Giving Back During Tough Economic Times, Part 5

Giving away your services pro bono – pending you’re in a service based profession like law or consulting – can be a particularly unsettling thought. You may fear that giving away your services devalues them, and I can absolutely appreciate you not wanting to do that. I also understand that your time is valuable – after all, you charge for it, and maybe even an arm and a leg – and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to start giving a chunk of them away for free.

I get that. Really I do. I am, after all, in the service industry. But fear not.

How and Why I Do It

As a turnaround manager, I bill by the hour, but you better believe that I give a ton of those hours away for free. Now, I’m not saying that I just don’t bill certain clients out of the goodness of my heart. However, I did recently use my skills to help guide a community center that is near to my heart through some challenging fiscal times (made even worse by the general economic climate), and I perform similar functions for the religious institution with which I affiliate.

These are both organizations that I donate to fiscally anyway, but I realized that I didn’t need them using my dollars to hire someone who does what I do, and not as well at that. I could give them my time pro bono, which is what they needed most anyways.

Pro Bono in the Service Industry

For some professions, doing pro bono work is easier than for others. For instance, it can be particularly easy if you’re a lawyer or accountant. Just ask your priest, minister, rabbi or imam (if you attend a religious institution) if you can be helpful with any paperwork or forms. Issues arise all the time that could use someone with a knowledgable eye to review a document or contract – and much better to do it yourself for free, knowing what it costs and how much time it takes, than for the institution to hire an outsider.

Just consider the many ways your skill set could contribute and where. The help and time mean much more to the institution than to you. And if you’re an accountant worried about helping with taxes during your busy season, encourage the institution to hand its books over in early January so that you can get it out of the way right away. Rather than devalue your services, if word spread that you were helping pro bono, it would probably generate more paying clients than it would create potential ones that want your services for free.

If you’re still concerned about doing pro bono work for the reflection it casts on the value of your time, make official criteria for the kinds of people and businesses you help for free, ensuring that whomever you help could truly never afford you otherwise and that they are really in need by some set of standards you establish.

Giving Back in Retail

And what if you’re not in a service industry, but you do retail?

If you sell goods or own a business, consider donating a portion of the proceeds bought by members of your congregation or community back to the community’s schools or church/synagogue/mosque. Create some kind of buyer’s card that can be used and monitored, and then every month or year, donate a portion of the proceeds of what the members have bought to their institution. I know that the Kroger near me always donated a portion of our bill to my kids’ school, and I know of a local yogurt shop that has three rival high schools signed up with proceeds going to their football teams.

You can do this with multiple institutions at the same time (there are programs that allow you to create and track spending), and as a bonus it makes for great publicity. Surely the institution will publicize to its members what you’re doing because it will want people to shop with you. I know those high schoolers buy a lot of yogurt.

Are there other good ways you know of or try to give back based on your industry?

What Wally the Walrus can Teach us about Effective Process Development

Processes. Oh, processes.

How easy they are to ignore. How easy they are to let languish.

But don’t.

If cash is the blood of a business, departments are the organs and personnel are the cells, then processes are the bones. You must build your business on efficient, effective and solid processes.

What do you do when a customer’s order is going to be late? How can you track all of your supply usage and reordering supplies? How do you set a new vendor up in your system?

Your business rests on the foundations of these processes running correctly, and they should be consistently evaluated, adjusted and strengthened. Think of that evaluation as drinking milk and giving your business the calcium it needs.

Hire Someone? Yeah – Hire You!

Many people hire consultants to come in and tell them how to enact more effective processes in their daily business management. Consultants often have great solutions that they’ve designed or a commanding understanding of best practices, but before resorting to this route consider being your own consultant.

As the leader of your business, you should know how things run. You should be in touch with the people who work at your business at every level. You should be asking them questions about the kinds of issues they see or when something seems to consistently work incorrectly. You should find out what they do and how they do it. You should ask them if they think there would be a faster or smarter way of doing something that wouldn’t compromise other important principles (like quality, customer service or another step in the process).

And then you should put that information together and consider a reevaluation and a strengthening of the processes that govern your business. If there’s something happening that doesn’t have a process and keeps occurring in an erratic manner, put a process in place.

Zoey’s Zoo

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you run an online retail store called Zoey’s Zoo in which you sell various animal figurines directly to customers but also to various zoos and theme parks around the country (first, I hope you have separate processes for dealing with your B to B and B to C customers). What do you do when Wally the Walrus figurines are no longer available in the largest size but you get an order for one? Do you pull the product from your website, backorder the item, or contact the customer whose order will most certainly be late? As you bypass the order number and continue fulfilling orders that are in stock do you have a system for returning to this unshipped order?

If you are Zoey, you need to have a process for what happens when a product runs out of stock. You need a pipeline for pulling the product from your website, informing customers with outstanding orders, checking on the status of any incoming inventory, and then making sure that Wally the Walrus is purchasable again when it’s back in stock.

This may seem like a basic example and an easily constructed process, but it’s just one small bone among hundreds that make a body stand tall and a business run efficiently and effectively.

Consider the processes at your business. Evaluate and reevaluate.

Stand Tall.

What do you find to be the most difficult element of process creation and management?