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Can Doing Good and Making Money Go Hand in Hand

This post is one of a series of posts sponsored by UPS in support of the Inc Growco Conference held April 6-8 in Las Vegas, NV

The category of for profit social enterprise is a rather unique one still. The idea of blending social mission with a business that happens to make money is hard for some people to wrap their heads around, but its a growing trend among entrepreneurs.

The category’s most notable example is probably Tom’s Shoes. Blake Mycoskie’s shoe company is a marketing and financial powerhouse that provides millions of pairs of shoes for children around the world.

This past week I was introduced to another such company that has a great story to tell and is quickly becoming a financial success as well.

Better World Books claims the title of The Online Bookstore with a Soul.

They collect and sell books online to fund literacy initiatives worldwide. With more than 8 million new and used titles in stock, they are a self-sustaining, triple-bottom-line company that creates social, economic and environmental value for all stakeholders.

They were founded in 2002 by three friends from the University of Notre Dame who started selling textbooks online to earn some money, and ended up forming a pioneering social enterprise — a business with a mission to promote literacy.

In addition to selling new titles, Better World Books supports book drives and collects used books and textbooks through a network of over 1,800 college campuses and partnerships with over 2,000 libraries nationwide. So far, the company has converted more than 53 million books into over $8.6 million in funding for literacy and education. In the process, also diverted more than 26,000 tons of books from landfills.

Even as the company grows rapidly, creating a legitimate online alternative to Amazon.com, they continue to explore ways to stay true to their original mission. CEO David Murphy claims this might be the biggest challenge, but it’s also the most important thing they can do.

How To Use Marketing Thinking to Take Over Your World

This week I was asked to guest lecture to a group of senior marketing students at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business on the importance of marketing in an organization.

I used the opportunity to talk about the fact that while the fundamentals of marketing, still taught in most college programs, had not changed much, the way we need to view and think about marketing and markets has changed dramatically.

One student set this up nicely for me when I asked for her definition of marketing and she promptly offered the four Ps of Marketing as a definition.

As most of the students in attendance had either recently accepted a position with a firm or were in the throes of a job search, I took the opportunity to offer some marketing advice tinged with just a bit of parental preaching.

I believe that anyone, regardless of job title, that approaches the completion of their job with marketing thinking can make themselves indispensable to the organization they choose to work for and in effect control their destiny.

This talk was aimed specifically at students, but what I had to say is a recipe for success, regardless of where you currently reside in the career process.

Here’s how I suggested they employ marketing thinking.

Find mission first – Yes, you may need to take what seems like a good job so you can move out of your parent’s house (trust me they want this as much as you do), but dig deep and find out about the culture of this organization, find out why they do what they do, find out what their story is, and find out if their mission (not mission statement) is something that excites you.

Ask people that already work for the company you’re considering what they love about the company. Ask them to tell you a story that illustrates what the company is really passionate about.

In The Referral Engine I recounted Zappo’s now well known practice of offering all new employees $2,000 to quit upon finishing their training. The thought is that if someone is willing to leave for $2,000 this isn’t the place for them. I challenged them to apply the reverse thinking and asked them how much someone would have to offer them to not take the job they were considering. It just might be one way to measure the connection with the organization.

Get good at content and context – We’re all drowning in information overload and one of the master marketing thinking skills is filtering and aggregating content in ways that allow us to gain deep knowledge in subjects without having to invest our days and nights in it. Bonus points for being able to condense and communicate reams of information into snack size educational value.

I implored them to subscribe to blogs, create content alerts and connect to every social pipeline available for the companies and industries they were considering.

Question everything you’re asked to do – They liked that one, but I had to clarify that I didn’t mean that as in question authority, I meant it as question why you are doing what you are asked to do, how it connects with the overall objectives of the department or company, and how, particularly if it benefited the customer, you could improve upon the experience.

Anyone with a college degree can operate from the manual – difference makers have the confidence to create value.

Create change in favor of the customer – In almost every job situation there will be a manager. Now, great managers encourage growth, change, innovation and maybe even the occasional flat out challenge of authority, but great managers are rare.

Most managers want to know that you will do what’s asked, not ruffle feathers and keep hitting assignments and deadlines.

But, even weak managers will come to trust you if you make them look good by creating change that benefits the customer. Think this way and you’ll soon be on your way to creating change the impacts your entire organization as well.

Construct a platform – Look all around you and start asking what your boss, managers, co-workers, vendors, and customers need to be more successful. What resources and other professionals could you assemble to become the go to person to help other get what they need?

College students and young professionals are always instructed to go out there and meet people and network with folks that might help them get ahead, but what if we showed them instead how to build a platform for helping others get ahead?

Now that’s marketing thinking applied at its most effective level.

So, let me ask you this . . . if you’re employed by an organization, even if you run that organization, are you applying marketing thinking to all that you do? What other advice would you give these students and job seekers?