Most of us have some desire to do some good in our business, and we get a bit lost on the how. Often that is because, well, it’s a business.
Unless you are a charity or non-profit, almost everything we are taught about business speaks to the idea that we can only make choices that will directly generate revenue. We are told that there are only enough hours in the day to focus on ‘what moves the needle’ and that ethics belong in a mission statement, occasionally validated by promoting a worthy cause.
For those of us who want more than that, we try to make ethical choices through offering fair pricing and doing what we can on the fly to shift things into a positive direction. However, we often view those activities as extra responsibilities that fall outside of our fundamental business structure.
It can be really scary to step outside of this precedent, because often we feel like we are putting a foot forward alone. Here I break down some starting points for consciously developing your business strategy, creating room for the good you want to put out into the world without compromising the sustainability of your business.
Bake it in
If you take away one thing from this blog, this is it: When you are planning or re-imagining a business, you need to actively ‘bake in’ the positive actions and ethical frameworks that you wish to embody. This needs to be reflected in your time and resource allocation, and most importantly in your financial figures. If you are not able to sustain yourself financially, you are not going to stay in business long enough to action those positive ideas!
Develop clear offers
In my own work, my aim is to provide a tonne of free value through my blog and newsletter, my (in the pipeline) podcast and through occasional free resources. I also currently offer a small number of free coaching sessions which I have a strict limit on in each quarter.
The bigger plan? Later this year I am launching my first online course, which is something that is perfect to offer scholarship places on. Why? Because extra spaces do not consume extra time. Choosing to be generous in a way that allows you to preserve your energy and time allows you to continue creating in a sustainable way.
If you want to create a special product, training, experience for a particular group of people that you wish to support, consider making something that is easily customisable, repeatable or automated. As long as the value of your product or service is high quality, it can a great way to make an impact.
Here are some ideas for accessible offerings in your business:
- Create a free email newsletter with a weekly activity or pearl of wisdom
- Reserve a specific amount of scholarship spaces on your workshops
- Use your platform and audience to highlight marginalised people that are relevant to your audience – invite them to run workshops, do a guest blog, create a design collaboration, or simply highlight their work.
- Implement a sliding scale for some of your more expensive services
- Offer payment plans on high-ticket services
- Market a high-price offer to a segment of your audience (for example corporate bookings) and use the profits to subsidise free or low cost offers (that Robin Hood sh*t, yo!),
- Create free content that both sells your work, AND provides the kind of value that is useful without requiring everybody to buy from you!
- Donate a percentage of profits from your whole biz, or specific products, to a cause that you care about.
- Set aside a percentage of profits and use that to cover the costs of implementing one of your offers for free.
Be realistic about what you can provide
I used to want to help everyone and I was unable to say no to folks requesting freebies, favours or mates-rates. I also used to offer my help or support to anyone that looked like they needed it. While this came from a desire to be equitable and fair, the amount of energy expended was exhausting. Without the clear boundaries around my time and resources, I was also nowhere near as helpful as I liked to imagine I was being. An over-committed, tired and cash-strapped person is not going to be bringing their best self to the table.
Intentional and clear action is far more valuable than a scattergun approach. Remember that saying, quality over quantity? It really is applicable in this situation.
Get clear on what actions you have time for, and what impact matters most to you. Do that small-scale and do it well. As you build resources and support in your business, you can scale actions up slowly and mindfully.
Crunch the numbers
This is the most important bit. You need to factor in the time and financial costs of your ‘Robin Hood’ offers into your overall financial figures. This looks different for every business and situation, but I have included a super simple example to illustrate the kind of thing I am getting at here:
For example, If you wanted to offer free 1-2-1 spots on a program each quarter, here is an example of the calculations you might make:
- How much revenue you want to make each month from this product or service (lets say 1000)
- How many spots you can comfortably facilitate per month (lets say 10)
- How many spots you wish to do for free (lets say 2)
Total revenue target: £1100 (how much revenue you want plus associated costs)
Total revenue generating spots: 8 (how many spots I can facilitate minus the amount of free spots)
Minimum viable price for these spots: 1000÷8=£125
If the figure you generate seems scary to you, but you are already giving away three spots each month and not quite making ends meet, you need to start looking at how you can make it cost effective. yes, this can be a super scary process, and it could bring up all sorts of challenging feelings, but until we shine the torch into the scary corners, we won’t have a clear picture of what needs doing to make it work!
Once we get over the weird money feelings, what we are left with is super useful information about where we want to be, where we are currently and where the gaps are.
Balancing it all
The key to making this work is knowing what you can afford to share for free and what you should protect. When it comes to general expertise, you can confidently share 90% of what you know without fear of people not paying you. The internet contains pretty much everything. I could learn all of the information required to achieve a masters degree for free online, but people still pay for university! Teaching, sharing and helping people to get part way on their journey for free is an amazing way to provide value, as well as demonstrating that you can walk your talk.
I could write down nearly all of my processes and tools and share them with you here, and you would still not be getting the same experience as being coached or being in a programme that contains the same info. People don’t pay me for information, they pay me for my specific understanding of their situation, as well as the human insight, accountability and support that comes with coaching or taking a course or workshop.
People will still buy
Giving away a tutorial to sew your own cushion cover for free will not stop people from buying the cushions that you make. In fact, it will probably make people feel connected to you, and even more likely to invest in the future. They will also be more likely to share your work with others.
Generally speaking, the things you should protect as much as possible are your 1-2-1 time, and your deep guidance and hand holding. If you make those cushions you might consider sharing that DIY simple cushion project, stories and experiences about your creative journey, or a recipe to make your own dye at home. What you might consider chargin for would be an in-depth workshop on how to start a cushion business, detailed cushion making patterns and instructions, as well as charging a premium for your handmade products!
If it feels good to you, offer scholarship spots on the workshop, but decide how many in advance and be clear about how many you have capacity for.
If you want to have that full-blown Robin Hood vibe and you are subsidising one offering (ie free workshops) with another higher ticket offer, make sure you have the figures worked out and know how many sales you need to make in order to provide the free ones. Factor in a profit margin and all of your operating costs so that your business can still grow!
Phew, that is a lot to process. Let me know what you think in the comments below!