Creating A Legacy In The Community And In Business

“History will be kind to me because I intend to write it.” ~Unknown

What do you want your legacy to be? Never thought about it before? Women today are far busier than our grandmothers or even our mothers ever were. From being a mother to wife to student to now being an entrepreneur, our legacy – that which you will leave behind you – is in jeopardy. That fact of the matter is that when it comes to talking about legacy, women hesitate because it seems too self-centered. But I argue that we, as women of today, need to start preparing and designing our own legacy. It is not a matter of self-centeredness, but of creating a roadmap or blueprint for future generations

What is a legacy?

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a legacy is “A gift left in a will or a thing handed down by a predecessor.” It can give and be created while you are still alive. It can also be public or private (we’ll talk about this more later). In other words, it is not for the rich only – a very common myth that no one talks about, especially women.

So, what is it that you want to leave behind for those you love when you pass? A legacy of obesity? A legacy of drug abuse? Or a legacy of service to others? I remember my mother once slamming her car into a tree because she fell asleep at the wheel while driving home from her third job. She survived, thankfully, but for many people, this is their life’s story and it does not often end with a happy ending. My mother has given me a legacy of hard work, dedication, tenacity, integrity and the importance of education.

Leadership, Purpose and Vision: A roadmap to building your legacy

When it comes right down to it, building a legacy is about being a leader. Leadership is positive behavior and/or influence on the community and/or family (this is a personal choice that can impact your legacy). Therefore, before you can build your legacy, you must know your purpose. How do you know what it is?

First, you must be open to it – listen to other’s ideas about what they see you as being good at. For example, if people are always saying to you “Girl, you make the meanest chocolate chip macaroon cookies! You should sell these,” they are confirming something the universe has been trying to tell you all along. Women, especially, tend to fend off these compliments by downplaying it: “Oh! This is nothing.” Don’t do that! You are essentially telling the universe (God, for some) that it/He made a mistake.

Your purpose can also come through tragedy: Average Girl was created in response to the murder of my cousin (a victim of domestic violence, she left behind 7 children). My writing experience prepared me for this in that I learned how to write and tell a good story as an English major and now teacher of literature and composition. When it came time to put together the editorial content and style of Average Girl, I was ready for it. Therefore, your purpose is directly related to what kind of legacy you want to leave behind for your business or family/community.

More important than you could ever imagine is Vision; how do you define it and get others to follow it? Tell your story when given the chance; how does it relate to your purpose? You will talk about it if you believe in it. Sadly, women tend to second guess their products/services and themselves. For example, I used to tell myself that ‘no one would buy my magazine because it didn’t look like other magazines on the newsstands and I was “a nobody.” No one knew my name and I had no money to bring to the table.’ It took years of encouraging self-talk (and the loss of a lot of potential sales) to downplay that horrible tape playing around in my head every time I tried to bring to life my vision.

Your vision must connect or resonate with others. We, as women, share a common bond: being a woman. I use this to speak about and promote Average Girl. We may come from different ethnicities or socioeconomic backgrounds, but we all experience joy, pain and heartache as women. We all have dreams that are sometimes crushed or deferred because of society’s pressure to make us conform to its standards of femininity (i.e., housewife, wife, and businesswoman).

You must also have a workable plan – this is where you need to spend a lot of time in development once you have hashed out clearly your willingness to be a leader and follow your purpose. You can’t ask people to follow you or to invest in your vision if you have no idea what it is or how it works, looks, smells, taste, etc. As a leader, you are responsible for not only your word and actions, but the well-being of others.

How can networking help to establish a legacy?

Networking is about building relationships, so you must select networking events that you are truly interested in attending and are in line with your business objectives/market. Time is money and once it’s gone, you cannot get it back. So, do some research first before attending any networking events. When you get there, talk to people about their business; ask them how can you be of service to them? Don’t just stand in a dark corner and cower or worse, stick to the click. Engage people. Be an active listener as it is not always about you and you only.

Use your gut instinct when choosing people to talk to people at these networking events. Truth be told, some people are just there to make money and will use whomever they can to do it: women are good with their instincts, so listen to your gut. Also understand that you cannot help everyone and everyone cannot help you – that’s why referrals are VERY important to not only your business, but in creating a legacy – but be careful about referring the wrong people. If someone has not paid you for your services, do not refer them to another business they could stiff. It will look bad on you, not them. Use those instincts!

Most people forget this vital part of networking: the follow up. Follow up the connections made at these networking meetings with lunch or breakfast or tea just to chat. While there, share your story here if asked to – don’t go into a diatribe: keep it short, sweet, simple and to the point. Discuss your products/services (don’t second guess their response) – you are building connections. Follow up this meeting with frequent communications via email or phone. This is simply confirming connections and building a strong network.

Once people know who you are and what you are about, they will remember you when they hear things “in the wind.” For example, when I was an executive assistant, I used to tell my co-workers that I was studying to be an English teacher. One of them heard about a teaching job expo and told me about it. I went and was hired on the spot. So began my career in education and eventually the birth of Average Girl Magazine.

Forging Business and Community Alliances

Work with people who are doing what you are doing, but perhaps with a different angle. Sponsor an event for a potential alliance to introduce their company to the community. This shows that you are willing and able to work with others. You can also host an event to introduce your company and your goals for the community. For example, I host a tea party every December for Average Girl, but I always donate proceeds from the silent auction to a local woman’s charity or non-profit. I announce this on all of the flyers and marketing material – message: not everything is about just my business. Invite some of your local competitors to be your guest.

If you are thinking about forging an alliance with an organization, research the company first before preparing to establish an alliance. Make an appointment to speak with key persons/decision makers. Before you go, however, prepare an informal plan of action – again, this is a chance to tell your story. At the meeting, establish how you can be of service to them and visa versa (ask questions to establish this further). Perhaps you could offer services such as, free products, time, space, PR, etc. Whatever you offer, do not let it severely impact your bottom line. This is about building alliances wisely that will benefit both businesses’ bottom line in the long run.

Market your business or persons as a community centered entity. Begin to establish yourself as having integrity, flexibility and service. Here is where private vs. publish exposure comes into play. Whatever you release to the media, make sure it is what you want released and that all parties mentioned are in agreement. Some things you may not want the public to know because you just wanted to do it (be aware of your motives). Sources of media to release information to if you choose to go public include: books, website, articles, public speaking engagements, e-newsletters, public service announcements (PSAs). In the end, your reputation will slowly begin to build as your alliances become solid and fruitful. Remember, people remember good deeds and spread the word – but they also remember bad deeds and spread the word.

How can community involvement add to the bottom line of your business?

It can, but is this your ultimate goal? Getting your business involved in community activities/activism is a move that should be carefully considered. It can bring more loyal customers/clients to your business. The company can grow financially and in size due to exposure increase. Your reputation for integrity, loyalty, vision will attract all of the above as well. But beware! People can smell greed and selfishness…and that can ruin more than just your bottom line.

Ultimately, we are here to serve others – if we keep this in focus, your business and/or personal life will prosper for it and your legacy will be the benchmark for others to emulate and prosper from. Remember! Your gifts/talent = purpose = vision = services = legacy = connection to God (or Higher Power).

So what do you want your legacy to be for yourself and your business? Write it down: make it plain, according to scripture. That’s the first thing. The rest is up to you.