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Nothing makes us feel better than giving. But when you’re starting and running your own business, you need to be selective and strategic with your giving. With so many deserving organizations, who do you say no to?

Michelle and JoyGenea get honest about volunteering, giving, and the various ways they have used community involvement to help grow their businesses, including the mistakes they made along the way.


M: Hi everyone! I’m Michelle owner of BadCat Digital Marketing.

J:   and I am JoyGenea I am owner of Solutions by JoyGenea. Welcome to If These Heels Could Talk. 

M:  Today on our show we’ll be talking in detail about small business volunteering and giving. Recently our two businesses, along with many other women who own local businesses did a donation fundraiser for the local women’s shelter. 

J:  While we both love to give to the community, as business owners it is a little different.  So, Michelle, I know that your business is only a couple years old now.

M:  Yes. 

J:  And growing. 

M:  Yes. 

J:  And I’ve been in business now for 13 years. 

M:  Yes.

J:   I am a bit of an introvert.  Ok. I am more of an introvert.  And you are more of an extrovert and so I really think it’s valuable that we’re having this conversation because those are very different perspectives on doing this.

M:  Absolutely.

J:   And offering that, so I know one of the mistakes that I’ve made that I just want to share with people so they can avoid it. When I first started, I loved to volunteer when I had a paid full-time job.  And so all of a sudden now when I was a solopreneur and had my own business I felt like I had more time to give to the charities that I believed in and I did. 

M:  Ah-ha, which stopped you from putting that time in to building your business. 

J:  Right.  And which also prevented putting food on the table. 

M:  Right. 

J:  And while I mentally wrote off building the brand. 

M:  Right.

J:   No.  Looking back now I do wish somebody could have coached me around that a little bit and said you need to put a cap on that. 

M:  Right.  And you need to put a cap on the money you’re going to give. You need to put a cap on the time you’re going to put into that and what you’re going to do and what your goal is.

J: Have an understanding of what your objective is for giving and what your objective is for people you could possibly meet and so forth.

M:  Right.  It was the same thing when I started BadCat actually because I was really liking having kind of all of this free time and I kind of joined the world of networking. Which I didn’t really understand, because when you have a full-time job and you work for somebody else another person does that. 

J:  Yup. 

M:  Somebody else goes into the community and builds relationships with business but when you own the business you have to do that. So I did do that same thing where I sunk a lot of time into it and I started thinking about it like just like you said, kind of what do I want from this and it was actually my husband that was like ok now wait a minute.

J:  Right. 

M:  Ok now wait a minute.

J:   It is the outside observers.

M:  Ok is this really doing what you want it to do and then I had to sit down and think what I want to it to do and then I had to think my time as being billed out at X amount of dollars so anytime I am volunteering I need to now get that amount of dollars from it or my time could be used in a different way. Part of it is I want to give. I want to volunteer – I value that.  I think it’s really important.  I think it’s an important part of being a citizen and a member of a community but yowza it can eat your life.

J:   Well I was having conversations with a variety of people since I knew this was going to be our topic.

M:  Right. 

J:  And got feedback from men and women and it was interesting the feedback I got from men. A couple of them business owners – actually one of them a salesperson.  And I really started to question was part of how I approached this and what I did somewhat based on my gender.  M:  It is possible you kind of see that when you’re on boards or you see that when you’re on committees. It kind of reminds me of when we were in middle school and in a group project and it always seemed like there was always like that super organized type A girl that you wanted on your group because you knew everything would get done. That was me when I was in 7th grade and then by the time I was in 10th grade I had figured out the game and I had become not that because then you know you get these like all of these guys on the team with you and they just sit around and write fart jokes while you’re doing all the work.  Now I’m gonna give a lot of the men that I volunteer with a lot more credit because it’s not just for jerks but it does sometimes feel like alot of the piddly detailed administrative work which is a huge time suck comes down to whoever says yes in the meeting and it feels like the person who’s the least comfortable leaving it go the longest is invariably that same person that type A woman and so um so yeah I completely agree with you.  I think it does mirror that and there’s shades of it.

J:   Yes.  I was gonna say there’s shades of it.  I definitely think um for people looking at going into business it is and if you are, I think the smaller the community the more that ask is gonna be there.

M:  Oh, absolutely.

J:  And not just on your time but as you become a business on the money.

M:   Oh my gosh yes, I mean cuz people have this perception that because you own a small business you have a lot of money.  And that’s very much not true. 

J:  Alrighty. 

M:  In fact, I mean especially the beginning your small business as it’s growing has significantly less money then just about anything else because you have to put it back in. 

J:  Yes, it’s just a circle. 

