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Some time ago I was lectured by a well-meaning colleague telling me that I was far too generous for my own good.

I would, he said, never be rich and successful until I learned to me more frugal when it came to being helpful and generous to my clients and staff.

I’d known this guy for years, and he’d never said anything before. I was somewhat surprised.

He’d even benefitted from my generosity over the years, having been business competitors, small business allies and family friends for as long as I can remember.

Apparently he came to a point when he could no longer sit back and see me give my time, knowledge and signage to clients that, as far as he was concerned, had the earning capacity to pay good money for my professional services.

 Chicks in Prinl signage
Chicks in Pink signage donated by Drew’s Sign It and Installed free of charge by Paul Hansen Contracting

It came to a head one day when a regular client, and treasurer for a small soccer club who were embarking on a sign on day, asked me for a favour. They needed signs, and asked if I could help in any capacity.

Did I like soccer? Not really.

Was I a member of the club? No.

Was there anything in it for me? Probably not.

I offered to donate signage to help attract juniors for the sign on day.

This was the last straw for my colleague and friend. If there was nothing in it for me, why bother?

Initially, I put my generosity down to my upbringing, and I still credit that to this day. But as I have progressed in business, I have expanded on my views about why it is in my own best interests.

My parents have always worked hard from my earliest memories. We have never been on ‘easy street’. It has always been a struggle in one way or another.

That’s not to say we were never successful, because you can measure success in many ways.

Financially, my parents always worked hard for everything they got. Nothing was handed to them on a plate. My parents however never measured success by money. So it stands to reason I guess that I inherited a similar view.

Sadly, my parents discovered that some business people see generosity as a flaw and weakness that should be taken advantage of. And yes, just like my parents, I have been on the receiving end of some fairly ruthless and downright shameful behaviour from business men and women that were nothing less than evil in their manipulative and dishonest behaviour to get what they want for nothing.

For similar reasons, many people believe that a generous person will rarely be successful.

I’m here to tell you that of all the people who have screwed me over, I’m still here and they are no longer in business. I’m not going to pretend it has not been easy, nor am I going to admit how close we came some days to throwing in the towel, but end of the day the ones that appreciated our generosity are the very ones that saved the day. For that I’m eternally grateful.

So is generosity the answer to improving your business? No, not really.

Why? Because it is not the act of generosity that is the key, it’s the sincerity attached to the act.

Just like children, clients can be pretty perceptive when it comes to knowing if it is a sincere offer, or an underhanded way to get more business cheaply.

For instance; signs I donate don’t feature any of my details on them. That would, in the eyes of most clients, effectively be a cheap opportunity for advertising. If they ask me to put my logo on the sign, that is a different story. But I don’t make it a condition of the donation in the first place. It is often appreciated way more than the physical cost saving of the signage.

Relationship building, sometimes incorrectly called ‘networking’, is a practical and honest way of connecting with clients for long-term associations. You can’t put a value on this type of bonding. Mutual respect is a by-product of this type of connection. With mutual respect comes honesty and understanding. Before you know it, you have a trust in each other that is much like a good marriage. And like any marriage, without respect, trust and understanding, it will never work.

The online magazine ‘StartupNation’ makes the point:  Generosity is defined by your willingness to do good, and no amount of money can equal an open heart.

As an example, perhaps your clients’ wife is having a baby. A nice bunch of flowers to the maternity ward is a nice touch. It will quickly be perceived as tacky or insincere though if you sign it in a company name. It’s better to keep these things personal and sign it off on a personal level.

A little known fact is that 41% of Australians volunteer their time for charity work. There is a good chance your client either supports a charity or volunteers for one. I know of some companies that support a staff member on a charity drive, or support a client on a charity appeal. This kind of support builds relationships that can’t be bought.

The key to anything of this nature is the sincerity that is attached to the arrangement.

And it doesn’t have to be expensive. Even the smallest family business can build relationships with bigger organisations.

Unlike Wal-Mart in America that donated $US1,067,475,661.00 in cash and products in 2011, and probably more this last year, your donation doesn’t have to be huge or match another companies efforts before. Remember, the key is the sincerity attached to the act, not the act itself.

‘Startup Nation’ makes some excellent points to remember;

1)     A blind donation may seem more sincere, but it doesn’t build business. Ensure that each giving opportunity will foster relationships.

2)    Generosity is not a specific tactic, but a life-philosophy. Your business is an expression of you. Use your company to practice the virtue – and practicality – of giving.

3)    As with any gift, show care in your choice of item or activity. Not everyone enjoys socializing with co-workers, so throwing an expensive bash may not be as appreciated as you might think

I’ve been saying something similar for years.

My mantra that I chant to anyone who will listen is this; If you want or expect the community to support you, then you should likewise be prepared to support the community.

It isn’t rocket science.

My family business has excellent relationships with some of Australia’s corporate giants, as well as some of the nations smallest business operators, all built on trust, mutual respect and understanding. It is something we never take for granted and treasure immensely, no matter the size or spread of the company in question.

Over the years, I’ve donated extensive signage, or helped clients who support charities from Breast cancer awareness, Bowel cancer, prostate cancer, premature babies all the way through to struggling cricket clubs needing signs to help raise money for new equipment.

Did I do it for financial gain. No. But I’ve built some great relationships along the way, and that is something money will never buy. If I eventually get business out of it at some point in the future, then that will be an unexpected bonus.

Shane Drew