You dream of becoming a social entrepreneur, i.e. create a positive social impact using a sustainable business approach. You admire social businesses you are hearing about, and despite your long hours of research, you find it hard to find THE social business idea that will get you started.
I understand you completely because I have been there myself!
One day, I woke up and realized the best way for me to do a job I really love, have the life I really want AND make a difference was to create my own business. I became obsessed with this idea and I was really excited about this new adventure… But I couldn’t decide which business I would start!
Sometimes I was having 10 (completely) different ideas per day. Sometimes I was sure “this” idea would be THE ONE, but after just a week I was realizing that for this or that reason, it “wouldn’t work”.
I finally found the right idea by taking a completely different approach. I am summarizing it for you in this article!
The first mistake I was doing, is to read too many theoretical books. From business modeling to canevas strategies, those where way to far from reality to help me design a feasable tailor-made social business idea. Drop your books, and discover my 8 experience based advises to find YOUR social business idea!
1. Stop searching for opportunities, look at your existing skills
One of the mistake I was doing – and many aspiring social entrepreneurs do – is to search for the right idea out there. One key to find YOUR social business idea is to stop looking for opportunities anyone could come across, and look closer at your own skills. Something that make you different from the rest that will be your differentiating factor. Base your social business on your own special skills and personality.
This can be hard hard to do, because all our life long, school and work system is build to create “good employees”, not “good entrepreneurs”. We learn to fit in the box, not create our own way. We learn to control our default, not shine at what we are great at. Our personal skills are sometimes hidden, and hard to identify on our own.
Personally, I took a “professional personality test” that revealed I am great at analyzing, finding what works and what doesn’t, and better then average at giving advises. It also showed I have super-high ethics (hence the sustainability field!). Now, I include such test in the accelerator programs I provide to my clients, because it can make you save a lot of time to have an external confirmation of what skills you should put forward in your impact mission!
What about you, what are you great at?
2. Look back in your personal history to find YOUR cause
There are many social problems out there that need smart social entrepreneurs to tackle them. If you look at all the potential causes, you’ll get lost in the sea of social challenges. The most successful social entrepreneurs I have met have based their social business on a cause close to their heart.
If I take my own example, I was always annoyed that, because I specialized my studies in sustainable development, (some) people though I was really naïve and wanted to plant trees for a living in order to save the planet. They did not see the business potential I was seeing when thinking about sustainable development.
Later, when I started to think about a business to help “social entrepreneurs”, one of my (close!) friends told me “You know Solène, there is nothing wrong with making money. Social issues are the government’s problem, companies should focus on making money and so should you”. That was it! I was boiling inside! I became all red and tried to explain that yes, it is possible to both create value for the society and be financially sustainable at the same time.. To be honest with you, I am not sure I was that convincing that day, but at least I validated MY cause: help social entrepreneurs be successful, so more and more people believe in the model and we can collectively evolve to a more sustainable global economy!
What about you, what makes you angry?
3. Identify problems CLEARLY by investigating your cause
The first 2 steps are enough for the introspection. Now it’s time to go out there and learn more about the cause you are so passionate about. Who are the people involved in this cause? What are their key problems?
If you are passionate about helping homeless, go talk to them. If you dream of helping rural communities improve their standard of living, go spend time with them.
Once I identified I wanted to help (aspiring) social entrepreneurs, I spend several weeks talking with 5 different people about to create their own social business, from 5 different countries. I was taking notes and focused on identifying their biggest “common” problems.
Please keep in mind “people” won’t tell you the solutions they expect. They will however help you identify the more specific problems they face, so that you can choose one and design a solution for it.
As Henri Ford said ““If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
4. Choose 1 problems, and imagine 1 solution based on your skills
A business, to be profitable, must be efficient.
Unless you have unlimited resources, I strongly advise you to focus on 1 problem (and 1 problem only at first), to which you can offer a solution, in the form of a service or product.
Here, my key advice is to base this product or service on something YOU are good at, or at least you love doing (and will thus soon become good at ;).
5. Find the right business model
No need to reinvent the wheel!
Here, you can look on the internet for different business model ideas. The best way is to look for successful social enterprises – even in a different field then yours – and analyses their business model.
Build a list, chose the 3 best ones, and contact people who have already started their business with this model.
Thanks to their insights, you will not only have the infos to choose the best business model for you, but also the tips and tricks to get started!
Actually, I have designed a methodology that can help you do that in just 10 days; You can sign up for free here :
6. Make it economically viable by finding some economy of scale
Depending on your cause, the beneficiaries and the clients (= those paying for the solution) might be different.
The idea here is to provide a simple solution and do it at a large scale in order to create some scale economies.
Looking back at my own entrepreneurial experience, I have decided to offer consulting for (aspiring) social entrepreneurs. Instead of doing “on-demand” consulting, I have created a methodology I then apply and adapt to each client I help.
This way, I am using a base which is mutualized between all my clients (which brings down the prices of my programs) and improve my services thanks to the feedbacks and experience of each client (which improves the quality of services overtime).
7. Get help
Now that the theory is OK, time to take action!
If you continue by yourself, chance are you will build your business at a slower pace than if you get help by a professional mentor, coach or consultant. As I am sure you have already calculated, your initial investment (weather it comes from your own savings, or external investment) will only last for a certain amount of time, after which sales must take over.
Getting help from a professional who have already gone through the steps you will have to follow, and formalized a methodology, is THE key for your social business to be successful.
When I decided to start Creators for Good, I hired a coach to train me on online entrepreneurship. It was probably the best decision I have made for my business!
When you do something for the first time – and something important like creating your own business – you can feel “in the dark”, moving forward little by little never knowing what’s going to happen. My coach was like my flashlight: she was showing me the way and all I had to do was to put one feet in front of the other! I developed my company much faster than I would have done alone, and even got my first client after 1 month only!
8. Share your ideas with like-minded people
The business idea you are developing will definitely evolve over time. No one got it right from the first draft!
Don’t be shy to share your ideas around you. Keeping your thoughts for yourself might feel comforting, but it prevents you from confronting your ideas with the reality. And that is not reserved for the “idea” phase. You can create a group of entrepreneurs like you and organize weekly meetings so you can share your challenges and find solutions for each other.
Not possible locally? Create a private facebook group with 5 to 10 like-minded entrepreneurs (at different stages) so you can share your challenges and victories. I am part of such a group and it is highly motivating! It keeps me moving forward as I never stay blocked with a problem more than 24h ;)
Please don’t hesitate to share your personal experience in the comments below!
Solène is the Chief Empowerment Officer of Creators for Good.
She developed a methodology that allows Global Citizen to start and grow their own impactful businesses from anywhere in the world – and with no need for investors or government support.