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(Courtesy of Sparktoro)

How These Small Businesses are Growing Their Impact

These small businesses may be limited in size, but they're still making a huge impact in their communities through initiatives and policies they've baked into their companies.

Oct 25, 2022 8 min readFlow
Photo of Umber Bhatti
Umber Bhatti

Content Writer @ Buffer

Small Business, Big Lessons is a podcast from Buffer that goes behind the scenes with inspirational small businesses to explore how they are questioning the best ways to build a business and uncover the big lessons we can learn from their journeys (so far). Check out episode five here.

Some businesses may be small – but they’re also mighty. Many small teams are capable of making great strides in their respective fields, while also contributing to their communities and deserving causes. Creating an impact is not necessarily about how much money you’re able to donate – or how many resources you have – but the purpose and intent behind your actions.

In Season 2, episode 5 of our podcast, Small Business, Big Lessons, we detail how three small businesses – Made with Local, Sparktoro, and Rize Up Bakery – are making a difference. In this companion blog post, we cover how, through deliberate initiatives they’ve baked into their company policies, they’re making a huge impact and supporting marginalized communities and sustainability along the way.

Business growth and impact are not mutually exclusive

According to Holly Howard, a business coach, and consultant, business owners don’t have to choose between making a positive impact and growing their business financially.. Holly works with many entrepreneurs and often finds they see a dichotomy between doing good with their work and doing well in their business.

“People will sometimes say, ‘well, I can either make a lot of money or I can make a really good impact.’ And I say, ‘well, the first problem that we have is that divided mindset that those two things can't coexist together.’ And so if our mindset is divided, that it has to be one or the other, then the results of our impact are certainly going to be divided,” she said.

Rand Fishkin, co-founder of audience research tool Sparktoro, also believes that entrepreneurs do need to grow their businesses in order to bring about change. But to Rand, this growth doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary success. A company can grow in many other ways as well. Rand uses the example of a popular, but small, Japanese sushi restaurant. Although they’re a small business with limited resources, they’ve managed to have a huge influence in the culinary world.

“[The growth] came from the attention and awareness,” Rand said. “The message resonating, the media coverage, the amplification that [the sushi restaurant] received, the following that they have. And those are beautiful ways to build the impact of a business, too.”

For Sparktoro, Rand even considers his free users who never become paid members as positively contributing to the company's growth as they help bring awareness around Sparktoro’s mission – to make audience research accessible to everyone.

Still, sometimes doing good can slow the growth process a bit. Sheena Russel of Made with Local – a B corporation that creates granola products – has social impact baked into their mission. This means, every step of the way, Sheena ensured that Made with Local was working with local farmers and food producers, which slowed the pace of their operations.

an image of person holding up a Made with Local granola bar in front of a river
a Made with Local granola bar 

“I'd be lying if I said, you know, there weren't — I'm going to use air quotes here — negative impacts on the speed of our growth of our business…,” Sheena said. “That would be something I think in a conventional business space where people would see that as a potential negative, right? But it was a deliberate choice on our behalf.”

But even then, Made with Local grew, they just took the “scenic route,” as Sheena says. Their story is proof that businesses can stick to their morals, make a social impact, and still thrive.

These Small Businesses are growing their impact by uplifting their communities

The impact a business makes can manifest in various ways, and for these entrepreneurs, a huge purpose behind their small businesses is to positively impact their surrounding communities.

Made with Local operates with a three-pillar impact system

Every business decision Sheena and the Made with Local team makes, is based on their three-pillar impact system. Which consists of the following:

  1. A local, ethical, and transparent supply chain – The small business works with their local community to source everything for their granola, including their ingredients and packaging.
  2. Social impact manufacturing model – Made with Local partners with two social enterprise bakeries in Nova Scotia, who train and employ adults with barriers to the mainstream workforce. Not only do these individuals make all of Made with Local’s food, but they assist with the distribution as well.
  3. Community connection – Made with Local started out as a stall at a community farmers market. So it’s no surprise that maintaining community connection has been a main focus for Sheena. They are involved with community urban farms and mutual aid fridge projects and donate and volunteer with organizations fighting food insecurity in Nova Scotia.

Abiding by these guidelines is a must for Sheena as she’s very deliberate about using her small business as a vehicle for a positive impact in her community.

“For us, social enterprise means incorporating the concept of creating social impact into every business decision that we make…,” Sheena said. “Really knowing that we can take a business and use it as a force for good in the world.”

Sparktoro donated $25,000 to charity when they launched

When Rand was getting ready to launch Sparktoro in the spring of 2020, it coincided with the beginning of the pandemic. People were scared, isolated, and job security and financial concerns were creeping in for many. Rand and his team knew that they wouldn’t feel good about launching their company unless they addressed the current events happening.

“We felt that launching a software product for marketers at the height of the pandemic — it just didn't feel like a cause that you could be 100 percent behind,” Rand said. “I mean, we were excited about it. We've been working on it for 18 months before that… but also, we wanted to do something that spoke to the broader ecosystem that we were in.”

