This vibrant college town has crafters making art for a cause. See what Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University is doing HERE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsvRPwmWRhc
It’s been a week since all the hype and hoopla over Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. So how are you keeping your small business in the forefront of your ideal customer’s shopping psyche?
Discounting your products or services is not going to gain you loyal customers. Markdowns will simply put you in a space to compete with Big Box and you can’t do that. Why would you even want to? The elements that make your small business special have nothing to do with price and everything to do with creating an experience.
Even if you don’t have a brick and mortar business, you can create a unique shopping experience for your customers so that they keep returning and referring friends to your site. Let’s say, for example, you sell handmade candles, soap or jewelry online. You can stand out from big business in a number of ways.
- Offer the best darn customer service on the planet.
- Address the customer by name in all communications.
- Include a card with your bio, your story.
- Use packaging unique to your store.
- Include a poem, quote or inspirational message with each piece.
- Show your clients appreciation for their patronage with a brief handwritten thank you note.
What are you doing to make your own small business stand out from the crowd? What special experiences are you creating to keep your customers coming back? As always, you’re invited to share in the comments below.
What is all this talk about “work-life balance” anyway? If you are a corporate employee who spends your days dreaming of the weekend, OK-I get it-you’re stuck. Or you’re holding onto that JOB because you need the income while you start-up your dream livelihood, kudos to you. But the self-employed seeking work-life balance? I don’t understand it. Here’s why: if you are feeling like all you do is work and you need to find more time for fun, YOU ARE IN THE WRONG BUSINESS. Period.
Once, only once, in my decades of self-employment, did I consciously dream of time off. I justified intense times of stress and long hours in business with the knowledge that my work was footing the bill for frequent lavish vacations. But you know what? That level of work/play balance was not sustainable. Because my heart wasn’t deeply connected to the greater purpose in my business. There wasn’t enough personal meaning in what I was doing to keep me fully engaged.
Are you feeling that way? I’m not talking about taking enough time off. If you have to tell yourself to keep your office door closed on the weekend and not take work on vacation, then the truth you must face is YOU ARE IN THE WRONG BUSINESS.
Sure, if you aren’t making time for your fitness routine or you’re gobbling fast food at your desk, you do need to re-think your time management. But if you spend all your at-home hours holed up in your office and ignore your family, it isn’t work-life balance you need to address. It’s work-love balance because if you are truly, completely in love with your business and you are in your right livelihood, you engage your family and your enthusiasm is contagious.
Do your kids know what you do for a living? Do they talk about it with their friends?
Do you talk about your work at social and family gatherings?
Do you find yourself on vacation coming up with ideas for your business? Or taking field trips to other businesses that inspire you?
If you answered “yes” to the above questions, then you are likely in your right livelihood but if you find yourself disappointed when it’s time to get back to work, it’s time to do some serious soul searching about what your business means to you.
Is your business just about making a living or are you making a difference? Do you feel connected to a deep purpose in your business? Or are you searching for more meaning?
As always, you are invited and encouraged to share your experience, thoughts and opinions below.
What do you do when your business is making money but not feeding your soul? Are you feeling confused because the business you’ve spent time building suddenly feels like “not enough”? Like you need to find more meaning and purpose in your business? If so, before you throw out “the baby with the bath water’ (sorry for the cliche), consider how you can add an element of purpose or social good to your existing business.
I love to help entrepreneurs design a business based on their values and purpose. Starting with a clear mission is in some ways easier but there are advantages to already having a profitable business and then finding the deeper meaning. You have the confidence that you know how to make money so that piece is out of the way. It does, however, take a lot of hard work to tweak your mindset from strictly a positive net profit to the multiple bottom line of a social enterprise. So, how do you transition your for-profit business to a mission driven venture?
First, know that you do not have to change the business entity to a non-profit. You absolutely can make money and make a difference.
Let’s look at a few examples from big businesses that made the transition to ideal-driven. Dove, the soap manufacturer, has made a big part of their mission to improve the self-esteem of girls. Instead of using the tried and true stereotypical thin girls in their ads, they are using models of all body types to show that beauty doesn’t look just one way. Paint company Akzo Nobel is now focused on using more sustainable packaging and speaks to enriching people’s lives through color. We are seeing a trend in business to stress environmental or sustainable benefits but it has to be authentic, not some marketing trick or ‘green-washing’.
