The world is changing, and with it the consumer mindset. Standing apart from your competitors in a saturated self-storage market demands fresh strategies. One approach is to brand your business as one that cares about the community. Some call this corporate social responsibility or community-focused marketing. I call it doing good and giving back because the ultimate goal is to make your neighborhood and the world a better place.
Community involvement is more than just an advertising strategy; it’s an attitude. By making philanthropy a top priority for your self-storage business, you’re improving the areas you serve. You’ll also see increased sales, a better company reputation, new business opportunities, higher employee retention, and the opportunity to market your products and services in a creative way. Though fully integrating community service into your business takes time, you can get started now with the following game-changing actions.
Align With a Cause or Organization
There are a several ways to partner with organizations in your community. When selecting charitable causes, consider these starting points:
- Ask your customers, staff, vendors and partners which causes and groups matter to them. To increase buy-in and the likelihood your audience will share in the ownership of your efforts, let them have a say. You can casually ask people, or formally survey them to find out which groups they support most.
- Consider your neighborhood. Which services are important to the people who live and work near your location?
- Think about which issues or organizations are important to you as the owner, operator or manager. Who would you like to help?
Once you have a list of potential partners, learn more about them. Find out their needs, then connect with someone from the organization to start a relationship. You’ll glean enough information to choose one or two groups that’ll be a good fit for your company’s time and resources.
Though finding the right cause can take time, it’s a crucial first step, and the result will be highly rewarding. You’ll meet new people, create new opportunities, and position your business as one that truly cares. As you develop relationships and become more connected, your new contacts can lead to additional self-storage business.
Build a Culture
The most critical step in a community-focused approach is building a culture that values charitable work. If it isn’t a heartfelt priority for everyone in your company, top to bottom, your outreach will fail. Owners, leaders and managers must mirror the value, on and off the clock.
Set an example by leading efforts in the community and keep your team updated about what you’re doing to make their neighborhood a better place. When your staff see that community effort truly matters to you, it’ll matter to them, too. Doing good and giving back becomes contagious!
Your team plays a pivotal role in the adoption and success of your community efforts. They’re ambassadors of your brand and core values, so if they don’t buy in, it’ll be difficult to succeed. You’ll discover that giving back comes naturally to some but not all. This is normal. Coach and encourage the ones who struggle. Invite reluctant introverts to participate next to extroverts who love interacting until they feel safe and comfortable enough to participate without a buddy system. Recognize employees who excel at volunteerism, perhaps through “Employee of the Month” or in a quarterly meeting.
Moving forward, hire new staff who share the value of philanthropy. Once you’ve established an internal culture that values community service and volunteerism, you’ll attract people who crave and excel in charitable environments. You’ll also have the benefit of happier, more productive employees who stick around longer.
In time, you can encourage others to join your efforts. Whether it’s staff, a few key tenants or other folks you’ve met in a business-networking group, recruit people from your spheres of influence to support your charity partners. Simply invite them with phone calls, e-mail blasts, social media posts, fliers or postcards.
Change Your Focus
In the last few years, it’s become more common to see businesses participate in volunteer events, charity days or fundraisers with their staff, vendors and partners. Though these activities should be part of your community-focused strategy, they shouldn’t be your entire strategy. Sporadic events aren’t enough, and they won’t help you achieve the greater goal. To truly become a business that’s renowned for doing good and giving back, more is required.
Much of changing your focus is aligning with a cause and creating a workplace culture that’s firmly rooted in volunteerism; but there must be an intentional choice behind making philanthropy part of your business. Here are some ways to share the message of your commitment to the community:
Your office. In our self-storage management offices, we feature photos of charity projects we’ve worked on, plus a display from a local nonprofit to highlight our partnership. This shows every person who walks through our doors that giving back is a non-negotiable, crucial part of our business identity.
Everyone’s office is different, and you may not have the liberty to deck out the entire room. That’s OK. You might just have a corner, a shelf, or a sign in your window. Ask yourself, “How can we use this area to share our mission of helping others with the people who do business with us?”
Marketing. As you promote your business, tell people about your mission to help. In our sales and marketing materials, we frequently include “Doing Good and Giving Back is our No. 1 Core Value.” This lets folks know that helping others in our community is a high priority. You can also use advertising space to highlight your partnership with nonprofits.
Social media. Don’t forget to share photos of your community efforts on social media. Self-storage operators sometimes express concern about sharing information like this on their platforms because they don’t want to seem like they’re bragging. That’s valid, but remember that people expect businesses to help the community. If you aren’t sharing the good work you’re doing, how will anyone know? Does a lack of sharing inadvertently label you as a business that doesn’t care?
If you’re sincere and genuine in your approach, your intent won’t be questioned. Tag the groups you support when posting on social media and start conversations about the mission behind your work.
Daily business. In your daily routines with tenants, prospects and vendors, seize the opportunity to talk about upcoming events and projects in which you’ll be taking part. Invite them to join your efforts to help the community and, over time, your network of volunteers will grow. In our offices, we incorporate this into casual conversations and regularly invite tenants to join us.
What Doing Good Is Not
Focusing on community doesn’t mean saying yes to every sponsorship and donation request your business receives. It doesn’t mean spending tens of thousands of dollars to plan events. It doesn’t mean you never have staff in the office because you’re always helping your causes.
Though it can be tempting to green-light everything as you become a community-focused business (because it feels so good to do good!), avoid the temptation or burnout can result. Instead, start small and focus your time on one or two key organizations and their specific needs. Give thought to how you, your location and your employees can use your strengths to make a difference for neighbors in need.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. If you’re willing to align with a cause, build a culture that values community, and change your focus to make doing good a priority, you’ll be well on your way to helping your business even as you help others.
Ashlee Tirevold is the sales and marketing director for Maxi-Space Storage Solutions, which operates nine facilities in Washington. She weaves the company’s core values, especially doing good and giving back, into all aspects of sales and marketing. Her expertise is partnering brands and causes, and she has worked with numerous nonprofits and for-profits to implement successful community-focused marketing campaigns. She’s also a “Chairman’s Club” recipient from Emmis Communications and a former Miss Teen of Illinois. For more information, call 253.248.4577; e-mail email@example.com; visit www.maxi-space.com.