Today I share why it’s important to get clear on what your business stands for and how to get started with this. You can read this as a blog here or listen to me sharing the same content on the Give-to-Profit Podcast show here:
The clue is in your choice of cafe…
If you had the choice between buying a cuppa from a bland coffee shop or one that stands for something meaningful, that cares about those in its community and supports charities or social causes, assuming a comparable quality of tea/coffee, which one would you be most likely to go to? The one doing good in your community or the other one?
So far everyone I’ve asked when speaking at events has said they’d buy from the cafe doing good. This supports what research consistently tells us–that if you’re not clear what your business stands for and are not demonstrating the good you’re doing you’re likely to be losing business to your competition.
I live in a small coastal Scottish village where two new cafes have recently opened their doors. One is consistently busy while the other is much quieter. Why?
They’ve both been freshly decorated, offer a good range of snacks and yet there is something very different between the two of them, namely what they stand for.
To be perfectly honest neither appear to have a particular ‘social’ message, however, the busy cafe does at least have much more clearly defined brand. They seem to have thought about their vintage style and reflected this in their logo, literature, and interior. They are also engaging the community with a range of workshops and events. The other cafe looks lovely from a distance, has a modern crisp feel and serves tasty enough food. I really want to like it. I’d love to frequent it as it’s a lovely light, space and would be very convenient. But it all feels a bit bland. There’s nothing to tempt me in other than its empty seats. It is still early days for both so it will be interesting to see how they evolve.
By contrast, we have another local cafe I love that gets my regular custom: Steampunk in North Berwick. It has a rustic charm that comes from repurposing an old warehouse and furniture. They serve delicious healthy homemade vegetarian food including an only too tempting range of gluten-free and vegan cakes. All held together with the fresh aroma of their own brand of coffee and their mission ‘to share our love of coffee with you.’ They also sell products such as reusable cups and flasks to encourage us to be kinder to the environment. And they partner with other socially conscious businesses to put on events that nourish the soul as well as our stomachs. What they stand for is clear from a brand and impact perspective. They are different. They are unique. They care and are contributing to the community. It’s not surprising they regularly have queues out the door–even when it’s raining!
Why is it important for businesses to stand for something?
When I first started raising funds for my humanitarian trips to Rwanda, raising funds for a cause through your business showed you care and was a differentiator. But now the majority of consumers not only expect businesses to support causes, that in itself is no longer good enough. Research carried out by Catalyst this year shows that they now also expect businesses to take a stand, take action and be vocal about what’s important to them.
One of my favourite cafes doing good in the world is Social Bite. What started out as a socially conscious cafe in Edinburgh has now become a well-known business that’s also leading a movement to eradicate homelessness in Scotland. I interviewed one of the co-founders, Alice Thompson, recently. It’s well worth tuning in to hear about their incredible story and how they’ve attracted a famous following from people including Prince Harry and Megan, George Cluny and Leonardo Di Caprio.
The long-term success of any business, no matter what size or type is dependant upon far more than simply what you offer or sell. People buy from people they know, like and trust.
As I shared in my blog Can Giving be Good for Business, people are becoming increasingly more discerning about the businesses they want to buy from, work for and invest in. They prefer businesses that care. Not as a token gesture in a bid to get business or investment. We can all see through a lack of authenticity. Rather people want businesses to stand for something meaningful. To be contributing to solving environmental and social problems. They want us to be taking a stand and to be proactive in taking action aligned to this.
What does your business stand for?
Whether or not you’ve consciously considered what your business stands for your customers, partners, staff, investors and everyone you’ve encountered will have their own thoughts and opinions on this already. Based on what you’re saying and doing, or not saying or doing.
What they think of you and your business (your brand) is what they say about you to their friends and family when you’re not in the room. Sometimes it’s said to your face and in today’s modern world can often be an online comment or review.
One way to help people feel connected to your business in the way you’d like them to be is to define and communicate what your business stands for. If you’re running a small business this will often reflect your values, the impact you want to have through your business and how you demonstrate this through what you say and do. It’s what oozes from you in every interaction you have.