The best place to start when trying to create more meaning in your existing business is to ask yourself a few key questions. What is the passion behind my company? Why does it exist? What can my business contribute to my customers and society? How can I realize this ideal at customer and society level?
As always, you are invited to comment below. I would love to know what it would take to make you fall in love with your business again.
Every time I teach a class I learn something. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had two powerful light bulb moments as a facilitator.
The first lesson came from a workshop attendee at the Obstacle-buster Mastermind that I co-facilitated with Barbara Winter in Las Vegas. Barbara and I have questioned why someone would follow self-employment newsletters for decades but never take the first steps to start their own business. During a group discussion about why someone would follow us if they had no interest in being self-employed, one attendee spoke up and said, “Some people just want to dream. Sometimes it’s enough just to watch others doing it and know it’s possible.” That was a huge awakening for me.
My big lesson: My job as a guide is to show you the journey without attachment to final destination.
A couple of nights ago during the first meeting of my “Design a Regret-free Life” workshop in Cincinnati, I took away another valuable lesson. While I was writing the curriculum, I had a vision of the course attracting boomers. People in their 50s have enough years behind them to have learned from poor choices and enough years ahead to still create more meaning in their lives. The course work was geared toward late mid-lifers so imagine my surprise when the circle filled with young women. My initial thought was, “Damn, I have to re-write all the material”. I was honest with the students that I wasn’t prepared for such a young group. With some spontaneous revision, we dove into the writing and discussions. Tears flowed as the women commented on how quickly they gained clarity and insight from the exercises. Rather than feeling stressed that I’d have to re-write the curriculum for the next three meetings, I was thrilled that these women signed on to do this deep work so early in life. That meant less past regrets and more time to accomplish their dreams.
My big lesson: Never make assumptions about your audience. Be flexible and open to improvisation.
What assumptions might you be making about your customers or clients? How can you remain more flexible in meeting their needs? As always I would love to hear your feedback and comments below.
If you have been following me for awhile, you know that I am a big believer in social entrepreneurship but if you are like most people, you may think that means non-profit. It can, but for-profit business for the purpose of solving a social problem can actually help more people than charity.
“How can that be? “you might ask.
First, you need to understand that people who run non-profits DO actually make money. In fact, the director of a not-for-profit foundation frequently draws a six figure salary. The non-profit part refers to what the organization actually nets AFTER salaries and expenses are paid and the rest is used to further the cause.
When a for-profit business is set up as a social enterprise, there is a multiple bottom line with the intention of solving a social issue and making a profit. But, because it operates on business principles, the owners only make money if the the business is successful at the helping component as well as profitable.
For comparison, let’s look at this example. If I set up a non-profit to buy hearing aids for hearing impaired children, I would need to raise funds. I’d start by asking everyone I know for donations and possibly apply for some grants. Once I’d exhausted those sources, I would constantly be scrambling for funds to help the people who had come to depend on my for aid. But, if I set up a a for-profit social enterprise, I would be able to help more children because it would be based on business principals which means making sure there is a continuous flow of income. I could set up a “buy-one-give-one” model and for every hearing aid I sold, I’d give one to someone in need. Yes, the profit margin would be slimmer than a typical for-profit business but this sustainable business model would mean I would continually be able to help more hearing impaired children.
Think about the organizations that feed hungry children in underdeveloped countries. If we set up a charity bringing formula to babies in a developing country and then for whatever reason we could no longer deliver, those babies would starve. They would have come to depend on our help and the mother’s breast milk would have dried up so they could no longer nurse their babies. But if we set up a business teaching those same women a craft that they could wholesale to us and we could turn around and re-sell, they would have a livelihood that provides the resources to continually feed their children without our help.
Is there an injustice or lack that pulls at your heartstrings? You can set up a charity and find volunteers to help but if you run short of people willing to give their time or resources, you can no longer do your good work. Or, you can set up a business that addresses that problem AND makes a profit so that you can sustain the level of aid and thus help more people.
