Updated: May 12, 2019
This is our three-part series on why it’s important to make certain kinds of investments. As many in the finance world can tell you, an investment is not an expense. Rather, it’s an upfront payment of cash or other resources that can potentially create more value for you. Today we’re working on Part II of the series: The Importance of Investment in Your Organization.
It’s no secret that running a business -- any kind of business -- requires some sort of investment, whether that be time, energy, focus, or money. In particular, running a successful business usually requires a monetary investment. Sure, you can probably still run things without making any sort of huge investment, but you’ll have a very difficult time growing your organization to the next level (whether that means clients served, profit increased, or impact made) without putting some real money into the business. Like they say, “You must spend money to make money.”
Now, we’re not saying you should go over-the-top with your spending, but you should really take some time to think through what your organization needs most -- especially if you’re working with a limited budget and/or capital. It’s always best to reach out to an expert for guidance and support; but if you can’t afford it, you’ll have to at least be able to invest the time. To help guide you, we’ve compiled a list of a few of the areas where an investment in your organization can go a long way.
Did you know that Millennials are now the largest generation group in the U.S.? And did you know that the vast majority of Millennials will check out your organization or business online before purchasing, donating, or engaging with you in any way? That’s the reality these days. And that’s why it’s absolutely crucial that your organization have some kind of an online presence (and preferably a good one). If your website looks like it was built in the year 2002, most visitors will move on to something else.
Here’s the tricky part: Maintaining an online presence can be a lot of work. Setting up a website can take much of your time and energy, depending on the kind of site you choose to implement. If you have the budget, hiring a web designer to set everything up could be well worth it. But if you can’t afford it, you have a couple of options:
Look into one of the many website builders available online. They’re fairly affordable and easy to use. However, you’ll still need to have a general understanding of basic design concepts and marketing.
Purchase a website template (perhaps for Wordpress?) then hire someone to customize it. This method is much more affordable than hiring someone to design a site from scratch.
In addition to your website, you should also consider bringing someone on to manage your social media account(s). Sure, you can manage the accounts yourself if you’d like; it isn’t necessarily a difficult thing to do. But it can be incredibly time-consuming, and your time is probably better spent elsewhere. Luckily, there are plenty of college students or recent grads who not only enjoy doing this kind of work, but are really good at it, too.
Managing the Books
(This is an area most people try to avoid.)
Bookkeeping, accounting, finance, and taxes (yes, they’re different) are all functions that many business owners and managers find confusing. But they are also areas in which an investment is crucial. You may think that you don’t need it yet or that you can manage on your own, but that kind of practice can be detrimental to your organization if not managed properly.
Nonprofits and social enterprises are often regulated much more closely than other types of entities, and local and federal laws are constantly changing. But aside from needing to comply with regulations, having sound accounting and finance practices is simply a very powerful tool that business owners and managers can use to make organizational decisions. How do you develop your strategies without having a good grasp of the organization’s finances?
Of course, we aren’t saying that you have to learn how to do it all yourself. You should, though, seriously consider either hiring someone internally to handle it all, or outsource it to a reputable company. Whatever your preference, this is an area that shouldn’t be avoided.
Another critical area that should be taken into account is anything related to the law. The thought of being sued is always creeping around in the back of our minds (since many of us grew up in a litigious society). Deciding whether or not to hire a business lawyer can be a Catch-22 for a lot of people: Having a lawyer on retainer is expensive; fighting a lawsuit because you didn’t retain a lawyer is expensive.
Bringing in legal help early on is a better financial decision in the long run. Although it can still be pricey, it’s much less expensive than hiring someone afterwards to clean up a mess. (Lawsuits, investigations, negotiations, etc can drag on and on, and at an hourly rate, the legal fees can pile up.)
A little tip: You don’t need a lawyer for every little thing. There are plenty of resources available online for the simple stuff. If you want to save some money, you can also consider doing a lot of the prep work first then bringing on a lawyer to consult or offer guidance on what you’ve done. For example, draft up a contract that you need then ask a lawyer to adjust and fine tune where necessary. (It’s always better if you can hire an attorney from the beginning, though. We strongly recommend consulting an attorney regarding all legal matters whenever possible.)
An excellent way of leveraging a small amount of money to save a large amount of time is to invest in productivity apps.
One of our favorites is the productivity suite from Google: G Suite (formerly Google Apps). If you aren’t already using it for your email, calendar, storage, etc, you should definitely look into it. (Nonprofits get special treatment here. Not only is G Suite free for most nonprofits, but they also offer a great learning center specifically geared for not-for-profit organizations.)
There are also a ton of great tools to help with collaboration, project management, and team organization. Most are pretty similar, but each offers its own unique differences. One will likely fit better with your organization’s culture or your own personal style. Here are six of the most popular ones:
Other Investments to Consider
Copywriting and Content Marketing
Hiring someone with a background in writing can help you avoid any embarrassing typos or misunderstandings. And this will be important for any of your marketing materials, content for your website, or blog posts you choose to send out into the world.
Administrative Assistant and Customer Service
Bringing someone on to handle the day-to-day administrative tasks will simply be necessary if you want your organization to grow. There will come a time to let the tedious tasks go and learn that you can’t do everything yourself forever. Think of the tasks that take up most of your time and the tasks that you enjoy the least. Usually, someone can be brought on to take those from you.
Coaching and Mentorship
Sometimes, you might get lucky enough to find this for free. But if not, you should consider hiring a professional coach or mentor to help guide you and your team through growth, through change, and through the development of a strategic plan. This can help save a lot of headaches resulting from trying to figure it all out on your own.
Any investment in your organization should be treated as an opportunity to create more value and can save you time, money, and energy if executed properly. We leave you with a caveat: Be careful not to invest in an aspect of your business that is failing and should probably just be eliminated. Sometimes you just have to let go of something that isn’t working. You, your team, and your organization will be better for it.
---- Be sure to check out Parts I and III of the Importance of Investment series: