The founder of TOMS Shoes, Blake Mycoskie, believes that entrepreneurs can do good business by doing good for others. He inspired me to launch Bridge Builder Communications last September with a business model of volunteering 15 percent of my billable hours to charities that are important to clients. After six months, how's the model working?
If you were to ask, is my commitment to volunteer service driving new business I'd say "not yet." But I didn't expect clients to find me that way, at least not in the beginning. Customers make choices based on perceived quality of service and price. Volunteering for a company's charity of choice becomes added value and a competitive advantage.
The clients I have gained thus far, I believe, were sold by what I offered, not where I would volunteer. What I'm realizing, however, is that the competitive advantage comes not from going head-to-head with another firm and getting selected because of the volunteer component. Rather, I'm becoming more competitive because I'm building new relationships with community leaders and news reporters and better maintaining existing ones.
Case in point: Over the last several months I've volunteered about 10 hours with St. Luke's Episcopal Health Charities. There I met executive director Dr. Patricia Gail Bray, who put me in touch with one of the social service agencies that receives funding from the Charities. The agency is the Ibn Sina Foundation, which has a cluster of clinics, mostly in the greater Houston area, which provide low-cost health and dental services to the underserved. The work of founder Dr. Aijaz Ali Khowaja and his clinics is literally saving lives and providing care where it is most needed. This was a story worth telling, and when I pitched it to Jeremy Desel at KHOU Ch. 11, Jeremy and his news room agreed, with a story airing January 3rd.
More recently, St. Luke's Episcopal Health Charities welcomed a new board chair, former U.S. Ambassador Chase Untermeyer. Volunteering to write the press release on Chase's selection was its own reward, as he has been a long time friend and the closest person I know to a Renaissance man.
Keeping up with the hours of volunteer service has been manageable thus far, but as the client list grows and billable hours increase, so does the challenge of keeping pace. Meeting leaders like Dr. Bray and Dr. Khowaja, writing about old friends like Chase and staying in touch with good reporters like Jeremy all provide rewarding encouragement.
For more information about Blake Mycoskie and how he inspired me, see "Everyone wins with new entrepreneurial model" on the Houston Chronicle web site.