M:  It just a circle. 

J:  And you’re not really in the circle. 

M:  No. You just look at the numbers on a spreadsheet and at the end of the day you just hope what goes out is less than what comes in. 

J:  Yeah.

M:  That’s what really running – especially for the first three years and so the challenges then how do you do what your heart wants to do?

J:  Yes.

M:  But put limits on it so that you’re achieving your business goals through it rather than saying, well I’m gonna do this but I’m only gonna do it if it comes back to me.  I mean that’s kind of a way to do it. 

J:  We’ve met those people. 

M:  Oh my gosh, yes we have. 

J:  Like we’ve all met those people.  Oh, they walk in, they shake everybody’s hand they – and you know they’re just like and I do this and if you need any help with this I can do this.  It’s like whoa whoa time out we’re here to feed the poor.  Like we’re here feeding the homeless like here’s your ladle. 

M:  Yeah. 

J:  You need to reel that in. 

M:  Yes. Yes. 

J:  I have to really thank my executive group that’s who put a leash on me. 

M:  Really? 

J:  Yup they recognized what I was trying to think back and they recognized it and went ok how many dollars. What’s your budget? What percentage of your revenue – which as soon as you say revenue in small business…

M:   Everybody calms down…

J:  Oh, that’s a smaller number then one would think.  And then how many hours?  That was really the cap for me and they would check in with me every month. Ok, how many hours of volunteer work did you do this month and I had to keep track of it and that helped me. 

M:  Well and the other thing is, you know, you want to get recognition for what you’re giving as a small business that’s a really big part of why you participate and give to the community and there’s nothing more frustrating than being at a gala or some sort of event or fundraiser and having your tiny little logo up on the screen in front of all the other logos with the giant company logo above you um and then your little one down there with 30 others. The thing that’s interesting when you are in that situation is almost invariably with the donation and those huge donations five thousand, ten thousand, fifteen thousand dollars – the kind of donations that I could only really dream of giving. 

J: Someday. 

M:  Um some day when I make more than that, then I will give more than that but when you are – when you’re sitting in that room, the three tables that big company got are empty. 

J: Yeah. 

M:  Because it was easy for them to write a check but giving their time and giving of individuals and that passion and that heart behind it just isn’t there on the same level.

J:   Yeah. 

M:  So it really is one of those small businesses will give a higher percentage of their available time, their available revenue, than a larger business but the larger business gets the credit because they write the big check and so.

J:   And like both are necessary.

M:   Both are absolutely necessary. But how do we get it so that when somebody comes to us with an ask, there’s not like this one sheet that’s got these three levels that just make you feel like crap because you can’t ever achieve the big level. How do we do that? 

J:  I believe its partially somewhat what the goal and objective is.  If your logo was ginormous would you actually get more business. Like you gotta kinda question that.

M:   And that’s why I don’t write the big check because I wouldn’t see it back.

J:   Right.

M:   You know, could I justify making that a business expense with that like large amount, yeah if I wanted to spend my entire annual marketing budget on a single fundraiser I could do that, I could make that choice.

J:   Right. 

M:  But that ain’t going to work for me. 

J:  That’s the valuable thing in having um, like I said, I had an executive committee that met every month and so I was having those conversations. I think that’s the value of having those resources when you first start, using the business resources centers, those kinds of things and checking in with them about that. I remember SCORE told me right away they’re like ok and get out there and ya know and do some volunteering and get your name out there and stuff. They just didn’t recognize that saying that to a person who volunteered and loved to volunteer meant I was going to take that too far.

M:   If a little is good then a lot is way better.

J:  Well and I’ve experienced as you were talking about the big logo on that. I’ve experienced one where – and this is where you people need to be aware of what you’re giving – so I did an entire website for a non-profit and literally in front of everyone they went well we would tell you to go to our website but it’s just not that great and she made it. 

M:  Oh, my.

J:   And I done it totally off the – like it was a huge time suck, like the biggest animal in the room and the person that made this comment was very un-tech savvy and had no idea what I had taken the time to do and how they had kind of the best website in their whole genre. But in that moment I couldn’t pay to have advertising that bad.

M:  Right.

J:   Like I was speechless. 

M:  Well as kind of another point, as creatives we get asked a lot and when we’re asked to do work for non-profits or non-profits bring us in, they want a special rate. I’m here to tell you right now that working with committees and working with volunteers as somebody who is doing any sort of creative work on any level is such a huge time suck and it’s so frustrating that you actually want to charge them more.  It’s kind of like my whole thing about how children under the age of 10 shouldn’t be at R rated movies and if they’re parents bring them, which is their parent’s choice and prerogative, but if their parents bring them, they should have to pay $50 for that kid’s ticket. The kid’s ticket should not cost less for a movie that that I, as an consumer without children, should be able to go to and not have children there. This is the same thing working with committees of people.  Any organization that you have a committee assigned to get a project done – especially if that committee is 6 people or 10 people or 15 people and especially if that committee has volunteers on it.

