When people think of businesses offering pre bono work, they often think of fancy law firms and business consultants. In reality, any small business offering a viable product or service can offer their services to deserving groups and organizations while helping to promoter their own self interests.
Offering your small business’s services pro bono (free) to worthy causes in your community is a great way to increase your company’s image and goodwill within the community. It provides opportunities to work with organizations you might otherwise not be able to (due to costs), and gives you another means to showcase your business’s capabilities which can be selling points down the road with paying customers looking for similar services.
Pro bono case study.
A great example of a consulting firm’s pro bono program is the “Grow Maine Business Program” offered by the Beacon Consulting Group in Portland, ME.
Here’s the firm’s description their pro bono program:
Beacon has made a commitment to lend its knowledge and experience in growth strategy to deserving Maine businesses. Beacon’s Grow Maine Business Program selects annually one or two deserving Maine-based businesses—who otherwise could not afford consulting support—to receive pro bono the same growth strategy services that we offer our Fortune 500 clients. This program is focused on innovative, technology-based offerings that lack formal growth strategies and tactics for their business in both domestic and international markets. Our intent is to help drive growth in the Maine economy through our efforts and to encourage increased philanthropy within our community.
The Beacon Group is large firm with significantly more resources than an independent consultant just starting out, but don’t let that dissuade you from incorporating pro bono work into your company’s business plan. Your pro bono work doesn’t need to be an unreasonable commitment either, just ensure that you’re able to follow through on whatever level of assistance you commit to. A recent report by Deloitte Consulting revealed that 93 percent of their consultants who participated in a pro bono program had a positive and rewarding experience.
Additional benefits of pro bono work.
Pro bono work will also give you excellent material to write about on your website’s blog (read more on starting a blog for your business here). You could write a series of blog posts on how you helped a particular company with your consulting expertise. If you’re really lucky, your pro bono projects might get picked up by the local media adding even more of a boost (and free exposure) to your business.
Be selective in your pursuit of potential pro bono clients and make sure it’s a cause that you’re passionate about and is aligned with your own business’s core values. This will help ensure you stay committed to the project and, if nothing else, the satisfaction of helping out a worthwhile cause.
How to get started.
When people think of pro bono work, they traditionally think of lawyers taking on social justice cases of people who couldn’t otherwise properly defend their rights. The truth is, any business professional can participate in pro bono work if they know where to look.
Identify Your Skills: When getting started with pro bono work, you must first do a self-assessment to identify what skills, expertise and capabilities you have to offer.
Selecting a Client: The next step is developing a system for selecting potential pro bono clients. Obviously you want to pick a client that will benefit the most from the pro bono work you can offer. It may be a non-profit, but you may also consider helping new business owners get their foot off the ground.
Establishing Clear Goals: When you identify a potential pro bono client, make sure you clearly explain your capabilities and agree on a list of goals or objectives. The last thing you want to do is enter into an open ended agreement with no clear vision on what you’re actually supposed to accomplish. Focus on one or two specific things to help the organization move forward. Make sure you get an agreement in writing as to what you intend to achieve and what support you’ll need from the client.
Communicate: Whether you’re working for a paying client or doing pro bono work, I cannot emphasize the importance of maintaining proper communication. You should provide performance updates at least weekly in regards to how your project is progressing toward the agreed goals and objectives.
Maintain the Relationship: Chances are you’ll build a very close relationship with the organization you’re working with. Make sure you maintain those key relationships and follow up with them periodically to ask them how they’re doing. These relationships my convert to additional paying work or referrals down the road.
When you’re just getting started in the consulting business, pro bono work is a great way to fill in the slower months while building valuable experience and professional connections. It is yet another way that resourceful consultants can build their brand and improve their reputation within their respective field.