10 Business Strategies I Learned from Starting a Non-Profit

April 9, 2015

Before jumping into the marketing world of high-tech (and online faxing), I had actually spent 12 years in the non-profit world. While there are many who don’t think of non-profits as businesses, the truth is they are practically one in the same (minus profits in your pocket). The business strategies it takes to start a small business are the same business strategies it takes to start a non-profit.

So what does it take to start a new business? Here is the wisdom (and 10 business strategies) I accumulated in my non-profit years…

10 Business Strategies for Starting Your Business:

1. Start With Your Passion. There may be various reasons for wanting to start your business, but starting one for the wrong reasons can easily end in failure. Here’s a sobering statistic: 50% of small businesses fail within the first year and 95% fail within the first 5 years. It’s hard enough to start a business, but even harder if you start a business you’re not passionate about. Hint #1: You have to have a personal investment in your idea. If not, it’s easier to let it go when the going gets tough.

2. Make a Business Plan. Now that your new business is filled with passion, you need a bit more than excitement. You need a plan. Develop a strategic way to make it through that difficult first year. Hint #2: Here are a few items you will need to implement into your business plan:

  • Budget
  • Long and Short-term Goals
  • Mission Statement
  • Employees needed
  • Marketing strategy
  • Website/Social Media

3. Location, Location, Location. Choosing the perfect location is just as important as having a great idea. You can have the perfect business strategies in place, but if you’re located in the wrong area, it can fail. Hint #3: Do your homework and scout out a minimum of 5 potential locations for your business. Be sure to also research the demographics of the area as well. You literally need to know everything about where your business will lie… which leads us to #4.

4. Know Your Market. Knowing your market goes hand in hand with your location, since your customers are usually coming from within a certain distance. To give a visual idea of this concept, Bright Local conducted a survey and displayed the results in this pretty awesome infographic. Hint #4: Demographics + Location = Hitting the Target

business strategies bright_local

5. Calculate Your Business Startup Costs. You definitely need money to get your new business going, but the burning question is how much? I recently came across this pretty cool tool, The Business Startup Cost Calculator, to help you calculate how much money you’ll actually need to launch your business. I seriously wish I would have known about this handy-dandy calculator when I was starting my non-profit – they include just about everything you need to consider (and what you haven’t considered too). Needless to say, I would have definitely took advantage of it, and you should too! Hint #5: When calculating your startup costs, it’s better to over budget than under budget.

6. Make a Killer Website. If you’re going to succeed in this day in age, there’s no way around it. You need a website (or app). At one time small business owners could get away with saying that only the younger generation was on the internet. But, did you know that according to Pew Research Center, 53% of American adults aged 65 and older are now using the internet on a daily basis? That’s a little more than half! Overall, 82% of all American adults use the internet daily. This number shows the importance of making a business website.

As Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBiz Media, states: “If you don’t have a website, your business will become increasingly invisible, until it vanishes altogether.” And it’s true. Most small businesses are taking the hint and getting themselves a website. A website is one of the business strategies you cannot afford to dismiss. Hint #6: If you’re looking to save money and aren’t afraid to do the work yourself, try a DIY Website Builder site like, Wix or Weebly.

7. Get Involved on Social Media. Just as location and knowing your market goes together, so does having a website and using social media. It’s staggering to see stats on how much time people use social media a day, either on their cellphones or computers. Thanks to Go-Golf, we have some incredible stats, showing the importance of social media with your new business:

business strategies social_media_smb

As you can see from the numbers, you can’t afford NOT to be on Social Media. Bite the bullet and at least start a Facebook page for your business. Hint #7: Don’t underestimate the power of Social Media!

8. Get Personal. People will show a greater interest in your business when you show them how much you are personally invested. When you put your heart into what you’re doing, it shows. This might mean adding small touches such as personal pictures, an interesting look into behind-the-scenes activities, or finding creative ways to get your customers interacting with your business. Hint #8: Just a little glimpse into the personal-side of your business goes a long way with your customers. 

9. Continue Learning. One of the most important things I learned from starting my non-profit is that I don’t know everything (shocking, I know). No matter how much you know, there’s always something new to ingest. From new marketing and business strategies to gaining more customers to gleaming from social media techniques, the realm of possibilities is endless. Don’t be a know-it-all and be open and willing to new ideas. Hint #9: Become a lifetime learner. Knowledge is Power.

10. Be Persistent. Work Hard. And Don’t Give Up on Your Dream! There’s a reason you started your business in the first place. Chances are, you had a dream and you’re now fulfilling that dream. Starting a business (or non-profit) from scratch is really hard work! Take it from me, there will be days when you just want to throw in the towel and give up. And those are the exact same days you have to dig deep and keep going.

The success rate of small businesses is actually against you, and you need to have these business strategies in place, as well as maintaining mental toughness to beat those odds. I used Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, as my personal motto, relying on the words to get me through many trying times:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the road less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

Hint #10: Find your road less traveled by and Don’t Give Up!

May the Force Be With You as you begin implementing these 10 Business Strategies for Starting Your Business…

This post was orginally posted on the FaxNgo blog

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