J:  That’s a really good point.  And we both learned a lot.

M:  I did it too.  I thought this would be great – I’ll get my name out there as a generous person just a little favor – oh my gosh.

J:  And you know what I’ve learned from that now when people do ask I tell them that it tends to turn out the worst of any customer experience and because it just doesn’t. 

M:  Because when you are on the 7th hour of 17 hours of meetings, you’re like ok and now you’re resenting having said yes but you can’t say no cuz you look like dick if you say no.

J:    Like I totally did it was for something I was passionate about and believed in and I still believe in but I recognized um with that how I fixed that whole process it no longer became a board conversation.  I said you need one committee. It involves the executive director and one board member.  Pick that board member now and that’s it and we’re having consistent meetings and their stuff they have to get done.

M:   And the two of you are going to present this to the rest of the group when it’s completed. 

J:  Yes. Yep.

M:   Because you are going to do this together therefore I am going to trust you to do it.  I am exactly the same way.  You have to have the decision maker, the one who’s got to be happy with it and then somebody with that more administrative…

J: Right.

M: …right to kind of marshal the project along.  And that’s the secret to success with large groups like that.

J:  I had the privilege of being on a fire department for quite some time and enjoyed that and we had this annual bar-b-que roast ham roast thing that we would do every year and I was young and I’m very analytic at times and I looked at that and I went you know if we all just gave $50 like it didn’t make a lot of money.

M:  Right.

J:   And I went you know if we all just gave fifty bucks we would not have to spend three drills and an entire father’s day weekend doing this thing.

M:  Right.

J:   I’m like, I just don’t get it.  That was the analytical side of it once I did it for 10 years or actually about six.  I was able to step back and realize we actually divided up our entire territory and went door to door and talked with absolutely every single farmer, every single resident.

M:   Wow.

J:  And offered them to buy half.  We had this raffle and we just went out to say do you want tickets to this feed and you know or do you want to buy this raffle ticket like we have these two options and that’s what it was about. 

M:   It was about meeting with people.

J:   It was about the teamwork cuz I got to know members of the department differently because we would go out on those things and little groups of two and so all of a sudden I got it – we got to know each other better.  It was a great team-building thing.  But I couldn’t see it like that and they were not able to communicate it so I was pretty bucky for a while.

M: I can just imagine a bucky JoyGenea.

J:  I can see now that sometimes youth is not always an advantage and I did need to step back and look at that from a more senior perspective. What is the whole intake and that lesson I carried into business and I now look at things when they ask me to do things. I’m like well what’s the long term? How does this build something? I recognize that volunteering for the committees.  If I get into something and I’m really passionate about the topic or project whatever I want in. I will go down and talk to the legislatures. I will. 

M:  120% in.

J:  Yeah.   How do I get in and how do I get on a committee you know to make a difference and to get to know some more people that we share the same passionate thing. Like we are passionate about that cause so.  M:  That’s really cool because especially when you’re coming out of like a solopreneur into building a team, that’s a huge part of it. Is that team-building piece. I really wish that there was more opportunities that I could send one person instead of needing a whole team to like shut down the office to go to Habitat for Humanity build. Right. Because the office just isn’t big enough for me to shut down once a month to do something like that. And again that’s one of those pitting larger business against smaller businesses thing. Marco didn’t have to shut down to send 10 people to a Habitat build site for an afternoon and so that’s that collective impact piece again through joining with people. Like our bra drive, the thing that we did there it was spearheaded by another woman in business in the community and it conceptualized by her it was absolutely amazing and wonderful. 

J:  It was phenomenal. 

M:  But we were able to join something like that to have this huge community splash so that it became a marketing program.  It became a team-building program.  And then how I was how our business could participate in that was entirely up to us.

J:   Yes, and there were not tears. 

M:  No.  It was just show up and…

J:   Can you do this. 

M:  …it was a $100 bucks for this and that’s the end.

J:  I could definitely feel the difference in that project.

M: Everybody’s honored. 

J:  Yeah, I was gonna say it did, it had a real honor and experience from a business perspective.

M: And the other thing it did really, really well was it satisfied a specific immediate need rather than we’re all gonna get together in fancy dress and sit down for a rubber chicken dinner and that we paid way too much money for. 

