“Mom & pop stores are not about something small; they are about something big. Ninety percent of all U.S. businesses are family owned or controlled. They are important not only for the food, drink, clothing, and tools they sell us, but also for providing us with intellectual stimulation, social interaction, and connection to our communities. We must have mom & pop stores because we are social animals. We crave to be part of the marketplace. ” ― Robert Spector, The Mom & Pop Store: How the Unsung Heroes of the American Economy Are Surviving and Thriving
For those of you that follow this blog closely, or have subscribed (thank you), you may remember back to my first posting when I discussed why I do what I do. We talked about how important small business is in it's surrounding communities, and how when small business thrives, communities thrive.
If you are a veteran to this blog you will know that I am fairly active on social media. In fact I am writing on this topic because I asked for suggestions awhile back as to what I should write about for this posting. I received a ton of requests, all of which would have made great topics. However I received this one from Brandon Schaefer ( @companeur_bes ) that I really wanted to touch on.
There are hundreds of things a small business can do with and for their surrounding community. However being a small business owner myself, I like to focus on the least expensive, more cost effective, and greatest potential for return on investment (ROI). It doesn't take very much creativity to give money away, and to be honest, the more creative you get the more attention that will follow. I'll explain a few things that I have tried that have worked for me without breaking the marketing budget.
After speaking to many of the small businesses in my community about what comes to mind first when talking about outreach, I found that volunteering seemed to be the most popular idea. That makes a lot of sense as it was my idea as well before I did more research on the topic.
There are many ways and places to volunteer, and it generally is the most cost effective way to help out. Most often you can find local NGO's (non-governmental organizations) with a quick internet search. These organizations include various charities, non-profits, and fundraisers. There will probably be more than you thought there would be, and it is important to do some research when choosing an organization for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, you will be tying your business to them. If their reputation isn't great, or they don't do exactly what they say they will do for people it can harm YOUR reputation for being affiliated. Next, not all of these organizations will be compatible with yours. It is important that you find something with similar values to your own, and you might as well look for a way to maximize the exposure you gain for your particular product or service. If you're looking to volunteer, or have your employees volunteer solely for the purpose of helping your business then you are doing it wrong. A large part of your goal should be uplifting your surrounding communities. That being said, if you are going to do this, it would be silly not to maximize your exposure at the same time.
Personally I have found that helping with, or spearheading a fundraiser for a reputable organization or cause is a fantastic way to go. On a shoe string budget this allows you to raise money, without having to spend very much of your own. And while I don't speak in absolutes very often, it's safe to say that every single one of these organizations could use more money. You always have the options to donate yourself of course, but there are advantages to fundraising from other sources. A one time donation (or even a recurring donation for that matter) will promote your business and you will gain some exposure. It also doesn't take up much of your time, and that is a plus because time is not free. However, the advantage of fundraising is that you need to be out promoting a cause or an organization. You get to choose who you talk to and approach, giving you exponentially higher exposure than a one time donation. This is a huge plus in the "pro" column. It does take up more of your time, or your employees time though. In the end I have personally found that the time investment for this is well worth it, and the exposure and good will you create is unmatched.
Work with Local Schools
Local school districts are the building blocks of your community. It is no secret that the better, or more successful your schools are, the better, or more successful the community is. Quality schools systems draw people from all over. If you have children you know that there is nothing more important than your child, and you would do anything to give them the best that you can. For this reason, if you are going to help your community, reaching out to local schools is a terrific way to do so.
Generally donating supplies is greatly appreciated. It can be art supplies, musical instruments, physical education equipment, etc. You can always donate books or more academic items, but I have found that with limited budgets, the first programs to suffer are usually art, music, and P.E. As Chuck Corbin explains at:
"Perhaps most important of all is the fact that art, music, and physical education are important to the education of the “whole child.” The head does not come to school by itself. The body does not come to school by itself. One part of the brain does not come to school by itself. The whole child comes to school. In school, as in society, being well rounded is important. Including special programs in the curriculum is critical to developing fully functioning well-rounded individuals who are contributing members of society. Nevertheless, many elementary schools (including Kyrene) now have art, music and physical education classes only one day each week."
While donating to a school is extremely noble and a great way to help your community, I mentioned before that as a small business you have to be a little more creative sometimes because you don't have that much money to spend. There are other ways to help your local schools than spending money. For example, I help small businesses who are generally experts about their products or services, however aren't as proficient with today's marketing strategies or business needs. This creates a great fit with local schools in my Community that have programs like DECA and FBLA . These programs are high school level, and help teach kids how to run businesses, market products and services, and give them an overall idea of what it takes to be successful. I work with the program directors and instead of donating money, I am able to donate my time by giving guest speeches, lectures, or lessons. I also bring some sort of handout, branding, etc. that is inexpensive, but noticeable as well. The schools appreciate it, it's extremely valuable to the students, and kids talk! Your exposure from this is phenomenal! or
Sponsor a youth sports team
I know, I know..... we are trying not to spend a lot of money, and this sounds expensive. It certainly can be, but there are many different ways to sponsor a team. Some businesses will buy the team equipment, or pay for entries into tournaments and leagues. This is definitely expensive, and if you can afford it, it is terrific publicity and exposure. It also takes a huge burden off of the families and can mean all the difference in the world to under privileged kids. In sports like football, and especially hockey, the equipment is extremely expensive.
