From sponsoring local charity events to launching a donation drive — performing some form of social outreach is often a part of running a small business. But when serving others is at your core, how can you make a business out of what you do?
Today’s Beauty Supply, a business in Alton, Illinois, featured on Season 3 of Deluxe’s Small Business Revolution — Main Street, is committed to balancing their bottom line with their charitable mission. Located in an underserved area of the town, the shop offers affordable African American hair care and beauty products while also working to empower the neighborhood’s residents. “After about six or seven years in business, we thought that making a profit wasn’t enough,” says the shop’s owner, Benjamin Golley.
Here’s how Golley and his family have been able to use their business to give back to the local community — and how you can put these practices to work in your own business.
If making a difference in your community or solving a social problem is just as important as making a profit, you may want to create a cause-driven enterprise — a business in which success is measured in both revenue and social impact. In order to effectively merge your business and philanthropic goals, plan to do these three things:
- Define your business’s mission
- Select a business model that will accommodate the social cause you’re championing
- Find a mix of business solutions that will help you generate revenue, build awareness and fund your charitable work
1. Identify your cause
Golley opened Today’s Beauty after noticing that the big brand stores weren’t catering to the needs of the African American community. To him, the products he sells not only meet a consumer need, but also give the people of Central Alton a confidence boost.
“In a community where you have low income and poverty, that’s tough enough. When you look into the mirror, you have to like what’s looking back at you. That image gives you the ability to do even better,” says Golley.
Today’s Beauty took their mission to do good one step further by opening Today’s Place — a safe community space attached to the shop where children can get a snack after school, do their homework and receive mentorship.
Like Golley, you may know right away which issue you’d like to tackle. Some business owners, however, have a more general desire to do good. If you don’t have a specific cause in mind, but know that you want to make an impact in your community, think about social issues that are linked to your offerings. A boutique, for example, might provide homeless women with outfits for job interviews.
Once you’ve found the cause you’d like to pursue, you can conduct a needs assessment to determine if there is actually demand for what you’d like to do and what your audience is looking for. To conduct a needs assessment, take some or all of the following actions:
- Conduct a community survey to verify the demand is there
- Speak to or volunteer with community organizers addressing a similar cause to understand what they do that you can learn from
- Conduct a focus group to home in on what’s truly needed in your community
- Go door-to-door and solicit your neighbors’ input
Understanding how your community views your cause will help you define and refine it. You may discover what you originally identified as your cause may be too broad or too narrow — or you may find that a related cause is more in need of your help. And, as you create your needs assessment, you may encounter people willing to donate their time or money to helping your cause succeed.
2. Clarify your goals and message
As you pursue your cause, you’ll need a set of guiding principles to point you in the right direction and ensure that every business decision you make is true to your vision. Additionally, when you’re ready to start generating awareness and support for your cause, you want to be able to explain what you do in a way that is clear and compelling. This is where your mission statement comes into play.
In your mission statement, be as precise as possible about describing what you’re hoping to accomplish. A strong mission statement should:
- Succinctly explain who you are, what you do and why you do it
- Express your company values or philosophy
- Be achievable, and not unrealistically lofty
Today’s Beauty’s mission is articulated clearly on their website:
“You can get everything you need to at Today’s Beauty Supply to make you look your best on the outside and feel your best on the inside. And when you shop with us, you’re investing in our community and helping it be its best self, too.”
In two sentences, the shop explains what they stand for and the impact they hope to make.
Here are few other mission statement examples from some of the country’s top cause-driven companies:
- Warby Parker: To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.
- Tesla: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
- The Humane Society: Celebrating Animals, Confronting Cruelty.
- Kickstarter: To help bring creative projects to life.
- Solberg Manufacturing: We partner with our customers, colleagues, & suppliers to help them innovate and discover new possibilities.
- TOMS: For every pair of TOMS shoes purchased online or at retail, the company will provide a pair to a child in need. One for One.
- King Arthur Flour: Our mission is to be the ultimate resource and inspiration in the kitchen, to inspire connections and community through baking, and to use our business as a force for good.
Notice how powerful each of these statements is. When you know your mission inside and out and have concrete goals, it will be easier for you to craft a succinct message that resonates with your audience.
3. Determine the right business model
Getting a handle on your goals not only keeps you focused, but also makes it easier to determine how you’ll structure your business. There are a number of cause-driven business models open to you. Here are four to consider:
Create a for-profit business with a charitable focus
Today’s Beauty is a for-profit entity that has a social outreach component. Its charitable offshoot, Today’s Place, provides mentorship to the neighborhood’s children and helps build relationships within the community. The revenue from the shop helps support the work Golley does with Today’s Place. This type of business model is suited for entrepreneurs who want to maintain control over the operation of the business — rather than having a board of directors overseeing decisions — and want to use the financial stability of a successful for-profit model to do good.
“People equate this neighborhood with drugs, with crime, with gangs. I was born here, and there are great people in this community, so we decided to develop the other side of the store because this is a dual storefront. And we created a space called Today’s Place,” Golley says.
