Small businesses can be purpose-driven businesses

About the author

Ann is a co-founder of PR Academy. Her special areas of interest are internal communication, change management and project communication. MSc, Dip CAM, MCIPR

Purpose-driven small Cornish business Green & Blue at their workshop
Purpose-driven small Cornish business Green & Blue at their workshop

Saturday 5 December is Small Business Saturday in the UK. A day when we’re all encouraged to shop local and support small businesses.  Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) account for three fifths of the employment and around half of turnover in the UK private sector. Its hugely important to the UK economy.

Research by Deloitte Digital earlier this year found that consumers have been favouring local businesses during lockdown. 59% of consumers in Britain used more local stores and services to help support them during this time.

The same research also found that younger consumers in particular are prepared to stand by the brands that demonstrate the positive impact they bring to society and abandon those who don’t. Becky Skiles, partner and chief marketing officer at Deloitte Digital has said: “For brands to build loyalty, the positive contribution they are bringing to employees and communities must be as clearly communicated as their product offering.”

Purpose is about having a reason to exist beyond the financial and providing value to wider societal stakeholders.  Purpose goes hand in glove with PR because PR is as much about what you do as what you say.

We often associate the idea of ‘purpose’ with larger companies but it’s just as important and just as do-able for small businesses.

A couple of years ago I spoke to Faye Clifton, Sales and Marketing Manager (and also my niece!) at small Cornish business Green & Blue, I wanted to find out what difference PR makes to a small business. Since then, Green & Blue has become a Certified B-Corporation.  It’s all about balancing purpose and profit. Companies must show how they consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.

Given that Green & Blue employs just eight people making its range of sustainable wildlife products at its Cornish workshop – I wanted to find out how she justifies the investment in being a B-Corp, how important is purpose and can any small business have it?

We want our customers to feel something, to be inspired by wildlife and shop more consciously.

Faye, what does being purpose-driven mean to the team at Green & Blue?

It means that we’re here to do more than sell a product. We’re here to make a difference too. A brand we look up to is Patagonia, they don’t want to just sell you a jacket they are also about education and getting customers to think differently.  In the same way, we want our customers to feel something, to be inspired by wildlife and shop more consciously.

There is a lot of discussion about sustainability, its clearly part of peoples’ thinking. We wanted a transparent measure and that’s what B-Corp gives us. It’s a mark on our website but it also gives us a framework for making decisions about the business.  It helps us to make decisions that are good for people, the planet and profit.  Because we have to measure more, we think more about these things.

For a smaller business wondering about the impact on the bottom line it’s important to say that this isn’t about sacrificing profit. Its about the triple bottom line so thinking about more than profit, which is in turn good for profit!  It appeals to customers who we think increasingly want to make more conscientious buying decisions and buy from businesses that they trust.

Green & Blue makes wildlife products in a sustainable way, for example using Cornish China Clay waste – but for a small business making widgets, is being purpose-driven relevant and achievable?

Yes, I believe so. Consumers want to connect with a business and small businesses by their very nature, whatever they do or make, will have a story to tell.

It matters when times are tougher as they are for many right now. For small businesses, it’s a time to tell their story, to make connections with customers and think about what they are there to do beyond profit and how to communicate that.

How difficult was the Certified B-Corporation process?

Quite difficult!  It was a big process to go through, Body Shop have an entire team! But in some ways it is also easier for a small business as your supply chain is smaller and probably more local. I can simply pop my head round the door of the workshop and see what’s going on.

But there are things small businesses can do that don’t necessarily involve going that far.

Just last month we took part in ‘Better Friday’ which is the anthesis of Black Friday. Many small businesses don’t have the margins to offer large discounts. And we are very much about encouraging people to think more deeply about the purchases they are making. We decided that we would give 10% of the price of purchases made over the Black Friday weekend to Cornwall Wildlife Trust to help restore a nature reserve near our workshop that has been closed for some years. We’ve been supporting them for some time and giving volunteer hours too.

We were pleased to receive coverage on our local BBC Radio Cornwall and Heart. We’re also getting support on local Facebook groups that are sharing details of small and local businesses.

Where next?

I think we’re beginning to find our voice a bit more, becoming more campaign driven, we feel there is a sense of urgency around the issues we care about.

We’re taking a fresh look at our vision and values. For any company whatever size, these matter because they are at the heart of what you do. They remind us why we are doing what we do and they make day to day decisions simple. You can cut through a lot of things that could distract you and as a purpose-driven business that feels important in helping us to focus on what matters.

We’ve grown and we have a larger platform now and we want to think about what we do with it to make our bit of difference in the world.