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Branding Your Business

Service Initiatives to Drive Your Small Business Brand

service_initiative

This is the decade of the social business. Companies that engage meaningfully with their community about things that matter to that community have a huge advantage over those that do not. The first and easiest way to get in on the action is to talk about what you do for your customers, engaging around their fandom of what you do and how you do it very well. It’s intuitive. It’s easy. And everybody does it.

To differentiate yourself from the pack, you need to engage around other things your client base cares about. Tom’s Shoes, for example, has built a massive brand on the promise of automatically incorporating humanitarian gifting into every purchase. You don’t have to go that far to grow your business, but even small service initiatives can make a big difference in customer loyalty and public perception of your brand.

The process isn’t even complicated, though we admit some stages can be difficult for certain projects. Just follow these 8 steps:

Step One: Choose Your Service

Pick a problem that’s important to your community. If you do business mostly locally, you can pick anything going on in your town or neighborhood. If you’re internet-based, choose something related at least tangentially to your brand. For example, a neighborhood coffee shop could choose to support the local symphony. An internet publishing service could work with national literacy efforts.

Pro Tip: Research your partner carefully. A disappointingly high percentage of “charities” actually exist to pay their executives large salaries while doing little good on the ground.

Step Two: Find Your Partner

You don’t want to do this alone for two reasons. First, a non-profit partner lends an air of legitimacy to your efforts, and makes donations easier to process because of their legal status. Second, having a partner means you have somebody to help with the work. Most non-profits have somebody on staff specifically for interfacing with benefactors like your business. Let the professional help you. That’s what professionals are for.

Pro Tip: Personality is as important as mission when choosing a partner. You want not only a cause you care about, but people you enjoy working with. If the relationship saps your energy, you won’t have a successful drive.

Step Three: Make the Plan

Decide with your partner what the most effective drive will be. Choose whether you’re aiming for exposure, volunteer hours, cash donations or some other goal. Pick a day or week for the drive that fits with the rhythms and calendar of your community. Set a date, then backfill the work just like you would for making any other deadline.

Pro Tip: Creativity wins big here. Not many people will remember a “raise funds and make a big cardboard check” thing, but they will remember something a tad more unusual.

Step Four: Call the Press

Send out your first batch of press releases as soon as you have the key details in line. Support this with a schedule of blog posts and social media mentions, as well as pumping it up with your staff and regular customers. If appropriate, consider reaching out to friendly businesses in your area to see if they’d like to get involved supporting your efforts. Do everything you can to let as many people as possible know what you’re doing.

Pro Tip: If you’re pressed for time, a publicity service can be a solid investment for this stage. They have automated systems for doing something you’re probably making up as you go along.

Step Five: Rev Up

This step has two equally important parts. Part one is working the plan you set up in Step Four, meeting your benchmarks and performing every task as expertly and efficiently as you would any other aspect of your business. Part two is building as much buzz and excitement for the service event as you can. Keep working all of the support steps you began in step four, and talk to everybody as much as you can. Get yourself pumped, and the people around you will become pumped in turn. Keep the momentum building so that the actual Event Day is as big as Christmas for everybody involved.

Pro Tip: There will be a point at about the two-thirds mark where you run out of enthusiasm. Schedule some meetings with your partner for around this time to remind yourself whom you’re helping and why it matters.

(Step Five and a Half: Somewhere in the middle of this, go back to step one (or three if you really enjoy working with your current partner) and start work on your next service initiative.)

Step Six: Call the Press (Again)

The press doesn’t have a short memory, but they do have overloaded plates. The chances of your local reporters or favorite blog remembering your service initiative are next to nothing. Send a polite reminder a week before your event, and make a call or send an email about 48 hours ahead.

Pro Tip: Don’t worry about “nagging” the press. They’re way overloaded. If they want to cover your event, they’ll be happy about the reminder. If they don’t, they’ll just delete it along with the 100 other notices they got that day.

Step Seven: Do the Thing

This is it. The Big Day. The celebration of everything you’ve been working for. If you did the earlier steps well, this will be the easiest part of the entire process. Whatever it is you do for your drive, put yourself and your staff into this with all the energy of your biggest product launches. Invite press, VIPs, family and favored clients. Make noise and celebrate your partnership with your community in as big and memorable a way as possible.

Pro Tip: Something big will go wrong. Expect it, and don’t freak out when it does. Instead, rely on the momentum of your excellent planning and execution from earlier steps to help you navigate the rough patch.

Step Eight: Follow-Up

Don’t let a week pass after the event before you send out a few reminders. Thank-you notes for everybody who helped or attended. Congratulations to your partner organization. A follow-up report to the press about how much you raised or how much you accomplished. A blog post of the highlights from your event. Everything you can do to get one more bit of celebration, do what it takes to get it done.

Pro Tip: Don’t skip this step. Too many excellent service initiatives fail because the organization just stops working as soon as the core event is finished. Leverage the goodwill while it’s at its highest point.

Final Words of Advice

Remember, this is the internet age. Your customers have close to an infinite supply of choices about where to spend their money. Service, price and even friendship aren’t enough to keep them in your shop. Giving a unique reason to stick with your company is a powerful strategy, and one you can start using by having your business act the way we all believe good people do.

Have you used service initiatives in your business? Share your story with the Kabbage community so we can all learn.

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Kabbage Team

Kabbage is here not only to provide access to the small business funding you need, but to also help you grow your business through free marketing tips, webinars, tools and more. Is there something you'd like us to cover or want to get your small business featured on our blog? Send us a note at content@kabbage.com.