Branding and marketing is at the center of a service provider’s ability to grow their business and expand upon their client base. So how is the leverage of traditional branding and/or marketing tactics different for a business that happens to be giving over half of their work away for free? In this section of our frequently asked questions, we will define when exactly it is safe to start promoting your pro-bono commitment, what role statistics play in the marketing of a 50% pro-bono business model, tips and tricks for explaining your business in the time it takes to go up a few floors in an elevator, and how to leverage your philanthropic efforts to your advantage when attracting clients and the media.

E1: When is it safe to start talking about my offering? How much should I emphasize it?

It is recommended to announce and emphasize the pro-bono offering as soon as possible in any and all marketing materials, and branded materials at large for your company. The pro-bono offering should be your primary differentiator statement, and therefore should be present at all times, even in your elevator pitch.

E2: What role do quantifiable statistics play in my marketing?

A website that is built on a pro-bono basis cannot feed an impoverished nation, but it can save a non-profit organization upwards of $20,000 which is money that can be reinvested into their own impact. In doing so, the money you saved the organization can then create direct impact for the organization. You should always measure your social change/impact in this manner. The core of measurement strategies with this model is that is must be quantifiable, not qualitative. Your impact can be measured in a number of ways, but is always represented by gross impact, not annual, quarterly, or situational. Consider the following methods for quantification:

1. By total number of hours. How many hours has your business volunteered, collectively? This can really add up, and can be a fun statistic to leverage through comparison. For example, verynice has donated enough hours, collectively, to equal over 2 years of working without sleep. To push this further, depending on your sector, you can create specific value comparisons that are relevant to your industry. For example, if your business offers film making services, you might want to compare your donated time to “the equivalent of watching the Titanic sink 500 times.” If you are a sound production company, you might want to compare your donated time to “the equivalent of 1000 dark sides of the moon.” If you are in an industry that does not commonly refer to their work by the hour, but instead by the day, week, or month, adjust accordingly.

2. By total dollar amount. The total equivalent dollar amount of your pro-bono donation can be really eye-opening and rewarding. Especially as your business hits major milestones such as the $100k mark, the $250k mark, etc. While time never changes, value does. Choosing to go a direction that relies on projecting your equivalent dollar amount can require maintenance, as your rates and project values may change. As your rates change, you should be mindful of the effect it will have on the value of your gross donated time. Be sure to recalculate to provide the most up-to-date answer!

E3: How do I explain this model to a skeptical audience?

This model is very simple to explain to an audience that is familiar with the social enterprise movement, and socially conscious business at large. However, it can get tricky when a more traditional audience is confronted with the model as it can be difficult for a non-socially-conscious audience to understand why you would ever want to give away that much work for free. The best way to explain the model to an audience like this is to focus primarily on the benefits/more immediate financial returns the model allows for. As we mentioned in section D of the book, this model has benefits that are personal, professional, and educational. Please refer to section D of the book for an in-depth look into the benefits of this model.

E4: What is a sample elevator pitch for a business operating with this model?

The elevator pitch is crucial to the success of a business. The goal, traditionally, is to clearly communicate what you do and who you do it for. Rarely, however, does an elevator pitch call for the entrepreneur to state why they do what they do. Answering that question is at the core of this model’s suggested elevator pitch by bringing a bit of purpose into that one or two sentence statement. Here is a template that you can follow as well as a handful of examples:

1. Short elevator pitch: [Your business name] is a [business type] that dedicates over 50% of its efforts toward pro-bono services for [recipient].

verynice is a global design, business, and innovation consultancy that dedicates over 50% of its efforts toward pro-bono services for non-profit organizations around the world.

Kimmy’s Cuts is a full-service hair salon that dedicates over 50% of its efforts toward pro-bono services for women living on skid row in Los Angeles.

2. Long(er) elevator pitch: [Your business name] is a [business type] specializing in [specialty/general focus]. We dedicate over 50% of our efforts toward pro-bono services for [recipient] because [problem]. We exist to [solution].

verynice is a global design, business, and innovation consultancy specializing in brand and digital product development. We dedicate over 50% of our efforts toward pro-bono services for non-profit organizations around the world because non-profits in the United States alone allocate close to $8 billion for design and marketing expenses every year. We exist to alleviate those expenses in order to allow these organizations to reallocate those dollars toward impact.

Kimmy’s Cuts is a full-service hair salon specializing in fashionable hair styling and coloring for women. We dedicate over 50% of our efforts toward pro-bono services for women living on skid row in Los Angeles because these women deserve the same level of care and fashionable treatment as everyone else. We exist to bring confidence and a sense of empowerment to all women, regardless of their economic status.

E5: How do I attract my pro-bono clientele?

Small non-profit organizations, more often than not, do not have a budget in place for acquiring talent. In lieu of that reality, they will very often turn toward free online resources, think craigslist, to find people like you to help them. Create an offer on craigslist, and search through the current job postings under “creative > gigs” if you are in the creative field, or other appropriate sections of the site’s listings, if you are in a different industry. Please note that pro-bono clientele are much more forgiving of lack of substantial experience. Use this as an opportunity to grow. Search for projects that are challenging. It is one of the key benefits of pro-bono work, as seen in Section D.

After building a significant reputation in the social sector, you will find that very little work on your end will have to be done to acquire new pro-bono business. Through word-of-mouth marketing, press, and social media organizations will flock to you. The social sector is a very small world full of interconnected synergy amongst non-profit leaders. Get your foot in the door and watch your network grow!