If you don't have it in the budget to donate the expensive items though, it doesn't mean you can't get involved. As I just touched on, some sports are more expensive than others to sponsor. However you can generally get a basketball jersey printed fairly inexpensively. There are also not as many players on a basketball team as there are on a football team for instance. This could be a good way to keep the cost down, while also helping out a local team in your community. The best part for you about this is that if you can put your business brand on the uniform, creating great exposure during every game!
I have recently found a great idea from https://bizfluent.com/list-6329943-community-outreach-marketing-ideas.html . As a small business, you can also volunteer to provide the drinks and snacks for half times, in between periods, and end of the games. I had never even thought of doing this before, but it is a terrific way to help out. It is also an awesome way to have your business gain exposure with the parents of any team. Click on the link above for more community outreach idea from bizfluent.
Regardless of how you get involved with a youth sports team, it always will be appreciated and you can never do too much. As we've seen above, there are also plenty of ways to help out no matter what your budget is for such a thing. The benefit to you is the exposure in the community, which is obviously a part of the goal. Plus it is hard to gain a bad reputation for much when you are known for helping out children. The kicker is that most of the children have parents and grand parents, and parents and grand parents spend money on products and services. It's a win-win!
Holiday Toy Drive
Toy drives can be an extremely fun way to help your community for you and your employees. It can promote great team building within your business. That being said, toy drives are usually wildly successful with the right planning and enough time to promote it.
One great way to get a toy drive up and running quickly is to partner with another small business, or multiple small businesses. I don't recommend too many, as your exposure can be watered down. Generally between 2-4 businesses can pull off a successful toy drive. This is also a good way to keep any costs down because they are being shared.
Again, this is something that will help the kids in your community, so unless you just bomb it by not putting in the time and effort, it is almost impossible to gain any negative attention. Even if you approach someone for a contribution and they say "no", it's not like you are soliciting them for something they don't want or is negative.
Obviously the main element of a toy drive is to collect toys. The way you go about doing this is the key to your successful exposure, as well as the key to a successful drive. You should be approaching individuals as well as businesses of all size. Again, nothing is life is free. Whether it is costing you money, or costing you time, it's costing you something. This particular approach is going to cost you time, but it is well worth it. If you have ever gone B2B (business to business) for work, this is the same concept, except your not selling anything except the chance to help kids during a holiday season. I'm sure by now you see where I am going with this. What a great opportunity to expose your brand to countless businesses and individuals in a face to face setting.
While I prefer marketing myself in a face to face setting, it would be silly not to take advantage of every outlet and platform available with today's technology. This type of event is absolutely perfect for your website, blog, and social media. You can promote the heck out of a holiday toy drive starting months in advance. Be smart with this however and make sure you are targeting the geographical area you want. If you live in Denver, CO it is cool if someone in Florida likes your toy drive, but they are more than likely not going to be sending you any toys through the mail. Also, make sure there is a way to contact you for toy pick up, or better yet, have drop off places set up for those who want to donate to do so. This is also a content marketers dream. For more on content marketing (and other types) here is a previous post that explains this further https://www.chooseaes.com/single-post/With-Content-Marketing-the-Talk-of-the-Town-these-days-Dont-Abandon-Ole-Reliable . Most small businesses have a hard time keeping up with content creation that maximizes SEO, and a holiday toy drive provides a plethora of holiday content to choose from.
Work With a Local Library
Libraries can be incredible resources for your business. With what I do, I find myself at the library using it as a mobile office at least a couple times a week. That being said, there are also a few ways to reach out and support your local libraries that will help them provide more services to the community. If you have been to a library lately you know it is more than just books.
Most public libraries now have programs on an almost daily/nightly basis where you can go and learn anything from sewing to business skills. They have instructors or business figures from the community come in and teach a group of people that have signed up, for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Generally they are looking for instructors for each quarter of the year, so make sure you approach them a couple of months in advance. I love doing this as I know I am doing a good service for the library and community, while helping people learn how to start and run a business. This also keeps me sharp in my craft as studies have shown that you learn more, and more quickly by teaching. Christian Jarrett talks about this and more here: https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/05/04/learning-by-teaching-others-is-extremely-effective-a-new-study-tested-a-key-reason-why/
"The learning-by-teaching effect has been demonstrated in many studies. Students who spend time teaching what they’ve learned go on to show better understanding and knowledge retention than students who simply spend the same time re-studying. What remains unresolved, however, is exactly why teaching helps the teacher better understand and retain what they’ve learned."
In addition to keeping you sharp in your field or your craft, the benefit for you is absolutely awesome. You are directly in front of a group of people with a similar interest to you. Make sure you have handouts and giveaways with branding, but while you are teaching, you are also exposing the community directly to your business. As long as you prepare and have enough material for the time given, there is very little down side to doing this. They have a few programs where the instructor can get paid as well, however I always offer to do this for free. The goodwill and exposure you get from doing this is well worth the time you put in.
There are many ways to reach out to your local community. The key is to get creative and put some time and research into this The more unique and different that the ideas you come up with are, generally the more noticeable you become. I have given you five of my favorite options, but don't limit yourself. Find different ways to help your communities that fit for you, and help make your communities stronger.
As usual, thank you so much for taking the time to check out this post. It is humbling to know others can gain something from your work and I really appreciate it. You can also find all of my social media platforms on this site, or use #ChooseSuccess to find most of my posts. Please also share this, and comment below!