Starting and growing a business may be easier today than it ever has been, but is still a difficult and challenging pursuit. The Internet has enabled a global economy like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Businesses can start from just about any country, in any city, and earn customers from all over the world.
Regardless of location, any business starting out should invest itself in its local community. That can mean donating time or money to a non profit, or teaching classes at the local college, or discounting your product. Devoting resources to your local community can help your business grow globally. Here’s how.
Caring for your community helps you care more for your customers
When you communicate primarily through email with faceless customers located throughout the world, showing genuine empathy can be a challenge. Helping out in your local community provides face-to-face opportunities that reinforce the fact that people are human and have legitimate needs.
You will not be able to solve all of your customers problems. But if you can empathize with them, listen to them and respond honestly, you will build a rewarding relationship.
Volunteering nurtures humility and authenticity
When you volunteer to help or teach others they won’t care that you are a coding ninja or a design rock star. They will be grateful for any help you can give them at all.
Most volunteering opportunities will require very little of your advanced knowledge of any particular topic. What you consider to be basic, most others view as advanced. Realize it’s not your skills that are important, it’s your willingness to contribute.
Some businesses treat their customer’s needs as too basic and beneath them. They respond with unattentive and canned responses. Contributing to your local community will give you a fresh perspective on your customer’s needs and will help imbue your responses with more humility and authenticity.
Humility and authenticity result in transparency, an essential quality for any business that wants to earn the trust of their customers.
Build genuine relationships not based on lead scoring
When you get involved in your local community you end up building genuine relationships because you are not in sales mode. Your customers want this same level of commitment.
Customer relationships should not be based on a lead score or potential to close the sale. The relationship should be built on the customer having a need that you can fulfill. The more you can help your customers, the more successful your business. Take the financial gain out of the equation and you will find a whole new way to interact with your customers.
Opportunity to do some of your best work, pro bono
A great way to expand your portfolio is to do some pro bono work for a local community group. Non profits will often times be so grateful for your services they will give you much more creative freedom than your paying clients.
Some of the best work I’ve seen is for non profits for this very reason. Doing pro bono work can be a welcome reprieve for businesses who might feel shackled by client control of the creative process.
If your business has a product, offer it for free or at a discount to local groups you believe in. A little goes a long way and you offering your product can help give local groups the edge they need to succeed. It’s also a great way to get your product out in front of people who will more likely share it with others in the community.
Pro bono work is a great way to generate word-of-mouth praise and referrals. And the only thing it costs you is a little time and money.
Lots of give, some take
No one is expecting you to be completely altruistic. Volunteering in your local community is definitely going to be more give than take, but it’s not all give.
There will be opportunities to get your name in the press as it relates to the work you are doing. There will be sponsorships available in return for your products. The local community wants to help you succeed. If you are involved in a symbiotic relationship with your local community the success of your business will benefit the local efforts you care about most.
Photo credit: Kevin Dooley