The end of January is rapidly approaching, but it's not too late to adopt some good habits for the year ahead. As a small business owner I'm a big fan of capitalism. There is no other economic system that generates the wealth we need to make society work; to pay for our schools and hospitals, police, armed services and of course to pay off our enormous public debt. The success of existing British businesses and the creation of new ones is inextricably linked to the success of our nation as a whole. For all these reasons I'm hoping that next year Britain will be even more entrepreneurial and capitalist than we've ever been before....but we need to be ethical as well.
The mistakes that have been made in the past have been clearly revealed to all of us since the onset of the Great Recession. Reckless banking, cruel pay-day lending practices, supply chain bullying and the curious approach to payment of corporation tax of some multinationals would have tested the patience of Adam Smith (God rest his soul) in recent years.
I'm sure small business owners will agree these failings did NOT come from our community of SMEs who employ more people and generate more sales than the big multinationals yet have a much smaller voice. To me the people running these businesses are the salt of the earth, they're busting their guts to deliver the prosperity our country needs. Small business owners are the heroes of our national economic story and prove capitalism can be a genuine force for good.
We in the SME community are quietly doing the right things as we work towards a "better capitalism", so I'm making a call to the heads of multinational corporate organisations to listen to the SME community and adopt ten New Year's resolutions that will make a difference to building a stronger British economy in 2015.
1. Treat your staff fairly, paying the Living Wage (£7.85 per hour outside London and £9.15 per hour in London) where this is affordable for your business. It isn't fair to pay less than the basic amount people need to live on. Nor is it right that taxpayers are forced to top up your staff's income by in-work benefits. Maybe it's a cliché but your people really are your greatest asset. An investment in them is actually an investment in your future.
2. Don't keep people on zero hours contracts where it is practical and fair to offer them a full time role or minimum hours commitment. Remove exclusivity clauses which prevent people working elsewhere when they have no committed hours with you. Zero hours contracts can have their uses but they should be around the periphery of a business not at its core.
3. Make sure you offer reliable products or services that do what they say on the tin and don't promise what you can't deliver.
4. Don't rip people off. Customers expect and deserve to get value for money. In the long term you can't build a business based on excessive charging so don't bother trying.
5. Focus on offering great customer service. That way you'll generate the repeat business essential to success. Please don't keep telling us that our call is important whilst keeping us on hold for twenty minutes. Be interested in our opinion but don't keep sending us ten page customer surveys.
6. Don't bully your suppliers. Building a high quality, committed and successful supplier base is crucial to any business. Arguably suppliers are (surprisingly) even more important than customers because quite simply you wouldn't be able to do what you do for your customers without them. It's really unfair for big companies to stretch out payment terms and force suppliers to make unexpected "pay and stay" payments that haven't been agreed upfront.
7. Pay corporation tax on your profits generated in the UK. It's irksome to see examples of multinationals who pay next to no corporation tax also paying low wages which have to be topped up by British taxpayers. Why should we subsidise your activities? Remember, taxpayers already pay for education and healthcare for your people and provide the national infrastructure that facilitates you doing business. Capitalism is about self reliance and is not and never has been about free-loading at other people's cost.
8. Don't overestimate the value you are personally adding to your business whilst underestimating the contribution all your staff make. The idea that you should be paid millions whether the business is successful or not but your staff should be paid the minimum in good times as well as bad doesn't become you. Everyone's pay should reflect their actual contribution.
9. Take responsibility when things go wrong. It's hard to accept that CEO's can argue they should be paid massive amounts because of their special contribution yet claim they have no knowledge of mistakes when things go wrong. They're either pivotal to the business or they're not. They either set the values and rules or they don't.
10. Do not forget the wider national interest. If, like me, you love this country then don't forget that when you arrive in your office. You get to decide how you act and to influence the way many people behave at work. Isn't it time to steer your particular corporate ship away from the icebergs of the Great Recession and towards a better future in which everyone can share?
Happy New Year! Let's hope it's a good one, with plenty of ethically generated prosperity to cheer.