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26 Sep 2017

Thoughts on Enlightened Business

By Talie Smith

I’m on the hunt for buried treasure.

Or so it seems. In this crazy endeavor of growing a business, I’m constantly checking my incomplete map to figure out how to do it right – for us. My partners and I ask, listen, and then try things. It feels like a grand experiment! The big question remains: How do we build something we can stand behind, do the work we love, attract the right kinds of clients for us, and ultimately stay afloat?

The Enlightened Business

In the very early years of starting S&C, we knew that creating a niche for ourselves was one of the best ways to gain traction. Instead of making it about a particular service or client, however, we decided to let our *values* and *purpose* be our niche.

Our tagline became Strategic branding, websites, and communications for businesses and organizations on a mission.

Our mission is: To manifest humanity and connection through design and technology.

We sought out projects that got us working with visionary people who were on a mission that we could believe in. Along the way, we’ve gravitated toward people, nonprofits, and businesses that have real values, that were about more than just profit. We call this category “the enlightened business.” We realized that these were the clients we jived with the best. We did our best work when we collaborated with people such as GreenField Health, which wants to change the way care is delivered; The Society Hotel which wants to welcome everyone, build community, and help revitalize Portland’s Chinatown; and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger which seeks to end hunger in America and Israel with advocacy.

In 2017, we are lucky to work and collaborate with enlightened people who continue to inspire us. We’ve started thinking about what some of these values are that most of our clients have in common.

Building Community

Instead of the cynical, Trumpian concept of “me first,” we believe that (to extend our metaphor) a rising tide lifts all boats. That’s why we have been gratified to work this year with Switchboard, XXcelerate Fund, Zebras Unite, and The Beauty Shop’s Visible project, businesses that are based in this idea. They all think that business is not a zero-sum game, that when we help each other, we all do well. We’ve been incredibly gratified to see that kind of spirit in the design community. Every agency owner we’ve reached out to has been generous with their time, and we do the same.

Listening First

This is a concept deeply embedded in design thinking. You don’t know what you don’t know. Our philosophy of design is to find the spot where the client’s goals and the end user’s goals intersect. The only way to find that spot is to ask everybody what they need, to build your business or endeavor from a deep knowledge of people. Mac’s List started from a real need of Portland businesses and job seekers to find each other. Marguerite Casey Foundation started with the core idea that the people who know best what low-income families need are … wait for it … low-income families.

People to Watch

We’ve been keeping our own list of people who exemplify this kind of thinking. Here are a few individuals and organizations we’ve been working with and watching:

Luz Vega-Marquis
President & CEO, Marguerite Casey Foundation, pioneer of a “listening first” to philanthropy

Mara Zepeda
Switchboard, Zebras Unite, XXcelerate Fund, Business for a Better Portland

Astrid Scholz
Sphaera, Zebras Unite, XXcelerate Fund

Kimberly A.C. Wilson
Director of Communications, Meyer Memorial Trust

Mac Prichard
President, Mac’s List, Prichard Communications

Rukaiyah Adams
Chief Investment Officer, Meyer Memorial Trust

Co-Owners at The Society Hotel and other ventures:
Jessie Burke
Jonathan Cohen
Matt Siegel
Gabe Genauer

Mitch Daugherty
Co-founder of Built Oregon, Morange Design, past board chair of Oregon Entrepreneurs Network

Ashley Henry
Chief Collaboration Officer, Business for a Better Portland

Inspiring Organizations

Zebras Unite
Thank you Mara Zepeda, Astrid Scholz, Jen Brandel, and Aniyia Williams for co-founding Zebras Unite, an organization and movement working to inspire, lead, and bring together companies and organizations motivated by both profit and purpose. These visionary women are literally and figuratively branding this movement. And we are lucky to be working with them on a new brand for it as I write this article.

XXcelerate Fund
Thanks (again!) to Mara Zepeda, Astrid Scholz and to Paige Hendrix Buckner (founder, ClientJoy), Genevieve LeMarchal, (founder, Sadie) for founding a company that imagines a world where funding high-performing women entrepreneurs is the norm, not the exception.

Business for a Better Portland
Another visionary new organization born from the amazing Mara Zepeda (and others) and run by Ashley Henry, BBPDX makes a positive difference by combining the strength of business advocacy with the power of technology and grassroots social change.

Mac’s List
The people we hire to work for us must also share our values and purpose. We now write our values prominently in our job descriptions and then think hard about where we post them. Mac’s List is a quality Portland job board based on relationships, not list aggregators; and Portland Design Switchboard is another quality community board. Our interview process leans heavily on understanding if a candidate really and truly shared our values.

Visible Resistance
Visible is a nonprofit organization formed by Jen Thomas and her crew at The Beauty Shop as an answer to Trump's election. Visible provides creative work free of charge to organizations fighting for social, environmental and civil rights causes by pairing projects with creative agencies. We are a proud partner!

Built Oregon
Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine chronicling the lesser known stories of visionaries, builders, makers, and business owners fueling our economy and shaping our state.

Good Reads

Surprise surprise, the leaders at Zebras Unite have done a smashing job of collecting an array of articles and links to inspiring ideas on this subject.

And don't miss the amazing call-to-action that started Zebras Unite: Sex and Startups by Jennifer, Mara, Astrid & Aniyia.

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