We spend a lot of time in business coverage talking about the big companies: Amazon, Starbucks, Apple, Walmart, etc. This is in large part because they have a lot of employees, a lot of customers, and they have locations all over the country (and world) so therefore what they do affects, and interests, a lot of people.
However, today is National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day and we want to remind business journalists that every large company was once a small business, and small businesses deserve just as much as your news coverage as these large corporations because they impact just as many people.
The number of small business in the U.S. has steadily grown over the past decade and the pandemic saw the largest number of new small businesses ever. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), 32.5 million small businesses employed 46.8% of the private workforce last year. That means there are plenty of opportunities and angles about small business owners for journalists to find. Here are a few tips on where to start.
Small businesses are everywhere
As a business reporter it is beneficial to understand how small businesses fit into the economic landscape of your coverage area. You can start by checking the SBA’s helpful overview of the small-business community in your state. These profiles include key information you can use as a starting point such as how many jobs they create, what industries have the most small businesses, and how many people they employ.
From there you can interview staff at your district or regional SBA office, speak to local government officials on current legislation that affects or is aimed at small businesses, and talk to lenders to see what types of businesses they are backing. You may even come across grant programs specifically for small businesses such as this one from American Express and the National Trust of Historic Preservation that is giving $40K grants to 25 small, independent restaurants.
Small business owners are people of all kinds
Baby boomers, millennials, women, minorities, immigrants, and veterans. Small business owners represent a very broad and diverse demographic. Some small businesses contribute full-time income to their owners while other owners have them as side hustles to bring in some extra cash for themselves or their families.
Eighty-two percent of small businesses are nonemployers, meaning they don’t have any paid employees, and even though they make up the majority of small businesses, they account for only 3% of sales receipts. The bulk of business comes from employers where, unfortunately many demographics are underrepresented.
Consider these facts when profiling owners and ask them what drew them to their location, what challenges they face, what support they have, if they have plans or the means to expand, and if they are optimistic about the future of their business and local economy. Adding context to these businesses by telling their stories can help your readers have a deeper appreciation for, as well as, support their local shops, which in turn supports their local economy.
Business success doesn’t happen overnight
Remember, you never know when a small business will go from having one location to being on every corner, so don’t assume that small businesses only have a small impact. The most successful companies were once operating at small scale. Apple and Amazon did not get to be the conglomerates they are today overnight. Wouldn’t you have loved to be a journalist that interviewed the founders when they were just some guys creating something in their garage?