Is Social Responsibility the Path to Growth?

The economy may not be at its strongest, but there are still customers out there willing to spend money. The key to connecting with them is knowing what they’re looking for, and that doesn’t mean simply targeting your product or services to the right demographic. What many customers are looking for now is something more than quality and value, although those things are important. They are looking for a business whose ideals align with their own, and that they see as socially responsible. You can grow your small business by identifying what your company stands for beyond its bottom line and thinking about what you’re offering your customers besides products and services. If you can find a way to connect with them through shared values, then you’re likely to find yourself with a loyal following. 

Should You Make Social Responsibility Part of Your Brand’s Identity?

illustration of hands in the color black positioned around the earth
Companies that do business with other companies can help make a difference in the world and grow their business.

Being socially responsible might already be important to you in your daily life, but what about your business? Consider the following: in a recent study, more than half of consumers said that if price and quality were equal, a brand’s social purpose would be the most important factor when they’re purchasing something. In another survey, 63% of those surveyed agreed with this statement: “By choosing to do business with companies that are more socially responsible, I can make a difference in this world.”

Customers are sending a clear message to businesses, and employees might be just as eager to see that your business is socially responsible. Socially conscious companies often create positive work environments and have dynamic ideologies that attract top talent. If you’re looking to recruit the best, know that many top hires are looking for companies that they think are giving back to their communities

Can small businesses grow through being more socially conscious? Yes! Consider brands like Tom’s of Maine or Burt’s Bees. Both started off small, with clear social missions, and both have ended up becoming so successful that they were acquired for millions of dollars by multinational corporations. So by following your conscience, you’ll be sticking to your own values, as well as pleasing customers and employees, and growing your business. What’s not to like? 

Steps to Take

You may be wondering how, as a small business owner, you can go about incorporating social responsibility into the workings of your company. It’s all well and good for behemoths like Starbucks with nearly $17 billion behind them to do things like pay for health insurance and give back to developing countries, but what about your small business? 

You don’t have to be running a giant corporation to make social consciousness part of your brand’s identity. In fact, according to Susan Salgado, a co-founder and co-chair of the New York City chapter of the nonprofit Conscious Capitalism, it might actually be easier for small businesses to be socially responsible. “Small companies are more nimble, so it’s easy to stay more closely attached to your purpose and values,” Salgado said.

It’s something you want to do, it’s something you can do, even as a small business owner…the question is how to incorporate your sense of social consciousness into your business. We’ve identified the steps you should take to help you make social responsibility part of your brand’s identity. 

1. Establish Your Social Missiondifferent words surrounding the headline "helping volunteer"

Step number one? Know what your social mission is! You probably already have a mission statement for your business; a social mission statement will emphasize how your company will actively seek to help your community. Avoid being too vague here – you should be able to articulate what your mission is, and be able identify how you can accomplish it. If you can’t identify a specific mission, you won’t be able to translate your ideas to your employees, or give customers a reason to choose you over competitors. 

2. Set Goals, But Be Realistic

Having a specific mission statement is one thing, but you also need to think about what exactly you are going to do and how you can realistically set about doing it. First, consider what resources you have that you can allocate to doing good in your community. Then create a list of goals to try and reach in the next 6 months or so that won’t disrupt your day-to-day operations too much. 

When it comes to your goals, follow the SMART method and make sure that they are realistic, measurable, and attainable. Think about the following:

  • What needs are there in your community that you could help address?
  • How much money – and time – can you realistically set aside to do good in your community?
  • Is there a way to help educate or create awareness of an issue in your community?

3. Get Employees In On It

As we have already said, you should be able to clearly articulate your social mission; this includes being able to educate your employees on exactly what you’re trying to do. Get them on board and keep them informed every step of the way so they can get involved, and they can pass your vision on to customers. 

You should also be clear what their role in your business’ social mission is. While it’s ok for some employees to remain on the sidelines and simply be advocates for your brand’s social consciousness, you might want to create a team of other employees who can help you figure out ways to positively impact your community. 

4. Find Other Ways to Give Back

a man and woman with white shirts that say volunteer on them with a wodden box on a table that has a white sign with donation on it
You can donate, volunteer, and encourage your employees to help.

