08/27/2013 11:44 am ET Updated Oct 27, 2013

10 Ways to Add Culture - Cheaply

Über culture is officially the standard for companies. From free lunches of Krispy Kreme bacon cheese burgers and ping pong tables to "20% time" and free childcare, companies are in a race to snag the best talent with amazing and over the top cultures. Unfortunately, as a small business, resources are typically scarce leading owners to believe that culture is not something they can afford. Here are a few ways that we have, cheaply, created culture in our company.

1. Vision Statement. The single easiest and best place to start creating culture is to have a vision statement. The number of business owners who do not have one or believe it is needed constantly surprises me. It is nearly impossible to create a great culture if you don't know who you are. Cost: Free

2."Ted Talk Tuesdays" - Every Tuesday, typically at 2PM, everyone in our office stops what they are doing to watch a Ted Talk. Each week someone different in the office chooses the talk with no rules for what the content should be. These talks frequently end up sparking amazing conversations about life and purpose throughout the office and reinforce the idea that we hope people's lives are more informed from working at this place. Cost: Free

3. Magazine Subscriptions - We have a variety of subscriptions to trade magazines with paper and online access available in the office. A large group of our people work outside the office and by providing them with a useful trade tool we not only help them in their endeavors, but also create a reason for them to come into the office and see us. Cost: Low

4. Monthly Speakers - To continue and support our culture of learning, we have a monthly speaker series. These are speakers such as bankers who teach about credit reports, tax accountants, health experts, hair designers etc... They all come and speak for free in the hopes of maybe getting new clients for themselves, but are never promised any business. We require that they create an informative session for our people and not a sales pitch. This week is free facials day! Cost: Free

5. Group Sales - Depending on the number of people that you have in your organization, you probably qualify for group sales. This can be anything: Broadway shows, museum passes, boat tours, ballgames tickets, and movies. Since we cannot afford to actually pay for the tickets outright, we usually throw in a small bit of money toward each ticket and ask for the rest to be covered by the participant. We search for things that we know are expensive and the idea of getting any discount makes people jump at the opportunity. It also means that we all end up sitting together at the event..bonus! Cost: Free to Expensive

6. Say Hello - We have an open concept plan in our office, but still there are days when people come in and no one greets them. When this started to become an epidemic, I instituted a "say hello" policy. When anyone comes in, we look up from our busy work and give them a hello so that they know we appreciate their presence in the organization. Cost: Free

7. Experience Fund - Because personal growth is part of our mission, we have a $300 stipend per person each year to do something that they have never done before. The only rule it that it must be an experience, not an item, and they must report back to the team about it. Riding in a bike tour, jumping out of airplanes, and first trips to Europe are some of the things the money has gone toward. Start small: the same benefits can still be reached with less money per person. Cost: Moderate

8. Team Sports - Have an office team. There are tons of leagues available with a variety of sports for the non athletic. Our office has a volleyball team. We have been playing for a year now and while we have actually only won five games (that is 5 and 72), we have never laughed harder. Cost: Moderate

9. Dinners and Parties - This old classic still holds true and there are many ways to do it on a budget. At the beginning we would hit up the local wholesale club for snacks we could make in a toaster, sweets that could be eaten in one bite, and enough drinks to make everyone good at charades. Recently we progressed to all you can eat taco nights. Cost: Moderate

10. Show Up - I cannot stress enough the importance of showing up to the office. Far too often I hear about owners who take advantage of their position to work from home or show up around the other events of their personal life. In a small business, the culture starts with the owner and the only way that the culture can spread is through their presence and example. Cost: Free


Field Trips - People love getting out of the office for even a little bit of time. Surprising the office with a field trip usually sparks immense joy and creates a great chance for the team to get together in a casual way. Our office recently met at 7AM to wait in line for the "Rain Room" at MOMA but it can be as simple as a group trip on the Staten Island Ferry. Cost: Free - Low

Be Open - There is always a lot of debate on how much should or should not be shared within an office, but from my experience, openness creates a more positive environment. You don't have to share everything, but letting your people know what's happening with the company helps create confidence throughout the environment. Sharing details, again not all of your personal life, reminds people that we are all human. Cost: Free.

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.