Three Things Charities Can Teach Small Businesses

Last night I attended the New Member Orientation for the Sawnee Woman’s Club. Besides being a fabulous opportunity to reconnect with returning members and meet our wonderful incoming members, the event was a prime example of the ways charitable organizations create excitement about their work and get folks involved.

Small businesses would do well to steal a few pages from the playbooks of non-profit organizations. After all, y’all have lots in common…small staff, small budget, not nearly enough hours to accomplish all you want to do.

Here are three things I saw in action last night that small businesses can replicate to attract customers, increase sales and keep customers satisfied.

Lesson #1 – Find Out What Works

This one seems obvious, but many of the non-profits and small businesses I talk to have no idea where their leads come from. They have a website, maybe a few social outposts, and a couple of ads. What they don’t have is a way to tell which (if any) of those media channels send folks into their stores or offices and actually generate a sale or donation.

When our President and Membership Vice President opened the meeting last night, the first item on the agenda was to have the new members introduce themselves and explain how they heard about the Club. Several members saw one of our projects in the news, Googled to find our website, then followed links to our Facebook Page and found a familiar face among our current members. Then they talked to that member about joining.

That’s a pretty short “sales” cycle, but hearing it several times over was educational for us. Now we know that most folks first hear about us from the news or word-of-mouth, but then they want to make a personal connection before they decide to apply for membership. We’ll use that information to make sure we take lot more pictures of our members in action this year and make sure that those images are included in press releases and our Facebook Page. That’s more opportunity for talented women to find a face they know and inquire about membership.

If your small business knew what prompted prospects to convert to customers, wouldn’t you do more of those things?

Lesson #2 – Set Expectations

We’ve all heard the old adage about under-promising and over-delivering, right?

Sounds like a great way to lose business to me.

What if you told your customer you could deliver a project in 3 months, but you actually planned to do it in 2 and a half months? If your competitor didn’t pad their production time and said they could do it in 2 and half months right upfront, then you might have just cost yourself a sale.

I think we’re better off if we’re honest about what we can and can’t realistically do, right from the start.

At last night’s Orientation, our Executive Board explained in detail what commitments are required from new members. These new ladies have a clear understanding of how many service hours they need to volunteer, when they need to have them completed and how to find service projects to participate in. They understand the financial obligations of membership, including dues and fundraising.

They also understand that our Club really tries to strike a balance between family, service and work. So, they can feel confident about their ability to participate fully without being overwhelmed. They know exactly what the Club expects of them, and what they can expect from the Club in return.

Can you say the same for your customers?

Lesson #3 – Encourage Conversation

At the end of the formal presentation last night, all attendees were invited to stick around for dessert. New members were encouraged to talk to each other while returning members circulated to listen to comments about how new members felt about the Orientation, what questions kept coming up, and what service projects seemed most interesting.

We’ll discuss those comments at our next Executive Board meeting and plan ways to improve next year’s Orientation event. We’ll also make note of the projects that piqued the most interest and which new members expressed a desire to work on specific projects. Then, we can do a better job helping these new members get involved in the service work that they’re really passionate about so that they really enjoy their first year in the Club.

I’ve seen lots of small business that are afraid to let their customers talk to one another. What if they talk about pricing? What if they say something bad about your product or service?

Well, here’s a clue: they already ARE talking about you. They might be talking to colleagues at conferences or Chamber meetings. They might be bad-mouthing your tech support team on Twitter. But if you’re not listening to those channels, you’ll never know.

It’s far better to get them in the same room (or virtual room) and let them talk frankly. Then you and your staff can be moving around and gathering intel. Listen to positive comments and emphasize those things in your communications to prospects. Listen to negative comments and fix those things – whether it means updating your product, clarifying instructions in user guides or tutorials, or offering live demonstrations to educate customers on how your product works.

Also keep your ears open to new or unconventional ways customers may talk about using your product. You might just find your next new feature or a completely new market for your stuff.

What have you learned from a non-profit?

Most small businesses are active in their communities and give freely of their time (and sometimes money) to serve others. If your business has been involved in supporting a non-profit organization, what have you learned that you can apply to your own business? Leave a comment below and tell us all about it!Sawnee Woman's Club