Four years ago, I started a business. Sometimes that's still hard for me to believe--mostly because my work life changes so much from one year to the next, and even from one week to the next. My workday and routines change as I take on different projects and juggle new deadlines.
As much as I love the never-boring lifestyle of a freelancer, that also means I need to devote serious energy to remembering my focus as a writer and small business owner. I spend a lot of time asking myself questions that sound vaguely like a personal identity crisis. You know: "Who am I? What is my purpose? How do I fit in to the rest of the world?"
Deep questions, right? But these are really important things to consider as a business owner, whether you're the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the one and only employee. No matter how big or small our product is, we all contribute to our community in some way.
While the freelance projects I'm working on might change from one week to the next, there are still plenty of areas where I can plan ahead. One place where all businesses need to pre-plan is with their finances. If you're a freelancer or project-based worker, like me, budgeting looks a little different when you don't have a consistent bi-weekly paycheck. (For more on this, check out Angela J. Ford's piece on Using Multiple Streams of Revenue to Break the Feast to Famine Cycle).
Since I manage my finances by planning ahead, it's just as easy to plan charitable giving in advance, too. I'm a writer, so giving back to the community is a big part of my business. Freelance writers inform. We discuss. We shine a light on the issues that need to be heard. Fiction writers reflect. We give readers a place to escape, or, conversely, a place to feel understood.
With a job description like that, it's only natural that giving back to the community is a major focus in my business plan. I like to set a rule of 10%. 90% of my energy and finances goes towards growing my business (and paying my bills), but 10% goes to supporting the community around me. There are lots of ways to give back, but here are some of my favorites:
1. Share Your Profit
This is pretty straightforward--anyone who makes a profit can decide to give some of the money to charitable organizations, social causes, or local programs. One way to make this simple is through automation. Plenty of charities allow you to schedule monthly donations, which makes it an easy line item to factor in to your budget. Other businesses plan to make donations at tax time, the end of the fiscal year, or the anniversary of the business's founding.
You can also earmark some of your projects to raise money for charity. This is what I did with my short story series, Ghosts of Eagle Valley. I wrote it as a companion to Reluctant Cassandra--each of the four stories gives the background on a time period in the history of Eagle Valley, Virginia. Since one of the characters in Reluctant Cassandra is facing a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, I decided to donate all the proceeds from Ghosts of Eagle Valley to the Alzheimer's Association.
Channillo for Charity made this process incredibly easy. Channillo functions like an online literary journal, so readers do have to subscribe to the site in order to read the series. If Channillo authors wish to support a charity in lieu of receiving payments, Channillo will donate our earnings directly to the charity. Pretty cool, right? Just last week Channillo sent me a notification that my earnings of $54.18 had been donated to the Alzheimer's Association. That means that, to date, this little short story series has raised $110.58 for a great cause.
Here are some more ways to use your profits to give back to the community:
- Create a scholarship for others in your field
- Sponsor a local team
- Host a fundraiser or partner with a charity for an event
2. Share Your Services
Contributions don't have to be monetary--and in fact, many good causes need writers, illustrators, social media coordinators, and event organizers. Offering your services for a reduced rate--or even for free!--is a great way to donate to a worthy cause.
Monica Haynes of The Thatchery actually did this for me when I was creating Ghosts of Eagle Valley. Monica designed the cover for Reluctant Cassandra, my website, my Facebook banner, and bookmarks--it's safe to say I absolutely love her work! Naturally I contracted with her to create the cover art for Ghosts of Eagle Valley as well. When Monica found out I was planning to donate the proceeds from the short story collection to the Alzheimer's Association, she donated her design services for the cover. Her work and her generosity both made a huge difference to the project!
Creative small business owners can also give back by discussing current social issues in their work. Non-fiction writers can make a point to address current events, for example, and fiction writers can reflect characters that deal with social issues in their stories. Raising awareness helps other people get informed and--more importantly--encourages people to get involved.
Here are some other ways your products and services to give back:
- Donate a product to a charity raffle
- Host a giveaway for your services
- Sit on a board or committee and lend your professional expertise to the cause
3. Share Your Network
When I was a teacher, I learned much more from my fellow teachers than I ever could have learned from a textbook. The same is true of my life as a writer. Other freelancers have taught me how to set my prices, network with potential clients, and handle the inevitable sticky situations. Other authors have given me great advice on everything from initial character development to publishing and book marketing. It would be impossible for me to give back as much to the community as it's given to me. However, I can definitely put 10% of my energy back into building up other writers.
These are a few ways writers help each other:
- Reading and reviewing each other's books
- Sharing blog posts and other social media connections
- Being a beta reader or critique partner
And here are a few ways small business owners of every stripe can give back to their professional community:
- Offering webinars and classes in our areas of expertise
- Helping others connect with potential clients or business partners
- Supporting new businesses through partnerships, mentoring, and sales
Interested in learning more about giving back to the community as an author or small business owner? Check out these articles from around the web:
How to Give Back to the Community as a Home-Based Business Owner || Sagan Morrow
5 Steps to Giving Back: Charitable Giving and Your Business || Small Business Trends
Are you a small business owner? How do you give back to your community? Let us know in the comments!