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From the Chairman: Buy local this Christmas

The new small business column from the Region Chair of FSB NI, Brendan Kearney
Brendan has been self-employed for the last 42 years mainly across the catering industry.

For the past seven years he has led a private medical insurance brokerage and currently employs 17 people Brendan has been involved with the FSB over the last 20 plus years at various levels between branch, policy and regional levels within the organisation. This month Brendan talks about Small Business Saturday

Make Small Businesses ‘Jig’ This Christmas…

A few weeks ago a picture of a handwritten note circulated social media, it said - “This Christmas: Buy from local; Buy handmade; Buy from people you know; Buy from self-employed…remember the big stores don’t do a little ‘jig’ when they make a sale”.

This is absolutely the essence of “Small Business Saturday” (taking place on Saturday 1st of December this year), an annual campaign that FSB Northern Ireland is involved in to encourage people to support their small, local business, particularly in the run up to Christmas. 

When we think of the big high street chains at Christmas, the touchy-feely TV adverts, the 3 for 2 specials and the online Black Friday events, it often seems so transactional and purely a numbers game.

Contrast that with the visit to your local butcher who has worked out the size of turkey you need for your family for the most important dinner of the year or the purchase from the local crafter who has personalised a tree decoration you are giving as a gift to your child’s teacher.

By supporting your local and small businesses, you are contributing directly to their household income. The small business in turn may spend this locally and the circular economy of your local community begins to thrive, which benefits everyone. 

So how can a small business compete in the big commercial arena where online convenience and big brands can overshadow the trip to the local town?

By taking simple steps to ensure that the customer experience creates a buy-in that not only causes return custom but that the sharing of that positive experience to other potential customers creates coveted “word of mouth” recommendations and subsequent custom.

Small businesses across Northern Ireland have cleverly harnessed the opportunities of ‘free’ marketing through the various social media channels, to creatively communicate their message and speak directly to their customer.

I would encourage small businesses to take a look at both these aspects of customer experience and social media presence and see where they may need some work on this to place them above the noise of competitors, particular the larger ones who may have specialist departments dealing with this in their companies.

There is often free training available in these areas – if you look to the  economic development department of your local council, your local enterprise agency, visit www.nibusinessinfo.com.uk  or, as an FSB member, put in a request  to our team here for specific workshops or training. It may take an hour or two away from the business but benefits can far outweigh the time committed.  

We recently welcomed the Small Business Saturday campaign bus to the cities of Armagh and Belfast, as it makes its way across the UK highlighting the need to support small and support local.

Firms can register to be included on an app used to search for small businesses in an area, (visit www.smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com to register) another avenue of free publicity and improving visibility.

During the Belfast leg of the tour, FSB hosted Baroness Rona Fairhead, Minister for International Trade who was keen to speak to our members about how more small businesses could be encouraged to export.

Of course when we look at the level of export from SMEs in certain sectors here, particularly in the Mid-Ulster engineering corridor, which produces 40% of the world’s quarrying equipment, we could say NI small business punches above its weight…and why not?

The innovation demonstrated by the engineering and software sector here is to be envied across the globe, so we must continue to nurture and develop the ambition of the SME sector of Northern Ireland as world-class players. 

Small businesses are a major source of local employment and often the conduit for those who are furthest away from the labour market or have barriers to work to get back into work. So supporting small businesses goes beyond simply benefiting the economy, it has wider social and community benefits also. 

FSB campaigns locally and nationally on issues such as saving cash points, keeping bank branches open and fighting to rejuvenate our high streets. When you look at the landscape of your town or village, can you imagine how damaging to the community, the economy and the aesthetics of your area if small businesses where no longer there?

This is why we urge that you consider in this festive season to shop small, support local and make someone “jig”.