E6: How do I attract my paid clientele?

There are many methods that can be leveraged to attract paid clientele including social media, conference attendance/participation, and word-of-mouth marketing. Please refer to D2 for a more in-depth look into the possibilities of attracting paid clientele with this model.

E7: How do I attract the media and general public? Is having a back story important?

By the very nature of it, Social Enterprise naturally gives legs to a compelling story. As social entrepreneurs, we are already openly dedicating our lives to challenging business as usual through unique strategy and authentic intention. While I may not know you personally, I already can assume that your reason for having interest in launching a business like this goes beyond the desire to be a self-starter with control over your own hours and obligations. You are a social entrepreneur because you are compelled to help, to give back. More often than not, that feeling of obligation you have, and the reason you are leveraging the power of business for the greater good, is because of a personal experience you may have had.  It is natural that others that cross our path, upon hearing our story, will be compelled to share it. This is not a new idea, and it is already done very well as a marketing tool for many social enterprises.

Take TOMS for example: In his book, “Start Something that Matters,” Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS tells a story about his time in an airport. TOMS had just recently launched, and he noticed a woman in line at the terminal in front of him wearing a pair of his shoes. He tapped her on the shoulder and complimented her on the shoes, asking about them. Without hesitance, she turned to him, without knowing who he was, and shared the entire story of TOMS – how they came to be, the cause they fight to help, and the uniqueness in their philanthropic business model.

Think hard about your reason for launching a career like this. There has to be one. Find a way to tell that story in an engaging manner through an array of mediums including your website, social media outlets, and brand messaging.

Sample Story (as used by verynice): Every year, non-profit organizations in the United States alone allocate close to $8 billion towards marketing and design expenditures. Imagine what could be accomplished by these organizations, collectively, if a spare $8 billion was left on the table. verynice dedicates over 50% of its efforts toward pro-bono service in order to do our part to eradicate these expenses for non-profit organizations so that they can reach the full potential for their impact.

E8: I have no credibility, how do I build this?

If you are just starting out with this model and have very little experience in your specific industry/sector of business, you will be perceived as naive. Everyone says they want to “change the world,” but very few can articulate how they will change the world, or why they feel the world needs changing. Even if you are young, or new to this line of business, if you are able to reflect on the “how” and “why” in regards to your desire to “change the world,” the fence of naivety will be brought down and you will rapidly gain respect in and out of your industry.

Everyone starts with nothing, but everyone has the ability to create something. It just takes time—start very humbly, and say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, even if it is horrible, because that opportunity, and that connection, can lead to millions of things down the road.

E9: Why would people believe us?

Unfortunately the “do good” space has a lot of social stigmas around it. People love to hate on the do-gooder. It is a pain in the ass, but it is also a reality. When just starting, ignore the nay-sayers. There will be a lot of them. I can’t even quantify the amount of spit I had to wipe off of my face over the course of the first 2 years of verynice. What I was building really offended some people, and also made a lot of other studios and agencies feel uncomfortable because I was introducing a new kind of accountability. After proving the model can work, however, I simultaneously proved myself. By doing so, people believe me now, and they will believe you, too.

E10: How do I become part of the speaker circuit?

Kicking off your inclusion in a speaking circuit is challenging, but valuable. Speaking at conferences either in the role of a keynote speaker or a panelist or a workshop facilitator is a huge opportunity for you to build your credibility, no matter how small or big the conference may be. A speaker is seen as the authority on a given topic, and therefore is respected by attendees (well, as long as the speech isn’t absolutely terrible). For many of us, speaking is a scary thing. We gave presentations while taking classes in high school and college, but speaking to a total group of strangers can be incredibly intimidating. This said, remember that it does get easier with experience. The first few times that you find yourself in a speaking role, you will be nervous primarily because it is new to you, but also because the content you will be delivering is new as well. While speaking requires a refinement of content in order to perfect your delivery, there are certain aspects of your speech that can be templated and replicated across any and all events that you might find yourself at. Be conscious of the templatization of your story in order to gain confidence on a specific component of your speech. Even if it is just five slides that you find comfort in, that is huge in building overall confidence as a speaker.

Beyond just building the credibility of your business, speaking can also land you new clients and collaborators that you would not have been able to find otherwise. Leverage these unique opportunities to present yourself well, and not only will you see an eventual financial return on the new relationships you will form, you will also undoubtedly enter what is called the “speaking circuit.” Very often, when the curator of an event is in the midst of planning their guests of honor, they will attend events in the area that are similar in scope or theme in order to get inspired and find potential speakers that may be a good fit for their own event. By doing a great job and really shining in your seat as a panelist or keynote speaker, you will very likely receive an invite or two to yet another conference. The pattern continues and, before you know it, you are booking an event every month!

E11: Should I solicit pro-bono work?

I recommend soliciting your work and offering your services in the beginning to get things rolling. Once you have developed a strong enough reputation, however, let your clients find you. It will result in sincere excitement and appreciation for the work as well as a higher perception of value for your work. In the early days of verynice, in an attempt to meet as many non-profit organizations as possible, I would solicit the studio’s pro-bono services on Craigslist. Eventually, however, I determined that soliciting pro-bono work did not have nearly as much return as unsolicited work. When pro-bono work is solicited by the practitioner, the deliverable’s value is severely diminished, and the engagement itself is forced.