Don’t Accept Me, Expect Me

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One Red Fish Surrounded By Blue Fish.

I did it once. I gave in to my disability. I was struggling in college: juggling a double major, a part-time job, a sorority, and track season was right around the corner. My schedule was a breeze when going through manic mode. But when dealing with the low side of bi-polar, the battle was uphill and the finish line looked a lot farther than the 400m sprint I was used to training for.  So I gave in.

It was the end of my 8 am class and I went to my professor. It was just a general education course and I was only a semester away from graduation. I did what I had never done for any class. I told the professor about my disability. I chalked it up for all it was worth. I explained that I was dealing with med changes and my schedule was full. None of it was really a lie.

I don’t regret telling my professor that I have bi-polar disorder, but I do regret why I told him. I was looking for a way out; a way to make the day easier. The class didn’t really matter. It was just a nuisance class I had to take to graduate. I wanted an easy A and I knew that by gaining a little sympathy it would be possible.

Just to be clear, the one perk of having a disability is to use sympathy for our advantage. But taking that one gesture toward sympathy sets us two steps back in our abilities. That day when I told the professor about my disability, I was screaming for the professor to accept me for my differences. What he really did was even better; he expected me for being the same.

It’s not difficult to spin into the acceptance trend. Short or tall, red or blue, we want people to take us how we are. But when it comes to rising up to a challenge, we can be quick to remind others of our faults and excuse ourselves from rising to the top. We are no longer expected and we sink ourselves back down to the minority that is comfortable and safe.

As we gear up for the back to school season, I want to encourage all parents and teachers to not provide students with a letter of acceptance, but with an impression of expectance. There are many times that we say as novices that “we can’t” when the fact is that “we won’t”. When we decide that we won’t do something because our disabilities hold us back, then we will never really reach our full potential.

I got an A in that class. Though I told the professor about my disability for the wrong reasons, he was gracious in letting me take my time to learn in a way that was right for me. I didn’t go to class every day, but I studied, and I felt as though I earned the A.

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5 Tips for the Social Benefit Entrepreneur

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1Running a business can be both exciting and challenging. Let’s say we throw in the idea of not just growing a business, but benefitting humanity on top of it all. We feel a sense of pride in making a little impact on the world, but in order to leave the biggest impression, success is crucial. While growing my own socially beneficial business, I have learned a few tips (some the hard way) for running a successful socially beneficial entrepreneurship.

  1. Sell the Opportunity

What are you creating your business for? What is its purpose? In my business, my social benefit is to create jobs within the food industry for adults with developmental disabilities. All of the sudden I have created a business that few people dare to do. I have created my niche.

So who cares? Actually, a lot of people. According to Forbes, more than 88% of consumers think companies should try to achieve their business goals while improving society and the environment, and, 83% of consumers think companies should support charities and nonprofits with financial donations.

In the back of your mind, you and maybe a few stakeholders are the people that want your enterprise to do well, but a large number of people want your business to do good. It is important to market that doing good is exactly the business you are in. Whether it’s local newspapers, news clips, or social media, share your story. Otherwise you will be grouped in with the other side stands selling the same product.

  1. Quality Equals Loyalty

As people start to hear your story, they will be ready to see your product for themselves. This is your one shot. Think to yourself, how many times have you felt that you needed to support someone in something? You build an empathy towards them. Maybe it’s supporting someone financially for a medical bill or a mission trip. Maybe it’s just that little favor you promised someone last week and you know it should be fulfilled. Once the money or favor is given, you cross it off your mental list and continue on your day. It makes you feel accomplished.

What is my point? People will have that same urgency to try your socially responsible business. People will also have the same ease at crossing it off their list.

You have to give people a reason to come back through your product. At my business, we have built some very loyal clientele with one item—the cinnamon roll. People love them! Of course you want people to love all you have to offer, but if you can have at least one item that gives you competitive advantage over your competitor, or gets people marketing your business for you, then you have begun to build loyalty.

  1. G.U.E.S.T. Services

When you’re running a socially responsible business, it does not matter how elaborate your product inventory list is, you are in the service business. We’ve all had the waitress who is having a bad day, or the sales clerk who is everything but cordial. Often times we just tip a little less and move on with our lives. But especially when running a socially beneficial business, careless composure is bad for business.

Here’s my point: when people start to hear word of your social benefit, it gives them a good enough feeling to try you out. Don’t let them leave with a bad feeling. Many businesses have different ways of working with their employees to achieve a great service. One of my favorite acronyms is G.U.E.S.T.—Greet the customer, Use their name, Eye contact, Smile, and Thank the customer.

When you’re running a socially beneficial business, the customer might not be your primary beneficiary. That is, they may not be the one you started your business to benefit. It is important to remember that their contribution is what allows you to fuel your primary beneficiary, which makes them equally as important.

  1. Use Your Internal Hard Drive

We’ve all heard the phrase, “The Customer is always Right”. While waitressing my way through college, I’ve learned that that phrase is simply not true. I remember waiting on one lady. She sent back her steak that was clearly cooked how she had ordered it, cheekily looking to claim a free meal. I returned with a steak that looked extraordinarily similar to the first, but slightly more pleasing to the woman’s appeal. I candidly asked her if she would like her water refilled. She replied, “My water glass should always be full!”

