Though Wal-Mart might have you believing otherwise, people actually do care how you treat the community.
A recent study from Clarity showed 87 percent of Americans think companies should devote equal resources to business and society, and 41 percent buy products based on a cause they’re affiliated with. And a May 2013 study from Cone Communications showed 82 percent consider corporate social responsibility (CSR) when deciding where to shop.
And not that we’d ever question anyone’s motivations in helping other people. The rewarding feeling of bettering someone else’s situation is really all one needs to go out and help the community. BUT…if customers happen to notice your business’s name popping up at a bunch of different community events and think “Gee, maybe I should go in and see what this place is all about,” well, you can’t really help than now can you.
But with the limited resources and even more-limited time you have as a small business owner, how do you find time to get your business involved in the community? It’s a lot easier – and cheaper – than you think.
The first step to bettering your community is figuring out how it needs to be bettered. If you’re a long time resident of the area, you probably already know this. But if not, take a look around and see what organizations are doing most frequently to help. For instance, if you’re in an area with well-funded, exceptional schools, running a school drive might not be the most beneficial thing. Especially if, say, that same area is severely lacking in bike lanes and there’s a community push to get some built. The key is seeing what the need in your area is first, then getting yourself involved.
Of course, the most obvious way to get involved is by sponsoring things. Getting your company’s logo on the free T-shirts they give away at a 5k, or on the banners fraternities make for Homecoming, or your name in the back of the community theatre’s playbill is a guaranteed way of making your name known. You can also sponsor Little League teams, or even big-league beer league teams, to see how good “Larry’s Auto Repair” looks written in script across a baseball jersey. While we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention these options, we also know they all cost money.
So, what can you do that won’t dig into your slim profits and still help your community?
Nobody is every going to say no to cold, hard cash when trying to better the community. But much like trying to buy-off neglected friends with presents, the memory of what you do only lasts as long as the money you give. And, you probably don’t have much. So figure out what your business does well, and how it can help.
For instance, if you run an auto repair shop you can donate some time on a Saturday or Sunday to repair cars for those who can’t afford it, which will allow them to get to their jobs and take their kids to school. A bike shop could offer a similar service. Or if you are a consulting company, offer resume and cover letter critiques for free before a career fair at a local community college. You may even find that to be a pleasantly surprising networking opportunity as well.
Now obviously, if you’re running a consulting company out of your guest bedroom, don’t offer it up to the local 4-H club for meetings. Unless you’re partnering with a housecleaning service for the event. But if you’ve got a restaurant or beauty salon or shop or any large commercial space that’s not divided into cubicles – and you’re proud of how it looks – invite people in.
Charities, for instance, are often looking for spaces to hold fundraisers and events. And even if you’re not donating any product, giving them the space gets your name involved with the charity and gets people in to see what you do.
You can take it a step further and host a community event yourself, like a charity bingo night or pancake breakfast or after-party for a 5k. Even offering specials to a local sports league like kickball, softball and the like will raise your business’s visibility and get potential customers in the door.
Kind of like in high school, everything is a lot more fun when you’re not sitting in a corner waiting for people to talk to you. And even though now there’s not a Magic: The Gathering club for you to join, there is the local Chamber of Commerce or other local business organizations. If you feel like you’d get lost in the shuffle of a massive party like the COC, you can still participate in local events like festivals and parades. This might occasionally cost money, but will get you known as part of the community and hopefully build some customer loyalty.
You – and hopefully those who work for you – also probably have great areas of expertise you can share. And if you feel like those are skills the community can benefit from, invite them in a night for coffee and oil changing lessons. Or tax prep. Or whatever it is you know how to do better than anybody else.
If offering on-site workshops isn’t feasible, get in touch with your local community center or community college extension to see if you can help offer your services. Or partner with another business who can facilitate the workshop and get both your names more visible.
No matter what you do, getting involved in the community might be the most underrated form of marketing around. And since now you know it won’t cost you nearly the money or time you thought, you’ve got no excuse not to. Community involvement is integral to your businesses success, and maybe, possibly, leave you feeling good for doing it.