TVPG Radio Show: Want to grow your business – Volunteer!

by Sheila O'Mara on March 11, 2010

You are struggling with capital for advertising and need to get your message out.  You use all of the social media tools you can think of, but can’t seem to grab a hold of local consumers. Sound familiar?   It is a common problem for many small business owners and there are a few ways to pick up a bigger market share and save money in the meantime.

On last week’s (March 3, 2010 edition) TVPG, Get More Business, Radio Show my partners in crime – Jason Sanders, Rich Bradley, and Josh Chandler discussed these issues and Rich came up with a fabulous list of top ten ways to get FREE PUBLICITY.  Another avenue that we discussed was volunteerism.  For as much as FREE PUBLICITY is near and dear to my heart – volunteerism is even closer and I would like to share a few insights with you.

It is no secret that I do a bunch of volunteer work.  I get a personal rush when I can give my time, talents or treasures to benefit others.  I volunteered long before I ever owned a business, but after becoming a business owner I found that volunteering not only helped me help others, it also helped me grow my business.  That was never the original intent, but has been a fabulous side benefit and can be for you too!

I have found that people generally love to give referrals.  Most businesses thrive on referrals.  Giving a referral though depends on a couple of things.  The first thing is how well a person knows you or your work.  The other is if you do a good job and deliver on your word.  If you can build a relationship with people and can fulfill those two criteria, people will happily refer you to others when the opportunity arises.

Here is where the volunteering has helped me.  There are several organizations that I volunteer for –  those people that I volunteer with and for, know me and they know that I make good on what I say I am going to do.  WhenI  fill or exceed their expectation for performance, that helps them form an opinion that I am trustworthy, reliable, good hearteded, etc.  When it comes time to refer, are they going to refer me – you bet!  By volunteering I have increased my referral business tremendously and in ways that I never expected. 

Now is that why I do it – NO, but it has been a great benefit.  Here are a few others.

1.  Sponsor an event for a non profit.  I found out that when you agree or your company agrees to sponsor events for a non-profit it is a ton of work, but also a ton of free advertising.  Last year another small business owner and I agreed to sponsor/host a fashion show for our local domestic violence shelter.  This was a benefit to all of us in ways we never even considered.  Of course, the shelter benefits because they got the money and the exposure.  The two of us end up learning a tremendous amount about how connecting yourself with a good cause brings you more blessings than you can imagine.

Because the shelter was a non-profit they are allowed certain privileges.  Marketing avenues like free PSA slots on the radio stations, a half hour show dedicated to the event on the community access channel,  and press releases in newspapers and church bulletins.  Each announcement had our names and businesses connected to it as the sponsors of the event.  It was amazing.  All of a sudden people throughout the community knew who we were and wanted to know more about what our businesses did and we didn’t pay for any of it.  Being connected to the shelter really helped people form a positive opinion of us and our businesses.  Was that our goal when we started the planning process – NO!  Was it a fabulous end result – YES!!!!

giving referrals based on volunteerismAnother benefit for us was that we walked in to all kinds of other businesses and stores and organizations looking for donations and support.  We met a ton of people who we never would have really had a reason to contact, but ended up developing good relationships with them and again the referrals blossomed.  It is hard to walk in to an establishment and basically cold call for your business.  It is much easier to walk in as a representative of an organization that needs that business owners help.  Inevitably the conversation ended up in a discussion about our  businesses and by that time, we were comfortable and the conversation was much less awkward than if we hadn’t had that bridge.

Now I will caution you – sponsoring events is a huge undertaking.  It takes up a ton of time and energy, but the rewards far outweighed any inconvenience.  Each time I walk into that shelter and know that those ladies and their families are using hot water, I know it was worth it! ( the money we raised helped them to purchase a hot water tank that had broken the day we showed up with their check)  Beyond that was the building of our businesses and that was a perk we never imagined.

2.  Get involved with a charity and support their events with your business.  Let’s say the American Heart Association is having a Heart Walk in your area.  Wouldn’t it be great to support the cause with a team that rounded up pledges and walked in the walk?  Then when you are walking, you all wear t-shirts or polos or carry a banner that identifies your organization/business.  Do you think that the AHA are the only people that will benefit?  No – your walking attire will elicit questions or at the very least create name recognition for your business.  Again if someone is going to refer a business, does it not work in your favor that you were seen as a contributor in the walk?  If people knew nothing about you or your competition, but remembered that they saw you at the walk, don’t you think that will be a tip in your favor?  Again – is that why you do it, NO! Can it be a benefit – absolutely!

3.  Donate services or items to auctions, raffles, etc.  The name recognition is priceless.

 These are all some very easy ways that volunteerism has boosted my business.  I am very transparent though – I did all of this long before I was a business owner, so my motives are genuine and most people see that.  If you have been established for a loVolunteerism helps grow businessng time and have always said no or rarely participate in charitable events, your motives may be suspect … but do it anyway!  The good that the organization you are helping will outweigh any personal gain.  It is okay for both parties to benefit.  There is no reason volunteering can’t be a win-win situation for all involved.

Volunteerism is a great way to network throughout your community.  Making a difference is a tremendous blessings and I have found that the more I give away the more I get back.  If you have not tried it, I encourage you to go for it.  I don’t think you will be sorry.

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