If you are a regular reader of Inspired Livelihood or Craft Biz Blog, you know that I have three criteria for the ideal business venture:
- It is profitable
- It improves lives
- It utilizes a local workforce when possible
Frequently, when someone comes to me for help creating a socially responsible enterprise, they are initially thinking non-profit. They are surprised that they can create a business in the private sector that makes a difference and they think they have to manufacture product oversees to make a profit. Of course they can have the item made more cheaply in sweatshops that do not pay fare wages but what good is building a business to help people and then taking jobs oversees that could be creating local income and helping unemployed Americans create a livelihood?
I try to encourage the use our own labor force whenever possible so I was absolutely thrilled to read about what I think is the perfect sustainable model. Darr and Tom Aley founded Mojo, (short for Moms and Jobs), a hand made apparel company that hires and trains single mothers living near or under poverty level. They provide child care, health care and career training to help these women get off social services like food stamps and welfare and create sustainable livelihoods to improve the lives of their children.
If you know of other businesses that are profitable, improve lives and use local workers, please post in the comments below. I’d love to share them with our other readers. What can you think of that you can do to meet the above three criteria in your own business?
Today’s guest post is by Sandy Dempsey of The Dreaming Cafe.
1. Tell people who you are with a Website…
◦ In today’s world every business, service or product based, needs an online presence. Your website can be a single, information only page, or several pages providing basic information about who you are, what you do, and what service or product you offer. A lot of people today use a web presence to validate that your product or service is legitimate.
◦ Today the cost of having your own website can be zero to less than $75 per year. All of the following free and low cost options do not require any programming or web design skills. They all offer free templates and themes to get you started.
◦ Options -
2. Publish a Newsletter…
◦ Offer a free online/email based newsletter. A newsletter is perfect for both online and offline businesses whether you are a restaurant, independent pet supply store, an online retailer or a coach or consultant.
◦ Newsletters give you an opportunity to share what you know, what is happening in your business and your industry and establish an ongoing relationship with your customers and clients. Use your newsletter to share articles, tips, business specials, offer coupons or tell your customer/client about upcoming events.
◦ Build your contact list, but make sure you do it the right way. Ask people to join your list; ask them for permission to contact them. You never want to be considered ‘spam’, so ask first.
▪ Collect your customer and client email addresses both online and off. If you have a home demonstration or party, pass out information cards for your visitors to complete, including their email addresses. Have a sign up sheet in your store or restaurant for people to sign up. And, always have an opt-in box, or sign-up box on your website.
◦ Options for sending out your newsletter -
▪ Free option – You can begin by using your own contact database in your email program and use a simple email letter like you would for a friend. It doesn’t have to be fancy to begin with. This is how I started. Just remember, when you use your own email program make sure you ‘BCC’ your customers to protect their email addresses and identities.
▪ (Note – I use Constant Contact. If you decide to try them, let me know and I will send you an invite. This will give you and me a $30 credit.)
3. Engage your customers and clients using free Social Media tools…
◦ Free Social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin help you expand your business beyond your physical geography, meet new people, discover new resources, and stay in touch daily with your customer and clients.
◦ If you have a restaurant, coffee shop, or retail store you can share specials of the day with your friends and followers, let customers know of holiday hours, or closings due to inclement weather.
◦ There are so many ways that social media can help grow your business that it is impossible to share them all today. I will be covering this topic in much more depth in the coming weeks and months. (If you have specific questions please email me.)
4. Create your own Information Products…
◦ Regardless of your product or service, you want to create some information products for your clients/customers to purchase. These can be self-learning guides and/or how to guides, audio CD’s of taped seminars or lectures or interviews (you and/or other experts), workbooks, e-learning courses, etc.
◦ These provide an additional revenue stream that once up and going requires limited time and effort on your part.
◦ If you are a consultant or coach these products can provide valuable information for clients or customers to get to know you better before deciding to work with you. And, some people or companies are just ‘do-it-yourselfers’ and just want the expert information you are providing.
5. Investigate Memberships and Premium Services…
◦ Exclusivity sells and attracts. People like to belong to a select group.
◦ Memberships – This option allows you to sell to and work more closely with your best and most adoring customers and fans. Some memberships are free, while others are for a fee. Either way it is very important to provide premium benefits to your customer and clients such as discounts, sample merchandise, invitations for special member only events, member only access to information and resources and other member only products and services related to your particular business.
