Becoming a household name takes more than just a strong marketing presence. To stand out among peers, business owners must also focus on getting involved in their local community.

While building a name among locals will increase sales and brand awareness, making an effort to serve the community also creates happier employees and more loyal customers. By establishing themselves as pillars of the community, an owner can add real, immeasurable value to their business.

Community involvement is directly tied to the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR is more than just a trend; it's a new way of doing business. An estimated 82 percent of U.S. consumers say that corporate social responsibility factors into their decision-making process when buying a good or service.

During the California wildfires, countless businesses found ways to get involved and help out their community in need. From discounted hotel stays to free rides to evacuation centers, businesses offered support through financial or physical means. Their efforts to step in and assist the first responders and hundreds of evacuees did not go unnoticed and elevated their place in the community.

Fortunately, community involvement doesn't require a natural disaster, and there are many ways for small business owners to give back as part of their business plan. Regardless of community size, location or population, owners can do the following to become involved:

Volunteer Time and Space

Volunteering time and space makes community involvement easy. Time is a precious commodity, and donating large portions of it to a good cause signals to the community that the business owner is interested in more than just the bottom line. It's also something that the entire staff can participate in. Owners can encourage employees to join in on the cause by providing a certain number of paid volunteer hours per quarter or incorporate company outings during the work week.

If time is scarce, businesses can also volunteer their space for a good cause. They might consider using their storefront as a drop-off location for charity collections and local food banks. Gaining exposure while helping others is a win for both your business and the greater community.

Invest in the Community

In addition to investing their time and labor, owners can also invest in their community monetarily. Business owners who leverage their assets to sponsor local events like street fairs, farmers' markets and sports leagues can reap great benefits. Not only do their financial contributions keep the community alive and thriving, but sponsorships position the business as a cornerstone of the local culture and community.

Owners should be careful to choose initiatives that support the community in the long term. This will guarantee a lengthy partnership with those community members and an ongoing reputation of support. To do so, investments should focus on things related to socioeconomic development, jobs, education and healthcare. Scholarships and sponsorships for local students is an investment owners of every level can attain. Opportunities range from paying for a student's books to sponsoring a full scholarship to a local university.

Smart business owners should be on the lookout for sponsorship opportunities that relate back to their own business. For example, a small home repair shop might sponsor scholarships for a local trade school. Or, a hair salon might sponsor a local women's organization. Recipients will greatly appreciate the support and then continue to view the business as a strategic partner, which leads to more exposure for the brand as well as more opportunities to give back.

Develop Relationships with Leaders

A more strategic, long-term way for a business owner to get involved in their community is developing relationships with key local leaders. This may include connecting with leaders of social and environmental organizations, health and educational institutions, as well as other respected role models with a voice in community changes.

Getting involved with local leaders in either a personal or business capacity can be very valuable. Developing genuine relationship with individuals who are also members of organizations like the local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau can be even more beneficial. Once these relationships are established, opportunities will open up to become more than just a connection. A business owner can work to become a valued member, enabling them to establish a voice and influence changes within their local community.

Increased involvement with local leaders produces a two-fold benefit: not only do owners develop a highly valued voice, but the value of their business rises with it. Once a top-of-mind spot in the community is secured, local groups may offer guest speakerships, mentorships or an opportunity to fulfill a need for goods or services.

There's No Better Time to Get Involved

Beyond the obvious social and economic advantages, community involvement adds value to your business, which is especially important given today's active business-for-sale market. Taken from BizBuySell's 2018 Annual/Q4 Insights Report, for the third year in a row, a record number of businesses were bought and sold in the U.S. As more Baby Boomers reach retirement, more businesses are placed on the market. As these listings hit the market, a steady stream of entrepreneurs are buying them up.

Furthermore, these sold businesses are financially healthier than in previous years and receiving higher sale prices. Median revenue of sold businesses grew 6.3 percent over the previous year, while median sale prices increased 9.3 percent over the previous year. This hot, healthy market encourages competition between the equally healthy, profitable businesses. Smart owners are taking note of the competition and finding ways to add more than just financial value to their business through community involvement.

It's Hard to Lose When You Give Back

These options are just the start. Communities, just like small businesses, are unique and come with their own set of nuances and special traits. Owners are encouraged to find creative ways to get involved in the community and determine what feels right. The great thing about community involvement is that it is difficult to receive zero benefit from the exchange. Even if business doesn't immediately boom, owners are still left with the satisfaction of a bettered community and closer relationships with their customers.

Published on: Feb 4, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.