From a young age, my mum told me that serving others was a rewarding and fulfilling thing to do, so giving back has always been one of my strongest values. Each of us can give back in so many ways like volunteering our time and gifts and still not lose ourselves in the process.
But people often think that volunteering is a waste of one’s time, volunteering is a valuable gift you can offer to people in need of your talent and expertise to advance their own lives. So how can you find opportunities to volunteer?
By serving and giving your time, it can turn up to learning or earning opportunity. Growing up, my late mom often told us the importance of service, so volunteering came to me naturally, and I see everything I do as service. My late mom always said to us (my siblings) we must serve people, in her words she would even say “serve people, serve people, everything you do should be service, do it and do it so well and expect nothing in return”. My mum lived a life of purposeful like full of service; she always helped anyone and lifted women in our community while we were growing up and throughout her life. So, this call for service stuck with me from my days in the corporate world until now. And this has helped shape how I serve my clients and lead my team.
I remember my very first intern job was at a computer training centre where I enrolled for management information system summer program. My best friend was the receptionist at the centre; a time came when she needed a break to attend to some family emergency so with permission from her boss, she asked me to back her up, and I did not hesitate. After she returned, her boss, immediately created an opportunity for me to intern with pay. This background and view of life have continued to bring unexpected privileges and learning opportunities. I learnt so many lessons from the volunteering experience I had as a volunteer business consultant with international charities in the UK, and I am sharing one of such below.
When opportunities come, be ready:
I finished my MBA in 2014; I was a few months into being married when I graduated. So much was going on and I was wondering what would be next for my career. My immediate post MBA career goal was to work in a consulting firm. I was so passionate to see how I can help move an organization further with my skills, including the new skills I had gained. But being newly married to my husband having a busy physician’s career, things didn’t turn out for my job the way I planned it.
At the time I was finishing my MBA, my husband was completing his medical specialist training in London. His stage of training then was a critical and stressful phase, so it was such a busy time for both of us. We were in between trying to navigate the challenges, organizing our new home living a balanced newly married life and planning for a baby, indeed planning for these with his busy career. At the time I didn’t know what the right move was for me to make for my career, whether to get a job, start a business or to continue on my career break and start our family.
One day, I got an email from the postgraduate MBA Admin office requesting for recent MBA graduates to volunteer their newly acquired business skills to help a UK charity Grow Movement that empowers African entrepreneurs with business skills. It was a UK government-funded project in collaboration with the London Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Boot School of Business Chicago. The project was to evaluate the impact of virtual business consultancy on an entrepreneur’s performance in Africa. It aimed to help African entrepreneurs become profitable and to scale. The project connected professionals from top Global consulting firms and MBA Alumni’s to consult and mentor African entrepreneurs in Uganda to help them scale their businesses.
It sounded so much like what I’d love to do, considering that is consulting, aimed at Africa (so an opportunity to give back) and entrepreneurship (an area of interest for me). It was, therefore, a perfect opportunity to give back with my skills and it aligned so well with my vision, purpose and personal situation at the time. So, I quickly applied, I got invited days later for a virtual interview, and thankfully I was selected. They got me on board and assigned me, my first client. It was exciting, and I approached it with a healthy dose of optimism even while not sure how it will go. The model was to connect remotely with entrepreneurs in Uganda to offer 12 sessions of 1-hour weekly consulting and mentoring. These entrepreneurs do not have computer or internet service but depend on their client manager in Uganda to connect with consultants via Skype. Sometimes the internet service won’t be available for skype, so we use WhatsApp or emails for consultation.
Completing the 12 weeks sessions were challenging and required a lot of determination to see one’s client succeed. Despite the challenges, I started to see the positive impact my consulting and mentoring sessions was having on my clients. I was developing my skills and enjoying consulting, which is what I love to do so I started to look for more volunteering opportunities to help more people and gain more skills. I then discovered and joined Venture Capitalist for Africa, another organization in Amsterdam similar to Grow Movement, London – all empowering African entrepreneurs with business skills.
While volunteering for both organizations, my clients included early-stage start-ups and established entrepreneurs looking to grow their businesses. Mostly needed help with their business strategy, brand strategy, marketing, sales and sometimes operations and human resources.
With over seven years career working on various IT and data management projects prior my MBA, my combined experience was vital in reviewing and mentoring my clients on their business plans, guiding them on their elevator pitches. I created their brand messaging, brand strategies, marketing strategies, strategic partnerships and customer experiences that positioned their businesses for scaling. These were achieved through a brand strategy framework that I developed. My brand strategy framework proved successful as my clients immediately started seeing exponential growth.
I quickly realized that some of these clients need funding to scale as were mostly new start-ups looking to grow their businesses. So, I started helping them to find both local and international investors and grants to raise funds with some success stories as most were successful.
You Have Time to Give: Make the Most of The Little Time You Have
In the three years of working with these global initiatives from here in London, I became pregnant and had our baby girl who is now 3 years old. Being a new mom meant juggling running my family, showing up to help my clients as a Volunteer Business Consultant and starting a new business. So, I needed to improve on my time management skills, as while nursing my baby, I began to gain more interest and clients outside of the organizations I was helping.
What started as a volunteering and mentoring passion project for branding and marketing turned out into a business that aligns with my purpose and family lifestyle and allows me to support clients across the globe encouraging, guiding and empowering entrepreneurs to build profitable brands with clarity and confidence. Helping them to create a clear, cohesive and memorable brand strategy and marketing to build premium and impactful personal or business brands. I believe God allowed me to have those experiences so that I can walk into my purpose of helping others.
Time is what you make of it! In between building your brand, you’re going to face some struggles depending on your own circumstances. But it is your tenacity to believe in yourself, your brand and your resilience that will help you stand firm and scale successfully.
But, find a support system! People that can support you, whether physically or emotionally. My husband and my sisters have been my greatest source of strength and support. Even though we’re not all together, each time I feel weary, my husband always has the right words to lift me again. My sisters will encourage and comfort me. So, look around you and see where you can find support either physically or emotionally.
Another factor that has helped my business thrive amid these challenges is having a strong foundation. Before I set out to start marketing my company and finding my clients, I wanted my business to reflect what I wanted to attract. After careful market research, I worked on my brand strategy, from brand clarity to crafting my brand personality, my brand mission, vision, tone of voice, values and website. I wanted all of these brand elements to speak to my audience, those I created the business for.
I see a lot of entrepreneurs and professionals who go into business or want to build their brands without developing these strong foundations. They eventually get stuck and start to struggle. By learning what it takes to create a memorable personal or business brand, you’ll become empowered with the strategies and tools to elevate your brand for profit.
What I’ve learned from volunteering is that each of us can make a difference, no matter how little we think our gifts are. There’s someone out there who values that unique gift you have to share. I want to do impactful work, and that aligns with my purpose and family lifestyle. You’ll be amazed at how much impact you will make in the life of those you commit to help. Some of the entrepreneurs I worked with in Africa need help; they have big ideas with big dreams of how they want their brand to be. They need help with identifying their brand’s mission, purpose, vision, values, color, strategy etc. I take them first through a brand clarity process, and at this time, they’ll begin to connect with their purpose. Once you have that clarity, everything else becomes easy to create. If you ever feel like there’s no time to volunteer, you can always find an organization that shares similar values with you, find a volunteering opportunity that fits into your time and give it your best. Once you recognize and accept that the purpose is to help others even if you gain nothing in return, you’ll be fulfilled that you served.
For more brand strategy tips, inspiration and resources, sign up to her newsletter on www.spruceconsult.com and follow her on instagram @spruceconsult.