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This is a topic that has been a major bugbear for me. Every Christmas, you'll see campaigns for championing 'small businesses'. Small Business Saturday is one. And then numerous other social media shout-outs for 'shop independent', 'support your local' etc starts making the rounds.
I'm all for shopping from small businesses. I frequent my local coffee shop and independent hairdressers. Without my favourite local restaurants and coffee shops my lifestyle would suck. Hence it's important that it's not just me that goes to them and enjoys them. I spread the word and hope it brings more business to them!
However, often the reasoning circling such "support the small guy" campaigns are problematic for me. And as shocking as some of my reasons may seem at first, hear me out.
This is categorically not true. It's also extremely patronising and annoying. Every time someone buys a cake from us, it comes up as an order number. We don't do a happy dance because we have work to do. We plan and make sure we deliver the best cake possible for order #56789, #56790, #56791 and every other order. The "happy dance" infantilises small business owners. Like we are giddy toddlers excited about the fact that we got a whole pound from the tooth fairy. We're just as serious about our work as any other big wig CEO.
This massive Alice in Wonderland cake isn't going to make itself whilst I dance around it.
Actually, billionaires may also send their children to ballet class. And perhaps it's also my small-biz-owner aspiration to own a yacht. This reasoning perpetuates an expectation that small business aspirations should be limited to sending their kids to after school activities. But those big business guys can have their yachts. What if I, as a small-biz, own a yacht too? Does that make me greedy? Or a rip-off? No, it means that I have worked hard, made a profit, and rewarded myself. BTW, I don't own a yacht, and would probably choose to send X to ballet over buying a yacht too, but somehow I don't think it's a "one or the other" type of choice.
Another thing that's problematic about this is that big businesses employ a LOT of people. These employees' livelihoods, or ability to send their kids to ballet, also depend on the big business doing well. So to support small for the sake of supporting small is counter-intuitive.
Our high streets are in dire straits. Even posh high streets have betting shops, discount shops, closing down shops and empty shops galore. It's well-opined that it's down to not just any one single reason, eg: that dreaded word that starts with 'B' and ends with 'T'. But many different factors such as the convenience of shopping online, rent reviews and business rates. But it's naive to think you, me and everyone else in the borough could "chip in their support" to keep the local shops alive. All that is doing is taking the pressure off the REAL reasons why the high street shops are struggling. There are many ways to campaign for your high street to make it better for the long run, not just to see it through this Christmas. You can write to your MP, join your local community, attend events hosted by your local shops and communities year-round. And whilst this may be a shameless plug, pop down to your local Patisserie Valerie to try out their new patisserie menu we have worked so hard on. They may be a big company, but they had me, an independent chef consultant, come in and help design their incredible new pastries.
It's not going to be a quick fix, but putting a band-aid over for Christmas is pointless.
When I call Virgin Media I am absolutely fuuuuming at the robots answering. However, it is an unrealistic expectation to think you'll have someone at your beck-and-call 24/7 if you choose a small business. Small businesses generally have even fewer resources to dedicate to customer service. At peak busy times, we have to turn our phone line OFF! Our response times may be longer than a bigger business with more staff in their dedicated customer service teams. Of course, we're human so when we interact with a customer it is on a more personal note than a robot. We also like a bit of bants so will probably share a cheesey pun or two.
Perhaps where we may differ massively is how vested we are in our own creations. For example, this three-tiered beautiful cake got trashed en-route. The easier option would've been a straight refund (even though it would hurt our bottom-line). Accidents happen to all businesses, big or small. But I wanted my creation fixed and presented how I made it, hence got it back and fixed it up and re-delivered. It took a while, as we don't keep spare three-tiered cakes around, but to expect we could be MORE efficient than the big-boy standard is a reach.
"Support" is the trigger word here. I love support from our friends, family and customers. But often, when the word is used in the context of small businesses it kind of feels like 'charity'. Small businesses are not charities, begging for your patronage in order to survive. And you shouldn't feel like you're 'doing your bit' by supporting small either - there's no room for virtue signalling here.
Small businesses need your custom to be able to satisfy you, aim to form a lovely repeat relationship and make a profit to be sustainable. Not to simply survive.
I know these campaigns are born out of the best intentions, but small business is a major part of the UK economy. 96% of businesses are classified as micro businesses employing 0-9 people. Chances are, you will be unable to avoid shopping small. So please don't feel guilted into spending your hard-earned cash with us small guys. I want you to choose us because what we offer is better value, a better product and a better experience overall. I want you to remember us happily, and come back to us because we made you feel great with our cake!
Wishing you all a very happy Chrimbo-time,
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