People do business with people they know, like and trust. That’s why it’s important to give without expecting them to do something in return.
I recently met a man in Fiji who did something I haven’t seen in a while: he gave free advice.
This man, an established entrepreneur on the island and quite successful in his own right, gave freely of his time and experience to help less experienced businesspeople get started off right. The contrast he set with the world of per diems and paid consultancies was striking, but it seemed to be working for him.
Not only does he seem to have a lot of friends, he’s also the first person many people think of when they’re in a position to do favours themselves.
This man’s openhanded approach to others in the community got me thinking about what could loosely be called the economy of generosity. To give in a world that sometimes seems full of takers feels like a counterintuitive strategy, but generosity in business is actually the bedrock of lasting success, especially for small businesses and freelance entrepreneurs.
Spread the love
The first secret to successful generosity in business is to do it as much as you can. When you do something nice for someone, whether it’s a small service rendered for free or half an hour on the phone with somebody who could use advice, the person you’re helping naturally feels the desire to return the favour. Even if the reciprocal good deed isn’t done directly for you, the “pay it forward” mentality encourages a general air of generosity that will eventually work its way back to you.
Don’t expect a reward
The theoretical return you get for sharing your time, and other resources, is a good reason to be generous with what you can do for others. But it’s a mistake to put conditions on the aid you give.
Giving something to somebody else and expecting to be paid back isn’t generosity; it’s a transaction. The benefits that come with openhandedness really only work if you have a genuine desire to help as many people as you can (your motivation to keep sharing with others can be hard to maintain if you only give to get an immediate payback).
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Instead, try to give others what they need because it’s the right thing to do, rather than because you expect to profit from it. At the very least, this attitude frees you from the stress of keeping track of every little favor and wondering when the people in your debt will make good.
My friend in Fiji gives like this and, though he certainly gets his share of favours done for him in return, he never expects to get a return. This relaxed approach encourages people to approach him and broadens his social network. Today, he has friends everywhere, and even the ones who haven’t been able to directly repay his generosity wish him well and are ready to help him any way they can.
All this is great, in theory, but in the real world we know there are limits to what we can do for others. Some people can’t be helped, and there will always be more need than we can answer. Try not to spread yourself too thin, and get comfortable with saying “no” to some people.
This advice seems to run counter to that given in the first two points (give as much as you can and don’t expect a reward) but it’s essential to making the strategy work for you. To give effectively, you have to meet the needs of the person you’re helping. Unless you have infinite resources, some people just have to be left out, or you’ll soon have nothing left for anybody. Even my friend in Fiji has to say no sometimes!
You’ll never be able to help everyone, but by concentrating your efforts on the people you can help, and by giving of yourself without reservation, you build up an altruistic network that will be there for you when you need it.
Have you made generosity work well for your business? I’d love to hear some examples in the comments!