Having your brand attached to certain ideals via your social mission statement and putting resources towards your socially responsible goals are great first steps. So what are some other concrete ways to become a more visibly socially responsible business? Consider donating money or resources to local charities. If your small business has limited money to put aside for philanthropy, it would be just as beneficial to charities – and your business – for you to organize small fundraisers or drives, or set up donation boxes.

If money is an issue, you can also consider volunteering your time, and encouraging employees to do the same. You can organize team volunteer days, during which you and your employees spend a day working for a charitable organization. Consider also finding ways to reward employees who volunteer their time, perhaps by offering paid days off to spend their time engaged in philanthropic work.

5. Look at Your Own Labor Practices

There are so many ways to become known for your socially responsible activities, but remember that social consciousness starts within your business. Being an ethical employer is so important not only for your employees’ quality of life and job satisfaction, but also for your brand identity and growth potential. Treat your employees with respect, value their work, compensate them fairly, create a safe and healthy work environment, and allow them opportunities for growth in your company. Word will spread that your business lives up to your ideals.

6. Think About Sustainabilitythe recycle symbol with green and blue arrows

Finally, being a valuable member of your community includes being environmentally conscious. You can create a more sustainable workplace by:

  • Going paperless whenever possible
  • Participating in recycling programs
  • Using eco-friendly lighting, supplies, and packing material
  • Encouraging carpooling
  • Switching to renewable energy sources

Remember, being a socially responsible business does not mean making a one-time donation or pulling marketing stunts. It’s a way of life, and it takes commitment. But if you’re willing to go the extra mile and stick to your ideals, you can make a profit and make a difference. Pay attention to both sides of the equation and you’re sure to grow. 

Be SMART When Setting Your Goals

Setting goals for yourself and your business is always a great idea, but some goals are better than others. It’s not enough to have good intentions for a positive end result, you need to be able to clearly define and articulate the progress you want to make. 

This is where the idea of SMART goals comes in. The concept behind SMART is that goals work best when they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic/Relevant, and Timely. Using this acronym to help define your business goals can transform a fuzzy, vague hope into a clear and strategic plan. 

Specificthe 4 W's and how in colorful speech bubbles

Specific goals are clear, well defined, and leave no room for interpretation. You will know when they are completed, because you know what steps you need to take to achieve the goal. When defining your goal, ask yourself the W’s: Who is involved in this goal, What do I want to accomplish, When/Where is this goal going to be achieved, and Why do I want to achieve this goal.

For example, instead of saying, “I want to be more productive”, you can set a goal of “I will finish creating the targeted ad campaign by the end of this month so I can begin to publicize it”. 

Measurable

Measurable criteria is critical for effective goal setting. This helps to define the incremental steps you must take to determine your progress. To make a measurable goal, ask yourself about a specific quantity or other set of criteria you want to attain, and how you’ll know that you’ve reached your goal

For example, instead of “I will make more sales this month”, try “I will complete 10 sales this month, following up on five leads a week until that goal is met” .

Attainable

SMART goals must be achievable, but still challenging. You don’t want to set a goal so lofty that you’re bound to fail, but you do want to have goals that push you forward. When setting your goals, ensure they’re achievable by asking yourself if you have the resources and capabilities required, or the ability to get these things. If not, it might be time to reevaluate your goal. 

For example, instead of saying “I’m going to provide the best customer service ever” (which is not attainable, measurable, or specific!), try “I am going to hire an intern to improve my customer service” – or, if that’s not feasible, “I am going to block off X hours a week to respond to customer service inquiries”. 

Realistic & Relevant

Goals must also be realistic. Think about your time frame and resources. It is admirable to want to hire an intern, but do you really have the time and energy to supervise a new employee? 

Relevance is key to staying motivated. It brings you  back to why you’re setting your goal. Are you focusing on customer service because you have received negative reviews? That’s a great motivating factor, and will help keep you on track to meet your goals. 

Timelytime management written by a caucasian hand with clock frame over it

This is an important part of goal setting, but it is often overlooked. Goals should have a timeline that is clear and defined, with both start and end dates. These parameters help create a sense of urgency that will inspire you to keep working toward your goal.

Instead of “I will file my paperwork on time”, try “I will file all of my paperwork by the 25th of each month”, or “I will spend 20 minutes each day filing paperwork”. 

Goal Getter

Goals are like a to-do list. They should be revisited often, updated to reflect your current priorities, and offer clear steps to accomplishment. By using the SMART goals format you’re setting yourself and your business up for a smart, strategic plan for success!