President Obama dubs small businesses as the “backbone of our economy and the cornerstone of our community.” Data backs this up. The ADP National Employment Report reflects small businesses created 95,000 jobs from November to December last year and greatly helped America’s post-recession recovery. For business reporters, small businesses offer terrific reporting opportunities. Unlike massive corporations with large marketing teams, small business owners are often accessible, quirky and candid, therefore providing opportunities for colorful writing and reporting. This blog contains five tips on reporting on small business.
Befriend the Small Business Administration
To write effectively on any industry your small business connects with, you’ll need data. The U.S. Small Business Administration provides excellent and ongoing data, reports and insight to supplement your reporting and to generate new ideas. I’ve also found the SBA is well networked with their chapters across the states. So, when writing on tips for buying a new laptop in the new year for Tech4BusinessNow, I needed advice from the experts. The SBA referred me to their Texas chapter’s leader who guides 600+ new businesses each year on starting their venture, including advice on tools like laptops. This gentleman was accessible, cooperative and offered terrific and helpful quotes for my piece. Additionally, Score.org, the nation’s largest network of free business mentors provides other great experts. The National Women Business Owners Corporation provides another helpful resource.
Nationalize your small business story
Even though you’re writing on a small business, if possible, tie your business profile into some kind of national trend. So, in writing about Nancy Liles, owner of Sweet Tea Salon, I found she was part of a larger trend in entrepreneurs using networking as a way to build their business. This idea became a trend feature I wrote for the Guardian series sponsored by Squarespace on mentorship among small business owners. For a more robust story, interview several business owners from different locations all pursuing similar ventures (but still offering your reader variety and different lessons).
Look for the narrative thread
Because readers of small business profiles are inquisitive and possibly seek to run or own their own venture, seek the narrative behind the small business. In your reporting ask what problem was the small business owner trying to solve? What specifically about their venture and approach brought them success? Note too that most editors want to see the small business has lasted longer than a few years, which means most small businesses you report on will be success stories.
Offer your readers small business tips
On that same note, and to avoid your writing appearing as fluff, more often editors like their reporters to offer tips, suggestions and takeaways. Typically, readers like a listicle at the end offering wisdom from the small business owner–what they learned in the trenches. So, as you compile your interviews, weave in questions like: Did you encounter any surprising rules or regulations within your industry? Describe the most fulfilling or challenging thing (so far) about your business. What elements took longer than you expected?
Seek a national expert to comment on the overall industry/trend
For added credibility, weave into your reporting interviews with a national expert who can comment on whether similar business owners around the country are pursuing similar ventures. Where else are we seeing this trend? Where does this analyst/expert think the industry is headed? What should business owners keep in mind as they pursue ventures in this field? Adding this layer of expertise will make for a more robust, readable and interesting article than a straightforward profile.
“Open Ideas” by Flickr user Maria Boehling on Creative Commons (CC By SA 2.0)
Debbi G McCullough runs Hanging Rock Media, an editorial services company, and edits and writes for the Guardian’News & Media Guardian Labs studio. She also teaches business communication part-time at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and paints as a hobby.