◦ Premium Services – This option works best for consultants and coaches. Provide a prescreening ‘application’. The ‘application lets potential clients know that due to the demands on your time and your expertise you must verify that your services and their needs are match. This technique allows you to charge a premium/top rate for your services, improves the lead conversion rate and provides you an opportunity to work with companies or individuals that more closely fit your ideal client profile.
In this age of technology where we are able to exchange ideas and currency with a worldwide audience instantly, we are encouraged to take our small businesses global. While there’s a lot of merit in being able to sit in your home office and do business all over the world, bigger isn’t always better and some of us still crave face-to-face time with our customers or clients.
Sometimes turning things around and looking at them from the opposite perspective can be enlightening. Rather than just thinking how you can expand your little home business to a universal scale, consider how profitable and rewarding it might be to bring something from “out there” back into your own world.
Maybe it’s time to think local, to look for opportunity to make a living and a difference in your own community.
Reading this week about a start-up, BigBox, who delivers Costco Items to small businesses in NYC, I recalled reading a couple of years ago about Modernash who delivers Ikea to customers in Nashville. (The closest Ikea to Nashville is 250 miles away in Atlanta).
As a proponent of shopping local and supporting small business, my initial reaction was. “Why would a local merchant (Big Box was started by a restauranteur) want to encourage buying from big box chains?” Having lived and owned business in a small village 40 miles from the nearest big box chains, I am sensitive to the issue of people traveling to purchase what is available locally. It bothered me that local merchants would spend time and gas to purchase office supplies and hardware from Staples or Home Depot rather than spend a little more and support their fellow merchants. That is until I realized it wasn’t a matter of saving a few dollars. The local office supply and hardware store had limited selection and the prices were sometimes double or triple. I recognized they didn’t have the buying power to enable them to sell at the same prices as the big box stores or the cash flow to stock as much inventory, so a service that delivered from the chains wasn’t taking business away from the local merchants.
When I look at any small business concept, I ask myself a couple of questions right off:
What differentiates this business that makes someone want to chose to spend their money here?
How is this business making a difference in someone’s life, the community or the world?
In the example of Modernash:
I’m not aware of a local Nashville business that sells inexpensive KD (knocked-down or flat-packed) Danish Home Furnishings so they are not taking business away from a local.
Every trip ModerNash makes to Atlanta saves Nashvillians an average of 750 gallons of gas, thus cutting down on harmful emissions and pollutants.
In the case of BigBox:
They claim that: On average, your daily household items are 147% more expensive at local New York City stores
Local solo entrepreneurs frequently run their shops alone, therefore would lose revenue if they had to close and do their own shopping in the suburbs. Also, many merchants in NYC do not own cars so have no way to transport items even from local vendors.
I feature these business not because you’re necessarily interested in starting a delivery service but to demonstrate how you don’t have to be feeding starving children in an underdeveloped country to make a difference in people’s lives. Nor do you have to come up with a totally new concept for your business to stand out and succeed. Delivery service has been around forever. (Think ice man or milkman.)
The key is to do it better or different. More efficiently, higher quality or better customer service.
Now that we are able to get our message out to the world instantly, we are encouraged to look at the market place globally. That doesn’t mean some of the best ideas aren’t right in your own neighborhood. Try something new. Actually, it’s something ancient. Think local! Look around your community. What is lacking? Walk or drive around your immediate area and observe. What are people spending time, money and effort on that could be done faster, easier, most cost effective or more fun? (Yes, people will pay more for something more exciting.)
What service or product is not available in your local community that you could bring in to save people time or money that isn’t taking away from a local business?
AS always, your comments are welcome and appreciated.
An article in The Washington Post this morning caught my eye. Normally, I’d have skipped right over anything with the words “ Fashion Designer” in the title, particularly when it refers to a gown worn for the Grammy’s, Oscars. or the Emmy Awards. It’s obvious to those who know me that comfort trumps fashion for me and I don’t watch the Awards or read People Magazine. I’ve always been disgusted by the waste of thousands of dollars and yards of material put into a custom designed dress that is worn once. (It would be interesting to know what happens to those gowns after the ceremonies. I would like to believe they are donated to film or stage wardrobes for reuse. Something I will have to research, but if you know, please share.)
