Creative entrepreneurs are uniquely suited to do good in the world. They have practice thinking innovatively , starting efforts from the ground up, and working with what they have to make an impact on the world around them.
Contrary to what you may think, being charitable doesn't have to cost your business money. Yvette Marie is the publisher of a bi-monthly family print magazine. When she has ad space leftover, she donates it to local nonprofits — a win-win situation for both her and the causes she helps promote — and it comes at no additional cost to her business.
If you’re wondering how to put your creative skills to good use, this is the guide for you. Here are five ways you can give back through your freelancing or other creative business.
1. Incorporate giving back into your business model.
This is probably the most significant way to create a long-lasting impact through your work. Rather than a one-off donation to your favorite charity, consider how you can incorporate giving back as a long-term part of your business strategy.
For Matthew Manos, the founder of verynice, a design strategy agency, this means giving away half of his company’s work to groups that might otherwise be unable to pay their rates. Operating since 2008, the agency supports companies, nonprofits, and government clients and has given away over $16 million in pro-bono or discounted projects. Manos has even written a book to encourage other businesses to adapt a similar model. The appropriately titled How to Give Half of Your Work Away for Free is available online for free.
If giving half of your work away sounds unrealistic, consider starting with just one client. Ana Gotter, a freelance copywriter and content writer works with one pro-bono client every quarter. For three months, she supports them with writing blog posts, ad copy that converts, and other services just as she would her paying clients. As a result, she uses her skills to make a tangible difference to small nonprofits and adds interesting clients to her portfolio who otherwise wouldn’t be able to work with her.
If working with a pro-bono client isn’t manageable for your freelance business, consider offering discounted rates for nonprofits or small businesses. You can also offer your rates on a sliding scale, allowing for clients to pay fees based on their revenue. This allows larger, well-established clients to help off-set the costs of clients with smaller revenues.
You can also consider taking on a select number of clients or working a set number of hours on a “pay what you can” basis, to make your services more accessible.
2. Donate a portion of your proceeds to charity.
For those who prefer a more hands-off approach to giving back, consider donating a portion of your company’s profits to a charity of your choice. With a culture shift towards supporting socially conscious businesses, giving back (and indicating how exactly you do this on your website), can also help you attract clients who are socially conscious.
Not only will you be contributing to the bottom line of a cause you care about, but you’ll also be able to write this off on your taxes, so it will ultimately support your business too.
When selecting a charity, consider finding one who’s mission aligns with the work you do as a creative entrepreneur. For example, if you’re a web developer, you can donate to a charity that offers free coding classes to children. If you run a small online shop, maybe you’ll want to donate to Kiva, a micro-finance nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs in developing countries start or expand their businesses.
As a business owner, you’re at liberty to choose any charity you prefer. Keep in mind however, that your choice of charity will reflect on your company’s brand. If you choose a charity that is political or support a cause seen as controversial, it can work to repel or attract clients.
3. Offset your business’ carbon footprint.
Whether you realize it or not, your business has an impact on the environment. From the mileage you put in when you drive or fly to meet clients to the paper you print your documents on, your daily business decisions have an ecological footprint...one that you can reduce with just a little effort up front.
First, use an online calculator to determine the carbon footprint of your business. You’ll need information including your fuel and energy consumption for the previous year. This exercise can help you determine the ways in which your company is inadvertently contributing to carbon waste. After calculating your carbon footprint, you can buy carbon offsets from a certified provider.
While it is most effective to reduce your business’ ecological footprint, purchasing carbon offsets is one way to reduce your environmental impact while you consider other ways to make your business more environmentally friendly.
4. Support socially responsible businesses.
As a small business owner, you have the power to make purchasing decisions that are in line with your values. Think of the decisions you make on a day to day basis in your business such as where you buy your office supplies, who you subcontract, and what businesses you choose to do business with.
Review your sourcing to make it as ethical as you can. When possible, purchase products made locally and responsibly. You can find online directories that list small businesses, women-owned businesses, other minority-owned businesses, B Corps (or socially responsible businesses), Fair Trade businesses, and more. Committing to supporting socially responsible businesses will help you redirect money you're already spending in to support causes you care about.
5. Become a mentor.
No matter what creative skill you have, you can find someone who wants to learn it. Consider taking a newbie under your wing to teach them the ropes. You can share resources, introduce them to your network, and champion them during pivotal years of their career.
Breaking into a creative career can be particularly challenging for women, racial minorities, people with special needs, and other marginalized groups. As you consider mentorship, think about how you can reach out to people from these groups and support them in their career and business.
To find a mentee, you can put a call out on social media or contact a college or university program to connect you with one of their students. You can also consider contacting a local school and asking them if they need a guest speaker to share the behind-the-scenes of your business and help broaden the horizons and career possibilities for young students.
There are countless ways to use your creative business to make a positive impact. Whether you want to formally incorporate giving in your business model or you prefer to take a more casual approach like mentorship, you can tackle this however feels best for you and works for your business.
The good news is that whatever you decide will benefit more than your chosen area of charitable focus. Not only will aligning your business with philanthropy help make a tangible difference in the lives of others, but it can also raise the profile of your brand, help you attract like-minded customers or clients, and give you a sense of purpose. Win-win!
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