If you are starting to feel like your Startup business isn’t having enough impact or isn’t visible enough in your community, you are not alone. You might be feeling that the traditional networking channels are not enabling you to meet enough prospects, or maybe people that you are meeting just aren’t the ones that you are looking for. Chamber of Commerce meetings are great ways to meet local business people, as are other government funded organizations like the Ontario Centres of Excellence. Before you dedicate all of your time to these groups though, consider volunteering for a cause that reflects the sorts of people that you are looking to connect with.
Startup Canada is a non-profit organization entirely staffed by volunteers that care about the success of entrepreneurism in our country. We have great sponsors and partners that help us, and because we are a nationwide organization, volunteers have the opportunity to meet like minded people from across the country and even locally that they would not have otherwise met. What better way to show off your expertise in areas like writing articles, graphic design, Web design, Social Media, and Media/Government Relations than by doing so with a high visibility, empowering organization like Startup Canada? Not only is the expertise shared within our volunteer community, we also share our expertise with other “Treps” across Canada both young and experienced. We also learn from successful entrepreneurs like those in the “1000 Startups” project.
There are other great charities and organizations in Canada that are amazing volunteer causes for Startups. Have you ever participated in a “Habitat for Humanity” build? Have you ever visited a ReStore organization for materials for your CoWorking Space or your office? Habitat for Humanity employees are paid exclusively from the revenues from ReStore, and all of the other sponsorship/donation money goes to building homes to provide a “Hand Up” for qualifying families. Whether you want to improve the engagement of your team by participating in a build, or by buying products from your local ReStore outlet, it is a way to meet other philanthropic businesses in the area. Contact your local Habitat for Humanity group to see how you can help them with your time and sweat equity as well as donations that you can afford. You can find great furniture, doors, cabinetry and other treasures at the ReStore and dress your space for success!
Rotary Clubs International, Lions Clubs, and Kiwanis Clubs across Canada also offer great opportunities to meet people in your community. There is a cost to being a member, however it is reasonable and gives you an opportunity to be seen by your business peers in the community giving back and helping those in your area that are less fortunate. or participate in Family Fun Day functions, helping seniors and cleaning up the local community in “Spring Cleaning” events. They also help out in nations impacted by natural disasters, disease and famine. These clubs are no longer ageing people looking to get out of the house, they are vibrant community groups that aren’t intended as referral sources, however by building strong relationships with local leaders.
Events like Startup Drinks, Startup Grind and Startup Weekend are run by volunteers and sponsors. What better way to recruit new talent and meet other entrepreneurs can there be than hanging out for a few hours over a beer, a cup of coffee, or over 54 hours working to bring a business model to fruition? There are Open Coffee Clubs in areas like Toronto, Barrie, and Huntsville where people can get together around a table, discuss areas of their business that they want to improve, get feedback and advice, all for free. If your startup is a restaurant or coffee shops, it is a great idea to sponsor or offer discounts to these business groups to increase your customer base! Barrie Bean Counter is an example of a company that does this. Makerspaces and Coworking spaces often have their own name for these clubs regardless of the name.
The summer is nearing its end, (so the Back to School advertisers would have you believe anyway), and kids are getting ready to head back to school. Consider volunteering for events like Career Days, or find the local Junior Achievement group and speak directly to kids in school that will be the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Check with the local CYBF contact or YMCA and see if they have Youth Entrepreneurs that might benefit from mentor programs. Even if you might be just new with your business, you might find a young person that can benefit from your pearls of wisdom. Partnering with these organizations can also dovetail into other promotional activities as well.
If you have bootstrapped your business, and you find yourself low on funds, there are lots of ways to give back/help non-profit organizations and raise the visibility of your Startup at the same time. Participate in an event like Habitat for Humanity “Hammers and Heels” or a Women’s Build if you fit that criteria. Serve beer and wine for a Rotary Club or (wo)man the grill at a community picnic. Or volunteer with Startup Canada and contribute directly to the Canadian entrepreneurial ecosystem. Just find a non-profit organization that moves you that can benefit from your time and energy and have a blast!