So, what about this article grabbed my interest? When Kevin Streete met Grammy nominee Carolym Malachi at a barber shop, she asked him to design her dress for the ceremonies. A new young designer of custom gowns Streete has taken a seemingly frivolous practice and created a luxury line built around social value creation. Initially, this seems like a contradiction but it makes social sense. After the 2010 earthquake, Streete went to Haiti to help with medical relief. When he realized that the Haitian people want jobs, not just handouts, he found a group of couture seamstresses and offered competitive pay to help them become entrepreneurs on their own. His goal is to make sure that anyone who has a part in making one of his dresses is treated fairly, eventually even knowing the fabric he sources can be traced back to a farm where the people are treated fairly, not just the workers in the factory or the seamstresses in Haiti.
Oliver Schlake, Tyser Teaching Fellow at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, summed up Streete’s new venture. “Entrepreneurship is the most social thing you can do — giving people jobs and the possibility to create their own social ventures.”
When the clients I work with say they want to start a business that makes a difference and improves lives, they immediately think of the underprivileged, and they can’t imagine how they can make a living by helping people who have no money to pay them. As we start looking at ways they can drive a cause they believe in, we need to be creative about the income aspect. Remember Robin Hood? Well, I don’t condone “robbing the rich to give to the poor” we’re not helping people for the long term if we provide for them without teaching them how to take care of themselves. That’s like going into Sherwood forest and giving the squirrels nuts. Eventually, they won’t know how to climb trees to fend for themselves. So, rather than soliciting donations from the wealthy, why not find something they are spending money on anyway and create a business to supply their luxuries through an endeavor that is teaching the poor to maintain a sustainable livelihood?
If you’re searching for more meaning in your business and your life, ask yourself, “What other products or services do the wealthy consume that you can teach the needy to supply that will provide the poor with a sustainable livelihood and the elite a sense of doing social good?” Your comments below are always welcome and appreciated. We can all brainstorm ideas for you to make a great living and a difference.
Waiting for an appointment the other day, I used the time to make some travel plans. Temporarily without internet service, I made several phone calls. Including my bank, major credit card and three airlines, I placed calls to five companies with “US” or “America” in their name. Not one of the customer service representatives was located on this continent. I spoke with agents in India and the Philippines. While three of the people I spoke with had a strong command of the English language, I found it frustrating that I could not understand a fourth and the fifth mispronounced my destination. Actually, she butchered it. She pronounced “San Luis Obispo” as “Saint Louis Nabisco”. Would she try to book me into Missouri rather than California? The next call was to my bank card company to try to use awards miles for a flight. I had to ask the agent to please repeat the mileage required but even after a third attempt I could not distinguish “twenty-five” from “seventy-five. I decided to wait and do the reservation online where I could be assured of the correct city codes and mileage deductions.
This is not a slam on people who speak English as a second language. I have tremendous respect for immigrants and visitors who attempt to converse in the language of the country they are in. I am not someone who has a natural aptitude for learning other languages and I’d be in serious trouble if I had to speak anything but English in my work, but I would not go to work for El Al and expect Israeli customers to understand me.
When I experience or hear about an unpleasant customer service experience, it bothers me on a couple of levels. First, it is such an easy thing to get right. It’s not unpredictable like weather or even mechanical difficulties. From a consumer stand point, I find it annoying and will spend a bit more to deal with a company who makes it a practice of showing gratitude to their clientele.
As an American watching our economy weaken and jobs lost, I fail to understand why we are outsourcing jobs that could be filled here. We’ve already sent most of our manufacturing business overseas and while i understand the difference in labor costs, I find it greatly disturbing. But these customer service and call center jobs could easily be brought back stateside now that we have a huge surplus of capable, articulate people looking for work.
So what can you as a small business owner do to change the face of customer service in your industry? An easy solution is to create work-at-home opportunities for young parents or seniors who can work as independent contractors fielding your customer service calls. Treat them as you would a virtual assistant. Provide training manuals with FAQs, roll play with them over the phone and online, and let them know you will likely do “mystery shopping” calls to keep them on their toes. If they are pleasant and efficient as a common, everyday practice, they should be completely comfortable with this. Teach them to smile when they answer your line, even if they are at home in their pajamas. The customer will hear that smile in their tone of voice and attitude. Really. You may have to pay a bit more than if you sent the work overseas but you will more than make up the difference in customer retention and good will.
