When you’re starting or growing a small business, one way to get it moving is to “give back.”
Volunteering your time and talent increases awareness of your company and your value as a professional.
When I transitioned from a corporate product management position and started my solopreneur business five years ago, I discovered that volunteerism could be a powerful tool. Not only could I help a cause I believed in, I could also help my business in the process.
The key to making volunteering a win-win is to do it strategically.
Strategic volunteerism: How do you choose?
Choose your volunteer endeavors carefully so you’re only accepting positions and responsibilities that will prove mutually beneficial. As a business owner with limited time, you need to maximize your hours spent volunteering. Not only should the organization benefit, but you should also receive something (non-financial) in return from your efforts.
As you consider volunteer opportunities to boost your business, ask yourself if a position will help you…
Achieve proficiency in or learn new technology tools relative to your industry
When I volunteered with the Lancaster chapter of the nonprofit SCORE for three years, I got direct, hands-on experience with tools & tasks: Constant Contact for email marketing, WordPress site/blog management, web content management in Drupal and management of a Facebook page for a non-profit.
Think about what technology tools you need to learn or gain proficiency in to make yourself more marketable and seek volunteer positions that will give you those opportunities.
Develop leadership skills
Volunteer positions that enable you to lead others provide a wonderful way to hone management skills. I might argue that leading in a volunteer organization is in some ways more difficult than in a for-profit environment because the volunteers you’re managing really don’t have to do the work you assign them.
Because of that, it requires development of leadership qualities and interpersonal skills that will motivate others and earn trust and respect. Carry those skills over to your own business and you’ve got a potent asset.
Connect with others in the business community
Networking with leaders in the community can raise the visibility of your business, build trust and awareness, and facilitate word-of-mouth endorsements. Volunteering with professional groups such as local chambers of commerce, Main Street organizations, and other non-profit business-oriented groups can lead to rewarding connections.
In addition to my past service to SCORE, I’ve served on the board of our town’s Main Street organization and I presently serve on two committees at my local chamber. All of those experiences have helped me get better connected and have led to new business.
Know when to say when
Remember that as you’re volunteering the experience should enhance, not detract, from your personal and professional life. Just because an opportunity will help you hone skills, learn new technology, and make connections doesn’t mean it will be a perfect fit.
Always learn upfront what the organization will expect from you in terms of hours and output. It’s easy to get in over your head, and your business and family life could suffer as a result. There are only so many hours in a day, week or year. Before you commit, do a realistic assessment of the amount of time and energy you can—and are willing to—spend. Make sure you’ll still be able to manage paying attention to the ever-important administrative and operational aspects of your business—and taking care of yourself and enjoying your friends and loved ones.
Make it a win-win
Volunteering with the right organizations in the right capacities can do wonders for your business. As you gain and strengthen skills, exercise talents, and expand your network, you’ll give your business credibility and demonstrate your professionalism. Select opportunities thoughtfully with both the organization’s and your own needs in mind, and you’ll both reap the rewards.
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