Starting a business that combines profits with principles and helps support a higher cause appeals to young entrepreneurs from Generation Y as much as seasoned professionals looking for a meaningful change in their career. Aligning commercial challenges with the social mission of for-profit company can be challenging at times. Here are four key tips for everyone looking to start their own Social Enterprise.
1. Identify a need in the marketplace your product or service aims to address
Building a sustainable Social Enterprise means having a viable business model first; and that requires a self-sufficient, constant stream of revenue and profits. Your offering shouldn’t rely on the the consumer’s ethical conscience alone, but provide a genuinely great proposition. People buy TOMS shoes, Body Shop cosmetics and Lemonaid soft drinks not merely altruistically, but firstly because they like the products and want to do themselves good, whilst supporting a social cause.
2. Make the social mission the centre of your business
One of the most common questions customers, business partners and employees will ask you is, “Do you have a specific social need and group of beneficiaries in mind that you are helping through your Social Enterprise?” Be clear why your mission is relevant and what the issues are that you address. Giving parts of your money away for a generic charity is never to be scoffed at; but think about how you could tie this in with your business’ mission even further. The social projects supported through Lemonaid for instance, are located directly in the farmers’ local communities, so that the growers who produced the raw ingredients in the first place do benefit beyond Fairtrade, e.g. through education projects in their villages.
3. Be transparent and measure your social impact
With information being more easily accessible through the internet than ever before, critical consumers can scrutinise the greenwashed façade of a disguised merely for-profit business in no time. Expect customers to question your businesses’ ethical integrity if you put the social bar up high. A lot of social businesses make a promise to donate all profits to charity but some never end up making any profits they could donate. At Lemonaid, we decided from the start to donate a fixed amount for every bottle of our soft drinks sold to charity; from the very first drink on. Whilst this put stress on our cash-flow in the early years, we have gained a multiple thereof in credibility amongst our customers. Today, seven years after we started, we can proudly announce to have raised over £1 million for charity, a precise reflection of our social impact throughout the years.
4. Create a collaborative space and leverage expert advice
You will be surprised about the level of support from all kinds of professions you will receive over the course of your Social Business. Reaching out to other businesses and experts with a convincing social mission can open a lot of doors; from pro-bono legal advice to free marketing support and a board of expert advisers. Some occupations do not offer a great degree of meaningfulness to their staff, hence individuals and corporations alike might appreciate helping you solve issues that do matter in society for a change. Make sure to actively approach them for help and create a space where their expertise is valued and put into good use.
About the author: Julian Warowioff founded the UK success of Lemonaid Beverages, an award-winning Social Enterprise and producer of a range of Fairtrade soft drinks. He has travelled to the growing regions to meet producers and social project partners supported through the company’s charity arm. An avid champion of sustainable living, Julian is dedicated to ecology, the environment and social change.