Volunteerism, serendipity and business development: Can you turn these into scientific marketing?

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Does volunteering to ride in a 107-km cycling event for a hospital fundraising initiative bring in new business? Yes -- but can you plan for the results?

About three weeks ago, about $10,000 dropped into my company’s figurative cash register within minutes. Two seemingly chance events occurred within a day, which I reported in a memo to our business’s talented lead sales representative.

In the first, a former client who I had worked with previously about three years called seeking to set up an editorial/advertising package. We had originally met through volunteer work with the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). Before that business, you could say my SMPS participation was a “bust” — at least for direct business development. In fact, the organization advocated against my interests, discouraging “Pay for Play” publications except in certain circumstances. But I continued volunteering — and in fact will spend many hours on an association-related writing project that has no immediate business development value.

In the second, I was conducting by phone our company’s weekly review meeting while sitting in a work area of the storage locker place from where we operate our business address. (It’s a good deal — for the price of a locker, we also get a street-level mailing/courier drop address, mailbox, use of a boardroom and the work area with wi-fi internet connectivity.) In any case, after the phone meeting ended, the other person in the room struck up a conversation and I decided to treat him not as a potential client, but as someone who (like me) likes to keep business overhead costs under tight control. By the end, however, he was more than interested in purchasing an advertising package worth several thousand dollars in our Canadian and US publications.

The similarity in both circumstances is that I wasn’t looking for business, but was available. In other words, the association voluntary activities and co-office space sharing created natural connections and, in a practical sense, trust — enough to set the stage for effective business development.

From a practical perspective, can we quantify the results in a cost-per-hour or cost-per-action level? That is hard to do. You could say I earned $10 to $20,000 in 30 minutes — but how do you count the many hours spent on activities without any business development after all? (Then again, if I am volunteering for association projects because I enjoy the process, and I need to work in the mini-office space anyways, is there any actual cost to these activities?)

In life, these elements of serendipity and relationship building define most of our core experiences. Where do we generally meet our spouses or significant others, for example?? You can go to matchmakers and internet dating sites, and they indeed work for many people. But most relationships are forged at school, work, or voluntary community projects. Sometimes you can succeed by going to these activities with the relationship-building initiative; but the results are best of course are much better if things occur naturally.

Does this remove the need/value for systematized and structured short and long-range marketing strategies? I’d say not. Clearly some businesses, for example, truly appreciate the value of association-related integration that they encourage their representatives to get involved, work their way into the relevant executive committees, and ultimately the business always have someone (or a group) of employees closely connected to the association at all times. They know there is real pay off.

As well, if you can plan an advertising and business development strategy where your advertising can reasonably convert to active leads, and you can track the results, you have a wonderful stabilizing resource for generating businesses with good or bad times.

However, I can see real value in a tithing concept — put at least 10 per cent of your cash and or time into community/voluntary service without worrying about the business results.? You should of course put this time into activities and causes you truly support and value.? That way, if you don’t get any direct business, you’ll still gain satisfaction/value from your contribution. The fact that it will likely turn into an investment is more than serendipitous.

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