For-Profit and Proud — Competitive Social Services
To most business owners, acting strategically with a sense of competitive spirit is a baseline expectation, though these ideas can be…
Carmen Sample, Social Entrepreneur that built a 10 million dollar biz in 6 years, including a social service agency, treatment agency, retail biz, gallery and a restaurant.
To most business owners, acting strategically with a sense of competitive spirit is a baseline expectation, though these ideas can be unfortunately unique in the helping industry, which has historically been a non-profit sector.
At Sample Supports we provide services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We are primarily government-funded and we are also a for-profit company. For-Profit and Proud. We are an example in action that you can help under-served people while also making a gainful living for yourself and your family.Making progress in the world AND making money? Yes, please! We are often asked by other agencies how we are making money and growing so fast when we all are billing on the same fee-for-service rate structure set by the State. We do this because we fully stand behind one philosophy:
Competition raises the bar for service delivery.
Competition has not been entirely embraced by the non-profit industry. Some non-profits struggle with the dilemma of asking for donations if they are in fact also making money or capable of doing so without donations. The justification of “helping people” can be used to account for significant inefficiencies in an organization. Issues like fundraising and delays in decision making due to boards and committees can hurt an organization and their ability to be innovative and adaptive. Time is money, and organizations can choose to spend time asking for money or they can simply spend their time providing services that make money.
What is our “secret”? We compete. Simple as that.
We say “Yes”. Whether it is creating competitive employment options or working with the most challenging people in the State, we volunteer for what others refuse to do or shy away from. We follow the money, meaning we provide services at the rates that we know we can have a successful business within. In the disability sector, the government funds services that are critical and have been identified as a “community need”. We provide amazing services to meet those needs and ensure we receive the funding to do it.
We take risks — a lot of them. We try new things — some of them work and some of them don’t. We change direction quickly when things aren’t going as planned and this is a cornerstone of our practices. We build new programs, we look at new funding sources and we invest in new businesses. We aren’t scared to try something new and spend a lot of money, time and resources doing this. Taking risks creates forward momentum and is in the best interest of our clients. I don’t fear failure, I fear becoming “vanilla” and I work everyday to take risks to make sure that doesn’t happen.
We focus on the business. We are an agency that does really great things and yet we don’t pretend to be anything other than a business. We don’t expect a cookie or a pat on the back because we work with a marginalized group of people. We choose this work because we love it and we closely manage what we love. We actively manage our expenses, we hold our employees accountable and we invest in the business itself by purchasing properties and investing in other businesses. We know that if our business is not taken care of, our clients will suffer. The rhetoric of “the client is first” is true intrinsically, though if you don’t have a solid business you can’t provide quality and sustainable client care. We build programs based on client needs to thrive and we build the company off of what the business needs to sustain. We focus simultaneously on stability and innovation.
We focus on quality of care. We have grown an average of 80% each year since 2010 — compounding. We grow because we are doing the right things and people want to be a part of it. We focus on unique and creative service delivery options and executing those well. We are motivated to keep people in our services and so we are constantly improving our practices to stay ahead.
We put pressure in the right place. We don’t offer free/discounted services. I argue that when non-profits do this they undervalue the services that are needed in the community and undermine funding change efforts. When someone doesn’t have the correct funding we advocate until that funding is received before we provide the service. This puts the pressure back on the funding sources to identify underfunded needs and respond appropriately. The community will only identify a need if they are faced with it directly — we need to let people see the need and not run interference in that process.
We build competitive teams. It is fun to compete and we find employees that enjoy this! It is awesome validation to have a client choose us over the hundreds of service options they have in the community. Those choices mean that we are offering services that aren’t offered elsewhere and that we are improving the quality of life for the people that depend on us.
I like competition so much, in fact, that I’m willing to write this blog so that others can see how we are doing it and try some of our philosophies on for size at their organizations. If our ideas and methods are copied elsewhere I think that is great — it will make all of us at Sample Supports work harder and smarter and develop something new. This in turn will again raise the bar of service delivery in our communities for the people with disabilities we serve.
Bring on the competition!
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