As a local business, you want to be the go-to accountant or architect that the mayor recommends.
But how do you get city hall to call you every time they need a floral arrangement? How do you get the police department to drop off their cruisers every time they need some maintenance?
Here’s the secret: you have to get involved.
Not only does community involvement increase your visibility as a business owner, but it helps you meet new people (like the mayor!) and learn more about where you live and work.
So how does one get on the mayor’s good side? It turns out that sending them tweet after tweet with hashtag #mayor4lyfe won't work.
Thankfully, there are many, many ways you can connect and give back to your community—no matter what size your town or how limited your time. Here are a few ideas:
Give Discounts to Local Organizations
The high school needs their driveway paved just like everyone else, so an area seal-coating shop might give them a discount. Giving discounts to local businesses in need is generous. Not only will it help make you some friends, but it will also help you become the go-to in your town or city.
Why? Not only will people appreciate your willingness to help out local organizations with tight budgets, but you’ll increase your visibility in the community. If people know you’re about way more than the money, they’ll be more likely to choose you when they’re in need.
How? Call up the school superintendent, police department, and some other local businesses (such as law firms, banks, and accountants) to offer up your services (complete with discounts). Make personal relationships with these people-- these aren't sales calls. Be willing to give pro-bono services for causes you believe in (if you sell refrigerators, donate one to the local food pantry).
Inspiration: A Brooklyn-based Chipotle has a secret discount: half-off tacos for police officers. Though this discount is unofficial (and actually prohibited), the NYPD frequents the Chipotle. We don’t recommend you give illegal discounts, but being on the same side as local services will bring in the biz.
Share Your Skills
Offer to write a column in the local newspaper or teach a class. Insightful content is always a valuable product—and it’s always in high demand.
Why? Not only will people appreciate your willingness to share, but it will help build name recognition and your ethos as an expert in your field. Each time your face and name appears in an article or you stand in front of a group, it’s a networking opportunity that allows you to say “Hi, I’m __ and I do .”
How? Reach out to a weekly paper in your community, a business journal, or find a group looking for a speaker (the civic clubs in your area are a good place to start) and offer yourself as a resource—a quick search for “Civic Clubs in (insert your community)” should bring up some helpful results. From there, it’s really as easy as making the call to introduce yourself and being willing to volunteer your time.
Inspiration: If you’re struggling to find one of these opportunities in the near future, it’s okay. Create one of your own—start a blog! Take Sarah Mackey, for example. As a non-profit Director, she’s created a blog that shares not only her knowledge on leading a successful Habitat for Humanity organization, but invites viewers to consider her as a speaker with a page dedicated solely to this area of her expertise.
Volunteer Your Time
This one’s a no-brainer. Find a cause you believe in and rally your team around it. Maybe it’s restoring the town bike trails or painting a mural at a school; use your talents and interests to choose a relevant cause.
Why? By pooling your resources into a group, it often results in a larger impact—and whether you use this as a morale-builder with your staff, or you go it alone, volunteering makes you a contributing, engaged citizen.
How? There are many ways you can go about finding your community’s volunteer needs. If you don’t know of a specific group , check the VolunteerMatch.org listings for your area. There, you’ll find a description of the organization, the help they need, and how to contact them.
Inspiration: Brad Farris, Principal at Anchor Advisors, has been volunteering at his church, with a local arts organization, and at a college campus outreach program for several years—and he’s seen the benefits for both his community and his business.
“I always recommend joining boards of NFP that you care about. It's a great way to use your leadership skills, benefit a cause you care about and meet some other interesting people,' says Brad Farris. 'It's never about making that ‘one right connection,’ but more about having a larger group of people who know what you are good at who might recommend you.”
Sponsor an Event or Share a Space
If you don’t have the time or mental bandwidth to volunteer, give your resources in another way—through a donation, lending a meeting space for a community group, or sponsoring a worthy cause. Different organizations have different needs, so if you’re not sure how you can help, just ask.
Why? As you connect with people from your community, you’ll hear about the existing needs for area projects—a new slide at the playground, volunteers for park clean-up days…maybe even a book club that recently lost their meeting space at the local coffee shop. All of these are opportunities for you to step in and say, “Hey, I can help?”
