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Why These Companies Work Only With Purpose-Driven Clients

Here are three tips for how your company can do the same.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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Many business leaders claim to care about purpose. But for some, that commitment is so strong that it even dictates whom their teams work with--and whom they turn away.  

The founders of three such companies--Mission PartnersIron Light, and Scout Lab--intentionally and exclusively work with purpose-driven brands and organizations as clients. This high bar means that they might lose out on a wider pool of potential clients, but the founders concur that taking this approach has paid off in client satisfaction, employee recruitment, and overall growth.  

Here's what these founders learned, and how your company can succeed with this approach:  

First, define purpose 

Purpose can be a "big, unwieldy word until you start to define it for yourself," says Carrie Fox, founder and CEO of Mission Partners, a communications firm based in Rockville, Maryland. "Once you've gotten it figured out internally, then start to share it publicly," she says.  

Fox started her firm in 2017 specifically to help purpose-driven organizations, which she defines as those working toward the greater good. Meanwhile, the co-founders at Iron Light, an advertising and marketing agency founded in 2018 in Chicago, define purpose-driven organizations as those seeking cultural or legislative change.  

For Scout Lab, the New York City-based creative communications agency, the definition has evolved from when the company was first founded in 2017, says co-founder Kaitlyn Barclay. While she first defined purpose-driven brands as those expanding access in the face of historical gaps, her description has since narrowed in on organizations specifically supporting human and planetary health.  

"It was really a smart business decision for us to be like, 'Hey, in the world of being purpose-driven, what are the areas that we as humans need to improve most rapidly?' And that's now our point of focus," Barclay says.  

Know your enemies  

After defining what kinds of clients fell under their definition of purpose-driven, the Scout Lab team also clearly identified which ones would not, Barclay says. For them, this included conservative policymakers, organizations with reductive beauty standards, and business owners propagating hateful speech. To home in on who you want to best support, she says, you must know your enemy.  

"Identifying what you're trying to destroy or repel is how businesses make quantum leaps," she says. 

Sometimes, it might not be immediately clear if a potential client falls into that enemy territory. For instance, Barclay once needed to consider a client in indoor vertical farming. In her research, she found that while these farms could help address world hunger, they also use significant energy. So, she asked her team for their insights. 

"We had to have a conversation on: do we think this fits our vision for climate health, even though it is not a perfect solution for it? Ultimately, we said yes, but it was absolutely important that there was a transparent conversation," Barclay says. 

Prepare for the costs, capitalize on the benefits  

With a selective pool of potential clients, you could end up turning down good money, says Ryan Green, co-founder and CEO of Iron Light. The firm receives many lucrative requests to work with politicians and political parties, he says, but because Iron Light works only with politically adjacent organizations, he turns them down. As a result, while other agencies might have a 20 to 30 percent margin, Iron Light's rests at around 15 to 20 percent, he adds.  

And yet, Iron Light has managed to achieve 30 to 40 percent year-over-year revenue growth in the past few years, securing a spot on the Inc. 5000 list in 2023. Co-founder and president Austin Berg says that while many agencies employ similar marketing or design tactics, it's values like these that set companies apart. "That is a really big comparative advantage that you have against a lot of other places, but only if you stay consistent in that."  

At Scout Lab, in addition to generating new business, this focus on purpose-driven brands has attracted employees to the company, Barclay says. In most interviews, candidates mention their excitement about the company's client list, she says. Fox echoed this, adding that actively and publicly communicating about your purpose-driven focus is key to reaping the full extent of the benefits: "The more center we put it, the more incredible talent comes our way."  

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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