“If you build it, people will come” may work in the movies, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to running a small business. Even traditional advertising and social media aren’t likely enough to help your business standout from the competition these days. Savvy small business owners are recognizing the need to reach out to the local community to help promote themselves and get found by consumers.

The fifth marketing “P.” Most entrepreneurs are familiar with the four marketing “P’s” of product, price, placement and promotion. But to remain relevant in today’s evolving marketplace, experts are saying you need to add a fifth “P” of “purpose” to your marketing plan. Purpose, in this case, means giving back to the community and using your brand to make a significant difference in the lives of others. It allows businesses to develop a greater community presence and connect with consumers and engage them at a deeper level.

Purposeful research. According to the Edelman goodpurpose® brand study, 87 percent of Americans believe brands and consumers could do more to support good causes by working together. And 62 percent feel corporations need to integrate good causes into their day-to-day business rather than simply giving to them. The study also found that consumers have a better opinion of companies that integrate good causes into business—regardless of why they do so.

Making a difference pays. The Edelman study also proved that making a difference in the community can also make a difference in companies’ bottom lines. They found that companies that lead with purpose and incorporate good causes are turning profits. In fact, these businesses outperform the general market 15 to 1 and their revenues have grown 4 times faster.

Giving back works. Big companies such as Target, Walmart, IBM and others have known the benefit of giving back to the local community for years. And while few small businesses can give back at the same level that major corporations do, they can still make a difference in the local community and see big benefits from it in their bottom lines—and on their tax forms. Community involvement can help your small business compete against the big budgets and volume discounts of the big guys. It gets consumers to shop not only on price and selection, but also on personal relationships within the community.

A win-win situation. Most charities recognize that companies may have a secondary and perhaps a more business-minded purpose for getting involved. The better nonprofits are good at publicly acknowledging your donation or sponsorship and helping you receive some sort of return on your generosity. But charities are always looking to expand their network of donors and contacts, too. Partnering with a nonprofit can be a win-win for both parties, so don’t feel guilty if your intentions are not 100 percent altruistic.

Getting strategically involved. There are countless ways to get involved in your community and enhance your local presence. But, just like your other marketing elements, you need to be strategic about it to be successful. Tie in with charities that are in line with your company’s vision or purpose. Try to choose nonprofits that somehow relate to your business or that would be of interest to your target market. If you run a garden center, sponsor and beautify a popular park nearby. If you own a senior assisted living center, get involved with charities related to war veterans or sponsor health fairs. If you own an auto shop, sponsor the clean up of a prominent, nearby highway. Look for charitable opportunities that provide meaningful exposure to large groups with members of your target market. It also helps to choose a charity that interests you personally so your desire doesn’t wane after a few months.

Ways to get involved.Once you’ve decided on the charity or charities that make the most sense for your business to support, you need to determine which efforts will do the most good for you and your chosen nonprofits. Many charities will already have plenty of programs and fundraisers in place you can support right away. If you’re looking for ideas to get you started, here’s a brief list of some popular tactics to get you thinking of possibilities:

  • Join a local business or service group. Become a member of a local networking group such as your chamber of commerce, service organizations or fraternal organizations such as the Optimists, Rotary, Lions and others. They offer plenty of opportunities to get involved in the local scene and expand your contacts beyond your limited circle of friends and business associates.
  • Sponsor a youth sports team or league. Compare the price of a few jerseys and the goodwill value you receive in return to that of a quarter-page ad in the local newspaper and it’s a blow out on the positive image scoreboard.
  • Volunteer your space or time. Many businesses have large meeting places that go unused for much of the week. Allow a small group like a book club or service organization to use that space for their monthly meetings. If you don’t have the space to give, donate your time by reading books to kids or volunteering at a community-wide event. You could even involve your whole staff by offering incentives to employees to get involved on their own time.
  • Teach a class. Many local colleges love to have professionals with real world experience teaching classes for them. If your time is more limited, present a workshop in your field of expertise or speak at a career day. All of these present you and your business as an authority and build goodwill toward your company.
  • Sponsor or host community events. Get involved in a local holiday parade, community festival or create your own fundraising ball. Underwrite a performing arts organization or host a battle of the bands competition.
  • Attend your clients’ events. If your best customers or vendors are involved in a charity event, volunteer to help them with their efforts. You’ll be seen as invested in their success and a true business partner. Besides, pooling your resources can accomplish more for the charity.
  • Check with places of worship. Many churches, synagogues and mosques have ongoing service projects where your business could visibly contribute time and resources to help build a strong, loyal affinity between your brand and the organization’s members.
  • Host a class field trip. Certain types of businesses can offer students a tremendous learning opportunity by offering an onsite tour. Contact a local school or teacher to see if they would be interested in bringing an age appropriate group to your business and how you could make it a learning experience.

Still can’t decide how to get involved? Volunteermatch.org is a great site that helps match up volunteers with needs in local communities.

Everyone wins. Businesses that step forward in times of need or celebration show the local community that people mean (at least) as much as profits do. Getting involved in your local community can provide a huge boost to your small business’s public image—and its bottom line—in ways that paid advertising could never do. Plus, research shows that consumers like to associate themselves with businesses that support the same causes they do. Not only that, consumers are coming to expect companies to integrate good causes into their day-to-day business activities. Be a business that’s willing to take a leadership role in your local community and you create a win-win for everyone involved.

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