Cynthia Kay

Cynthia Kay is a passionate spokesperson for small business- speaking, teaching and coaching … all while running an award-winning company. Cynthia Kay and Company produces high-quality communications that are used on the national and international scene.

Do you remember the feeling you had when you first started your business? Do you remember your first product launch? The first time a customer told you how great your company was, how much they loved a product? The joy you experienced by doing the work? I was reminded of all of that this past week. I sat on a panel of judges for a business competition which specifically targeted young female entrepreneurs. It was sponsored by the Michigan Women’s Foundation.

I have often believed that small business owners are flexible, responsive and willing to try new things. They are also pretty optimistic when it comes to their businesses as reported by the NSBA’s Mid-Year Economic Report . But the big question is whether they are optimistic enough about business to spend money and where will they spend it.

One day you see it clearly. Your employees are acting like owners. How did it happen? When did it happen? Why did it happen? These are all good questions. Chances are if your employees are acting like owners it is because you treat them like owners. What are the signs? Here are five big ones.

If you are like most small business owners you probably don’t take a lot of vacations. We all know we should take more but things come up. When I do go on vacation I relax and come back to work refreshed. I must say I don’t like to take too much time away because, frankly I get bored. Maybe that’s because I love my work. I also know other business owners who feel the same way. Not surprising! What is surprising to many is a recent study of employees regarding vacation time.

More and more non-profits are looking for business owners to donate goods and services for events and initiatives. Should you use your business resources for the benefit of non-profits? Should you give away your products or your time? Should you just write a check? Because I am in the business of media production… and every non-profit wants a video… we get lots of requests. I often struggle with how much should we give away and how donating our valuable resources affect the business. We recently decided to help Blandford Nature Center, an organization in our community with a 50 year history. This organization serves 40,000-50,000 visitors annually and hosts field trips for students and countless family and community events. It also has a lot more work to do which is why they needed help.

We have adopted this organization and will be producing a variety of productions over the next year. It has been a joy working with them because we were careful about entering into the relationship. I thought it would be good to pass along some of the things that business owners might want to consider before giving away the store!

How much excess capacity do you have?

It’s easy to get overloaded with work. Today so many things change at the last minute and if you are at maximum capacity for your time you cannot be flexible. If you promise to complete work for a non-profit and it puts you at risk for accomplishing work for paying customers you are sure to disappoint someone. Paying customers deserve what you have promised. However, I have found that non-profits will also be upset, even if they are not paying you, if you don’t make good on commitments. Be sure you have the capacity for giving time or materials before you make promises.

Is the time right?

If you have times when work spikes upwards you don’t want to use your valuable resources at that time. I generally tell non-profits that we need to do work during non-peak times of the year. Sometimes that works and they will wait for us. Other times they decline the offer. If you have products that are in demand and you donate them you risk being caught short. If you are giving away your time when paying customers are willing to pay a premium for faster service it is simply not good business. Is this the right time to make a donation? Think long and hard. In the case of the Nature Center we have lots of opportunities to capture video so we are working it into our schedule when we have downtime.

Is the end product an accurate reflection of your company?

If the non-profit is asking you to do something “on the cheap” you might want to consider passing. No matter what you do for a non-profit, in my case a video production, it is a statement about the quality of your work. If you create something that does not meet your standards for quality it can actually be detrimental to your brand.

Are you passionate about the mission of the non-profit?

I think this is critical. If you and your employees really love the mission of an organization it is a good fit and a chance to do work that “feeds your souls.” Perhaps you can do some really unusual work that you can use to showcase capabilities that you have not been able to convince paying customers to try. In the case of the Blandford Nature Center, we have had more fun shooting amazing video during all four seasons. Our employees have attended family events and experienced first-hand that this is a great cause. It’s a win-win.

Over the years, we have donated video for countless projects. Some went well, like the Blandford Nature Center. Others, to be honest were a nightmare and got off track. The difference is the approach. Today we treat interactions with non-profits just as though they were paying customers. We set a scope of work, define the hours we will spend, the approval process and the timeline. When the expectations are clear, donating our services is a joy and we also make some great contacts with potential paying customers.


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