The very idea of starting to transition to a values-based business can be daunting. Where do we start? How do we know what to do? How do we make choices that leave us feeling good and still maintain our bottom line? My advice is to be Fierce but Flexible.
A few years ago, I attended a summit on green beauty and wellness. It was an amazing weekend packed full of more tips and tricks than you could imagine on greening up your medicine cabinet, products, diet and more. Most of this wasn’t new to me - I had long been making the transition from department store to natural makeup and products. And, besides being introduced to a few new brands, I didn’t hear a ton of information that I hadn’t heard before.
And yet, I left with the same feeling of doom that I had experienced many times before: how could I ever afford to go home and throw away every non-natural product in my house and start over with the latest and greatest in natural beauty and cleaning supplies? As my sister and I drove home from the weekend, we both commented about how we wanted a voice that told us just to start where we are and as one thing runs out replace it with something cleaner and healthier. We decided to be that voice for ourselves!
Notice I said cleanER and healthiER. The “er” at the end of those words has changed my life over the past few years. It’s not about doing everything perfect, it’s about doing more than you were yesterday. I stopped using plastic grocery bags almost ten years ago now, but every once in a while I forget and end up at target with no bag or we order take-out and everything is encased in styrofoam and plastic. Forgiving ourselves and acknowledging that we are doing what we can when we can has made my own path to wellness and greener living so much simpler.
I’ve been through countless experiences where I purchase a green or natural alternative to something and am dissatisfied with the quality or efficacy. I almost always go back to the less natural product that I know I’ll love until it runs out again. It’s just about remembering what my values are and stopping to think about them when I’m purchasing or replacing something.
I believe this philosophy of doing what you can and starting where you are can be applied to moving your company towards a more values-based one. It’s unrealistic to think that we can all start paying higher wages, donating a portion of our revenues, zeroing out our carbon footprint, and greening our office overnight - just as it would be to expect ourselves to do that in our homes! But, we can start somewhere and do a little more with each business decision we make.
The way that I have been approaching this - with my freelance work, and as I work to open the Space, is to visit my values with every decision I am making. Today I needed to order hanging file folders. Instead of quickly hopping on amazon and ordering the cheapest ones, I searched for eco-friendly options and found something that made me feel a little better about my purchase. When ordering my new desk, I wasn’t able to afford the fair trade option from Cost Plus World Market, so I ordered something that is of good quality, multi-functional and will easily transition from our current home-office set up to the Space and continue to transition as we grow to bigger cowork spaces.
In order to be intentional about how you are running your business, you have to be clear on what your values are. For me, I know that my values are to be as green as possible, to have the most positive effect on my community, and to balance my work and play life as equally as I can. There are a mountain of other worthy causes and good values to have, but these are the ones I’ve decided are most important to me right now.
Knowing this helps with everything from the hard decisions to the downright controversial ones. I know plenty of people who have decided it is not in line with their values to shop at amazon. But, for me, the value of balancing work and play currently outweighs my feelings about amazon as a corporate entity. Using amazon prime means I spend less money on the things we need and want, and less time waiting for them to arrive (which is especially helpful for me since I never remember to order anything until 2 days after we need it…).
Many many entrepreneurs struggle with how many times they are asked to give discounts to non-profits. The struggle comes because they want to support the mission of the non-profit, but, giving a discount hurts their own bottom line and can leave them struggling to take care of their responsibilities. Although I have a bleeding heart for social justice, I don’t currently discount my services for non-profits, but I do make donations at the end of the year (based on my revenue) to the community based organizations whose work I want to support. This helps me earn the money I deserve during the year and make conscious choices about which organizations I will support.
The key is to get clear on what your values (as a person and a company) are and then to think about them when you are making decisions. Even if you decide to make a decision that currently goes against one of your values, stopping to think about it will keep it top of mind and help you focus on it more in the future. And over time, the way you use your values to interact with your staff, your clients or customers, and your community will become clear and the profits will follow.