business & politics: should they mix?

If you’re close to me, you probably know my politic leanings. If you’re don’t know me well, you may be in the dark. For now, I’m going to keep it that way- I hope that not knowing which side I actually support will encourage you to keep an open mind as you read. I think it’s important to play devil’s advocate when addressing political and social issues, so hopefully I veiled my actual opinion well enough ūüôā

For some people, business and politics are like oil and water- they can’t mix. For others, the two naturally go hand-in-hand.

Take Chick-Fil-A for instance. Many people don’t know that they routinely donate to anti-gay organizations like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.

Whether you believe these organizations are worthwhile or not is your choice. But the fact is that Chick-Fil-A is using revenue generated through their successful business model to support an agenda that they believe in.¬†A liberal person’s first reaction may be disgust, shock, or even protest {NYU students did ¬†just that¬†back in February}.

But isn’t Blake Mycoskie of TOMS doing the same thing? For every shoe that is purchased, a pair is donated to a person in need. Just like Chick-Fil-A, TOMS is using revenue generated through their successful business model to support an agenda they believe in. Yet interestingly, I have yet to hear about an individual or group speaking out or protesting against TOMS. Admittedly, the premise of donating to a person in need is less contentious than the issue of gay rights, but I think the parallel still stands.

Should Chick-Fil-A be punished because some individuals don’t believe in their agenda? Maybe, maybe not. On one hand, a patron can still enjoy their pleasant service, attention to detail, and delicious gluten-free chicken nuggets though they may disagree with the political agenda of the chain. On the other hand, one’s right to boycott is one of the most powerful tools in encouraging a business to change their practices. When I was in high school, ¬†my mom and I boycotted Taco Bell {our favorite fast food restaurant} because they¬†artificially¬†pushed down the price of tomatoes, which severely affected migrant farm workers {it was a rough few months for us}.

What do you think? Should businesses practice their right to support a political and/or social agenda or should business and politics be kept separate? Do you boycott Chick-Fil-A or have you ever boycotted another business because of their practices?

P.S. Interestingly, Blake Mycoskie was criticized for attending a socially conservative event hosted by Focus on the Family. He later apologized on his website.

Dear Starbucks…

I have to write a blog post about this because my sister is sick of hearing me talk about it (seriously, just ask her).

Dear Starbucks Corporate (Panera Corporate- please take note):

I love you. You know I do. But I have to bring this up because it’s really bothering me.

I co-own a business. It is legally set up as an LLC but I wholeheartedly believe that it contributes social value to the Raleigh community. There is no doubt it that provides economic value as well: through taxes, as well as the fact that it provides a place for small business owners to grow their businesses so that they, in turn, can provide value to the community.

You may wonder where I’m going with this seemingly obvious clarification.

Could we have been set up as a 501c3? Absolutely. Some coworking spaces are. We chose not to be. Not because we are profit-mongering bloodsuckers, but because it was the right decision for us. If we were a non-profit, would we have been paid a salary? Yes. Would our fundamental model have changed? Almost certainly not. We would still have charged the exact same fees-for-service in order to pay said salary in order to continue building our coworking space in order to continue adding social value to the community. 501c3 or not, they would have been the same fees because our expenses are the same.

So why can’t I hang a flyer on your community board?

If you stand by your decision to only support non-profits, help me clarify another issue I have. Upon seeking clarification of your flyer-hanging policy, I was told by one of your employees that I could only hang a flyer for something where there was no charge.

Wait a minute. Do I have to be a non-profit or do I have to be offering free products and services? These are not the same.

Yes, non-profits often offer things for free. But non-profits also often charge for their products and services. They have earned income streams. They charge fees-for-services. They sell tickets to galas, block parties, and fashion shows. VisionSpring sells eyeglasses. The SPCA sells items emblazoned with the SPCA logo.

And yes, businesses generally charge for things. But they also often offer free things. They offer happy hours, seminars, and workshops. The Raleigh Forum occasionally hosts free events, like our upcoming Design Mixer with AIGA.

