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Scaling a Social Purpose Business

Purposefully scaling a social purpose business may be one of the most difficult things a business owner ever does. Challenges I have personally faced along the way while growing JB Music Therapy (JBMT) have been:

  • Being the first on the scene to offer an unknown new service;
  • Having limited access to cash or capital (if any at all);
  • Having no access to grants due to being a for-purpose for-profit business model;
  • Long waits for new clients (budget approval);
  • Being a for-profit model serving almost entirely non-profits;
  • Economic downturns; and of course
  • Accessing and competing for the right and best resources and talent to help me scale.

Perhaps you identify with some or all of these.

Unlike many businesses, a small service-based, human-to-human company like ours does not require a lot of startup funds. However a “dollar made, a dollar spent” approach can be difficult when you want or need to scale. There is a fine balance between building your clientele and having the resources to serve them.

If you have ample passion but limited financial resources like we did, here are the three factors that helped our company be able to scale:

1. Set a firm foundation

It always comes down to the foundation of your business: the vision, the purpose, the direction, the beacon that serves as the reason why you do what you do. This depth of vision is what grounds your company.

I used to say it is never a people problem, it is only a systems problem. Today I say it is never a systems problem, it is always a grounding problem. This puts the onus on how well the mission is felt by every stakeholder participating in the company.

Here are a couple of grounding visions that may inspire your own:

The Elephant Sanctuary – A natural-habitat refuge where sick, old and needy elephants can once again walk the earth in peace.

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream – To make, distribute and sell the finest quality all natural ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the earth and the environment.

It is often just before, during, or just after a scale when you may need to adjust the systems that support the mission. It is important that the team work together to regularly review the systems and ensure they are set up for the next leg of the journey.

2. Create buzz

Creating buzz does not require an expensive outlay to have long-lasting results. Find out where your customers are hanging out, and then go hang out at those events. Perhaps even present there, write guest columns, and use social media to share your good work and vision.

Creating buzz for music therapy in the early 1990s happened more quickly than I expected – and this was pre-computer, in a conservative town. I believe success happened in part due to the timing of public interest (the populations I wanted to serve were craving services that would reach their desired outcomes), and the fact that only a handful of people, in a city of 700,000, had ever experienced music therapy before.

Being first on the scene has its advantages, but what sustained our growth has been relentless marketing and recruiting of new clients. Face-to-face meetings quickly lead to market growth. JBMT would hire one new staff person each year for its first 20 years, to keep up with its primary marketing tool of word of mouth (WOM) referrals.

Recent research suggests 84% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends about products and services – making these recommendations the highest ranked source for trustworthiness.  Author Andy Sernovitz breaks WOM into four easy reminders to help all companies create buzz: (1) be interesting, (2) make it easy, (3) make people happy, and (4) earn trust and respect. Although it just sounds too easy to be true, my experience suggests it is indeed true.

For us, buzz that started over 25 years ago is still being felt today, and is only increasing in its resonance. Sticking it out through the tough times has also helped with our WOM marketing and ultimately our community impact. It is during the tough times that I feel the business owner and leaders in the company should be out there even more – networking, writing, contributing, and constantly sharing the core message.

3. Build an inspired internal community that spills over into the community

As a Buchanan I was always drawn to the model of building a clan culture. Clan leaders usually focus on encouraging cohesion, teamwork, and courses of action that depend on the interests of the group.

Being a music therapist and entrepreneur has definitely been a great joy in my life. But creating jobs has been the gift that has allowed our important service to reach more people. I’m at the point now where I may not know every client that we serve in the same way I once did, but I know we have a caring team spilling out into the streets to serve those clients and fulfill our mission.

Author and speaker Brian Tracy reminds us that 95% of a company’s success resides in the ability to select the right people in the first place — but we may not always get it right every time. As we know, leading any team becomes more complex when the team members are of varying experiential backgrounds, age gaps, and cultures.  Dr. Jacqueline Peters, in her most recent book, highlights the five building blocks for high performance relationships that help better support your team by creating a common purpose, building camaraderie, building safety, reducing relationship accidents, and repairing conflict in order to generate a greater sense of happiness and fulfillment.

If your message is important, and I know that it is, this blog series hopes to continue to support you and your team to get your message out to everyone who needs it. When it comes to growing your community impact, scaling is certainly one way to do this effectively. How ready are you to take the next growth leap and scale your business for optimum community impact?

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