One of the favorite topics that comes up when I speak to business owners is about “the time when I did a favor for this guy.” It is an old tale, and one that typically leads to business owners being hard-nosed and never doing anything for anyone again. You know the story, you wanted to help someone. They came to you and gave you a sad story, you fell for it, and you significantly discounted or gave away your services and product only to be screwed in the end.
We have all been there. More times than we want to remember. But then comes this one person that makes your life hell and you promise to NEVER do this again. EVER! I have been there and I have done that. Still I believe that there is benefit to discounting and giving away product/services to benefit the community. Big business constantly does community service. It usually is done through giving away large sum of money, high profile ads, or providing opportunities for their employees to volunteer and contribute to causes they support. As small business owners it is difficult for us to compete on that level. However, that does not mean that we have to restrict our giving to time when we think there is going to be an immediate result of sales that comes afterwards.
Use organizations that service the group that you want to help.
Most business types have trades and organizations that are geared toward them. Many of those business organizations provide opportunities for service and give-a-ways. For example, there is an organization in the legal field that services people that cannot afford an attorney. Not Legal Aid or its equivalent but one that allows attorney’s to volunteer their time and services through this organization. It allows me to serve if I choose and it allows protection if things are not going well for me to go back to the organization and get support.
Create a grant.
A grant does not have to be monetary. It can easily be goods or services. If there are people who cannot afford your services or goods but you want to help, create a way to help. Establish parameters that clearly outline who you are going to accept and what you are going to agree to do. For example, if you sell product for youth sports teams, you can set up a grant that will allow a sports team to get $100 worth of product if they meet certain conditions. Within that you can set up how many teams will be able to obtain the grant; how often the grant will be awarded; or what type of product will be allowed.
Connect with a non-profit.
There are thousands of non-profit organizations that service the areas that your business caters to. Even if there is not one in your immediate area you can probably find one that you can work with. If you are a clothes designer, you can work with a non-profit that services people who need to find jobs. They need nice clothes. If you are in the limo business, there are organizations that provide transportation for indigent people. It does not matter the organization type, it only matter that you are comfortable with providing whatever service or product in the parameters for which you have set.
We have all had that client (or three) that we made great exception for that ruined our desire to help others. Those bad apples does not mean that you should not help, it only means that you should create rules around those you help. It also means that you cannot break your own rules. Because when you break the rules you will have to accept the punishment!
Shahara Wright is an experienced and highly sought after business law attorney and business strategist. She is the author of From Entrepreneur to CEO and host of the CEO Collaboration Circle. Shahara founded The CEO Effect, LLC to work with small business owners who want to implement strategy to build capacity.