There are lots and lots of people who are affected by your company. Even if you’re a super small business, you still have yourself, your family, customers and partners.

As you grow, you’ll include employees, their families, and an ever-growing array of people to whom you deliver value.

This is why the concept of “stakeholders” is so powerful. Typically we’d talk about shareholders, but that’s a really limited view of success and impact. Focusing too much on shareholders is dangerous, and can lead you to some really unbalanced decisions.

My best clients realize that their business also contributes to the larger community. I’m not just talking about charitable donations, either. They’re making a powerful difference to peoples’ quality of life and helping to solve larger problems.

My structure for stakeholder analysis is very simple:

  1. Identify your stakeholders, and who you’d like to impact;
  2. Understand their needs and wants;
  3. Figure out what you’re going to do to impact them.

The first step typically includes a “survey of our universe,” including customers, suppliers, investors, external partners and employees. Plus one crucial person often neglected: yourself. If you’re burned out and uninspired, success will be impossible.

Second, you’ll need to delve into each stakeholder’s world. Sure, employees need a paycheck and a certain amount of job security. But each person will have his or her own career goals, family situation, and work preferences. Customer need whatever value your product gives them, but they also are looking to use that to address larger concerns in their lives.

The third step is a combination of responding to others’ needs and to your own. This is where the intelligent balance comes into play. You’re trying to create a situation that is as win-win-win as possible, and sustainable.

This seems like a lot of work to go to, just to try to make a lot of people happy!

This exercise is incredibly valuable because it brings you clarity, alignment, and sustainability. That’s the foundation of success in business.

Imagine that you have a shop downtown selling, oh, anything that’s blue. You call it Cool Blues. Kind of weird, but you’ve found that there are actually lots of people who are totally passionate about the color.

It’s easy to identify your first stakeholder: those customers who have this unusual passion. You could start by describing them as “anybody who likes blue stuff,” but that really says nothing about what’s going on in their lives. Maybe they tend to feel a certain way, hang out at certain places, and like a certain kind of music. Or maybe this tends to be a phase that teenagers go through, and you need to connect with that ever-changing population.

You’ve grown large enough that you actually have employees! They’re the ones who were wearing blue nail polish and shoes even before they started working for you. What’s going on in their lives? Are they also just going through a teenage phase, or is something else driving their passion for your store?

Clearly you have suppliers. They’re the ones who are mystified as to why you are ordering all their products in only one color, and have made really strange special requests. How much do you understand why they run their businesses the way they do? Do they understand your unusual focus? Does that create new opportunities?

You’re a pretty smart cookie, so you’ve worked with a number of promotional partners. You were right there talking to the CEO of Blue Credit Union. You’re even thinking about a series of jazz and blues concerts at Blue Door Cocktail Bar. How much do you understand why they’re motivated to work with you? What ideas have you put together that have powerful innovation?

You’re also passionate about the community, and you have this clever angle. So you’re sponsoring events at Poudre High School (blue and silver) and give money to the local police force.

How much are you thinking about their needs as stakeholders in your business? Sure, you’re supporting activities and promoting your business. But is that it? Is there, perhaps, some valuable overlap between your work at the high school and the fact that your customers include a lot of teenagers? Should you be exploring teens battling depression, perhaps?

This may seem like a big stretch for your little company. But if you care for your community, they’ll care about you. You’ll make a powerful impact and create a more sustainable business.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what you really want?

This article was first published in BizWest.