This is a guest post from Mike Zywina. Mike is a charity consultant, trustee and founder of Lime Green Consulting. Lime Green Consulting provides affordable consultancy for smaller charities, specialising in strategic planning, hands-on fundraising support, training and mentoring. He’s a friend of mine and I admire the way he uses his influence, so I was very pleased he agreed to write the first guest blog on this site.
It’s been just over two years since I waved goodbye to full-time employment and turned Lime Green Consulting from a twinkle in my mind into a bona fide consultancy for small charities.
It’s been a great journey since then – I’ve met incredible people, worked on amazing projects and made a few mistakes along the way. A key theme has been how to develop my business and grow my influence, so I wanted to share my five biggest lessons with you:
- Be clear on your core offering
If you want to get noticed, it’s so important to distil everything that you do into a simple, clear message.
When I started out as a consultant, I wasn’t sure how to articulate exactly why charities should work with me. I had pretty broad fundraising experience and couldn’t decide what was most relevant. I had a naïve belief that I could sit down with a charity, discuss their challenges and find a way to make myself useful.
In reality, if you’re not clear how you can help someone, most people are too busy to take the time to work it out for you. It was only when I developed a really clear proposition and a small range of headline services that I was really in business.
Charities, for instance, have to distil their often complex projects and work into a crystal clear message. Get the what and why right and people will ask about the how and with whom later. Don’t throw everything at people immediately – have the confidence that if you give people enough to remember you and start a conversation then they’ll want to come back and find out more over time.
- Collaborate and grow your universe
When I first started out, I was given some wise advice I’ve never forgotten. “The most important thing is to meet people and always make yourself useful. Don’t worry immediately about making money, it will follow.”
This is a great motto if you want to meet amazing people, find brilliant opportunities and grow your influence. I always embrace opportunities to meet and help like-minded people, whether at a networking event or over a coffee, without worrying about whether there’s a quick win. Some people think “I don’t want to spend time chatting to someone if there’s probably nothing in it for me – it’s a waste of time.” Instead I always ask myself: “What if I turn down the chance to meet someone and it could’ve been the next big opportunity or introduction?”
These days we’re always under time pressure so it’s natural that we evaluate everything by our return on investment, whether that’s time or money. But this can lead to missing out on great opportunities. I’ve learned that taking the time to help out others, discuss challenges and ideas, and collaborate on joint projects is almost always better than being insular and regarding everyone else as competitors.
- Develop your expert voice
Small businesses and charities experience the same challenge – there’s so much to do and so little time. We’re naturally inclined to focus only on urgent short-term goals, yet we also expect to be capable of thinking big and staying relevant. In reality, we can only do this if we keep one eye on what’s happening outside our organisation.
I try to dedicate time every week to keeping abreast of wider issues in the charity sector – reading articles, sharing ideas on forums and social media, and writing blogs. It’s sometimes difficult to fit this in alongside other work, but it not only helps people to notice me but also allows me to develop my voice and opinions on key issues that people expect me to know about. Over time, people start to see you as a go-to expert on key topics and this brings lots of opportunities.
It’s essential to always look out for key developments and conversations that you can contribute to. This is challenging because you can’t control when things pop up, for instance as the result of a news story, so you often have to make time at short notice. But these opportunities to be the expert on topics that people are naturally focusing on don’t come around often, so make the most of them.
- Make your content work harder
So you’re developing your expert voice and writing great blogs, but who’s listening?
I remember reading some great advice from The Influence Expert founder Alex Swallow that you should spend 20% of your time generating content and 80% sharing it. This is difficult because, with limited time, it’s so tempting to publish something, tick it off the list and move on. But publishing content is the tip of the iceberg. If blogs are our shop window, then promoting them is the billboard or TV advert that gets people to the shop in the first place.
When I publish something, I make a big effort to schedule posts about it on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and email people personally who I think would find it particularly interesting. I also share it via our mailing list to keep reminding charities that we exist until they’re ready to work with us. This builds familiarity, credibility and trust over time. Check out our email marketing tips here.
Many charities and businesses need to be better at taking the time to promote their content and successes to the right people. The next time that you win an award, produce a great impact report or write an insightful article, be sure to share it via your website, newsletter, social media and beyond. It’s no use to you in a dusty drawer.
- Listen to people and don’t be afraid to ask for help
It’s easy to think that you know what people want, but harder to ask and be led by others. We’re all guilty of something called confirmation bias, where we sub-consciously listen out for information that proves our existing beliefs and ignore anything that contradicts them.
So often I hear businesses wondering how popular a new product idea might be, or charities fretting about which new event their supporters would like best. My answer is often ‘Have you tried asking them?’
We often feel the need to present a polished, professional side to people, but involving our customers and supporters in our problems can be a great way to engage people and win trust. This is easier to do as a small organisation, as people don’t always expect us to get everything right and value our ability to be friendly and human. Social media has also made this much easier.
If you can ask people for help and make them part of the solution, you create ambassadors who have a natural interest in seeing you succeed, even if this is partly so they feel part of that success themselves!
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