If you want proof of small business's ability to take initiative and change the nation, just look at the minimum wage issue. While Congress debates the minimum wage, entrepreneurs have taken it upon themselves to simply raise it. In 1995, just short of 2 million Americans were earning minimum wage. By 2003, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that number had decreased to about half a million.
Small and midsize businesses have a long and rich history of building up America, and entrepreneurs have done so largely by being innovative. Today, the nation's 25 million small businesses employ more than 50 percent of the private work force and account for more than half of America's nonfarm gross domestic product. According to the SBA, small businesses produce 55 percent of all new innovations.
Innovation has received a lot of press in the business media in recent years, so much so that the eyes can easily glaze over at the mere mention of the word. Yet there's good reason why innovation is constantly analyzed, and market research companies that brainstorm new ideas are thriving: We need innovative companies now more than ever.
"In business, there's always kind of a main issue of the time," says Glenn MacDonald, a professor at the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis as well as consultant to numerous companies, including Bausch & Lomb, Eastman Kodak, General Motors, IBM and Xerox. "In the '80s, the buzzword was operation efficiency, and right now, innovation is really in the limelight. You can't outdo your competition with low prices, given labor costs, so it has to be something else. And where does that come from? Innovation."
Fortunately for entrepreneurs, innovation comes in many forms. Whether it's by finding a new way to give back to the community, pioneering a concept that changes the way business is done or developing a new product or service that makes your customers' lives just a little better, innovation is accessible for everyone.
According to the world population clock, at press time, there were 6,424,555,317 people on the planet. It's a big world, and it's difficult to stand out.
But the nice thing about innovation is that you can stand out by being nice. Christina Miranda, 34, and her business partner, Vickie Feldman de Falco, 46, are New York City marketing mavens--of which there is no shortage. Their company, Redpoint Marketing PR , has attracted clients including Hyatt, Loews Hotels and Visa, but even more impressive is the inventive way they're giving back to the community. Projecting sales of $1.5 million for 2005, Redpoint is dedicated to assisting the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Long Island, and wisely, they're doing it in a way that fits with the creative aspect of their company.
Miranda, who founded Redpoint with Feldman de Falco in 2002, became involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters back when she was in college, first as a volunteer for four years and then as a board member. Two years after starting Redpoint, when it was clear their startup was no longer struggling, Miranda suggested to Feldman de Falco that they become involved with the Long Island chapter, and she enthusiastically agreed.
They formed a charitable program, called Well Red Kids, that puts two to three books in the hands of each child in the group three times per year. The Big Brothers and Sisters are given bookstore gift certificates, so the selection of the titles becomes a bookstore outing that the volunteers and children can do together. "Books help these at-risk kids see a different perspective," says Miranda. "[This program] underscores Redpoint's commitment to creativity."
Redpoint also does pro bono work for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Long Island. It sounds like a huge commitment, but as Miranda says, "There are 24 hours in a day, so we slice things up, and somehow it all gets done." But Miranda and Feldman de Falco urge you to put serious thought into tackling a major charity project.
"You want to make sure you match your goals with your resources," says Feldman de Falco, who raised money in part by going to clients. "It is a business decision, and it does have to fit into your business model [and] make sense for you and your employees. It's great to have a goal to have everybody take off every Monday to volunteer in a soup kitchen, but does that really make sense?" She also recommends tackling community giving "in bite-size chunks, rather than doing everything at once."
Miranda adds that many charitable organizations "are accustomed to well-intentioned people and companies making a lot of promises. You really don't want to let the charity down if you've made a commitment to them."
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.