Social entrepreneurs have no trouble applying capitalistic methods to deliver on a social mission. After all, it allows them the means to carry on the mission. But making money and doing good is not always easy. It can be confusing, stressful, and for many with a strictly social background, difficult to grasp. But they know it needs to be done because once they master both, their ventures will have the opportunity to create sustainable, positive impact.
In turn, OneLeap, an online community that connects people with ideas – like social entrepreneurs – to business leaders, influencers, or anyone that may help through a messaging system, just released a “How to build a social enterprise that makes money” guide.
In the guide, 16 social entrepreneurs shared what they learned from their ventures.
1) Tom Rippin, On Purpose – Start it how you want to finish it. Too many social enterprises pin their hopes on friendly philanthropic foundations. Not only are those hopes often misplaced, but even if you get the funding, it can get you into bad habits.
2) Paul Cheng, SharedImpact – Be humble, and listen to as many people as possible as part of your initial planning. The more you think you know your market, the less likely you are to really understand it. Involve a diverse set of professionals, representative of all related stakeholders in planning your offerings.
3) Lily Lapenna, MyBnk – If you’re going to reach the most financially disadvantaged and excluded you need to get creative about generating income. Social enterprises may be able to develop revenue models that include direct and sponsored sales, franchising, and consulting services both nationally and internationally.
4) Jude Ower, PlayMob – Think about the structure early on, it’s important to define who you are. It affects the way you make money, and who your customers are. If you don’t know who your customers are, you will have a hard job selling and consequently, generating revenue.
5) Kalsoom Lakhani, Invest2Innovate – You can’t expect to scale social or environmental change if you’re not also financially viable. While this can be difficult, be creative with your revenue model and factor in varied revenue streams for your company.
6) Michael Wilkerson, Own Your Own Boda – Few companies thrive right away and it is essential to make adjustments quickly. Finding what really works often means looking foolish or blowing your nice, clean business plan to smithereens.
7) Jan Matern, Emerge Venture Lab – The key is: don’t wait too long to find out whether your business model has legs or not. When you get started, don’t be precious about your idea, go speak to people, and find out whether anyone actually cares about what you are building. Second, test whether anyone will put money on the table for your proposed solution.
8) Selene Biffi, Plain Ink – It doesn’t matter whether you run a for-profit, non-profit, or hybrid social venture; when you go knocking on people’s door, you really want them to listen to you, understand your cause, and feel compelled to join in, one way or another. As donations and grants to support your work may not always be available, consider instead proposing a “value partnership”.
9) Gina Badenoch, Ojos que Sienten A.C. – Focus not only on the result, but also on the process: in this way you can be innovative and strategic in solving any problems you come across.
10) Dave Radparvar, Holstee – Go out and start creating. If you want to build a financially successful social enterprise the first thing you need to do is start. Don’t let business plans, naysayers, or other barriers-of-the-moment get in the way of your dream.
11) Christian Busch, Sandbox – The most over-looked yet crucial challenge of building a sustainable social venture is building a great team. So what makes a good team? A good team is not only complementary on the competence dimension (e.g. marketing vs. finance), but most importantly, on the character-dimension; a visionary needs to be complemented by an executer, or things never get done.
12) Daniel Dickens, Participle – In every successful startup I’ve launched, advised, or simply observed up close, there has always been (at least) one absolutely critical assumption, built into the original business model, which turned out to be completely wrong. Reacting decisively to this learning and setting out a bold new direction is your job as an entrepreneur and leader.
13) Baillie Aaron, Spark Inside – Be careful about chasing money – while it can be tempting to mold your business model according to the most obvious sources of revenue, you can come across as distracted. To attract money, you need to project a clear mission, vision, and set of values.
14) Shivani Siroya, Inventure – There is power in vulnerability. If you can let people in on the fact that you’re learning as you go, you’re seen as a better entrepreneur. You’re showing people you’re a nimble organization that is going to be flexible and adjustable to any challenges that you’re facing.
15) Dr. Alastair Buick, Meducation – Form strategic partners if you can. Be malleable but don’t be vague. If you have a strategic partner you want to work with, be clear in how you see it working, but be open to change. Put yourself in their shoes and work from there.
16) Tim Ahrensbach, Hub Westminster – Build it with peers. The more open you are to engaging with collaborators to build your social venture together, the stronger it becomes.
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