Most for-profit companies exist to make a profit. To make money, they deliver a valuable product or service to an ever-growing customer base. They hire employees and spend money in order to provide that, but the name of the game is maximizing revenue and minimizing expense.

End of story, right?

Not exactly. Most business owners I work with have some deeper goals in mind – not just to retire rich. The money isn’t a bad thing, of course, but it’s a poor measure of making an impact in the world.
If you want to drive day-to-day decisions from deeper goals and values, then you’ll need some structure to make sure they don’t get sacrificed over time.

Let’s look at Sarah, a fictional business owner who runs a restaurant. Her deeper goal is to improve the lives of people in the community who can’t afford three meals a day. The problem is that, normally, advisers would tend to steer her toward maximizing profit. Don’t give food away, unless there’s a direct benefit to attracting more income. Don’t pay employees any more than you have to, because that eats into the margins.

If Sarah goes that direction, she’s never going to improve the lives of the needy. Well, she could contribute to some charities, even in the name of the business, and that could generate some PR. But Sarah’s not satisfied.

She needs to add a bit more structure to achieve this goal.

One possibility would be to position her restaurant prominently as “the one which gives back.” I’ve been incredibly surprised by the quantity and quality of bread and pastries that some local bakeries contribute to Food Bank of Larimer County – even though most customers are unaware. But they’ve built it into their business model that they bake more than enough every day, and the overage directly benefits those who need it most. We’re not talking about past-expiration cans: this is great food.

Sarah also could look at totally different business models, such as the pay-what-you-can restaurants opening up across the country. It’s amazing how people’s generosity can open up when they connect with a deep need in the community.

Sarah might also be passionate about giving jobs to people in need. We’ve seen examples of companies which specifically hire veterans or the handicapped – even the homeless. It presents challenges, of course, but can make for a uniquely fulfilling business.

When you incorporate your goals and values into the structure of the company, you’ll make larger strides and be less prone to sacrifice them for short-term profit.

Let’s look at another example. Federico is another fictional business owner, the head of a small accounting firm.

Being an immigrant, Fed has a soft spot in his heart for people who are struggling with learning English. So his first move was to offer his services in English and Spanish, which then expanded to three other languages because he discovered what a great niche this could be.

It still wasn’t enough, though, because he only had a chance to serve people who had needs for accounting services – and the opportunity to employ a few people with language skills.

He’s looked to the next step, which is to work with the local community college to sponsor ESL classes for people interested in learning business skills. This builds a valuable base for referrals, connections to potential future customers and a reputation for contributing to the community.
Where else could it go? Perhaps into other business alliances with companies that would like to serve the same people. If he’s ambitious, he could even help out people who haven’t yet immigrated to the United States.

When you build that vision into the structure of your company, you’ll have much more impact – for many more years.

Carl Dierschow is a Small Fish Business Coach based in Fort Collins. His website is www.smallfish.us.

Copyright © 2013 Northern Colorado Business Report by Biz West Media.
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