The Idealist’s Guide to Raking in Tons of Cash

The Idealist’s Guide to Raking in Tons of Cash

Reader Comments (39)

  1. Sonia:

    I like today’s post. It’s great to be able to combine making money with efforts that benefit society. The example to pay artists more in Rwanda exemplifies profitable idealism.

    However, doing pro bono now can make the cash flow work. For example, let’s take the non-profit organization called Tapfoot Foundation. They have many copywriting projects, such as brochures and annual reports, geared towards the non-profit and Art organizations. Yet you work on a project team, that usually includes folks from different agencies and marketing organizations. Hence you make contacts with folks who see – and know – what you can do.

    Ultimately, I believe folks who show some concern to improve society, environment, etc., will also be observed by others as good business assets. Thanks for sharing this important message.


  2. Delivering anything is good for the soul. We are meant to make stuff, and that action makes the world better.

    The best part of being of service to others is what happens to you. You gain character by helping people, and you gain perspective. The compassion translates into the rest of your businesses.

  3. “(And if you don’t put yourself into the equation, my friend, that’s not idealism … it’s just being a chump.)”

    I read about how Warren Buffet gave his kids a bunch of money to give to charity. And for a few of them, their lives have changed in a negative way.

    Compare that to Papa Buffett himself. He used to say he doesn’t give a lot to charity while alive because his dollar is getting such a great return now. But now he’s changed his mind and is pouring tons of his fortune into chariy, right now. And the man can’t stop glowing about it.

    It seem that “profitable” and “idealism” are the best mix.

  4. There is nothing wrong in earning money to make the world a better place. Indeed, I would argue that it is the best way to make money. And if more people understood it would perhaps even more to try it? The worst that could happen is that the world becomes a better place and those who stood behind it earned more money.

    Provided it is done with honest intentions ..

  5. I seem to be working with more clients these days who are serious about running a profitable business while doing good deeds that return exactly zero to their bottom line. This all takes extra time and creativity (which ultimately have costs attached as well) but ultimately it’s earning the respect of employees and peers alike. We’re not used to “leading with our hearts” in business and time will tell whether this is a successful business strategy. In the meantime, I have to say that I admire the leadership and innovation this approach involves.

    • Sometimes the intangibles that don’t show up on the spreadsheet do add to the bottom line as well, it’s just not linear. Better employee engagement, a better story, or better customer loyalty can all be very profitable outcomes of doing good stuff.

    • Creating value to everyone, then you yourself make a profit! If only all businesses are like that….
      Great post otherwise! Lots of insights to be found in it.

  6. Great post. I had not heard of Keza, but it sounds like a great company and very forward thinking. There is certainly a lot to be said about this topic.

    I think you are totally right. Keeping costs to a bare minimum and eeking every penny of profits and then donating later may work for some. But I think that trying to do good NOW and getting a reputation for excellence and caring is something that can help you to not only make the world a slightly better place but help to brand yourself, because you WILL stand out from the common herd who are only in it for themselves.

  7. The idea of helping others, or the world, or society in some way WHILE making profits is fantastic. I’d love to see what would happen if more businesses operated this way. It’s often obvious when they aren’t, just based on the policies they keep toward customer service.

    There’s also really something to be said for not trying to wring every last cent of profits out of each sale. This method can be extremely shortsighted, even for companies that don’t care about improving the world, because obvious greed can definitely lead to lower sales volume. When consumers know that a company is paying poverty wages to workers in whatever country, those consumers are going to have more negative feelings toward the company, as well as the products they sell. And this makes customers more eager to buy those products from some other company, entirely. A company that’s not so greedy.

  8. I think drawing the correct balance between self-interest and charity will be the toughest of decisions one can make. Your article is highly helpful, but I think, unless one goes through the course on Profitable Idealism, can remain only as an idea. As regards helping the Rwandan artists, Rwandan craftsmanship is only the tip of the iceberg. The entire original African art remains unexplored by the West, excepting some cases like the one sited by you. Some of the African aboriginal artistry, especially sculptures and textile designs are as good as a cross between aboriginal arts and cubism.

  9. I find it interesting that in the middle of the economic meltdown, when you’d expect most businesses to become rapidly focused on profit-at-all-cost, we’re seeing a lot more for-profit businesses add an “idealistic” component.

    • Exactly — in fact, we used that as our “sig” in the recent Teaching Sells launch, because it so perfectly encapsulates what that course is all about, and Johnny wrote a post on it recently as well.

  10. I’ve got some doubts about a course on idealism, which is why this post didn’t convince me.

    Idealism isn’t a set of techniques that can be learned. It’s only experience that comes from a genuine desire to help people.

    The key danger comes from that when you approach it in a technical way, it becomes phony, and hurts you more than hinders you. People who fake ethics end up worse than they were before.

    It’s great to feature businesses that have made their living in an ethical way, but I’d wager that the founders of those businesses have a long history of helping others first. You don’t just wake up one day and decide to be good. You put the work in until it becomes part of your character, then conduct business in line with who you really are.

    • Patrick, I’m pretty sure the goal is not to each people do be idealistic, which, as you point out, is fairly impossible.

      I think the point is to help people marry there ideals with business goals. A lot of idealistic people struggle with that.

  11. If only it were the purpose of every business to make the world a better place! As you mentioned with Keza, it is always better to have a superior product for idealism to be profitable. Profitability consists of creating barriers to entry and turning away clients that don’t meet your criteria, as these are wasteful leads that will eat up more of your time than the high quality leads you are guaranteed to profit off of.