J:  Right.

M:   And then eventually the money will get to somebody sort of. 

J:  Yeah. 

M:  This was different.  It felt very…  It just felt very gratifying.  It was an immediate gratification thing.  So, I mean that took creativity and it took thought but it didn’t necessarily take more time and money than most things. 

J:  No.  It didn’t.  And I think it was well received by the community also.  I still hear people talking about it. 

M:  Well and I think we’re gonna do it again next year although we got so many bras I think we’re gonna have to start shipping them out to other women’s shelters which would be amazing. It’s an amazing problem to have and so I think that there’s a bigger lesson here because what you were talking about, aligning with your values as you gain a reputation in the community, those values become your businesses values. 

J:  Yeah.

M:  You know like it’s part of your business’s mission, it’s part of your business’s value system so how is it that that what you’re doing aligns with that and that can be a really good way to make decisions about things. Because you get to a point when you’re known as a person who does this.  You get to a point where you’re gonna get every request.  I get emails from high school sports teams and you know like buy Girl Scout cookies from this woman that I work with and that kid selling raffle tickets and this person is doing that and this person is selling wreaths.

J:   And we are doing this and can you make a donation.

M:   Right.  Spaghetti feed. Cancer things.

J:  We’re having a silent auction.

M:  A silent auction.  A lot of that.

J:  We’re having a silent auction do you have something you can add.  I early on learned.  I have particular basket that I just put together.

M:  And early on I was donating work at this silent auction.

J:  Oh me too.

M: Because I thought that was gonna be a great way to advertise. Turns out it’s really not. 

J:  No. Certain communities.

M:  No. No.

J:  No? Ok.

M:  My family is involved in a Rotary Club in southern Wisconsin and they ask me for that same donation and it’s been a disaster every single time because part of it is that I never get to know who won it unless they call me and claim it.  A year and half later you get a phone call that says how come I never got my free month of blah blah blah blah and I’m like sorry, who are you?  You know like. And it’s just like ummmmmmmm… 

J:  Right. My experience with when I was doing the professional organizing and I would give away blocks of time, couple of hours or something um, it was interesting. Families would purchase that, dump it on somebody, and I would show up at a house.

M:  Who resented them.

J: Oh yeah, and honestly if we had a client meeting, they wouldn’t have become my client. 

J:  Right. They’re a choice, my choice.  Like we would have all – and one time that’s exactly what I did – I’m like you know what, I brought some water with me and I’m like let’s clear a chair and how about we just sit here and watch this soap opera you wanna watch. And she was like oh really and I’m like yeah you deserve better. I am not gonna force this on you.  Thanks for having me over.  I’m like this could be different, but I get your ok.  In two hours we’re gonna find this chair, I kid you not in this space, I’m like we will find this chair and I would like to find that part of the couch. 

M:  No wonder you don’t watch Hoarders. 

J:  No, no. 

M:  My guilty pleasure, not yours.

J:   So I learned from that. Another thing I think people actually under-utilize in business is if you are part of a church and giving the basket or something and promoting your business in that matter. So often in religious avenues you don’t ever talk about your businesses. 

M:  Oh, I suppose because it feels socially inappropriate in that moment I bet. 

J:  Well typically, you just show up.

M:  I wouldn’t know.

J:   I know that’s just it, that’s why I am sharing from my perspective. It was so funny our church went to a new location and they were having phone issues. And I’m like, you know the best phone broker is a member of the church, oh really no I didn’t know that.  It occurred to me that literally the leadership team had no idea the businesses of the people.  Like they so had not made that part of it which I was really impressed with honestly. 

M:  Yeah that is socially impressive.

J: Yea.  But I also recognized they were missing an opportunity.

M:   Oh totally.

J:   So that was something. 

M:  Well and to increase the bond. It’s one of the reasons that you work with your clients and your clients work with you that you know you refer people to your clients. 

J: And you have a higher trust level. We’re in a similar group, we already kind of needled it down. 

M:  And if there is anybody who is going to do a good job for your church, it’s gonna be a member.

J:   Right. So that’s definitely a spot where I’ve stepped up and when they have asked for things for the youth, a fundraiser or whatever, I give a basket but I make sure it’s branded and so forth so people are able connect me with what I do outside of that space so I can be of some service in other areas.

M:  Absolutely. 

J:  But I see a lot of people not quite jumping into that possibility.

M:   Well and you really want and since we are both in marketing we have to say we really want to take advantage of the marketing opportunity you are creating with this. You want to be on social media about it.  You want to be talking about the process.  You want to be giving every ounce of everything you can get out of it because it is an investment in time and money. 

