Q&A Friday: How to Achieve Balance Between Profit & Making a Difference?

First off, I want to thank all of you who sent me terrific questions about leveraging the power of the Internet to be more successful change makers. I’m going to do my best to tackle all your questions. However, I am also traveling to the Amazon rainforest and the deeper I go into the jungle, the slower my Internet connection.

I’m on my way to the Brazil to experience the Cultural Festival of the Kuntanawa and Yawanawa Tribes of the Amazon Basin. But I also want to take the time to answer a question from Green Marketing TV reader Clare, who also used to volunteer in the Brazilian Atlantic rain forest.

Clare asks us:

“How do I achieve the balance between being a profitable business and making a difference? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to earn millions, but I do need to survive! When I am making a tangible difference it tends to be for very little gain financially… how do I get that big commercial contract, whilst still being true to who I am? A passionate eco-warrior!”


This is a really great question that I’m sure many of you change makers struggle with. How to give, without burning out. How to be of service, while taking care of yourself. I know this question intimately, because many years ago I spent 3 years as a volunteer working so hard on my passion at that time – Tibetan cultural preservation – that my hair fell out from stress.

This is a question that I’ve spent YEARS trying to figure out. So I’m so happy to share with you what I learned along the way.

  1. Finding your niche is critical. It’s better to be a specialist than a generalist. So if you’re a grant writer, it’s better to be a grant writer with a special focus on environmental grants. If you’re an IT consultant with expertise in health and wellness resorts, chances are, you’ll be that guy or gal that gets referred when a new spa opens up and needs help with their IT infrastructure.
  2. Understanding your target market is the key. The more specific you are about who it is you are offering your products or services to, what their pain points are, what unique solutions are you offering to cure their pain, and – really important – whether or not they have the money to pay you for your services, the easier it will be to generate income. You need to have profit clarity, and find out what it is your target market wants and whether they will pay you to help them out.
  3. You need to clearly define what your services are. And have a clear idea of what it will take to deliver. This will help you manage scope creep, and if you see it happening, nip it in the bud by saying to your client, “We agreed on this project, now you want more, so it will cost you X more dollars. Do you accept?”
  4. How you position yourself makes all the difference. The biggest problem that change makers often face is charging too little for their services. You might feel bad about it, because you really want to help, and it just doesn’t feel right to charge a premium. Then you end up taking on projects that turn into break even, or even charitable endeavors. Don’t do this. You must know your worth and have the courage to ask to be paid for it. In fact, people will value your services and respect your time much more. Remember the last time you blew off a free event? That’s because free feels cheap. I see people who charge a premium, like $350-$1000 an hour for services I see more seasoned experts charge $50 for. And you’d be surprised that they get paid that. That’s because they are connected to an audience who values what they offer and is willing to pay that. A lot of it is about perception.
  5. You have to be visible to the right people. It’s tough if you are surrounded by small nonprofits that need your services but can’t afford to pay you what you need to earn a decent living. Small organizations can also be really needy – you help them with one thing, and all of the sudden they need help with all this other stuff. But they aren’t paying you any more money. You need to start attracting clients that can afford to pay you well.
  6. You must have a strong web presence. Developing strong personal brand online is the fastest way to make more money. You need to have a personal website or blog that states who you are, what your mission and vision is, and what services you provide. You will need to share your expertise with the world through your website. You will also need to build relationships online through social media and social networking. Use your web presence to connect with people inside the companies you hope to work for. This is how you will get bigger and bigger clients, because you will be seen by more and more people.

You can do all this and still be true to yourself. We change makers like to see corporations as evil, but it’s not entirely true. Companies are made up of people. There are people within organizations, even typically “evil” oil companies, who may be trying to instigate change from within. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be selective about who you work with. Work with people who have integrity, and work with companies you believe in.

I hope that helps!

What other ideas come to mind on achieving balance between doing good and earning money? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


This post was written by:

Lorna Li

Lorna Li is a social media and green marketing expert. She enjoys helping green businesses and nonprofits with bootstrap marketing, as well as helping job seekers leverage social media for personal branding.

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  1. Clare Emily Raybould says:

    So useful Lorna, thank you! I will keep you posted on progress moving forward here in New Zealand! For others reading this also, I didn’t realise the power of the 6th point… Linkedin has opened so many doors for me recently! Need to get my head around twitter and facebook a little better, or maybe they are just not the right media, for finding clients anyway. The “charging” point is also important… I am also mulling over that dilemma at the moment! Finally through the door of a big client and after working with the small fish, charging pitiful amounts and making a huge difference this is finally my chance to make some profit… but where to start with rates? It’s almost as big a challenge as trying to keep afloat whilst making a difference! ;0)
    Thanks again for taking the time to respond to my question. Hope you enjoyed the festival out in Brazil!

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