How Small Business Owners Can Pay It Forward


You want to do good and make the world a better place. You’re saddened by the inequality and pain around you and those you know and you think to yourself, ‘I wonder what I can do to help?’ It’s great that you see something you disagree with on a large scale and wish to make a change. But while everyone will probably agree that they want to act out of the goodness of their hearts, as a business professional you understand the pressures of keeping a business afloat, making long term executive decisions that carry uncertain risk, managing your personal life, and the routine stresses of life that show up out of nowhere–in short, while you want to do good, sometimes it feels like there is barely time to do the things you are depended on to do. 

This struggle is a familiar one, and yet amidst the time consuming problems we all face, the pay it forward movement was born. Paying it forward is not like paying off a debt, where you give because you first borrowed. Instead, it is the concept of helping someone or many people not out of need but out of the desire to show kindness to others. Paying it forward is a selfless ambition to do what you can to make the world a better place, even if it is by impacting one person enough to make their day a better one. You can pay it forward with time, money, or kindness; what matters most is that you truly believe in your work.

Small businesses have more resources than most individuals have to give, and so it’s possible for them to be generous in paying it forward. In fact, many consumers look to the businesses they interact with to give back to the community because consumers want to know their values. Are they more focused on accelerating their business’s revenue and growth than they are about helping those in need? Your business can earn your customer’s respect and appreciation by showing that you care with action. But while consumers look to businesses to do their part, small business owners understand the financial situation of being a small, starting up business with significantly less resources than their larger counterparts. However, the truth is that how much you’re able to give matters far less than your willingness to do what you can. So we have spoken with other small business owners to ask the question: How can small business owners pay it forward?

Provide Internship Opportunities 

“You paying it forward could be as simple as opening up a way for a recent university graduate or new worker in the industry to get their foot in the door. We all know that it can be incredibly difficult for young workers to first break into the business world, the challenge of which increases depending on location and field. Often what inexperienced workers need is an industry connection or personal recommendation in order to even get a chance on the lowest rung of the ladder. But you can make a major impact on a young and eager person’s life by starting an internship program for people who deserve the opportunity but might otherwise have difficulty finding one. Consider what type of people you would like to support, for example, workers who come from poor socioeconomic backgrounds, or those with very limited experience. Whatever people you decide to give a chance to, you can know that opening up the door to the industry for them could go on to positively shape the rest of their lives,” says Karim Hachem, VP of eCommerce at Maxine of Hollywood.

Make Time Every Day to Use Your Position to Help Others

“There’s a seismic shift happening globally with more women helping other women. And I can say that I wouldn’t be where I was today if someone didn’t pay it forward for me or helped me along the way. I spend 10 [percent] to 15 percent of my time — even if it’s Friday night at 5:45 before I’m leaving the office — to pay it forward. I refer to it as career karma; you put good stuff out in the world and it comes back to you. I forward that resume that someone wanted me to send along, or connect a recruiter with someone who I know is miserable in her job, or answer that LinkedIn request from that college student who wants the internship. And I’ve had great things come from that college student who has been watching my career and wanted my advice. In fact, amazing connections and networks have come out of those relationships. I encourage everyone to carve that time out of their day,” said Miki Racine Berardelli, President and Digital Commerce and Chief Marketing Officer of Chico’s.

Be Generous

“One way to pay it forward is through showing generosity. Your customers will really appreciate your flexibility and benevolence in their transactions with you. A few ideas are offering free gifts with purchases, sending discount codes to new and returning customers, and free trials for those with some hesitancy to commit to your product or services,” says Nathalie Walton, Co-Founder and CEO of Expectful.

Open a Scholarship Program

“Why not use your resources to open up a scholarship program? Scholarships are sometimes the only way for a person to receive higher education but without receiving one, they may be faced with working intense hours on top of their school work in order to stay afloat or be unable to attend. Kids from underprivileged backgrounds often won’t even consider applying to college because they have never had someone who believed in their ability to succeed or who supported them, and many just assume that scholarships won’t be offered to them. Higher education can be the key to changing a person’s whole future, so opening a scholarship program is an excellent way to make a difference in others’ lives and pay it forward. Even if the scholarship amount will only cover a fraction of a student’s education costs, by awarding it to them you are still saying you believe in their abilities enough to help,” says Ubaldo Perez, CEO of Hush.