How? You can add a page to your company website offering a free meeting space, sponsor a local 5K, or collect change at the register to donate back to a cause. Check your local newspaper for organizations looking for sponsors.
Inspiration: Kelly’s Roast Beef, a Boston-based restaurant, allows schools and other organizations to fundraise by giving 15% of profits on a given night to the cause. The publicity surrounding fundraising garners local press coverage and increases exposure for the business. For both parties, it’s a win.
Backyard Farms and Clover Food Labs teamed up to help raise money for The Greater Boston Food Bank through a similar fundraiser.
Join a Club
Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club, or a niche business club…it’s really up to you. These local organizations bring together business owners with the aim of working together to improve the community.
Why? These clubs offer the opportunity to share information and connect with other active participants in your community. And by pooling your resources into a group effort, the impact is often much larger. An added benefit to clubs: Getting referrals. Networking often leads to referrals, and referrals lead to business. If people in your area know what you specialize in, trust you, and know that you do what you do well, they’ll be happy to recommend you.
How? Do a quick search for “civic clubs in (your area)” and take a look around the listed organizations. Go to a meeting or two at a few different clubs to get an idea of what you like and dislike. Or, if you already know someone who is part of a club you’re curious about, just ask to be their guest for a meeting. The secret to finding a club that’s the right fit is giving yourself several options to choose from. Get out there and shake some hands!
Inspiration: Marcy Patterson, Publisher at The Source, a media outlet for Morgan County, Illinois, uses her connections at Kiwanis Club to stay on top of upcoming events. This helps her come up with story ideas for the weekly newspaper her company publishes. It’s also allowed her to become a connector for people and businesses throughout her community. Win-win!
Find a Local Meet-up Group
Meetup.com is filled with groups for entrepreneurs, small business owners, and industry leaders looking to connect. Joining a meet-up will not only help you meet others in your boat, but can also boost your image as a thought leader in the community.
Why? Meetup.com has everything under the sun, so you’ll be able to find a group that meets your interests. Whether you want to strut your stuff in the startup community, join a group of fellow landscapers, or find some other accountants to strategize with, you’ll feel at-home at Meetup.com!
How? Visit Meetup.com and do a simple search for what interests you. For example, if you search for St. Louis Startups, you’ll see these groups:
You can easily join one of these groups and go to some events to get yourself on the map.
Join the Chamber of Commerce
These organizations are helpful both as a tool for promoting your business and networking with others, but are an excellent resource for learning as well.
Why? The Chamber of Commerce offers educational seminars, sends out a newsletter(where you can share news about your business), provides discounts at member organizations, and holds networking events where you can meet and connect with other members of the business community. It’s the world largest business orginzation.
How? You’ll first fill out an application and then meet with a Chamber representative to discuss your needs as well as their offerings. There is typically an annual cost associated with membership with different price levels offering different levels of exposure.
Inspiration: “I developed an invaluable mentor relationship with a [Chamber program] instructor from Astra Zeneca, Charles Gillean,” says Dick Mass, Vice President at Allcell Rentals of his Chamber experience. “He helped me understand a lot of unfamiliar information, learn how to evaluate private and public businesses, and define the best direction for my company’s growth.”
Always carry business cards. You never know who you might run into. Get beautiful, professional cards from Moo.
Follow up. After you meet someone, make sure you send them an email or connect with them in another meaningful way. Without follow up, it’s like the meeting never happened.
Generosity wins. If you’re generous to people in your community, they’ll be more likely to recommend you. Being the “good guy” goes a long way.
Be polite. Yeah, yeah, politeness is for Great Aunt Mildred, but first impressions last a lifetime. It's especially important to be courteous and kind in your city or town (where people will get to know you).
You understand why community connections are good--you just need to decide how to make them happen.
Remember: giving back is good for everyone—and it’s a grassroots approach to making connections wherever you are.
Take the leap into something outside your comfort zone and use your skills to make the place you live better than how you found it.
Your Turn: What do you do to connect with your community? Are there effective ways of promoting a local biz that we're missing?