Post it note with the words change the world.

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, Xcelerate 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.

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.