Little Loving Hands founder Lily Yeh. (Photo courtesy of Lily Yeh).

This week, an entrepreneur asks for advice on how to market a start-up aimed at teaching kids the importance of giving back. — Dan Beyers, Capital Business editor.

The entrepreneur

As a mom to two girls, ages 5 and 3, Lily Yeh wanted to teach her children the importance of giving back, but she found opportunities were very limited for young children to help with charities. Many organizations don’t allow volunteers younger than 13 years old, and Yeh didn’t want to just donate money on behalf of her kids–she wanted her kids to have more of a connection with a cause. So she decided to create a venture to give kids a hands-on way to get involved with causes at home.

Yeh says she always had “that entrepreneurial bug” with countless ideas, but this is the first one she’s truly passionate about. “It’s so near and dear to my heart and it’s so needed.” After business school, she spent over a decade working in the corporate world for large companies including Monster.com and Blackboard, always in innovation, strategy and new product development. Becoming a mom -– “my most exciting job,” she says –-really inspired her to take the entrepreneurial leap.

The pitch

Yeh

“Little Loving Hands is a monthly subscription business providing kids crafts for a cause. Every month we spotlight a different charity. Our kits include all the materials and instructions for a craft project that, after completed by the child, is sent back to a charity using a pre-paid return envelope and passed out to those in need. We also include educational materials and other fun items to help children learn about who, why and how they are helping. Our focus is really to teach children the importance of helping others at a young age and to show them that they can make a difference.

“For example, in January we worked with the Ronald McDonald House charity. Our kits allowed children to create snowman stuffed-animals that also serve as heat pads to be included in welcome bags for families. In the prior month, we had the children create fun activity bags that were handed out as gifts to the children staying at The Children’s Inn at NIH in Bethesda. In February, we supported Our Military Kids by providing tie-dyed bandanas and homemade patriotic keychains to children whose parents are service members.

“Our kits are available as monthly, six-month, and 12-month subscriptions where they can cost as little as $20 per month. The kits are also available as a one-time purchase at a slightly higher price point than the subscription options. We also offer bulk kits for classroom, birthday party activities, and group play dates.

“We launched our website in November 2015. Our biggest challenge right now is reaching customers. It’s not about just throwing up a banner ad and hoping people click –- we need to tell our story. When parents, grandparents, aunts, and anyone with a child in their life hears about what we are doing, the reaction has been extremely positive, because who doesn’t want to raise kind kids? How does a small business with a limited budget and unknown brand reach the masses when targeting a huge market that so many other businesses are targeting? And once we get the customers’ attention, how do we help them understand the importance of a continued investment in something that will help shape a child’s character?”

The advice

Sara Herald, associate director of social entrepreneurship at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business

“To answer your question about reaching customers, don’t think about trying to reach the masses –- that’s too daunting. Figure out how to get to the influencers and rely on them to help evangelize your brand. For example, reach out to parent bloggers and social media influencers. Send them sample boxes to interact with your brand and tell others about it.

“Dig a little deeper to determine who your customer really is. You don’t have to be right the first time–- just pick a place to start. Once you home in on that person, figure out where you can find that person and how they make decisions, and target them there. For example, what type of schools do their children attend, what websites do they follow, etc.?

“Also think about whether there is a way to reach children directly and get them to request Little Loving Hands. Perhaps you could partner with a larger organization that works with children, such as the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts. I think you’re smart in keeping your outcome being about teaching empathy to children.”

Elana Fine, managing director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“Look at other trends in the subscription box industry to try and determine what you can expect for your customers’ average subscription length. Use that information to calculate your customer acquisition costs. The lifetime value of each customer obviously has to be greater than what you spend to attract them.

“It sounds like you’re still figuring out what the best model really is for your kits. For example, really pursuing selling this as a birthday party activity or group activity might be the way to go.

“You could also consider focusing on a single charity or cause and find champions that are already really passionate about that particular cause to help grow Little Loving Hands that way.”

The reaction

Yeh

“Even though we are still such a new brand, we have found that most of our customers are purchasing six- or 12-month subscriptions, so that really increases the average lifetime value of our customers.

Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help fixing an existing one? Capital Business and the experts at the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business are ready to assist. Contact us at capbiznews@washpost.com.