Our interview this week is with one of our favorite Utah non-profits, Local First Utah. Local First has a lot of exciting new things happening including a newly-launched website, a revamped model to benefit member businesses and their new Indie Business Academy which is why we sat down with Executive Director Kristen Lavelett this week so we could learn more!
UMLF: So for those who don't know, what is Local First Utah?
Kristen: We are Utah’s leading independent business alliance, which really means that as a non-profit organization, we exist to strengthen relationships between small business and their communities. Rather than seeing independent businesses working alone, in silos, focusing on competing against other businesses, Local First Utah works to find ways that indies can collaborate and cooperate with each other. It’s the old adage of “a rising tide floats all boats.”
We also work to educate the public about the benefits of buying from locally-owned businesses. A lot of these benefits are pretty intrinsic. Locals keep more money on our economy, locals help define sense of place in our communities -- they are reflective of the towns and cities where they grow. I could get into all the details, but sometimes it’s just easier to sum it up by saying “locals do it better!”
We work closely with local government as well. Both with elected and appointed officials, we work to help governing agencies understand how their policies impact local business, or what kinds of support small businesses need from the city and state governments.
UMLF: How do you think the Utah Microloan Fund and Local First Utah work together?
Kristen: You know, I kind of consider us to be part of an extended support network for indie businesses. Both of our organizations focus on different needs that small businesses have. The UMLF helps with funding, we help with marketing. But, you and I both know, that boiling our work down to simplest terms leaves out a lot of relational elements of what we do. UMLF and Local First Utah, aren’t just part of a support network for small businesses, we’re more like the extended family of the family-run business.
And, not very many people know this, but Local First Utah owes a lot to UMLF … we had a little office here for years, which UMLF provided to us for free, so coming back to the office today for this chat with you brings up a lot of memories.
UMLF: What’s new with Local First Utah? We know you have a bunch of exciting new developments happening!
Kristen: Lots! So much actually that it’s hard to know where to start. Probably the biggest change this year, is that we’ve launched -- for the first time ever -- a membership platform for business that want to make the most of their partnership with Local First Utah.
We’re actually one of the oldest independent business alliances in the country. Being established in 2006, our founders were really ahead of the curve in creating this organization. And we when we were founded, we committed to providing our resources to independent businesses for free. This generosity is really one of our core values as an organization, as long as a business meets our very simple criteria of being locally owned, and independently operated, they can partner with us. But, over the years, and working as one of the only statewide independent business alliances in the country, delivering our services for free has really made it difficult to ensure that we’re serving Utah’s independent businesses as well we want to.
So, this year, we’ve transitioned to being a membership organization. That’s not quite as stuffy as it might seem. We’re not abandoning any of the businesses that have been free partners with us over the year. We’ve just created more concrete connections with those businesses that want to join as members.
We’ve also created an educational series call the Indie Business Academy. We host classes once a quarter, but what’s unique about the Indie Business Academy, is that all the classes over the course of the year are connected by a theme. This year’s theme is “Managing Your Online Brand Identity.” So, we’re kicking things off with a class called “Your First Front Door: Website Customer Experience.” Our other classes cover social media, and handling online reviews, among other subjects.
There are a lot of incredible small business educational opportunities in our community. In fact, UMLF hosts some really great classes! So, the goal of these classes, falling in line with Local First Utah’s mission is to make them very collaborative.
We’re hosting all of the classes at Church & State, a locally owned business incubator, and the curriculum we’ve developed allows for a really hands on learning environment. Not only do we have experts in their various fields leading the classes, but they are set up to create opportunities from small business owner to learn from one another. The classes are open to members and non-members alike, but members will receive personalized, implementable recommendations from our experts.
Like I said, there’s a lot of new things at Local First Utah. There’s more I could mention but it’s probably best for people who are interested to check out our website, which is, as a matter of fact, also new.
UMLF: How can UMLF clients benefit from becoming a member of Local First Utah?
Kristen: For starters, because of our relationship between UMLF and Local First Utah, we’re offering UMLF clients a 20% discount on their membership. And there are lots of different benefits, depending on at which level of membership a business may join, but basics are features on our social media -- we have an audience of about 20,000 followers -- a prominent listing in our online directory, the ability to list events on our community calendar, discounts on our classes and mixers, and webinars and other training and marketing materials that will be available to members only.
Apart from those benefits that are really designed to amplify individual businesses, being a part of Local First Utah has a lot of other, broader benefits. Business that are part of independent business alliances experience greater customer loyalty, they have nearly double the sales revenue of locals that are not part of a group like Local First Utah. They exist in more collaborative environments were there is more purchasing between locals, and the benefit from increased media coverage and a greater awareness and support from city officials.
To sign up for a membership please email Kristen@localfirst.org for more information!
To stay connected with Local First Utah visit:
Providing business training and funding to entrepreneurs in start-up & existing businesses that do not qualify for traditional funding sources.