Relationships are the building blocks for all community organising activities. Whether you want to organise a ball game or introduce your business, you will need lots of good relationships. Why? Because the relationships we have with the communities we serve, and even our competition are the means for achieving our goals. People don’t work in isolation – we need to work together. It is all our various relationships all added together that are the foundation of an organised effort for peace and success. We need lots of people to contribute their ideas, take a stand, and get the work done, and eventually – answer needs.

It is also the people who motivate us to reach our goals. As community builders, we care deeply about people and caring is part of our work. It is our caring for others that motivates us to work as hard as we do. It is often the health and happiness of our children, neighbours, and co-workers that we hold fixed in our minds as we push ourselves to overcome obstacles and take on challenges that can feel overwhelming.

There are new rules in the customer engagement game. Converting a prospect into a customer is not about slick advertising or offering the greatest deal anymore. Instead, businesses must understand the importance of building relationships that keep customers coming back for more of their products and services. That relationship building happens in the community rather than in a conference room, through email, or a cold sales call. Connecting through community outreach, cause-based programs, and corporate volunteering builds alignment between consumers and your company. That translates into a loyal customer base built on engagement and interaction.

How, then, do you as business owner build relationships within your community? Here are a few suggestions.

Do volunteer (read: FREE) work for the community

One very overlooked way that a small business owner can help to market their business is to volunteer in a community organisation. As a volunteer with a local organization, you not only are helping out the community and making a difference for others in your community, but you also get to network with other business owners and prospects, building your relationships with them. Community organisations are always looking for people to volunteer to help their organisation. Many do look for donations for their fund raising events and such but many times, most of them really need people that would be willing to donate a few hours of their time to help with their events and causes.

Donating a little bit of your time can really help their cause and help you contribute to your community. At the same time, you will have the opportunity to be part of your community and help develop better relationships with the other volunteers. Many of these volunteers are also business owners and managers just like you. Networking with other people that are all working for a similar cause can really help you as a business owner build trust with your community and the side effect of this is more people that would be happy to refer your business to anyone that might need the services or products you supply.

Make your business accessible

An important community involvement objective is to ensure your premises, products and services, and communications are free of barriers, enabling all people to use them independently, regardless of one’s ability, gender, age, ethnic background, etc.  Businesses can show their commitment to inclusion by welcoming everyone so that all community members feel included and a sense of belonging. It means that everyone can actively participate in community life and can be recognised as having something to contribute.

Join a local service organisation

Local service organizations are a great way you can get involved. These groups meet on a regular basis and their entire purpose is to work on ideas and events to help raise money for local community charities. This is like a networking group with the purpose to help your community. Be active, look at one group that you see would be a great fit for your beliefs and ideals and you will make a great contribution to their cause.

This is hands on stuff, your involvement with these groups is about being involved and helping the community, not about promoting your business. The relationships you build will give you the side effect of more business and more sales.

Implement “Social Hiring”

Companies seeking to make a direct and meaningful contribution to poverty reduction and economic and social inclusion may be interested in opportunities to hire people who face labour market barriers because of a physical, mental or developmental disability, mis-matched skills, lack of work experience or skills, long-term unemployment,  lack of credential recognition, age, culture or language, etc.  People with such employment barriers – something that prevents or creates a problem with getting employment – have often been out of the workforce for a number of years and / or struggle with various issues preventing labour market attachment.

“Social hiring” is a commitment on the part of an employer to proactively recruit employees with employment needs.  There are many routes to finding quality candidates for consideration.  You might prefer to go through a government-funded employment service agency, directories of which are listed in the Resource Section below.  Alternatively, a small business could target specific disadvantaged groups, such as youth, new immigrants, or people with disabilities, and locate the local or provincial resource agency which can provide the necessary hands-on support.

Consider “Stakeholder Engagement”

Stakeholder engagement is the process of listening and talking to your stakeholders – typically employees, customers and community members – about their issues, concerns and needs, and also the business’ important directions and significant decisions.  This will help to better meet their needs and help you to develop more robust and lasting business outcomes.  More and more businesses are realising it is important to listen to their key audiences to determine market opportunities, manage risks and help innovate their products and services.

Stakeholder engagement can help you improve communication, facilitate buy-in on projects, generate community support, and tap into additional information, data and ideas. Listening to your stakeholders’ concerns and desires can help you to take into account their different priorities and perspectives.  It can secure your “social license to operate”.