Looking back over more than 25 years in business, one common and simple theme for marketing and business development success emerges. It is elegantly simple, and on the surface, totally selfless.
Your voluntary contributions to the community and individuals in your marketplace will pay dividends for decades.
How does this work?
Consider joining and actively participating in a client-oriented association. (If you are wondering which association(s) to join, consider the groups closest to your best current clients.)
In our case, since most of our clients are engaged with relevant construction associations, we participate in several of them. You’ll quickly learn that virtually every industry and client group has an up-scale group. (If you are a residential contractor, you’ll also find neighbourhood/community groups, sports leagues and other community organizations relevant to you.)
You may also find online groups or communities relevant to you and your potential clients.
The next stage is to put your own self-interest aside and purely focus on how you can contribute to the group and its individuals. Usually, this involves volunteering your services/time, ideally by applying your specialized knowledge or experience. (If you are into sales and business development, often the group will appreciate your help in membership attraction/retention. I’m a writer by trade, so I often volunteer to help out with the group’s newsletter and publicity.)
Then, and this is the magic, when the time is right, the business will almost drop in your lap.
It’s almost crass for me to brag about the biggest marketing and BD wins, but consider the magazine contract I won by actively working with the local home builders’ association (easy enough to do because through earlier contributions, the association granted me the contract to publish its internal newsletter.)
I had been given the opportunity to do some business with the relevant committee chair, and he decided that I — and not an outside competitor — should be given the magazine contract. I initially declined the job, because it was outside my then-current scope of experience. He insisted, and finally I accepted; and set up a separate joint venture corporation to draw in the relevant expertise and deliver the contract.
Here is the bottom line: Over seven years, the project has netted my business more than $150,000 — and this is without spending massive hours of time or energy to fulfill the responsibilities.
As your involvement grows, you’ll likely be invited to participate in relevant committees, and then become a member of the board of directors. You can take things further, and be elected to the regional and national executive committees.
In another example, a good client asked me to help volunteer for a cycling event for cancer research at the local hospital. I accepted instantly. (The client gets the community/voluntary service concepts, of course, and has done really well in business as a result.)
Various business/sales opportunities have cropped up through the years of voluntary work here, resulting in many thousands of dollars in revenue. I also discovered I rather enjoy cycling and the exercise has certainly helped my health.
As a final example, a few years ago, I started answering questions on a Google help forum focused on the company’s ad serving program, AdSense. A year later, after a nasty crisis, I received a fateful email asking if I would like to become a Top Contributor (moderator) on the help forum. Then the invitations to expense-paid meetups and summits at Google HQ started.
Are there any rules for the voluntary contributions?
I could summarize three:
- You must start the process with selflessness and not worry about business results. If you are expecting immediate reward/gratification and results, you will likely be disappointed (though sometimes the results are truly rapid.)
- There are times when the concept doesn’t work. Generally this happens when competitors have already entrenched themselves with the group/association. They are insiders and you are an outsider. However, the story here may be more nuanced. I connected and ended up on the board of a local construction group and have gathered much business as a result but could not make progress at the national level because of the competitive barriers. Still, there has been tens of thousands of dollars in local business.
- Generally, it is best to contribute time rather than money and, if you are contributing time, to support the group with your sweet spot where you combine passion and talent. If you don’t enjoy your time volunteering, it will be painful, and that isn’t good.
This idea obviously isn’t a magic bullet, quick fix. Yet I can recount many stories where we brought in the biggest and easiest sales by applying the concept. The reason for its effectiveness is simple: If you truly contribute to the community and get known for your passion and support, you’ll deservedly earn the trust and access of the people and organizations who can give you business. And they will.