater buying power, and a wider geographic reach. And it’s not just about having better eco credentials. Consumers are also often aware of the societal role that independent SMEs play, whether it’s local bookshops running reading groups, business leaders supporting nearby charities, or markets providing space for social enterprises. Such things make a great deal of difference to how life is lived, particularly in small communities.
Smaller independents can also exercise their discretion when it comes to offering valued customers discounts, or allowing them to try goods or services before they buy. They’re only answerable to the customers themselves, and a great bond of trust often builds up between the business owner and the local buying public. Independent business people can become trusted advisors when it comes to getting guidance on which cut of meat to purchase, bottle of wine to buy, or style of shower to have fitted in your bathroom. When you’re dealing with the same person over months, and years, you’re more inclined to listen to what they have to say.
You’re an integral part of your local community
It’s not just that you’re an established fixture in your neighbourhood, with regular customers who call on your services again and again. It’s not even that you provide employment for local people, though that’s a hugely important function of independent firms. Money spent in smaller companies is also more likely to benefit the area – for every £1 spent in an SME 63p stays in the local economy, compared to 40p with a larger business, according to research by American Express.
Small businesses are also very supportive of each other, often promoting neighbouring firms, and providing casual help to keep things running smoothly. The American Express study found that minding each other’s premises, doing a collective bank run, taking in deliveries, or providing loose change to other traders can save small firms £3,000 in labour costs on average annually. These are all things that many business owners do as a matter of course in a small area or high street. And by working together on joint marketing campaigns, loyalty schemes, or local promotions smaller firms can boost their sales by as much as £30,000 a year.
You stand out from the crowd
Part of the attraction of big chains for some people is they know exactly what to expect from them. But that’s exactly what turns growing numbers of consumers off. Independents can make their mark by stocking quirky, one-off items that give buyers a feeling of having found something special, and even being in on a precious secret. Why buy your mother a scarf that you know thousands of other women will be wearing because it came from a big name store when you can buy a limited edition, handmade effort from a nearby independent boutique? Local shops also often support and stock local producers, artists, designers and authors, encouraging regional diversity, and genuine innovation. Independent firms recognise that difference can be a virtue, and it certainly makes for a more interesting high street experience.
If you’re a small independent business, and you’re taking part in tomorrow’s event, tweet your efforts using the hashtag #indieday. Lots of SMEs already have, ranging from retailers to hospitality firms, and even cider and cheese producers. Have a great day, join the celebrations with your fellow traders, and here’s to many more years of being truly independent!