Take the nonprofit route
When serving others is at the heart of what you do, it may make more sense to start a nonprofit organization. A nonprofit is a business built around furthering a charitable cause. Unlike for-profit businesses, a nonprofit is led by a board of directors, profits are reabsorbed into the organization rather than being distributed to individual stakeholders, and success is measured by the nonprofit’s ability to meet its philanthropic goals. Nonprofits also receive certain tax exemptions that may make it easier to achieve their goals.
Because establishing a nonprofit is a legal process, it helps to get assistance from a professional service like MyCorporation, a Deluxe company, when you’re ready to formally launch your organization. Before you get started, think hard about why you’re forming the organization, who you’re trying to reach and if your idea is viable.
Partner with an existing charity
You may not be ready to develop a social outreach program from the ground up. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your philanthropic goals. Look for collaboration opportunities with a charity doing work that complements your business’s mission. A sporting goods retailer, for example, could work with a local youth sports program, while a restaurant could partner with an organization like Dine Out for No Kid Hungry, which spreads awareness about childhood hunger.
A company-sponsored volunteer program is another alternative to developing an outreach program on your own. You can gather your team together for monthly volunteer outings or even offer employees time off to do volunteer work. With a volunteer time off program — or VTO — employees are given paid time off to volunteer. VTO is becoming more and more popular with large companies like Deluxe and Salesforce, but it also works well for small businesses that incorporate it into their business plans and budgets.
4. Serve the community while growing your business
To serve your community effectively, your business needs to be built on a strong foundation. Business operations must be running as smoothly as possible and you should have a marketing and promotion strategy in place.
After 18 years in business, Golley was challenged when a new beauty supply store, also aimed at African American customers, moved into the Alton area. Quickly, Today’s Beauty saw a 30% decrease in income. Golley and his sister, who also works in the shop, were no longer able to take a salary. If things continued in that direction, it would have become a challenge to keep Today’s Place up and running.
Golley realized that shoring up the way he branded and marketed Today’s Beauty would be important if he wanted to remain competitive and continue his social outreach work with Today’s Place. Here are a few of the steps that he took:
Get a powerful logo
Today’s Beauty didn’t have a logo when it first opened. As a result, the shop was missing out on an excellent opportunity to generate awareness for the business and its cause.
From a marketing standpoint, a striking logo brings attention to your company, demonstrates your professionalism and builds brand recognition. But when you’re also working for the social good, your logo can be a rallying point for the community. It tells people who you are and what you stand for, and it unifies each aspect of your work.
Today’s Beauty’s new logo is a deep orange color that communicates the sense of warmth that Golley tries to foster. The sleek typography adds the kind of elegance commonly associated with beauty brands. The easily reproducible, two-color design can be used on everything from merchandise and shopping bags to T-shirts and tote bags.
“Our new logo has been a big hit with our customers,” Golley says. “I already need to put in for a reorder for T-shirts!”
Launch a website
A website is your business’s online home, and it provides you with a channel for your charitable message while promoting your products or services. Today’s Beauty initially didn’t have a website, but Golley understood he needed one to get the shop’s message out. He worked with Deluxe’s professional website design service to help tell Today’s Beauty’s story.
Now the shop has a website that showcases the African American beauty products they offer but also highlights Golley’s values. Focusing heavily on community, building confidence and the importance of making a positive impact, the website features inspirational lines like “We know that when you look good, you feel good, and you do good.”
There is also, of course, a section on the website that explains the work Golley is doing with Today’s Place. It describes the youth center’s purpose, the types of events that are held there and the other charitable organizations that contribute to Golley’s work.
Establish a social media presence
Social media gives you an opportunity to promote your business and cause, and connect with your audience in real-time. Today’s Beauty set up social profiles on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. Rather than using the same cliché quotes that most beauty shops rely on, Today’s Beauty is mindful about sharing the words of prominent African American women like Michelle Obama and Beyoncé to really connect with the community it serves.
To select the right marketing channels for your business:
- Evaluate what you’re currently doing: How well are these techniques working for you? Ask yourself if there are ways that you can refine or scale your efforts.
- Identify the channels your audience uses: Does the demographic you’re targeting use Facebook or Pinterest? Do they attend trade shows? Wherever they are, that’s where you need to be.
- Assess your bandwidth: You probably aren’t going to have the time and energy to devote equal attention to every marketing channel out there. Take a look at the tools and techniques that are working for you, and spend more time optimizing those methods.
- Consider outsourcing social media: Ensure you make an impact with your social media efforts by handing them off to a dedicated service. That will keep your social media outreach running smoothly while you focus on your in-person initiatives.
Putting it all together
After making marketing improvements to Today’s Beauty, Golley is seeing encouraging results. There has been an increase in social media interactions and online traffic, which means more people are being exposed to his brand. As he speaks to the new faces walking into Today’s Beauty, they say that they’ve found the shop online. More business for Today’s Beauty means more support for Today’s Place.
Running a cause-driven enterprise not only benefits the community, but also is extremely fulfilling as you see the impact you’ve made. However, you can’t serve if you can’t keep the doors open. That’s why it’s critical that you have a clear mission and business strategy in place before you set out on your journey.