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Giving it away for free: the business benefits (and pitfalls) of volunteering your services, products and expertise

Entrepreneurs and business owners are often approached by charities, groups and associations to give free expertise, services and guidance.  There are many benefits to volunteering help and these include expanding your contact and client base, enhancing a CV and giving further credibility to your professional standing. But whilst there are benefits, there are also a number of pitfalls.

Lose sight of why you’re offering this support, or the parameters you want to keep within, and you could soon be roped into  all sorts of activities and support – some of which may not play to your strengths and could affect the credibility you are trying to build.   So how do you ensure your involvement doesn’t bring a disappointing return on investment?  The aim here is to be satisfied with your involvement and not feel it’s a chain round your neck, or worse still eating into valuable time you want to spend on your business or with your family and friends.

Understanding your motive

Speaking with John Timperley at The Results Consultancy, the message is to be clear about your motives.  Decide right from the start what you want to get out of your volunteering.  It’s fine to have personal as well as business motives, but to ensure you are happy with the long-term outcome, you need to know what your motives for getting involved are. John recommends that before agreeing to give your expertise away for free, it’s sensible to consider the help you can offer – what will play to your skills and experience?  What will you enjoy doing?

It also makes sense to map out how much time you can invest in this area to achieve your personal aims – especially given your current priorities. Clarify in your own mind the nature of the support you want to be seen to contribute before committing to a specific group.

If you aren’t clear in your mind what shape you want your involvement to take, you’ll be more at risk of being sucked into activities and commitments which are time-consuming and unfulfilling.  You may also result in disappointing the group and that won’t help your professional credibility in the long run either. You should be in control of your voluntary work, not the other way round.

What do I want?

To help you consider what you want to get out of your voluntary work, John recommends taking a look at these common reasons. Which applies to you?

  • I want to expand my network of contacts from this sector/interest group
  • The group will keep me up to date with the latest developments in this sector/topic area
  • I support the values/ethos of this group and want to help
  • Involvement in the group will help me win customers from this sector (by being seen to be an expert)
  • I want to win business from this group

Depending on your answer you can then look out for charities, associations or groups with the best fit.  You may know these already or you may need to do a bit of research. Alternatively, why not ask your other contacts for their thoughts on groups which best tie in with your interests?

Play to your strengths

Ideally, you want to give help that plays to your strengths and interests, so be clear about what those are.  It also means you need to think about your professional image and the impression you want people to gain of you.  If you sense any weaknesses in your networking and rapport building skills, or your professional and personal profile, it’s sensible to sort these out with coaching or training before you get involved.

One final piece of advice from John is don’t forget to keep yourself in the driving seat and try not to get diverted too much in supporting the group you choose.  Keep those original goals and ambitions in focus.  Help them achieve their plans but make sure yours are not sacrificed in the process.

About the Author: An experienced and effective business development and marketing strategist, Michelle has built a successful career increasing top line growth for service businesses and organisations. She helps her clients turn their marketing, business development and thought leadership plans into reality with her ‘hands on’ support and practical advice.    A prolific writer, Michelle also combines creative flair with business nous to produce highly effective results.  She has written (and ghost-written) for many professional and business publications and is a chartered marketer and member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

Extended Thinking is a hands-on marketing and business development consultancy.  Bringing together great minds and great ‘doers’, we help our clients devise and implement plans that achieve real business growth.  Our clients come from a wide variety of backgrounds and sectors, but invariably are those who are too busy or lack the resources to action their marketing and business development plans.  We roll our sleeves up and muck in to free them up to do what they really want to do and are good at doing. www.extendedthinking.com

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