Last month, small business owners, advocates, and supporters from all over the country migrated to Buffalo, NY for the 2013 BALLE Conference. (Among them were three members from the Scott’s Marketplace team!)
And while the local love cup runneth over with all the amazing topics discussed, speaker Judy Wicks gave a talk called, “Moving From Me to We: New Frontiers in Interdependence” that reminded us of everything we love about local business.
Judy is the author of Good Morning, Beautiful Business: The Unexpected Journey of an Activist Entrepreneur and Local-Economy Pioneer, the founder of the White Dog Café, and BALLE co-founder and board chair emeritus. Whew.
Her talk at the conference touched on her roots as a small business owner, how she became ingrained with the community as a result of entrepreneurship, and the levels of success and enlightenment she achieved.
So what does it mean to become interdependent with your community? We all know entrepreneurs like to think of themselves as lone wolves, so how do the ideas of personal success and interdependence work in tandem?
Moving from ‘me to we’ in business means more than hiring your first employee. More than ever, small business owners are joining together in a network of collective goals and shared practices.
Fulfilling needs versus pushing products
Take for instance Judy’s response to the success of her first store. While she was encouraged to open up a second location and attain ‘chain’ status, she decided on a different route. Instead of moving into another city, she looked at the needs of her own town, and opened a second business to fulfill that demand. By becoming more adaptive, instead of inserting her business into unknown territory, Judy became an indispensable element of the local ecosystem.
“I think when we live and work in the same community where work life and family life are interwoven, it makes us create different types of decisions that are more from the heart.”
The lesson here is to consider the needs of the community around you when building your business. Becoming an answer to ongoing issues is more powerful than any new gadget on the market. Local business owners have unique insight into their hometowns, and can apply an entrepreneurial spirit to providing needed answers.
Working with everyone, competitors included
For small business owners, it can feel like the bottom line is all that matters. Trying to ensure your business survives can take precedence over any outside issues. But by taking an interest in the way your business impacts your community, your suppliers, and your customers, you can discover new ways of doing business.
A turning point in Judy’s business career came when she began investigating the life of most farm animals that would eventually make their way to her café. She solved the problem by seeking out humane, local farms to buy pork, beef, eggs, and goat’s milk, in order to create a humane menu. Initially, this felt like a great development for success.
“I looked at my menu, and thought I had finally done it. I have a humane menu. This is going to be our market niche, our competitive advantage. This is all about us.”
And while it may be an entrepreneur’s first instinct to take any advantage she can find, Judy took a step back and reconsidered her options. “Then my transformational moment came,” she said.
She considered the animals, the small farmers being driven out of business, the environmental impact of factory farms, and the workers and consumers who felt the end results. This led her to a different revelation.
“If I really did care, than rather than keep this as my proprietary information, I would share this knowledge with my competitors. That was my ‘me to we’ moment. I realized that there’s no such thing as one sustainable business, that we can only be part of a sustainable system. In order to build that system, we have to cooperate with competitors.”
The golden rule in business
As illustrated by the many speakers at BALLE 2013, small business ownership has transformed from a one-man race against the odds, to a collective joining of ideas and experiences to change the way America does business. Small business owners have the unique opportunity to effect positive change in their communities, and influence others to follow suit. As Judy found after years of growing her small business, “what we do unto others, we also do unto ourselves.”
This personal mantra led Judy to decide to pay a living wage for entry-level dishwashers; it was her connection to nature that led her to sign up for 100% renewable energy; and a lifelong connection to the community that led her to start a mentoring program that has been running for the last 15 years.
Take a moment to check out Judy’s talk at BALLE: