There’s no doubt that being the owner of a small business puts you in the exalted / cursed position of being asked for stuff. A lot.
The local food bank. A friend who’s doing a fundraiser. A loyal customer who is hosting a silent auction. The business improvement association or chamber of commerce. An arts event. There will always be someone who will find you and ask for your help with their event. Usually by providing either money or stuff. Or possibly both.
In this (delinquent, but hopefully still useful) SMB 101 edition, how to sift through the endless list of requests, and how to help yourself while you’re helping others.
Question #1: “How do I deal with all these requests???”
There are a couple of things you can do. First off, you can set yourself a budget for both money and product sponsorships or giveaways. Then, keep track of what you’re doing with requesters, so you don’t find yourself wondering how you spent THAT much at the end of the year. This also gives you a great and reasonable way to turn people down. “I’m sorry, but we only have so much we can do, and we’ve done it.”
Second, you can ask people to submit requests in writing, so you can track those requests.
Third, you can set out some guidelines before you start accepting requests. Are you a believer in children’s charities? Maybe a Ronald McDonald House. Are you a cancer survivor (a cause close to my heart, or perhaps bladder)? Then perhaps you have a charity like Ottawa’s Maplesoft Centre you could help. What causes or issues resonate with you? Set out guidelines for people so they can understand what you’re interested in. You can be as restrictive or as free as you like. But when you have guidelines, you can point to those.
Finally, keep an eye on what your competitors are doing in the community. If an organization already has multiple supporters in your sector, maybe it’s time you struck out into a new segment and carved out your own niche.
Question #2: “What’s in this for me?”
Philanthropy is good, period. But there’s nothing wrong with helping yourself out while helping others, and there’s also nothing wrong with talking about your support of community events, causes, or charities.
So first, think about what sort of benefits you would like to see for your business from a donation or sponsorship. Is it a full sponsorship? Are you providing coffee and cookies for an event? Be fair, reasonable, and assertive in telling the organization asking for help that you’d like to get a little something too.
Second, don’t be shy. Talk about your supportive activities on your web site, your Facebook page, on Twitter — your social media activities can help the organizations you’re helping, and people ought to know that you’re a generous member of the community too.
Finally, if you are a business with physical visitors — retail or wholesale — think about some sort of display to celebrate your corporate generosity and your pride in associating with worthy causes.
What this all comes down to? You already know that you are going to be asked. So wouldn’t it make sense to think strategically about what you want to support and to what extent?
(Image cc licenced by Flickr user Meddygarnet)
(This is post number five in an ongoing series of posts aimed at providing practical advice for small businesspeople in the areas of public relations, communications and social media. If you ever need help with your small business… why not get in touch?)