I appreciate your willingness to support social causes (no sarcasm there). I really do. But as the lines between business and non-profit blur, I urge you to reconsider your policy. But most of all, I urge you to encourage your employees to understand the intricacies of tax designations before making flawed arguments.

Sincerely,

Cristina (The Girl Who Single-Handledly Keeps You In Business By Buying Soy Mistos)

</soapbox>

Do you have a different opinion or think MY argument is flawed? Let me know! I’m interested in other people’s thoughts on this issue (I’m looking at you, Matt, Sarah, Peter, and Elizabeth!).

Edited: my friend sent me this article, which details Starbucks’ commitment provide loans to small business owners. I thought it was very relevant to the discussion!

Edited: I submitted an edited version of this letter on the Starbucks website and got what may or may not be a form email promising to pass it on to corporate. I then posted it on My Starbucks Idea, which seems to be a pretty democratic way of suggesting changes to Starbucks. Feel free to thumbs up my post ūüôā

Clearly I feel very inflamed about this issue, mostly because I see it as symbolic of the continuous divide between business and non-profit.

the value of social value

Before college, I had a very primitive view of social good: non-profits promoted social good; corporations did not. As a Human Services, I became intrigued by the idea of social enterprise, which I saw as a potential “solution” (I use that term loosely) to the apparent disconnect between “good” (promoting social change) and “evil” (making money).

But I am also an advocate for a strict definition of social enterprise, so where does that leave businesses like The Raleigh Forum, our new coworking space? I wouldn’t characterize us as a social enterprise, but I certainly think we contribute social value to the community.

We provide a hub for collaboration and community. We provide a much-needed alternative to working from home or coffee shops. We stimulate the local economy by bringing 20+ individuals downtown. We will recycle, use reusable water bottles, and conserve electricity when possible. We will make an in-kind contribution (desk space + meeting space) to Change the Triangle.

We’re not ending poverty or curing any diseases. And yes, we’re an LLC. But we are actively empowering individuals and groups so that they can make their own mark on the community.

Which makes me wonder how valuable labels like “social value” are if they have the potential to lead to confusion, disagreement, and disillusionment.

does this mean i can call myself an entrepreneur?

 Kirk: Are you kidding me, Marnie? That guy?!
    Marnie: That guy is an en-tre-pre-neur.
    Kirk: Well, Ron owns a Pizza Hut.
    Marnie: That’s a business.
    Kirk: It’s not even a real Pizza Hut! It’s a Pizza Hut Express!

-She’s Out of My League

In some segments of society, the term “entrepreneur” is a not-so-discreet code for drug-dealer or, apparently, a Pizza Hut Express owner. Despite this, it seems that everyone wants to call themselves an entrepreneur- or better yet, a social entrepreneur.

In my opinion (and Mr. Webster’s), you can’t call yourself an entrepreneur unless you actually own and operate a business (whether it’s legal or not is a different question!). Having a great idea does not make you an entrepreneur. Supporting other entrepreneurs (well a very good thing to do) does not make you an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurial, perhaps.

But now that I do co-own and co-operate a business, can I call myself one?!

i co-own a business?!

I’m not going to lie to you. I scheduled this post. I’m writing it at 9:13pm on Thursday, but you won’t see it until Friday morning. I want to make sure everything is 100% official before I announce it.

So what’s the big deal?

You are looking at the proud co-owner of a coworking space! It’s true. My sister and I- hereforth referred to as the Roman Sisters- are partners of Roman Co, LLC, which operates a Downtown Raleigh coworking space!

I have to pinch myself to be sure this is real.

Stay tuned for many, many updates, pictures, stories…and possibly freak-outs!

And if you’re in the Raleigh area, follow @raleighcowork for updates. We’ll be holding open hours in the space ASAP!

P.S. It was just May 2  that I wrote a blog post on sister entrepreneurship. So much can happen in just 3 months! As we always say, our best decisions happen quickly.

sister entrepreneurship

I was chatting with a co-worker recently about how we both wanted to start businesses with our sisters.

“Sister entrepreneurship” is all the rage right now: Katherine and Sophie, the “sister-owners” of Georgetown Cupcake now have their own TV show, called DC Cupcakes. The Kardashian sisters co-own Dash, a line of clothing stores. Apparently the rollable footwear line FootzyRolls was started by sisters Sarah and Jenifer.

