Being good is good business (pt 4)
2007-08-30 13:08:26 -

 Why being responsible in your community gives you an edge Founder of O’Briens Sandwich Bars, BRODY SWEENEY, continues his series on how to cope with the stresses and strains of starting a new enterprise 

During the Special Olympic Games in 2003, I spent a week visiting the venues, thanking the catering staff who were flying the flag for O’Briens. The volunteers were genuinely touched by their experience: many of them told me that it was the best experience of their lives, and they meant it. People were working together in a way they hadn’t done before. There was no bitching, and I heard no complaints about our sandwiches. I know that there must have been some – after all, we were supplying twenty thousand a day during the Games – but we didn’t hear any.

A lot of business people, myself included, tend to write off the voluntary sector, but this was a superbly organised week, on a par with anything I have ever been part of. The athletes themselves swept all before them. It helped change people’s attitudes towards people with learning disabilities.

Overall, O’Briens’ involvement in the 2003 Special Olympics was a really rewarding experience. Our staff, franchise partners, suppliers and customers all bought into it in varying degrees. It provided a focus for our team-building efforts, as we collectively rallied around a common cause. I know that our staff, and all the people we came into contact with, liked the fact that we were involved in it. There’s still a feel-good factor in the air.

Here are some things to think about as you wake up to the possibilities that being good in business bring: you don’t have to be a big company to do something.

No matter what size your business, you can do something locally to create a point of difference compared with your competitors and, more importantly, ‘switch on’ the people who are associated with your enterprise. Being good is a genuine win-win situation for you. You do something good and you get substantially more back in return for your efforts.
Find something you are passionate about.

Have you ever witnessed something that has moved you, or been touched by some organisation’s kindness or involvement in the community? Or has a particular organisation helped someone who is close to you, or made life bearable for others? Could your company ‘adopt’ that organisation, or could you partner with them to achieve a specific goal?

Be part of your community.

Find something that will have significance for your staff and customers and, just as important, that relates to your business. A local hurling team, a van for a day-care centre, litter bins in the town centre, trees in the park, the flower club. It doesn’t matter whether your efforts amount to hundreds of euro, or thousands – the point is that you are doing something for reasons other than direct commercial gain. People, especially your customers, will like that.
Make sure it’s for the right reasons, not a cynical exercise.
While your staff and customers will applaud you for making the right decision, they will see through a cynical effort which is deemed to be exploitative or inappropriate. If you really aren’t passionate about helping others in some way, maybe it would be best not to bother.
Commit to a goal, plan and execute.

As with any other aspect of your business, you need to make a commitment of people and resources, set goals for what you want to achieve from your efforts, and then execute the plan. One of the things that works very well for us is bringing in a retired person who acts as our charity co-ordinator on a part time basis. This means that somebody keeps an eye on your ‘being good’ bit while you concentrate on the commercial bit of your business. We got an extra benefit from having an older person in the business: their wise eyes and ears made the company a better place to work for the whole staff.

Running a business has been a very rewarding experience for Lulu and myself as we have made our lives together. We have gone through some low lows: dark times when nothing was going right for us. But when things did start going right, the good times were all the sweeter, and we appreciated them.

If you’re serious about starting a business and you have thought it through, I would say just go for it. There’s never a right time to do it, and you’ll go old and grey while you wait for it.

Life is for living, and living involves risk-taking. But isn’t it better to have tried than to have regrets about what you didn’t do when you were young enough and had the energy.

Finally, if you’re going to put all this blood, sweat and tears into it, make it worth your while.
Good luck and bon voyage!
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