By Brittany Robinett
At first thought, what would you rank to be the most rewarding, yet unsung business skill? Many would argue that it is compassion, which yields greater long-term rewards and customer loyalty than any scheme driven solely by profit. Of course, many minds hear “compassion” and go automatically to customer relations during business hours; however, there is something to be said for serving your customers outside of the workplace. And, by “outside of the workplace,” I mean inside the community.
Big or small, every business is part of a community. When it comes to smaller businesses, a greater opportunity exists to build personal ties to a customer base and to present a united front with the locale that it serves. Operating at a local scale often gives small businesses a hands-on advantage at connecting with their customers. People are more likely to show interest in your products and services when you show an interest in what’s important to them – their community, its citizens, and its values.
Volunteering and community participation can give rise to a number of benefits; investing time and efforts can be one of the smartest and cheapest ways to market your business as a truly “local” business, as well as a philanthropic one. Too often, employers forget that customers greatly value company altruism and would rather return to a business that gives back to them and the community that they are serving. Not only does it show that it has those communities’ values at heart, but that it has the people of those communities at heart as well. Outreach programs are a great way to market your business to community members who might not patron your business without knowing a bit more about it, enabling you to build up your reputation in the public eye.
Active volunteer participation helps you to present yourself as a business that contributes not only to the community’s economy, but also to its social fabric. While donations are noteworthy and not to be undervalued, human interactions often leave a more powerful impression than a financial transaction. (Of course, financial contributions can both improve your reputation and increase your eligibility for tax deductions.) It is important for your business to develop an outreach plan tailored to activities that best suit your company. When determining what outreach project best suits your business, whether it’s volunteering monthly at a food bank or running a clothing drive for a local homeless shelter, it is important to consider what the community needs and what you can best provide to serve that need. Naturally, a restaurant owner will likely have an easier time catering an awards ceremony for the Special Olympics than an accountant, whose skills might better situate him to assist with administrative matters. Volunteer activities aren’t one-size-fits-all; no need to stretch yourself in a direction you are not skilled or prepared to handle. However, you should aim to deliver community service of the same quality and caliber as the customer service your business prides itself on.
In addition to improving your reputation and connections within the community, participating in community outreach projects can help boost employee morale. Studies have shown that when companies regularly involve their employees in community service projects, many employers witness increases in job satisfaction, employee retention, employee morale, and workplace camaraderie. Creating an atmosphere of community concern within the workplace can be simultaneously rewarding on both a personal and professional level. Add the cost-saving benefits it provides, and you can only ask why you wouldn’t work towards it.
(Note: You shouldn’t be afraid to flaunt your philanthropy. You wouldn’t keep quiet the excellence of your product, the exceptional customer service you have to offer, or the superiority of your brand: Why would you silence the values of your company that you’ve expressed through community involvement? Let your business reflect its values; if community activism belongs in that value pool, let it shine.)
Face it – good energy is contagious. When that good energy is associated with the services you offer, people will be more and more compelled to take advantage of those services. If the New Radicals had it right, you get what you give. Give big.
Bexley Law Firm, LLC
About the Author: Brittany Robinett is a third year law student at the Georgia State University College of Law.