Small business owners owe a big debt to their communities. Our neighbors and friends are also our customers, after all.

Thanks to the power of technology, "neighbors and friends" now includes anyone with a computer and internet connection. So how do we give back to such a far-flung collection of humans--especially if we're just getting started out in business?

1. Be a great employer.

First and foremost, I believe that the best way a new business can give back to its community is by offering good, stable employment to people from a diverse set of backgrounds.

It's obvious, but often overlooked. In a world where dramatic headlines dominate--"Mark Zuckerberg donates 99 percent of his money to charity!"--the act of providing jobs for regular folks seems downright lame by comparison.

It isn't. Food on the table, a roof overhead, and extra cash for popcorn and a movie with the kids are the staples of a happy existence. Love your employees. Compensate them well. The positive, branching effects of this one accomplishment are endless.

2. Be fair to your customers.

This one's critical. Don't fleece the people who come through your doors. I've always admired Walmart founder Sam Walton as an entrepreneur who epitomized this principle.

Walton believed that it's immoral to squeeze your customers for extra profits. When Walmart was criticized for its lack of philanthropic work as a company, Walton argued that lowering the price of retail goods for millions of lower- and middle-class Americans was a tremendously charitable undertaking.

He wasn't wrong. I grew up on a farm, and the difference between paying $5 and $10 dollars for something as basic as new socks and underwear was huge. It eased the burdens of a hardscrabble existence and made simple luxuries possible.

Walton himself donated generously to charity, and he encouraged his shareholders to do the same. The rest of his focus was on how much he could leave in the pockets of those who shopped the aisles of his stores.

3. Work your butt off.

To truly give back to your community, give more of yourself. Work harder. Work smarter. Sharpen your mind, strengthen your body, hunger to learn and grow. Double down and build a business that will last.

I've known small business owners who couldn't afford to give their kids Christmas presents, but wouldn't rest until their secretaries could. These people are heroes. It's even more impressive when you consider that 62 percent of business owners rely on personal savings to fund their dream, according to our 2015 small business research.

It'd be crazy for them to berate themselves for not being in a financial position to donate to beloved causes. This goes for you, too. If you're doing all you can today--as a first-rate employer and a godsend to your customers--there will be plenty of opportunities to contribute in the future.

Published on: Jul 11, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.