For larger businesses, the ability of leaders to define, communicate and exemplify what the business stands for is critical in presenting a consistent message both internally and externally. All too often the written down values and what a business stands is eroded by the conflicting actions of leaders or others in the business.
Older readers/listeners may remember the infamous statement Gerald Ratner made in 1991 that killed his jewellery empire. Saying that his jewellery was ’total crap’ and that their earrings were cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich and probably wouldn’t last as long. By saying this it was clear what he stood for and it wasn’t what his customers or investors wanted to hear. Hence they left!
What your business stands for can be the glue that holds people within your business together. A lack of clarity or failing to reflect a strong message across all aspects of your business could kill your business.
If you want to attract good customers, staff or investors now is the time to get clear on what your business stands for.
So how do you become known as a brand that does good in the world?
There are five steps to doing this:
Get clear on what your business stands for
Define your social impact mission statement
Embed your impact strategies across your business
Measure your impact
Tell your story
I cover all of this in a lot more detail in my Social Impact workshops, courses and talks. The purpose of this article is to give you a general overview and share some practical tips to get you started.
1. Get clear on what your business stands for
This involves getting clarity on what’s really important to you. Consider:
What is important to you?
What do you want your business to stand for?
What do you want your business to be known for?
What is your core message?
What impact do you want your business to have?
How can you bring what you stand for alive through your business?
What do your existing customers and contacts say about you?
How well do your actions represent your brand?
My core message is that ‘business is a great opportunity to be kind’ – this statement permeates through all aspects of what I do through my business.
It is a guiding light and helps me keep my business aligned with what’s important to me. It’s reflected in my branding, marketing literature, web pages and social media activity. This influences who I work with, partner with and buy from.
I’ve also taken the time to get feedback over the years on what my clients and contacts think about me and my business. People seem to consistently describe me as being inspiring, compassionate, having a compelling energy, being a hard-worker and action taker.
All of this is quite a relief given I’ve publicly shared my core values in my first book Heartatude, the 9 Principles of Heart-Centered Success. I won’t go into all the values I share in that here but they include striving to act from a place love, kindness and compassion in my heart and being driven by the desire to make a difference.
From a business perspective, I’ve found the UN Global Sustainability Goals a really useful framework that helped me get clarity on the positive impact I want to have in the world. I’ll be sharing more about these goals in a future article/podcast episode.
2. Define your social impact mission statement
Once you’ve started to get clarity on what your business stands for, and especially if you want to be known for being a business that does good in the world, it’s worth defining a social impact mission statement.
What is a social impact mission statement?
A business mission statement is a concise statement that effectively expresses your purpose and any specific outcomes or impacts you want to accomplish.
Historically missions statements were often boring statements that told investors and shareholders how a company was going to make them money. Nowadays there is more is at stake. As I’ve already said, staff, customers and other stakeholders want to know what a brand stands for as much as what it can do for them. And more importantly, that there is alignment between what they say, and what they do – across all areas of their business.
A clear vision and mission statement collectively act as beacons illuminating the way forward for your business – to help you make decisions e.g. define your goals, focus on the right priorities, make smart business decisions e.g. about how to structure your business, what products and services to offer and how to spend your time and resources.
Defining your social impact mission statement
Charities and social enterprises usually have mission statements that state specific impacts and outcomes, as these are the reason for their existence. By contrast, the main purpose of most businesses until recently has been to make money rather than having a particular social impact.
If you are a business is striving for both positive impact and profits, it’s worth reflecting both aspects in your mission statement.
Here are some examples of mission statements:
Body Shop – to dedicate our business to the pursuit of social and environmental change. To creatively balance the financial and human needs of our stakeholders’, employees, franchisees, customers, suppliers and shareholders.
Blackbaud – a community of people who care, and who seek to help nonprofits drive positive change in the world.
G Adventures – making the world a better place is easy. All you have to do is have the time of your life.
Google – to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Innocent Drinks – we’re here to make it easy for people to do themselves some good (whilst making it taste nice too).
Kind (Healthy Snacks) – to make the world a little kinder.