If you need help figuring out how to develop a business that can bring you income and solve a social problem, click HERE to learn about my “idea generator” fall special package of three consultations. We will examine who you want to help and how you can set up a business that both makes a living and a difference.
Do you know you want to leave your mark but haven’t started because you can’t see how you as one person can do something big enough to make an impact? Well, you don’t have to be ready to solve world hunger or end violence in the middle east to start something meaningful. Making a difference in one little corner of the universe can lead to a bigger movement or at least a greater awareness.
When I was in my early twenties, I had a BIG creative dream. It was the peace, love and groovy post-Viet Nam days when we were all idealistic and knew we wanted to create a better world. (note-some of us still believe we can.)
A long detour took me out of the way of that dream but in the course of making a living, I realized I was able to make a difference. No, I wasn’t changing the way children are exposed to and inspired by the arts but my businesses did change lives and YOURS can too.
Typically a social enterprise is based on using business principals to achieve social goals and when someone comes to me for advise on how to create a meaningful livelihood, we look at the cause or change they want to make and then create a business to drive that change. Sometimes, though, an established business can be the vehicle to make a difference.
I didn’t start a furniture business to create jobs or improve lives and at one point I felt like all I was doing was making money. I was visiting my dad and mentioned that I was feeling greedy and unfulfilled that I’d drifted so far from my earlier vision of making an impact. He pointed out all the ways that my partner and I were improving lives. I realized he was right. We weren’t just selling home furnishings. We had created something that fed over one hundred employees and their families and unlike charity, we had trained them to be self-sufficient. (We didn’t want sales people who had been poorly trained in other retail positions so we hired people who had never held sales or management experience and taught them our way. Many of these employees previously held minimum wage jobs and were now earning high five and some six figures.) We’d also found small cottage industry upholsterers working out of their garages or barns and helped them build up their businesses and create jobs in their communities.
When I was a massage therapist, I had mostly private clientele but after doing some volunteer bodywork at hospice, I realized how important it was to give patients and their families the gift of touch. I couldn’t afford to strictly volunteer but wrote an article about the benefits of massage for a local senior publication and people started hiring me to go into nursing homes and massage their aging parents.
While the above are examples of how an established business can develop a social mission, you can start a business with the intention of making a profit and make conscious efforts from the beginning to drive or support a cause. The initial purpose of my gallery was to make a living and re-immerse myself in world of art but as I researched the work I would carry, another mission emerged. I became aware of how much of the merchandise available in most stores is imported knock-offs of artists’ designs. In some cases, the artist has a licensing agreement and gets a royalty but more commonly, the artist doesn’t know about it until it shows up on a shelf with a “made in china” label. Sadly, few of those artists can afford to fight a legal battle with the large companies manufacturing the knock-offs, so they do nothing about the theft of their designs. When I started noticing that even in little artist havens, the majority of shops sell these imported knock-offs, I made it a mission for my gallery to support American artists and educate the public so that they become more aware of their buying habits.
If you have an existing business, you can add a social component to it but even if you have a job, you can start something on the side that makes a difference and has more meaning. Before you think, “but I don’t have any free time”, let me introduce you to the busiest person I know who has still managed to create something that matters.
If anyone has limited free time it’s my friend Sandy Dempsey of The Dreaming Cafe. With her own business, a demanding job, and the responsibility for a seriously ill mother, she not only manages to do all the housework, shopping, cooking, cleaning, yard work, laundry and snow removal, she also makes time to write, paint and art journal. I’ve always told her she has the best time management of anyone I know and now she is going to share her secrets in a tele-class called “Finding the time to do what you love.” She knew she wanted to do something that makes a difference so she is giving 100% of the proceeds from the tele-class to the Pajama Program, a non-profit that provides new, warm pajamas and new books to children in need in the United States and around the world. To hear how Sandy finds time for what she loves, click HERE.
Businesses that solve a social issue are always intriguing, particularly when they address the basic necessities of life. I’m often amazed at how simple the solutions are and wonder why no one came up with the idea sooner.