Who better to start a company with than your sister? In the case of me and my sister, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we push each other in a positive way, we’re more productive when we can bounce ideas off each other..and we have an absolute blast together.

We’ve talked about a promotion company, which would leverage both our shared strengths and our unique skill sets. For example, we are both very capable in terms of promoting, but I am more experienced with social media, while she is great at interpersonal communication.

Sure, there are risks involved. There have been many times that my sister has helped me out financially or I’ve fronted money for our phone bill. Having both of our assets wrapped up in the same company is more financially risky. Most importantly, there is always the possibility that a work issue will affect personal relationships.

Should we decide to move forward with our venture idea, I’d insist on a “sister contract.” This document would essentially say that, if push came to shove, our relationship would take precedence over our business. Also, it sounds incredibly silly, but we take pinky promises very seriously. They basically constitute a sisterhood pact; they are never¬†to be broken. A pinky promise about family over business would definitely be in order!

Any other “sister-owners” you know of out there (famous or not)?

gw bites across the internet

Today GW Bites was featured on¬†Springwise. It was then picked up by¬†TrendHunter.com,¬†Business Insider, and a whole bunch of folks on Twitter (here¬†and¬†here¬†and¬†here). Check out the links! So so so excited about all this ūüôā

looking for a job? cultivate your network

Entering the workforce in May? Looking for a beneficial internship? Cultivate your network! According to research, about 60% of jobs are filled through networking and informal contacts, not advertising or applications sent to “info@blank.com” addresses.

Asking friends, professors, and mentors for help with your job search allows you to call upon their expertise and connections in a meaningful, personal way. Here are a few tips for asking effectively:

  • Acknowledge that you are asking for their help because you trust their judgment and value their opinions (who wouldn’t be flattered?!)
  • Follow up! ¬†Failing to follow up with someone who helped you can sour a relationship if they feel like they are being used.
  • Use discretion when asking individuals for their help; don’t ask for help from someone you wouldn’t be willing to help in return
  • Make it easy on them: send your resume & areas of interest. I even included a list of companies I was interested in and asked 1) if they knew anyone there and 2) if they knew of similar companies (see screenshot below for my email template!)
  • Use the “Get Introduced” feature on LinkedIn. I happened to know of a girl who worked at a company I wanted to join, so I searched for her on LinkedIn. I saw that we had a friend in common, so I asked him to connect us. Voila- instant connection!

All of this being said, don’t be afraid to take a shot in the dark. You never know unless you ask! When I was a freshmen, I saw a Washington Diplomat golf tournament flyer in an office. I called them and asked if they needed volunteers for the event. The man on the phone asked if I was looking to “rub elbows with ambassadors.” I laughingly admitted that I was. That man became my boss for the year that I interned at the newspaper; in fact, on May 6, I will be working my 4th consecutive golf tournament for them!

Addendum: check out BranchOut, an application that allows you to capitalize on your network of Facebook friend during your job search!

Harmonized Living: new website launch!

I mentioned that I worked on creating my new website this weekend. While, the first post is live- check it out!

Visit the site on Friday, April 15 for our big launch!

Until then, stay tuned for hints.

Want to receive a reminder email? Complete this form!

Want to tell your friends about Harmonized Living? Tweet it!

Interested in submitting food or home decor photographs to be featured on the site? Interested in becoming a Harmonized Living contributor? Email harmonizedliving@gmail.com!

Tip of the Week

For students: buying personal business cards (is that an oxymoron?!) is a small investment that could pay off big time. They make you stand out from the crowd of other not-as-prepared students during networking events, meetings, and random everyday run-ins.

Mine are simple: just a monogram, my name, my phone number, and my email address.

But a word of warning: don’t just throw your card around. I’ve had people shake my hand and hand me a business card. Unless we’ve had a meaningful conversation and I know that we can benefit each other mutually, chances are I’m not going to take your card and follow up with you.

Coincidentally (yeah, right haha), LivingSocial is offering $50 to use on Vistaprint.com for only $10! Get it here.