Nike – to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete.
Patagonia – build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
Starbucks – to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.
Tridos Bank- our mission is to make money work for positive social, environmental and cultural change.
Virgin Money- our aim is to make ‘everyone better off’ by delivering good value to our customers, treating colleagues well, making a positive contribution to society, building positive relationships with our partners and delivering sustainable profits to our shareholders.
Wildhearts- launches companies that through their activities and profits deliver entrepreneurship, education, and micro-finance.
Zappos- to provide the best customer service possible.
My mission is to inspire and improve the lives of a million people by making it easy for businesses to be a profitable force for good.
Business wise this simple statement motivates me to deliver talks, training courses, work with clients on a 1-1 and group basis, write books, articles, host the Give-to-Profit podcast and to organise our Business for Good Conference. It also helped me choose my next charitable project: to build a school in Cambodia. To me, this is about more than just raising funds to build the school. It’s it’s only the first step in helping to create more opportunities and prosperity into a whole community over the long term.
Defining your social impact mission statement is something that can take some time to get right. When I’m working with clients, this can easily take the best part of a day and can take longer if you’ve not given it much thought before. But it is worth it.
Having a social impact mission statement makes it so much easier to make business decisions aligned with what’s important to you and to show others what you stand for.
3. Embed impact strategies across your business
Remember, people will only believe what you say you stand for if this is also reflected across your business and in your actions and behaviours. This includes:
how you interact with people – customers, partners, suppliers, contacts, staff etc.
what you say when you interact with people and in your communications
the people you employ, work with, buy from, associate with, stand up for
the products and services you offer
your marketing strategies (including pricing, promotion, and your website)
your core message and branding
what you share and comment on social media and on your website
what you say on funding applications, business plans, and governing documents
It’s up to you to what extent you want to put impact strategies in place. You may pick one or two strategies e.g. I was in a coffee shop earlier together that had signs saying it only uses organic ingredients and compostable packaging and they have a strong brand message. For some, donating a certain percentage of sales is all they want to do. While others may decide to embrace social impact across all areas of their business including processes for recruiting people or select suppliers/business partners.
What’s important is that you are clear on the impact you want to have and that you implement the best strategies for your business that will enable you to achieve this.
4. Measure your success
Before you can communicate the difference your business is making in the world, you need to know what it is! You determine this by measuring your results relative to your intended impact. What to measure depends on the particular strategies you decide to implement.
One thing people get confused about is contribution versus impact. Measuring your success is about evaluating the impact of your activities. For example, one common measure of success is the amount of money raised for charity. While it’s good to know how much you’ve raised, your contribution, what’s more meaningful is the difference this money has had once invested or donated e.g. lives saved.
The UN Global Sustainability Goals are not only a good framework for helping you get clarity on the impact you want to have. Drilling down into the specific targets for each of the seventeen goals will give you a good idea of the type of activities to measure and include as part of your management information.
5. Tell your story
On the basis, consumers are looking for businesses to proactive in taking a stand for something you need to be telling them and showing them what you’re doing.
Perhaps one of the most visible industries we’ve seen this happening over recent years has been in the film industry that seems to have been ripe with undesirable behaviours practices such as unfair pay, a lack of diversity and sexual abuse.
Taking a stand involves acting in a way that’s consistent with your social impact mission statement. Reflecting this in all you say and do across all aspects of your business.
Being clear on what your business stands for, and taking action aligned to this is becoming increasingly important for all businesses that want to attract and retain clients, customers, staff and investors. Businesses who fail to do this risk losing people to their competition.
No matter what type of business you are or what stage of business you’re at now is the time to get clear on the impact you want your business to have and what your business stands for. Not only is doing this good for business, but it is also good for whatever cause, social or environmental problems you decide to support.
P.S. Check out my TEDx Talk Isn’t Business an Opportunity to be KindHERE.
Often described as one of the most authentic and inspiring souls you can meet, Alisoun is on a mission to improve the lives of a million people – by making it easy for businesses to be a profitable force for good, and through her support of causes that tackle poverty, education and social justice.