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How to Sell to Millennials? Be Radically Inclusive. Express your diversity values and create an environment where employees and customers alike can do the same.

By Rohit Prakash

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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A recent executive order that suggests people who identify as transgender will not be recognized in the United States' armed forces reminds us we cannot take tolerance and acceptance for granted.

The motivations behind this type of action contrast starkly with the values of millennials -- America's largest generation according to population size. This demographic of adults ages 18 through 34 also is one of the nation's most diverse. Twenty percent of millennials identify as LGBTQ, compared to 7 percent of baby boomers. Millennials also have made it clear they're interested in companies and brands that support and reflect their values of inclusion and equality.

Related: Debunking 'Diversity' by Amplifying Inclusion

As millennials approach the peak of their professional careers, they're primed to be the greatest spenders in the U.S. economy. They already make up more of the workforce than any other generation, and their impact on the U.S. economy is projected to be significant.

To harness millennials' buying power, small-business owners should consider which steps they're taking to express inclusivity as one of their business values. There is no formula for embracing diversity because it's a practice. Each business will have its own, unique expression of these values. Here are some questions to help you consider if you're doing enough to convey your mindset to prospective consumers.

What have you done lately to express how you value diversity?

Cat Wilcox is a Townsquared member and co-owner of Velouria, a Seattle boutique that sells independently made clothes and accessories. She believes creating a retail space inclusive of everyone requires "continuous self-assessment." Wilcox thinks of her store as her home because she wants her employees and guests to feel safe and comfortable.

You can demonstrate this welcoming atmosphere with imagery and language within your business. Symbolic gestures might include displaying multi-colored flags or signs that say "All are welcome." If your business is LGBT-, women- or minority-owned, stickers are available to identify your venture as such. Each visual cue sends an initial message of safety.

Related: These Are the 100 Most Powerful LGBT Executives in the World

What kind of work environment are you creating?

Business owners should strive to create environments in which staff members can express their identities. This gives them the confidence to become better employees.

Another Townsquared member, Gravity Payments Software Developer Oliver Heneghan, helps advise the Diversity at Gravity (DIG) group. Oliver and four co-leaders formed DIG more than a year ago. They were inspired by a team member who requested to be referred to by non-binary pronouns such as "they/them" in the workplace. Heneghan approached Gravity's human-resources team to discuss how to support this decision. Conversations followed on gender-neutral bathrooms and other ways to make their team member feel safe. The company brought in outside guidance to help employees incorporate trans, non-binary and gender-fluid identities into the workplace.

Related: See Inclusion and Diversity as a Growth Strategy, Not a Cost

While large-scale changes might not be feasible for all small businesses, giving staff members the option to use their preferred pronouns is possible in any company. If your employees wears name tags, include their preferred pronouns below the name to let customers know you respect the non-binary community. After all, your team members are your best spokespeople.

Do you imagine ways you could invite more voices to the table?

Imagine your ideal customer or employee. Does he or she look exactly like you? We all know the common adage that "like hires like." It's easier to be friends and work with people who are similar to you. Our networks tend to resemble our own demographics, but studies reveal that diverse companies outperform less-diverse peers in terms of financial returns.

Velouria co-owner Wilcox invites diversity through the artwork represented in her shop. She asks different people to curate shows. Additionally, Velouria regularly participates in its neighborhood's art walk. Wilcox's group has taken risks with content, which sometimes is politically charged. Leaders at Velouria see it as a way to give a platform to voices that have historically been marginalized.

Related: Why Inclusive Workplaces Drive More Innovation and Better Performance

There's no doubt it can be challenging for new businesses to stay current on the trends that drive every new wave of customers. But you have a powerful advantage: You already are part of your neighborhood's heart and soul. Focus on what is important to you, and being inclusive to your community naturally will follow.

"As [local businesses], we're not in it for the money," Wilcox says. "Part of what we want to do is make the world a better place, which means speaking out when we see an opportunity to accelerate acceptance." This is as important to you as it is to your customers.

Rohit Prakash

Co-founder of Townsquared and Small Business Champion

Rohit Prakash is co-founder of Townsquared, the only a private, online community for small businesses that ties neighborhood entrepreneurs and mom-and-pop shops together on its hyper-local social network.

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