Give Donations

“Donations are a great way to pay it forward because everyone in your business can get involved. If you look around you’ll find there are many community outreach programs and charities in your area, as well as food banks and shelters that can always use donations of goods. Ask your team members what charities they feel passionate about; this will allow you to get to know more about the hearts of the people you work with and unite everyone at your workplace on a shared goal. You can choose how you want to donate, whether dropping off physical items, organizing an item collection, raising money, or even donating your time to volunteer in person,” says Cole Steverson, COO of Hybrid2Go.

Offer Encouragements 

“Paying it forward can be as simple as encouraging others you interact with. Be a gracious and positive presence in the lives of those around you. It makes such an impact because positive comments about us inspire us to continue our hard work, reassure us that what we are doing matters, reminds us that we are doing a good job, and boosts confidence. All of us can benefit from kind words. Share encouragement to your team members, your family, your friends, even to strangers who you can tell are trying their best. Sometimes just believing in someone and showing them so by supporting them with positive words is enough to turn their situation around,” says Tirzah Shirai, CEO of Blink Bar.

Use Your Platform to Help People

“One way that we really love and are inspired to pay it forward is directly at the heart of our business. At Diathrive we desire for every person to receive the care they need at a cost they can afford. We know no one wants to be stuck with diabetes and on top of their diagnosis they have to pay hefty prices to receive the products they need to stay alive. Our belief that care should be easy and affordable is built into who we are at Diathrive, so we work directly with manufacturers to sell at wholesale prices without requiring prescriptions or insurance. We have put in the extra time and work to offer diabetes maintenance products for far less because we believe in the greater good of helping our customers,” says Michael Hennessy, Founder and CEO of Diathrive.

Give Word-of-Mouth Recommendations

“[Paying it forward] is a love train that entrepreneurs all over the world should join hands for. It’s no secret that word-of-mouth recommendations are the best advertisements, but it was very much the secret sauce to our original success before SeeTree launched in early 2019. Upon launch, in addition to $15M in funding, we also secured partnerships with some of the largest growers while still in beta, thanks to those referrals. So we are paying it forward as well!” said Farhana Rahman, Marketing Director of SeeTree.

Get Involved in Your Community

“There are lots of ways you can pay it forward in your community. Your assistance will be much appreciated. Some ideas for small business owners to pay it forward are sponsoring a family through a local shelter or charity or a refugee program, sponsoring a local youth sports team, sponsoring local events that could use extra help or donations, food bank donations, and during the holidays arranging a Christmas toy drive or hamper program. There are actually endless options for how you can help out around your community. If none of these ideas seem feasible, a quick search of your local charities will bring up their contact information so you can reach out and see what they need,” says Chris Bridges, CEO of VITAL.

Share Your Expertise

“You are a successful business owner with a unique history of education, training, and experience. Now think about where you would be if you had not received all the learning you did in each of these areas. Think of yourself a few years ago or many years ago, when you were still searching for an open door, looking for some guidance on how to make your vision a reality. How much of a difference would it have made to have had access to free resources and advice? Or maybe you did have access to exactly these, in which case you know it was beneficial. As a business owner, you’re in a position of having expertise to offer, which is a great way of paying it forward! You can share your experience for free through numerous options including an e-book, webinars and livestreams, or a podcast. Maybe you want to make a visit to a shelter or charity to offer useful advice to those who are looking for a fresh start or foot in the door in the business world. You could change someone’s life just by sharing what you know,” says Daniel Tejada, Co-Founder of Straight Up Growth.

Give Part of Your Proceeds

“Paying it forward can also be thought of as giving back. You can show your customers and collaborators that you are not just a company that talks the talk but also one that walks the walk by showing your actionable plan. With every purchase made, why not give part of your proceeds to a charitable organization or a cause close to your heart? Maybe even take this opportunity to ask your customers which areas of need they would like to see your company give towards. It could be a great opportunity for your business to share your benefits,” says Ricky Nariani, President and Co-Founder of WANTD.

Support Others In Your Field

“All business professionals face challenges and encouragement alike, so an excellent way to pay it forward is to support other entrepreneurs and small businesses. You can do this by introducing others in the professional world to your networking connections, letting a new worker shadow you, or by providing a letter of recommendation for someone in order to help them on their future endeavors,” says Cody Candee, Founder and CEO of Bounce.

With these suggestions and ideas from small business owners, paying it forward is not a hard concept to incorporate into your business’s setup. Just imagine the positive impact you can make in someone else’s life by staying committed to your values and your desire to help. You might even find that paying it forward brings you and your work team members closer together as you connect over the best way to make a difference. 


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