Those of you who watch Dragon’s Den, will be familiar with hard-nosed multi-millionaire Kevin O’Leary, who will often say something like, “Who cares about saving the whales – just show me the money”.
We accept that Kevin is playing the role of the bad guy – but if he truly believed that – and some business owners unfortunately do – someone should tell him that saving the whales… or the environment … or helping the homeless … or whatever, is simply good business. A 2007 Forester Research report noted that some 70% of consumers said that they would prefer to do business with a company that had demonstrated a social conscience.
For the entrepreneur that has a business-to-business (B2B) model this has special significance since the large firm that you may be supplying with goods or services is well aware of their public image and they want to be able to demonstrate that they in turn buy from companies that are ethical with a stated goal of helping to address some of the world’s challenges. If your business model is a B2C (business-to-consumer), then you need to be even more aware of making your social commitment as part of your branding message.
I was in an independent (small business) coffee shop the other day and they had a chalk board that listed all of the aspects of their environmental commitment, including such things as buying beans from countries where the workers are not exploited, recycling their paper cups and plastic waste and providing their coffee grounds to local farmers to be mixed with fertilizer. What a great way to educate your customers without preaching.
Care must be take however to avoid any view that you are just ‘talking the talk’.
Some have called it ‘Greenwashing’ (like whitewashing). If you are making a declaration of social and environmental commitment – you’d better be prepared to follow it up. And there are all kinds of ways to make it happen without taking a lot of your time away from the business. Find an agency whose mission is in harmony with your feelings and ask to partner with them. That could mean you make a small but regular donation to their organization, it might mean putting their poster in your store, or sponsoring some of their other supporters in such things as a 10K run for the cause.
Find the cause, support it, believe in it and don’t be shy about letting your customers and clients know about it – so long as you are doing the public part to help the cause and you must never be seen as simply self-serving.
Ignore the Kevin O’Leary types. By example, you can do good and sleep a little better at night.