J:  Well and don’t hesitate – from a social media prospective I found this to be useful – don’t hesitate asking people for ideas.

M:   Right or help.

J:  Right.  It’s like I’m putting together this basket for the youth group that’s going on this mission trip like you know.

M:  Who’s got an idea?  Another way to do it is to increase what you’re willing to spend as a business by crowd-sourcing the other half.  So you know there’s that donation bar at the bottom of Facebook.  You can actually say BadCat or Solutions by JoyGenea is going to give up to $500 as a match and so if you set that goal and set a time limit then you can collect money from them and now it’s that collective impact, right?  You can make a bigger impact with $500 if you can double it through something like that. 

J:  And plus include other people in what you’re doing because all of the… 

M:  Or looking like or sounding like you’re bragging about what you are doing so that’s the Central MN piece of it.

J:   Yes. 

M:  We don’t want to brag about what we’re doing but we do want other people to know what we’re doing so that’s where the humble brag comes in.

J:  Well I want them to have the opportunity to participate.  Like I know when my friends sometimes tell me they did this or they gave to that like why didn’t you tell me I would have put some money on that. Yeah, I love that purpose or I love that cause.

M:   Yeah.

J:   You know lead me to rescued animals.

M:   And the other thing as creatives that we can give with is um work in our clients with that.  Last Christmas, the Christmas gift that we did for our clients – our agency thing to give client Christmas gifts and so the Christmas gift we gave our clients included a donation to a cause and it worked perfectly with the gift. I think it’s definitely something and I mean it was a huge success and I think definitely something that we’ll do every year, probably with a different organization, and so it aligns with BadCat, our vision, our mission but also something that we can do at the end of the year to kind of keep that moment going. It’s cloud cover so when you know Joe Schmo from you know this thing emails you and says his kid is selling wreaths and will you buy one, you can say I’m really sorry you know this what I am doing this month and um I would love to participate next year if you give me a little bit more notice.

 J:  Yeah.

M:   Or something like that because then instead of just no… 

J:  Yeah.

M:  I’m not going to do that.  Which makes you seem cold-hearted, especially at that time of the year. 

J:  Well and maybe not everybody lives in an area that is as um heavy in charitable organizations but we will tell you we are coming to you from Central Minnesota and you can Google this but it is quite a capital in Minnesota and particular Central Minnesota is a huge mecca for volunteerism and non-profit organizations.

M:   Which is awesome.

J:   It is. It’s an awesome amazing thing it also has been very beneficial in teaching me the art of the ‘no.’ Getting down to what I am passionate about, you know what aligns with my business and my values. 

M:  Absolutely.

J:   And I want to give to that. So, to conclude I just wanted to share with you or what I think would be good feedback when it comes to volunteering and being a solopreneur or a really a small business to get the most out of your time and investment. Go with what you’re passionate about and believe in and engage in the leadership or community committee opportunities.  I find that to be the best use of my time, my energy, my values, all of that is what I can get involved at that level and then I am able to volunteer some time to maybe an event or something. It might not work out that way but if I have been involved in the leadership and the committee portion I’ve made some connections with some people that we have a lot in common with.

M:  Absolutely. 

J:  And that’s just valuable for me as a person and I’ve found that helps.

M:   Cuz you’re passionate about the same thing. 

J: Yeah. So we have a shared commonality.

M:  But I think my biggest takeaway is that this is a huge opportunity as a small business. You have an opportunity to impact your community and a huge opportunity to communicate something about your brand along the way and show your values and who you are and who you want your business to be, what you want your business to be. So take advantage of it for marketing purposes. Use your kind of network and your collective impact so you join with other people so that you can make a bigger splash together than you are able to apart. If you can find some sort of umbrella organization to do that that’s a huge benefit.  The United Way in town here is putting together something called Small Business 365. It’s still in it’s infancy but we’re recruiting for the Founding 50 members right now and it’s really exciting to see how we’re structuring it so it doesn’t have the tiers. So it doesn’t make people feel like they have to give, so people give time and money or in-kind donations so that it’s not exclusive. Different types of small businesses can be a part of it.  And we’re not defining small businesses as any one thing. We are allowing people to self-identify because you know in different industries you have more employees than you do at a business my size. We want solopreneaurs, we want people that identify as a small business but maybe do have deeper pockets because they are in an industry with huge giant bohemuth businesses. It’s really, really exciting to see what’s coming down the pike in our community but from all of us here at BadCat Digital…

J:  and Solutions by JoyGenea, we thank you for listening. 

M: That’s all for today’s episode of If these Heels Could Talk. Thanks guys and we will be back soon.