Nov. 27 is the 12th annual Small Business Saturday, an event that is entirely contrived yet nonetheless has ascended beyond its launch in 2010, as a partnership led by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
But rather than suggest my readers shop at small businesses – an idea I do support and said as much two months ago in a column about supply chain disruption – it seems worthwhile to spend a few paragraphs encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit.
The phrase “small business,” especially in the heat of the holiday shopping season, often evokes something like an independent bookstore in a downtown area or a mom-and-pop restaurant that took over an empty strip mall space. But anyone trying to make a profit (above board, at least) is running a business, and the U.S. Small Business Administration has a sliding scale based on industry. That means in some fields revenue up to $40 million is “small,” and in others having up to 1,500 employees check the same box.
The SBA’s advocacy office issues an annual report profiling the small business climate in each state. Its 2021 report (based on pre-pandemic data) shows 1.2 million such enterprises in Illinois across 20 classification categories, which constitutes 99.6% of registered businesses. They employ 2.5 million people, 44.8% of the overall workforce. The report also has information about loans, payroll, ownership, employee demographics and more.
All well and good, but I really want to focus on the ground level: people who think they have a marketable product or skill and want to turn that into income. Whether you’re looking to launch your own full-time career or just make sure a side hustle is both legal and more than an expensive hobby, the occasion of Small Business Saturday can serve as motivation to seek real help in getting the ball rolling.
The Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity centralizes its online resources at illinois.gov/dceo/SmallBizAssistance. This is where to find links to the nearest Small Business Development Center, information about regulatory compliance, access to capital and a directory of tech parks, accelerators, incubators and working spaces under the umbrella of the Illinois Innovation Network.
I wouldn’t encourage anyone to do anything foolish with their money, skills or ideas, but the occasion of Small Business Saturday at such an unusual time for the global economy understandably ignites the fire of curiosity. As shoppers support existing businesses with holiday spending, may we also appreciate the efforts of public universities and community colleges leveraging state resources to help people reach their professional goals.
Not every idea becomes a success story – 33,702 Illinois businesses closed between March 2019 and March 2020 – but there are plenty of achievements worth celebrating.