Small business helping small business: part one

Conventional wisdom might say that if you have a web/technology-based business-to-business service company, then the pathway to rapid growth and revenues is to target large Fortune 500 companies as clients. Seattle enjoys the presence of many of those Fortune 500s: Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, Amazon, Zillow, and Expedia, just to name a few. Yet, Community Sourced Capital looks to businesses like A&R Solar, Starvation Alley Farms and Playback Sports as the future of our local living economy. These are the companies that make our neighborhoods more interesting to live and play in.

We get to work with these owners directly. There’s no corporate board vetting decisions and their possible impacts on quarterly earnings. Decisions are made by small business owners and CSC because they are the right thing to do and because they “pencil out.”

Both A&R and CSC experience success because of something we call social capital. Both of us are working against the grain, but we have lots of people supporting us. A&R installs solar (successfully) in the cloudy Pacific Northwest, and Community Sourced Capital runs a financial services company on the basis of sharing money. It’s a tough job, but somebody has got to do it. Somebody has to run these small businesses to bolster a new economy, and it probably won’t be big Fortune 500 businesses.

As I heard last month from a client, “it’s time for small businesses to start helping each other, no one else is.” It reflects the frustrations of small businesses owners drowning in marketing messaging from big banks and government about how important small businesses are to the health of the economy, but without action to back it up. I’d like to argue that, while we are nowhere close to being too big to fail, neither are we too small to succeed. We have to work together.

As CSC moves forward, we’re staying as true as possible to our small businesses customers, because we’re a small business too. We need each other to succeed.

This is the first in our series Small business helping small business.

The state of small business on the eve of the election

Small businesses are the heart of our communities and the life-blood of our economy. Few politicians would disagree with that.

Every day, small business owners roll up their sleeves and bring you and me some of our most basic services, often with a smile from a friendly face. They make our lives better by creating spaces where we can enjoy coffee with friends and by making delicious food when we’re too busy to make it ourselves. They create jobs. Small business owners are some of the hardest working and most creative Americans. Every politician agrees with this.

So how do we “vote” for small business? Both the Republican and Democratic Party platforms say we need to make the tax code friendlier to small business. USA Today recently published an article, Q&A: Looming Small Business Tax Hike Explained. It’s an ominous headline, but, in fact, all the looming tax hike has to do with is raising personal income taxes for people earning over $200,000 a year. This possible tax hike might affect as much as 3.5% of all small business owners, maybe—probably fewer. Most small business owners just don’t have that kind of income. That means, when they need to grow, they can’t afford to just cut a check.

I’m worried about what’s happened to access to capital for small business. Bank lending in the smallest sized loans, loans under $100,000, has plummeted. Overall lending is starting to improve for larger loans, but these “micro-loans”, the size most often needed by our neighborhood businesses, continue to decline precipitously. A recent Federal Reserve study says small businesses identify “access to capital” as the greatest impediment to creating new jobs. I want my neighborhood businesses to create jobs for my neighbors, and they need access to capital in order to do it!

So while the presidential candidates focus on tax codes, how can we, we the people, help our neighborhood businesses get what they need?

I don’t believe we need to wait around for banks or government to solve these problems for us. We can start by making appointments at the locally owned hair salon and frequenting the locally owned coffee shop (an easy task for Seattle). We can recommend neighborhood businesses to our friends and start to build local economies that are less likely to tank when Wall Street tanks. But that’s not the whole story.

We also need to ensure that small businesses have access to financial resources; they need the capital to start, run, grow, and improve their businesses. Banks simply aren’t lending to small businesses like they used to. Let’s put our money to work where it can do our neighborhoods some good!

Crowdfunding puts financial power in the hands of many people, but its application to small-business financing is still new. Kickstarter, the most well known crowdfunding website, recently helped a business on Bainbridge Island raise nearly $20,000 to help start their business, but Kickstarter was designed to help artists fund creative projects with donations. That’s why my company, Community Sourced Capital, was designed from the ground up to meet the needs of small business through crowdfunding. We’re so passionate about it that we decided to become one of the first Social Purpose Corporations in Washington State. That means our corporate charter includes a mandate to help small businesses and local economies thrive. You can count on us to live up to that mission!

This election year, we aren’t focused on the power of the politician. We’re focused on the power of the people. We should never forget that we the people are what elections are really about. We hold the power to collectively make decisions, and when we aren’t voting for politicians and policies, we can vote with our dollars by supporting small businesses with our purchases and our investments. We don’t need politicians to help us with this step. We can roll up our sleeves and put our money to work to fund the world we want to live in, today.