With the holidays approaching, the season of giving is upon us. The old saying that "the more you give, the more you get" has certainly been true in my experience. I grew up in a family of business people who valued volunteerism and being involved with the communities in which we live and work. As I look at every branch of my family tree, I realize the impact each person has had, leaving the world a little better than they found it. Everyone is busy, overwhelmed with too many commitments and too little time.
The real question is how to spend the precious time we each have in ways that are meaningful and fulfilling. As a business owner, the most important commodity we have is our time. It is in such short supply but all work and no balance is a sure recipe for disaster. So if giving back is part of your belief system and you are looking to get more involved, where and how do you start when you don’t have much free time away from running your business?
Joining a Board is a great ways to have an impact. Share your knowledge, your contacts, and your experience with organizations that can benefit from them. Many non profits for example have boards or committees to help them grow. Whether your business skills are in finance, development, marketing, operations, sales or strategy, I am certain there are local organizations that would really appreciate and benefit from whatever time you can give them. Schools also use their boards to help them address many important issues. Look around your community and see where your business talents can help others. Volunteering strengthens your reputation as a committed business leader and increases your exposure to potential customers. Fellow board members get to observe how you think and solve problems and if they like what they see they’ll come back to you for more and tell their networks about your business as well.
Speak Up -- Your area of expertise may be intuitive to you but there are many organizations that could benefit from hearing about it. Local chambers of commerce, trade associations, conferences, groups, schools, and non profits are always looking for inspiring speakers for their events. Business people always have great stories to tell. Think about topics you know well and determine whether you could put together a 30 minute or hour long workshop to share some of those hard earned lessons you have picked up along the way building your company. I love the saying “to learn, read; to know, write; to master, teach.” Everybody has something they can teach I believe, so share your gift with others. I speak at local events regularly and often people in the audience will come up after and tell me about problems their companies are having and ask if I could come by and meet their CEO or President to share some of the ideas I had discussed in my talk. Being an invited expert into a company is a great way to make an introduction to the decision makers so turn your business skills into a talk.
Become a Mentor -- Think of all the people who helped you along the way with good advice, helpful contacts and words of wisdom. The best way to thank them for their efforts is to do the same thing for the next generation. Almost every high school, college, and association has events around career development, so the next time someone asks if you have time to come by and talk about how your career got started, make the time to be available. It is important for young people to realize there is no one path to business success, we all begin from a different place. We make different choices and yet end up working with people who took a completely different career route. Let them know there are lots of ways to get there from here and no one secret to happiness.
Make every day matter and do something, one thing extraordinary every day. The ricochet effect touching even one person in a meaningful way creates endless possibilities. Speak to a child, smile as you pass a stranger, hold the door open for a person who looks like they might need some help, give your seat to an elderly person on the train or bus, it creates good karma in the world and a positive cycle for everyone any of those people encounter that day. Try it for one week, I think you’ll see a difference. I find when you do something good for someone else, it gives you power, control and hope. Like Gandhi said, you must be the change you want to see in the world. It starts with you!
One of the boards that I sit on had a meeting recently and one of the outgoing board members talked about what a privilege it was to serve on the board with such an amazing group of people. I couldn’t agree more, I’ve met some incredible people by getting involved in organizations I care deeply about. People I may have never met otherwise even though we are passionate about some of the same causes. But what brought us together is that we raised our hands and got involved even though we were busy running our companies. We showed up. That’s it. And you know what the bonus is to all of this…I have gotten new customers for my business through these relationships! In business, when you put yourself out there with people you connect with for a variety of reasons, good things just happen. You meet great people, you feel good about yourself for helping others, and sometimes you may even get a new customer along the way.
Like the old commercial for Life cereal says…try it, you’ll like it!
When you give a little you get a lot back in return!