As I shed a couple tears in the back room, my boss looked at me and said, “The customer is not always right, but don’t ever let them think anything else.”

As an employer it is important to show adoration to the external portion of your business—the customer. But more importantly, you should always put a large sense of pride toward your internal forces, or employees. They are often times more of the face of your business than you are. If you can help them build a sense of pride for your business creation, their self-esteem and overall quality of life will shine outwardly. This will help them to deliver quality and service to external prospects with ease.

  1. Aim for Profit

Of all of the tips above for a social benefit entrepreneur, this is the most important. First, your business won’t operate in Black Friday mode right away. Your ribbon cutting and other special events might draw in some people, but your mission won’t appeal to everyone from day one. You have to fight competitors for attention as if your social benefit is just as much of a competitive edge and Bob’s Chili Dogs’ secret recipe.

Second, you are running a for-profit business. In your eyes you might be making a difference to your social beneficiaries, but you are not making a difference in the eyes of the business realm until you profit. So what? You might say. Do you want to not work a day in your life doing what you love? Do you want your business to expand and make an even bigger difference? To fulfill these questions, you need money.

Third, build on soul and mind. As social benefiters, we are built on the heart aspect. We want to leave people feeling satisfied; it fuels us. When finances aren’t going as planned, we rely on our immeasurable feelings. Don’t. The numbers are a variable that is defined. Be an entrepreneur; take what you can control like marketing, quality products, and excellent service to build your business. This doesn’t mean give up on your primary mission. A socially beneficial business is a paradox in itself. To be successful, you must be both creative and regimented; Follow your heart, but don’t forget to use your brain.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/csr/2010/12/15/new-study-consumers-demand-companies-implement-csr-programs/

Letters to Lee: Human Resources

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1These are portions of my letters to Lee Shobe, the former CEO of DowBrands. He has been a major mentor throughout the start of my business, The Spotted Cow Coffeehouse. These letter may come across as a bit unprofessional, but they represent what I am learning through my adventure as a young female entrepreneur.

I currently have six employees: four with special needs and two without. I have to say that I have the most amazing staff.

I have decided that hiring is like shoe shopping. (This may be a bit feminine of an analogy.) There’s the cute ones, the supportive ones, and the expensive ones. You want to find a happy medium in all of these aspects. For cute: It doesn’t really mean that they are physically attractive but that their character is attractive. This is very important in the service business. They have to have a pleasant demeanor, or guests won’t be satisfied. For supportive: they have to be able to provide worth for the business. Even with my individuals with special needs, I look at what they can bring to the business. This is also the concept of attitude. Teamwork is a huge piece. As a team, can they support each other, and get the job done? Finally, expensive. Right now labor is my biggest expense. Mostly because many of my individuals with disabilities cannot work alone. I have not put any employee above minimum wage, but I know how many hours to give each individual. So in aspects of shoe shopping, are they worth the price? This analogy fits perfect into my mission of quality, service, and opportunity too! Cute=Quality Character, Supportive=Service Oriented, Expensive=Are they worth the opportunity.

I’ve had my challenges in human resources too. I’ve made two workers cry! (I am the offensive militant, after all) Both were special needs workers: one was skipping work and the other I pushed too hard.

For the first one, I had a talk with her a couple times. She was not showing up for work and not giving any notice that she wouldn’t be coming in. I told her she had to call. She had a phone so I thought she would be able to do that. Her mom called me that night and told me she wasn’t capable of doing that on her own. Her mom started texting me when she wasn’t coming but I wasn’t satisfied. This young woman, though she had a disability had so much potential. For some individuals with special needs, they get comfortable with never being pushed. The Spotted Cow was the first place where she could really be challenged and not pitied, but she enjoyed her comfort zone too much. I had to let her go. It was really challenging because I want to fulfill this mission to show the worth of individuals with disabilities but I can’t help everyone, and I refuse to just give individuals a job for the sake of letting them say they achieved something.

For the second young lady, Ada, I was helping her practice making change. She struggles a little bit but I was helping her practice. She just hit her breaking point. She said there’s just some things I can’t do. I told her you can do this, you just showed me you can. I’m not going to make you do it without being by your side.

So many of the individuals with disabilities find out one way or another that they can’t do everything like everyone else. Some of them, like the first young lady, have been convinced for so long that they just get too comfortable, and they are no longer teachable. They have learned that they can use their disability as an excuse. If they fail they have that justification to fall back on. Other individuals, like Ada, have the same mindset that they are different, but there is still that spark, that they don’t have to let their disability own them. It’s all about finding the spark and not pushing too far.

Another young lady, Lauren, is the epitome of my mission. She came in very timid, but she has had a wonderful work ethic from the start. She started back in May and she has flourished. She listens and does what she is told. She is dynamic and tries to come up with new ideas for the business. She is so teachable. When she started, she would just grab cups and aid in making drinks. Now she can make all of the drinks with almost no help, and she can run the cash register. There were a couple of times at school where a teacher gave her grief for being different. She came into work crying (I gave her the day off though). For her the Spotted Cow is her safe place where she knows that she isn’t just a consumer, as many individuals with disabilities are labeled. She is a genuine contributor, and I am so thankful to have her.