Operating a Small, Sustainable Business: Resources for Ecopreneurs

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Fair Trade on Main StreetOf the nearly 26 million business firms in the US, about 97 percent have fewer than 20 employees according to the US Small Business Administration. These small businesses account for about half of the non-farm Domestic National Product, or GDP (not that my wife and I agree that this is the best way to measure prosperity and well-being), and generated 60 to 80 percent of the net new jobs over the past decade. While big businesses fired, laid off, downsized and outsourced jobs, in part, to squeeze more profits for shareholders, small businesses added employment.

Entrepreneurial trends are difficult to track and ecopreneurial enterprises even more so. The US Small Business Administration estimates that there are about 4.5 million small businesses with 9 or fewer employees. About three-quarters of all business firms have no employee payroll at all because they’re set up as self-employed persons operating unincorporated businesses. According to the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (microenterpriseworks.org), there are more than 23 million microenterprises (a business with five or fewer employees) in the US, representing 18 percent of all private employment and 87 percent of all businesses. You might be among the 15 million full-time or part-time small office/home office entrepreneurs, or SOHOs, like my wife and I with our diversified small enterprise.

Identified by Dan Pink in Free Agent Nation, there are about 33 million free agents in America. These “job-hopping, tech-savvy, fulfillment seeking, self-reliant, independent” workers represent about 16.5 million soloists, 3.5 million temporary workers (temps) and 13 million microbusinesses that include construction contractors, real estate agents, nannies, direct sales ventures (e.g., Shaklee, shaklee.com), services subcontractors and accountants. Operating as a microbusiness, or what Pink refers to as a “nanocorp” with three employees or less, is both a personal preference and competitive advantage, allowing the owners to downsize to provide incredible adaptability, innovation and creativity. Our sub-chapter S Corporation is a nanocorp committed to ecological restoration and social change while turning a modest profit.

According to Mark Hendricks in Not Just a Living, as much as 90 percent of the roughly 20 million American small business owners seem to be motivated more by lifestyle than money. His summary of market research completed by Warrillow & Co. suggest three types of small business owners: mountain climbers, entrepreneurs driven by sales and profits; freedom fighters, owners who seek independence and complete control over the who, what, where and when of their work; and craftspeople, businesspeople dedicated to excelling at their chosen craft. Warrillow’s research found that the craftspeople represent 60 percent of all entrepreneurs, followed by freedom fighters (30 percent) and mountain climbers (only 10 percent). Besides having less of a focus on money, lifestyle entrepreneurs rarely operate for the benefit of outside investors.

Starting and Staying Small

Recognizing a competitive advantage, many small businesses essay to remain small. Sometimes called personal entrepreneurs or lifestyle entrepreneurs, these owners carefully manage their green business to achieve optimal efficiencies in whatever niche market they serve. Many operate in ways that are placed-based, permanent and do not follow the popular mantra of grow, grow, grow. Getting a green business plan down on paper is important, regardless of size.

Many organizations lend support, including the following:

• National Federation for Independent Business (NFIB)
Conducting research and conducting advocacy on behalf of small business, the
membership-based NFIB promotes and protects the right of their members to
own, operate and grow their businesses and includes numerous tools and tips.

• SOHO America
Helping owners working in the small office/home office environment, this membership-
based organization covers marketing, finance, legal, start-up and technology issues. www.soho.org

• Kauffman eVenturing
Created by the non-profit Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, this website provides
articles, research and tools to assist entrepreneurs with a growth-oriented worldview.

• US Business Advisor
Discover the plethora of information from numerous federal agencies that regulate
or assist small businesses, including securing grants, start-up guides and legal
requirements. www.business.gov

Fast Company magazine
While emphasizing technology, Fast Company is a website and blog with resource
guides and general information related to small and medium-sized businesses.

• BizStats
Free research and analysis for small businesses, including what the profit margins
might be for your potential product or sales per square foot for retail stores;
helpful when starting up your operations and determining cash flow and potential
sales. www.bizstats.com

If you have starting up your own small green enterprise, what resources have you found to be helpful?

More on Resources for Small Business:

  • Green Dreams: Resources for Business Planning
  • A Model for Business Sustainability
  • UCLA to Spotlight Sustainable Business

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