Getting involved in your community can give you the satisfaction of helping others while raising the profile of your business.
“Community involvement boosts your happiness, helps you to put things into perspective and delivers proven health benefits,” says April Lynn Levitt, a coach with the Personal Coach in Oakville, Ont. “It also raises your profile in the community and can positively affect the way clients see you.”
Volunteering can benefit your business by helping you develop solid, trusting relationships, adds Rosemary Smyth, a Victoria-based business coach for financial advisors.
But remember: volunteering is not marketing. The following are ways you can enjoy the benefits of helping others in your community:
> Follow your bliss
Choose an event or cause that you really care about, Levitt says.
“Consider your interests and values and pick something you’re passionate about,” she says. “Otherwise, it can become an added stress in your life. If [a volunteer activity] is something you’d do anyway, that’s a clue that it’s a good choice.”
> Be clear about your intentions
Clarify what you’re getting involved in. Are you volunteering for a single event or committing to chairing a board for the next few years? Will you be playing a direct role with those you’re helping, or will you be staying in the background?
> Don’t underestimate the time involved
While volunteer organizations will usually give you an estimate of the time commitment required, Levitt says, they may “low ball” it.
“Increase any estimate they give you,” she says. “Boards in particular can take a lot of your time. On the other hand, Big Brothers and Big Sisters require only an hour or so a week.”
> Don’t keep it a secret
Share information about your volunteer experiences with your clients, says Smyth: “People like doing business with folks who care about their community.”
And don’t be shy about putting information about your activities on your website, newsletter or blog, she adds.
> Think outside the box
Don’t restrict your thinking to existing events and activities, Levitt says. She cites the case of an advisor who started an annual party to raise money for small groups in the community that couldn’t afford to do it themselves.
> Be cautious about involving your clients in your volunteer activities
Don’t ask your clients for money too often, Levitt says, even if it’s for a great cause.
“A lot depends on the individual. If you have clients who share your values and interests, it can work well. But be very careful when it comes to religious or political activities.”
> Don’t volunteer as a way to get business
You may well get new business as a byproduct of your volunteer activities, Levitt says, but that should not be your main goal.
“Go into it intending to give something back to the community,” she says. “And if you get business as a result that’s fine.”
Let conversations happen naturally, Smyth says. “When you introduce yourself and people ask where you work, tell them. But don’t hand out business cards.”