You can give back long before you're big and successful. Here's how.
In the summer of 2007, Susie Hadas found herself in the middle of hot flash. She was using a rather uncomfortable product to try to cool down, and, like the other products she’d tried, it wasn’t working. Frustrated, she said aloud to herself, “How is it possible that I am the only woman in the world who wants to be personally cool?”
That, my friends, is the start of a business. In 2009, Hadas quit her day job and incorporated Personally Cool.
I met Hadas at the 2012 Astia CEO Summit. Personally Cool is an Astia client; I am on the Astia board of trustees. Hadas, her co-founder Hugh Brownstone, and I shared a car to the airport after the summit. During that car ride, Hadas talked enthusiastically about how philanthropy would be as much a part of her company as making a profit.
I caught up with Hadas to find out how she is leading her business to make a difference while still hitting her growth targets. Here are her tips:
Be consistent with your brand
“Doing good” is at the core of Personally Cool. Hadas believes that a start-up must create an identity and consistently demonstrate it. “Making people feel good” is how Hadas describes the business she is in. “Your company is not just a product. It’s not just a business. For a customer, your company is a complete experience,” says Hadas.
If your goal for your business is to make a positive impact, then every part of your business must deliver on that promise in every way. It’s great to donate to charities. But if your customer service stinks or your supplier relations are not up to par, your brand will suffer. Do good with everyone.
Act slowly and smartly
Personally Cool donates its long-lasting reusable cooling packs to charities around the world that help people with medical conditions that result in heat intolerance.
Hadas and her team also had an opportunity to give their product to an audience who didn’t have a clear need for it. She chose to participate because it meant potentially strong coverage to a broader audience. For a company that has “doing good” at its core, donating a lot of product to an audience who would probably not appreciate the intended benefit was not a good choice. Hadas readily admits that she and her team said yes to that opportunity when they should have said no. Take your time and consider only those philanthropic opportunities that align with the good your brand promises.
Rethink your investment dollars
“Giving doesn’t cut into the bottom line any more than other line item,” says Hadas. Many companies spend significant advertising dollars with no real insight into their return. Hadas sees the donation of her products as a guaranteed return. “I could spend $30,000 on a full-page advertisement in a monthly magazine and have no idea if someone will flip by it or read it. And if they read it, would they act upon it?” she asks.
The right charitable donation, however, will always deliver a return. With each donation, Hadas gets market research that extends the reach of her brand, builds influential relationships, and yes, makes a difference. Challenge yourself to invest some of your budget to make a difference in your target market in new and different ways.
Find backers who share your passion
The investors who have backed Personally Cool to date know exactly what the company stands for and how their money will be spent. Hadas thought long and hard about how a company can operationalize a philanthropic arm while making money. Hadas’s pitch and her business plan leave no question that Personally Cool can make a difference while turning a profit. Ensure your business shows alignment between your corporate brand, your company’s targeted philanthropic efforts, and what you will yield in return.
Many founders wait to execute on charitable contributions until they hit certain financial milestones. Personally Cool proves that you do not have to wait. Are you building in a culture of doing business while doing good right from the start?
Scholar-practitioner, experienced high-tech marketer and advocate for meaningful innovation, PATRICIA FLETCHER is passionate about leveling the imbalanced technology playing field to include all the best innovators. She blogs at www.psdnetwork.com and tweets at @pkfletcher. @pkfletcher