It’s not every day that I take business advice from the creator of musicals (albeit pretty amazing ones), but as I’ve just joined our local musical society, it seemed appropriate.
The philosophy behind giving is often a personal and deeply private theme, but I would suggest that businesses should look to give freely in order to grow and find greater success.
Don’t worry, I am not about to embark on a madcap inspirational talk, or start a career as a radical corporate coach; running a business is about all I cope with at the moment! Instead, I want to share 4 elements that all business should consider giving away. They are simple, they’ll sometimes hurt a little, but it makes sense that they will bring back more than they cost.
Starting with the most obvious giveaway – money – which quite frankly has to be the scariest prospect for most SMEs. When you are building a fledgling business can you really afford to give money away?
Start with your employees
Hopefully, you have managed to recruit a committed and enthusiastic workforce, but nothing drives employee achievement like giving a share in the success. Offering share options as part of employee packages offers a long term commitment to employees, and limits can be set on dividends and ownership so that you only pay when the company is thriving and people remain as employees. This way, a thriving business benefits everyone.
Link to a charity
Whatever your business, there will be a charity that fits well with the work that you do. It shouldn’t be a token gesture to look good on your website, but a genuine commitment to a cause you believe in. A commitment of this nature speaks volumes on the type of company you are (or aim to be), it instills messages of trust for your prospective customers, and in a comparison with older more established brands it might just give you an edge to be considered alongside in tenders and quotes.
My own company supports the Climate Justice Fund (delivering aid to those developing countries worst hit by the effects of climate change). It fits with our fundamental values and purpose for setting up our business.
Most businesses start out on a local basis and can most effectively spend marketing effort in a focussed geography. This builds a following and customer base within a chosen location, and never underestimate the power of your local community. Far from being dead, local communities can be vibrant and hugely influential, with the power to shut down building works, force businesses out of work, or be a power for growth and viral marketing.
Get involved. Sponsor your local rugby team, buy a football kit for the local school, supply free products for a local community centre. Whatever your business there should be a fit for you in your local community, if there isn’t you might need to have another look at your business model.
Never underestimate what you know as a business – you are an expert in your chosen field and this knowledge should be given away freely. I’m not suggesting that you broadcast your intellectual property to the world, there are certain working procedures, recipes and knowhow that make your business unique and you should keep these to yourself, but you can give free advice liberally, lifting yourself to the lofty heights of ‘thought leaders’.
A phrase coined by Hubspot (a marketing software company): inbound marketing is the creation of quality content that pulls customers towards your products and services, as opposed to the outbound marketing or advertisements, email campaigns and cold calling.
Creating really useful content through whitepapers, blogs and social media can grab attention and get people interested in you and, in turn, the products and services that you have to offer. Giving away insightful and useful information about your chosen area of specialism will tick many boxes including:
● establishing you as leaders in your field
● helping with Google ranking and driving leads through to your website
● providing a hook to grab attention and make prospective clients look more deeply at a problem you can fix
And it doesn’t all have to be online. Look for opportunities to speak at events, either free or paid and impart knowledge to your key target market and an interested and eager audience.
A growing area of focus for the Government, and so very important in training the next generation for in skills and trades that they might not get experience of in full time education. If you are willing to give away some of your knowledge and time to help a young person into employment you can be rewarded with an enthusiastic and willing employee that can grow with your business. Recruit apprenticeships on character and commitment, the rest will follow.
Time is most definitely wrapped up in all of the other elements of giving away, but flexible use of it can make the difference in how much you can contribute as a business.
Flexible working can sound like a nightmare to govern and control but with sensible management, and a bit of trust on both the sides of the employer and employee, it can be a force for good in an organisation. Consider:
● home working – shaving wasted hours out of a employees day that they might be able to turn into productive hours for your business
● flexible hours
○ to fit around childcare – attracting a pool of talent that might have been inaccessible to a small business
○ to enable employees to volunteer (enhancing your standing in your community)
● release for studies – encouraging your workforce to become more skilled and in turn more beneficial to your business
Surely no-one is going to mind giving away waste. Indeed waste can be a valuable commodity, look at your local scrap merchant or private recycling centres, the hundreds of charity shops and the closed loop cycle ambitions of leading food manufacturers. Waste often has a value and it is important to realise this value within your operations.
Waste reduction is a part of any savvy business plan, but where it can’t be reduced it might be eligible for generating an extra revenue stream. Food manufacturers and farmers are notoriously good at this, take a look at some corporate waste policies to get some ideas for your own business.
You can tie giving waste into charity link with groups such as Tools with a Mission (www.twam.co.uk), who collect disused tools, repair them and ship them to developed countries, enabling self sufficiency rather than aid dependency. If you are a manufacturer or tradesman, this might be a good link for you.
Giving is often seen as a ‘nice to have’ and a luxury that can’t be afforded by the SME, but we’ve found the opposite to be true. Give because it is right to do so, but don’t be surprised if it gives your business a lift along the way!
Carl Benfield is Founder and Managing Director of Prescient Power (www.prescientpower.co.uk), a renewable energy company based in Leicestershire. Following a successful military career as a Major in the Army, Carl set about creating a truly ethical and sustainable company bringing real alternatives to our dependence on fossil fuels. Established in 2009, and now working with companies such as National Trust, RSPB, he and his team provide the means for businesses to take control of their energy and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.