Q: We have recently moved our small business, with 12 employees, to the Hagerstown area. We would like to develop some community relationships. Any ideas about where we should focus our efforts?
A: One of the most talked-about issues in business today is corporate social responsibility, where a company strives to have a positive effect on the public interest.
Small businesses have a long and proud tradition of “making a difference,” particularly on the local level.
The benefits of community involvement go beyond simply feeling good because you helped a worthy cause. It raises the profile of your business, creates a positive buzz and opens the door to new networking opportunities. These activities also can reinforce employee morale, fostering a spirit of teamwork and collaboration that will enhance on-the-job performance.
A good starting point for finding community involvement ideas is the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce. It frequently sponsors events that offer opportunities for advertising or in-kind service donations. And nothing beats the chance to meet and network with fellow small-business owners and managers.
Civic groups and charitable organizations also are sources of community activities. You could sponsor youth sports teams, 5K races and parade floats; contribute to food drives and roadside cleanups; or supply giveaways stamped with your business’ name and logo. The possibilities are endless.
These events almost always require volunteers, so why not encourage your employees to pitch in? Many will do so willingly, but consider offering an incentive such as a few hours off to compensate for their time. Supplying them with custom T-shirts or hats will reinforce the teamwork bonds and provide another way for your business to stand out.
Then there are the schools. They also have events that need sponsors, as well as career days, student tutoring and mentoring programs, and clubs.
Look for a direct tie-in to what your business does, or the skills you utilize. A clothing store might do something related to fashion design, while math- and science-related activities would be ideal for an engineering firm.
Don’t worry if you are a one-person business. You can still be as much of your community as your town’s largest employer. Examples include volunteering for an event or school program, donating money or supplies to a local charity or animal shelter, or serving on a nonprofit advisory committee.
Consider issuing a press release about your involvement and post it on your website.
A great idea for every kind of business is to contact SCORE, a nonprofit association offering a wealth of information resources, training, and free counseling and mentoring.
For more information about taking advantage of these valuable services in the Hagerstown area, call 301-766-2043 or go to www.scorehagerstown.org.
Robert A. “Bob” Poor is a local small-business owner/operator. He is a small-business mentor and a regular contributor to the Ask SCORE column. Questions may be emailed to him at email@example.com or sent by mail in care of The Herald-Mail, P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, MD 21741, ATTN: Ask SCORE column.