I’ve recently learned of some innovative entrepreneurs who’ve created solutions to what is probably the most urgent issue: the availability of safe drinking water in the developing world. A couple of my favorites are Cynthia Koenig’s Wello Waterwheel and Roundabout’s Playpump.
The WaterWheel is a 25-gallon drum that holds five times the amount of water women traditionally carry on their heads, alleviating the tremendous physical and time burden of water collection. The Wello wheel is basically a barrel with a handle that can be easily pulled or pushed similarly to roller-board luggage. Women and girls spend about a quarter of each day collecting water. Using the water wheel will free up time to spend on more productive activities like work or school.
The Playpump utilizes the energy of children at play to pump water. As the children play on the roundabout, borehole water, which has been tested and deemed safe for human consumption, is pumped into and stored in a 2,500 litre tank, allowing access to the water when needed.
Until a recent visit with my son, Todd, who builds green homes in mountain communities off the grid, I never thought about the challenge of getting power to a construction site in a rural area. Obviously, power tools are necessary and because Todd’s goal is to be as eco-conscious as possible, he doesn’t want to run a gas generator. He showed me how they have rigged up a mobile solar power station on a trailer to supply energy for the building process. This got me thinking about how useful a mini version of this could be, particularly in the developing world.
A string of recent natural disasters has made us even more aware of how suddenly we can be without power and water, conveniences many in developed countries take for granted. Just this weekend, millions of people on the East coast were without power. Some may also be without safe water. I wonder how some of these dilemmas can be turned in to viable business opportunities for an aspiring social entrepreneur. That’s what triggers the inspiration for many businesses that make a profit and a difference. Any ideas?
When I tell people my favorite clients to work with are aspiring social entrepreneurs, they frequently ask if I help people open non-profits. Maybe it’s time to clarify what a social entrepreneur is.
Yes, some social ventures are not-for-profit but it’s a common misconception that you can’t drive social change AND make a profit. By definition, social entrepreneurship is “a process involving the innovative use and combination of resources to pursue opportunities to catalyze social change and/or address social needs.” Whether a business is a non-profit, for profit or NGO, determining if it qualifies as a social enterprise comes down to a basic question: does the business add value to society or drive social change.
Two well-known examples of social entrepreneurship are micro-financier Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Aravind Eye Hospital in India, a provider of eye surgery at a fraction of the usual cost. Both are for profit businesses that improve lives.
When we think of social entrepreneurship, most of us think of the international do-good organizations tackling hunger and disease in developing countries. Sure, we’d all love to change the world, but we can make enormous differences starting in our own little community.
Because my expertise is in the area of for profit, I only work with people wanting to set up a for-profit business. Aspiring entrepreneurs come to me when they want to start a business that has more meaning, makes a difference and a profit. Every business needs a profit and loss statement but I leave that up to the accountants. I have a different balance sheet we work through that helps aspiring entrepreneurs work out their multiple bottom line-a value in addition to financial profit that’s measured in how the business improves lives. It doesn’t have to change the universe. it can be as small as making a difference in your own neighborhood, what my friend Alice Barry calls your “YOU-niverse.”
Even as an artist or craftsperson, you can be a social entrepreneur. Let’s say, for example, you design a line of jewelry that you’ve been fabricating yourself. Your business has grown to more than you can supply yourself but rather than outsource it to China, you want to help local women earn a living . By training local women to do part of the production for you, you are enabling them to feed and care for their families by teaching them a skill they can do at home. You save on overhead by not having a manufacturing facility and you’ve provided livelihood for women who may otherwise be dependent on social welfare. Your profit from your sales and the change you make in these women’s lives is your double bottom line.
Another category of social entrepreneurship is the buy-one, give-one model made popular by Tom’s Shoes. Other business donate a portion of their profits to a particular cause. My favorite is a business that actually teaches people how to help themselves so that they are no longer dependent on hand-outs. That method of making change is more sustainable than charity because it enables people to always be permanently independent. The giving continues even if the funds for the program are no longer available.
One way to decide what changes you want to make is to think about what really irks you. What do you think of as a terrible injustice or lack? Most likely if it’s an issue that really bothers you, it’s something you are passionate enough about driving change that you will be effective in creating lasting change. That’s the ultimate in social entrepreneurship.
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.