Impact and Identity Crisis: Suggestions for Service Providers
Your clients suck, but you have to pay your bills: the dilemma of impact-oriented service providers (and how to solve it)
You get the clients you look for.
In a previous article, I presented the Stairway to Impact, a light-touch approach to assess the impact of organizations that intend to tackle our planet’s and society’s biggest problems. In this post, I’ll look at a common dilemma that B2B service providers usually face when they want to work with more socially and environmentally conscious clients.
As a consultant, I’ve been exchanging knowledge and information with my peers and other service providers. I’ve noticed many of us struggle to develop impactful work while paying their bills. Let’s say you’re a web designer: you wish you were creating websites only for nonprofits that deliver educational services for children, and for startups that develop products based only on eco-friendly materials. But unfortunately your bread-and-butter comes from business-as-usual clients, like a retailer who’s not very worried about the fact that their non-recyclable, low-quality products are made by people working under slavery-like conditions in Asia.
Income and purpose don’t always come together. Very few professionals have the luxury of taking on only positive-impact clients (on the Stairway to Impact, they are the Bold Movers and the Systems Changers, as well as the Climbing Boosters). The situation might generate a business identity crisis and a lot of personal dissatisfaction. So, what to do?
You can solve this dilemma by building a business development plan with a time horizon that allows a smooth transition towards a client portfolio that’s more aligned to your values. To achieve that, stop simply looking at where the easy money is, and establish achievable goals:
- Define a limit of revenue you consider acceptable to come from projects on the lower levels of the Stairway to Impact. Then focus your efforts on prospecting clients with more meaningful missions. Expect a painful moment when you’ll have to say “no” to a project that would pay you handsomely in spite of a lack of relevant impact. Be strong and use the time you would use in the ugly project to keep prospecting the right clients.
- Remember: if you keep engaging with sectors that bother you, your income will keep coming from there.
- On the other hand, the more you put your energy, your learning, your networking and your marketing on clients you would like to have, the sooner you’ll get those clients. Consider pro bono services for organizations you admire that work on causes which are relevant to you, study important skills you’re lacking, and connect with people who might help you (and you can also help in turn).
- Meanwhile, give yourself a deadline to get rid of all your “level zero” projects — the ones that do no good, only bad to the world. You can still keep level zero clients if you’re influential enough to bring your client to a higher level on the Stairway to Impact. Encourage them to implement social and environmental initiatives that increase savings and revenue, as financial issues are always relevant. Be creative: you might find some win-win opportunity nobody thought about before, and that may become your best business case!
You get the clients you look for. Unless you’re very lucky and your dream client reaches you out of the blue, change will happen only if you make your move. Go for it!