Two individuals sitting next to each other at a dinner table
Sparktoro's VP of Marketing Amanda Natividad (L) with co-founder Rand Fishkin (R)

So, Sparktoro decided to partner with GiveDirectly, an organization that allows people to directly donate to individuals in poverty. For every person that simply tried Sparktoro for free during their launch, the small business donated GiveDirectly. At the time, the charity was fundraising money for Americans struggling in the wake of Covid-19. Sparktoro ended up donating a huge amount.

“We ended up doing about $25,000 — a little bit scary for an early stage company to be giving away a hefty chunk of its investment,” Rand said. “But I think I think it was absolutely the right thing to do.”

Rize Up Bakery hopes to work with at-risk youth

At Rize Up Bakery, founder Z is also hoping to make an impact through his work. Z opened up his San Francisco bakery in part because of the protests of George Flyoy’s murder in 2020, so representation has always been important to him. Specifically, he wants to help the at-risk youth in his community, as he was one himself.

As a Black baker, Z believes he can help kids and teens realize that there are a world of options for them, even career paths they’ve never heard of.

“Before I started doing this, I had realized I'd never even met a black Baker. Never seen a black Baker… it definitely doesn't have very much representation,” Z said.

Since Rize Up is still in its development phase, Z currently doesn’t have the bandwidth to launch a program just yet. But it’s something that he hopes to do soon, and he’s currently considering what schools and organizations he can work within the Bay Area to make this happen.

“The concepts of inspiring and working with youth and helping people find love the same way that I have in [baking], I feel would be something really worth spending time doing,” he said. “So I'm going to be working towards that in the future.”

Growing impact by supporting employees and suppliers

A small business's employees and suppliers are an integral part of the company. Here’s how these entrepreneurs ensure they’re prioritizing these very relationships.

Made with Local ensures their partnerships align

When considering which suppliers to work with, Sheena has a unique approach. Her small business sends a questionnaire to each and every potential partner to verify their values align with Made with Local’s missions.

“We have a series of questions that we asked [our suppliers] about their environmental impact, and also their social impact. And those are things that clearly loop back into the values piece for us,” she said. “But we want to see specific examples of how they are prioritizing positive impact and the social and environmental space.”

In this way, Sheena supports other businesses that are doing good. This positively contributes to Made with Local’s overall impact as Sheena is uplifting and supporting other small businesses that put their community first, champion the environment, and are striving to be as sustainable as possible.

Rize Up Bakery raises team members’ salaries frequently

Z is very passionate about cultivating a positive and supportive environment for his employees. When he onboards a new employee, he does his best to show them the ropes and teach them techniques to make the best sourdough bread – their signature item.

Employees at Rize Up start at $18 an hour – impressive considering California’s minimum wage for businesses that have fewer than 25 employees starts at $14. After two months, Rize Up team members are then eligible for a $2 raise. Z is also open to giving his staff multiple raises in a year if he sees improvement. His head assistant baker has been with him for just over a year and has already had her salary increased thrice.

“[My head assistant baker] just keeps getting better and better,” Z says. “And she handles more and more responsibility. If you keep learning and keep working and keep wanting more responsibility, and I can count on you more than that means you are earning your keep.”

Taking care of his employees connects Z back to his broader mission – making a positive impact on his community. For the entrepreneur, his bottom line is not how much he can make, but how much he can contribute to the bakery and its employees.

“And the way I think about it is, well, how much can I invest? Right? Because I want people to walk away with the skill set. I would love to have people learn from me,” Z said. “And then when they go off and do their famous amazing things. They know that the person that taught them cared about them.”

Small Businesses can be a vehicle for greater social impact

One of Rand’s goals is that everyone who comes across Sparktoro, from customers to suppliers, takes away something positive from his small business. For one, the entrepreneur wants to make audience research accessible to all individuals – something that has typically only been available to larger corporations.

But on a smaller scale, Rand also strives to empower and support the individuals who’re contributing to his company. While Sparktoro’s core team consists of three employees, there are dozens of contractors and other organizations the software company works with, and Rand hopes they’re all benefiting from their involvement with Sparktoro.

“We have a ton of people in our orbit and ecosystem who’re small and medium businesses. I hope we're helping by being great partners and customers of theirs,” he said.

Businesses like Sparktoro, Made with Local, and Rize Up Bakery are why Holly got into consulting in the first place, as she loves to help entrepreneurs make a difference. She’s optimistic about the future of small businesses, as she’s seeing more and more organizations wanting to do good.

“So in the 10 years that I've been consulting, I've definitely seen [ the B corp certification] become a priority. And that people want to create good jobs. And that's something that really inspires me… I really felt like businesses can be a real force for good.”

Want more on making an impact? Check out the full episode

The businesses we interviewed in this episode have further insights to share about making an impact and its value for brands. Check out the full episode here.

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