    On the idealistic side of business, keep in mind that there is no need to be greedy when you have a consistent cash flow. Charity will not only benefit those in need but it will also make you feel good about yourself and provide you with a greater sense of accomplishment. Take Toms Shoes as an example. They have developed a way to give their customers an opportunity to feel good too – for every pair of shoes that a customer purchases, they give a pair away to a child in need. Personally I think they are over-priced and unattractive shoes, but the concept in great and I would buy a pair anyways!

  12. Whether you call it ‘Profitable Idealism’ or ‘Social Entrepreneurship’, the concept is growing in popularity and I say Amen to that.

    I do the marketing for my wife, who owns and operates a community acupuncture clinic. Against all business logic, she asks patients to pay only what they feel they can afford. Period. No questions asked and no income verification pursued. She’s not (yet) breaking any records, but neither is she out of business. The model is viable, and I think there’s a place reserved for her in whatever post-existence paradise exists for those who live this type of life.

    Interestingly enough, the ‘pay what you can afford’ concept is not what catches the attention of potential patients. We naively used that as a main theme of some of our early marketing materials, but quickly realized that people want to feel better (or at least hear what you’ve got to offer them) before considering any type of fee arrangement, no matter how Lefty or idealistic. Now our headlines and leads are patient-centered, focused on benefits (I know, copywriting 101).

    So, the acupuncture clinic is not going to be an over the top financial juggernaut, but that’s not the point (ha). It has been in operation for several years now and continues to grow, we believe, for one and ONLY one reason: people feel more like partners than ‘consumers’.

    Thanks for a great post.

    All the best, Bob

  13. Hi there,
    So I have a few thoughts.
    Helping people creates a dual effect for the person helping. First yes, there is personal gain, the feeling of helping someone can be pleasurable and self rewarding. There is also that selfish pleasure in it, where you subconsciously prove to yourself that you are not a bad person. There is also a third side to it, at least in business, you should be able to satisfy both of the first two feelings and at the same time manage to make a profit, find that balance and you are golden. Make money without helping anyone, then you yourself will never be happy.

  14. I’ve been a long time lurker on this site but this time I have to comment on this post as creating a business based on these principles is exactly what I’ve been thinking about doing and what I’m currently working on. The need to start up the kind of business that genuinely cares about the people it provides the service for has been driven by my own despair over the lack of such service available for people who are trying to sell art. This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me, it’s so good to know that people who want to base their business on what some people tend to view as idealism can be a mutually beneficial and profitable business makes me so happy, so thank you for sharing this just when I needed to hear it 🙂

  15. With the idea of “profitable idealism” I would like to add my favorite state of mind “skeptical optimism”. I find that approaching everything with skeptical optimism keeps me safe, while keeping me open to ideas and willing to be daring and adventurous. The whole idea is to be hopeful, but expect nothing in return. That way if things work out it’s a bonus, and if they don’t… it’s just par for the course.

  16. This sounds like a great idea! I always want to help out – and get so many calls for donations it isn’t funny – but this “profitable idealism” sounds like a better approach. Focused on an avenue that I want to support rather than waiting for others to come to me. (And knowing exactly where the $$ is going and why is an important foundation too.)

  17. Profitable idealism… I have been doing that for the last 5 years, though I never called it this name.
    I try to help people improve their health while selling health products.

    I give lots of free advice, information on possible treatments, diet plans, health news and so on to my clients. They like to call me or to write an email from time to time. They adore me, and I genuinely care for them. They can feel that I really want to help them.

    The problem with profitable idealism is finding the proper balance. Some people start using you. They will never buy, but they will take your time and your resources. Since you are the idealist, it is hard for you to say no to them.

    This is a problem I face right now. I will have to find a limit to my idealism.

  18. I always fight with my costumers, because the only thing than they want in a page is a beautiful design. When I speak about do cash with them, they only think in the website like a business card for take phone calls. Very sad situation, I hope in Latinamérica change his mind someday.

  19. I appreciate how you practice what you preach. You gave a good lesson, and then you provided a great resource and you made the pitch for a sale.

    I am the idealist most of the time, and it has gotten me in trouble in the past. What I realize is that my default is to sacrifice more than take (my temperament is Relator/Supporter), and I try to justify it with the kumbaya.

    That is why setting strict guidelines as to the interactions in business is essential for me. When I want to default to my normal pattern, the guidelines keep me in check.

    So in my opinion, we need to constantly fight our temperament and comfortzone by setting up an environment that makes it impossible for us to fail.

  20. Nicely timed post Sonia and some great examples. I’ve been working a lot on this recently and have come to the conclusion that the more value you can give the greater your success will be.

    The hard part for me is getting over the scarcity mindset & grab it while you can mentality. Finally being aware of it helps, just need to practice the giving part more and not worry about outcomes… that’s a struggle but one worth overcoming :o)

  21. Sonia,

    I heard about this article on 3rd Tribe and had to check it out. Keza is a great story and Jared and the entire Miller family are awesome folk. One of the web sites I write on is called – an unedited discussion of my Dyslexia and ADD and my daughters CP. It turns out Jared has dyslexia and is a bit add himself. His father introduced us and I had the opportunity to interview him almost two years ago now. Here is a link to the interview. It was one of my first shows so you have to skip the first minute or two of dead air, but the interview is pretty good. I just listened to it again and it’s awesome to hear Jared tell his story.

  22. Sonia,

    I just wanted to drop by and give you some comment love on the way you opened up this blog post

    “I know what you’re thinking.

    You see the title of this post and you see who wrote it and you just might assume that I’m going to ask everyone to join hands and sing Kumbaya”

    It really hooked me into the post with your attention getting and humorous style.

    When I need some blogging inspiration my destination of choice is Copyblogger…

    Keep cranking out the creative attention getting posts…


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