By Charles Underhill
BBB Staff Writer, BBB serving Southeast Florida and the Caribbean
While the exact standards differ depending on industry group, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) generally defines a “small business” as one which employs no more than 1,500 employees and has revenues of no more than $38.5 million in average annual receipts.¹
We suspect most small businesses would consider themselves wildly successful if they achieved even one-third of those employment or revenue figures. Based upon SBA data as reported by Small Business Trends ² (a Naples Florida advisory service), of nearly 30 million U.S. businesses that employ less than 500 persons, only 2.3% have 20 or more employees and 79% have no employees (other than the owner).
The mix of employment sizes of BBB Accredited Businesses in South Florida and the Caribbean – those firms that have met the BBB Accreditation Standards – very closely parallels that SBA data. Nearly 90% of all BBB Accredited Businesses in our area have fewer than 25 employees.
Most of what has been written about diversity and inclusion is applicable to larger businesses (e.g., Hire a diversity manager, diversify product teams, provide inclusion training for managers, etc.). Yet small businesses are challenged by diversity and can benefit from thinking about inclusion.
Market Diversity and Inclusion.
It is beyond the control of all but the very largest businesses. A company the size of Amazon or a major global auto manufacturer may influence the composition of a local market when it chooses to open a major facility in a community. However, for most small businesses, market diversity is influenced by a complex set of interconnected outside factors.
The 2020 census data bears this out. Here is a look at data comparing selected overall U.S. demographics with those of Florida and Miami/Dade County.
Think of market diversity as the environment within which your small business operates. Inclusion is one important way your business can respond to that environment.
For most small businesses, owners are also chief strategy officers, marketing directors, human resource managers and undoubtedly perform another dozen or so jobs – in addition to delivering the actual product or service. So, it is fair to ask whether it is worth taking on yet another job.
Here are some diversity “Rules” that may be helpful:
- Rule 1: It is what it is – but what “it” is always changes. As we noted earlier, your market – however you define it – always exists at a moment in time. As one obvious example, people of Hispanic origin constituted 23% of Miami/Dade’s total population in 1970. In 2021, that percentage stood at 72%. While that demographic shift certainly benefited a generation of Hispanic entrepreneurs, it also created opportunities for non-Hispanic small businesses. Which leads us to:
- Rule 2: No business ever built a bright future by dwelling in the past. Small businesses are risk-takers. We should be grateful this is true; the airline industry began in a bicycle shop. Apple, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Disney (among others) started in family garages. Those four companies today employ more than half a million people. Taking note of the changing demographics of the market is essential, and leads us to:
- Rule 3: The early birds capture the market. Being late might have been a blessing if you missed your sailing time on the Titanic, although being first comes with its own set of problems. However, being an early adapter to changing market conditions often puts your small business on a growth trajectory. On, then, to:
- Rule 4: Make new friends but keep the old. Market demographics are always in flux, but that change is seldom dramatic. More often, it is incremental. If your market demographic is changing, you have a challenge: How to continue to delight your existing customer base, while recognizing that your business future may lie with a new, and perhaps different demographic. As with many things in business, success lies in balancing the familiar and comfortable with the new and challenging. It can be done. Finally:
- Rule 5: Long-term success for a small business – in fact, any business – can only happen when the fear of doing nothing outweighs the fear of doing something different. Changing demographics, the increased pace of innovation, new and different forms of competition are unnerving. In business, though, change is the only constant. Market diversity is happening all around us, all the time. Inclusion is a way of thinking about – and adapting to – that change in a way that benefits small business, its employees, its customers, and its community.
Employee Diversity and Inclusion.
When it comes to employee diversity and inclusion, most of the advice consultants provide to a business that employs hundreds of people is useless for most small businesses. For the 79% of small businesses that have no employees other than the owner, tips about the company’s “employment climate and culture”, recruiting policies and practices and other suggestions that target larger companies are almost certainly unhelpful for the sole proprietor or two-person shop. Grow your small business in the knowledge that when you need help with inclusive recruiting and retention practices, those resources are readily available.
That does not mean that one of the major reasons for having a diverse workforce is not important to even the smallest business. Employees bring their own unique perspectives to a business; larger businesses find multiple ways to encourage and reward employee feedback, perspectives, and innovation.
Yet even the smallest business can replicate what a larger competitor has through its workforce. In fact, It may be the better source. It is direct feedback from those who patronize your business, and of equal or greater importance, those that did not – or that were unhappy with their experience. Finally, it is either available to you free, or at the cost of a little Google research.
Here are the excerpts from two actual online reviews: The first, from BBB; the second, from another online review site:
- “(Your) receptionists are rude… (They) have poor customer service skills… (and are) disrespectful…if these employees continue hanging up the phone on customers and talking to them with condescending tones, the company’s reputation is going to suffer along with the business.”
- “…Your owner is a rarity; an honest professional who is courteous, patient and asked for my input as the undertakings continued… (He) personally handled the designs and all elements of his work products… Being a senior, I appreciate that he treated me with dignity and respect, keeping me informed daily.”
Both reviews provide valuable insight. One of these businesses has found ways to be inclusive – to respond to an aging market demographic with patience and respect. The other has employees whose words and actions convey disrespect. One will likely grow and prosper, while the other may not.
In summary, for a small business in South Florida and the Caribbean, “diversity” means market demographics largely outside it’s control, while “inclusion” means how that business needs to respond to diversity.
Trust grows in an environment of respect.
BBB – Start With Trust