Read more about what face you’re putting out there about your business read Barbara Winter’s post “Welcome or Not” HERE:
How do you deal with customer service in your small business? As always, you’re invited to comment below. I’d love to hear how you’ve solved your customer service challenges.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about life purpose and calling. I have a birthday this month and for obvious reason, birthdays trigger the “ am I doing enough with my life” syndrome.
An article by my friend Sandy Dempsey @sandydfromnj in The Dreaming Cafe Newsletter got me thinking even more about how a calling isn’t necessarily something we do for a living (although, I believe life’s even richer if it is) but an element that should be present in every aspect of our lives.
Because I help people create business that make a living and a difference, I naturally attract clients who talk a lot about finding their life purpose. Sadly, what I hear too frequently is that they are either afraid of not identifying their true calling or they don’t see how they can make a big enough impact to make a difference, so they do nothing. My job, and I believe this is my calling but not my sole life purpose, is to show them the possibilities, that they aren’t limited to a single calling and that making a difference in their own community or even a change in one life may be what they are here to do. Not everyone, in fact almost no one, was truly born to change the world.
Life purpose isn’t about identifying your calling and doing one thing for the rest of your life. I believe we can and do embrace our purpose in many different ways that evolve over a lifetime. Those of us with many interests have struggled with this at times because, particularly for scanner types, we experience each new passion as “oh, I am really in my element.”
It’s only recently that I’ve recognized the different shapes that my purpose has taken over the years. Reviewing a mental inventory of my life portfolio, the common thread has been the call to teach and to help people to see their potential and recognize their options. I like to think of this as my life “theme”. I know now that in many different roles as a sister, friend, mother, employer, both personally and in business, I have been embracing my calling to educate and inspire.
Until my early twenties, I manifested the call to teach in a more traditional sense. As a young child, I loved to help my little sister navigate the world and playing school with my friends was one of my favorite after school activities. As a teen, I was a camp counselor, teaching arts and swimming. In college, I majored in Art Education with the dream of having my own creative arts school to inspire and encourage creativity. Then in my twenties, I got sidetracked by a challenge to create businesses. In each new business, I believed i had found my calling. In advertising and home furnishings, I had a knack for taking people who were uncomfortable with selling and teaching them how to sell authentically. When I had an art and contemporary craft gallery, I enjoyed and was good at teaching artists to market their work but I don’t see my life purpose as sales training. When I went to massage school and then started a body work business, clients told me I was a gifted healer and I began to believe that was my calling. Then I fell and broke my hand so couldn’t do any bodywork for two months. My colleagues began asking me for help building their healing arts practices so I developed my “Full Practice Formula” and wondered if my purpose was in fact teaching people to see the possibilities, value their art and market their skills. It wasn’t until my fifties that I recognized how all these seemingly unrelated endeavors, from advertising, to retail, body work, home furnishings and art were just different forms of fulfilling my calling to educate and inspire.
When you identify a gift, that doesn’t mean it is your calling. Maybe it’s part of a much larger theme. For example, some young friends of mine call me “the baby whisperer” because I can pick up a baby whose been screaming for hours and instantly he’ll settle down. I don’t see my life purpose as calming colicky babies, but do see it’s part of my larger theme which is sharing things that come easily to me with others so that they see the possibility in themselves.
I believe most people are living their life purpose in one or many forms but may not recognize it or haven’t yet identified the joy and greater purpose in it.
If you feel like you are still searching for your calling, I suggest this exercise to help you identify your purpose or life “theme”.
Write down the different rolls you’ve played over the course of your life so far. Not just professionally but as a child, as a student, a friend and a parent. Don’t simply list the skills you used or the tasks you performed. Really think about where the joy was in each of those circumstances. What were the “ahah” moments for you? Where did you touch someone’s life? This could be when you helped your little brother learn to tie his shoes or the way you set the table for your parent’s bridge party. Maybe you were the one who always knew how to convince the teachers, parents, other kids that something was a great idea. Even if you feel stuck in a boring job right now, you are probably doing something that is in some way manifesting your purpose. Are you always the one to bring order, humor or calm to a situation? Sometimes it’s not obvious but if you spend time really looking and listening, there are probably some similarities between the gifts you bring to your present life and the pieces of your past that brought you joy or made a difference for someone else.
What are the common threads in your history that may be a key to your life theme?