You want to create a social business? Make a difference while making a (good) living? If you do not want to take AGES before reaching breakeven, here are the 3 biggest mistakes to avoid when launching your socially/environmentally conscious business ;)
#1 – Trying to solve a social problem as a whole (or various problems all at the same time)
If you try to solve a BIG problem as a whole, you will fail. Nor can you solve all the problems in the world. For your social business to work, you need to concentrate on 1 problem for 1 community and offer a valuable solution. Once it works, you will have proven to the world that yes it is possible and then a domino effect can actually change the world.
Muhammed Yunus, the nobel peace price who invented micro-credit and is the father of social business in the eyes of many, did not solve the problem of poverty as a whole. Nor did he lend money to all the poor people around the globe. He saw a problem in the poor communities of Bangladesh, and offered a solution. His grameen bank landed money to 1, the 2, then 3 person (usually woman), who invested in their lives and small business and managed to reimburse the small loan. He grew the access of the grameen bank in the region, and then spread the word that lending small amount of money to poor people improves their life greatly AND the reimbursement rate is over 90% – which is a better then traditional credits – and is thus a viable business. Now, many other micro-credit institution have a similar impact around the world, without Grameen bank to necessarily have to grow into a giant institution.
You need to accept to focus. To solve 1 problem for 1 type of beneficiaries, and prove the rest of the world that it is possible.
Me for instance, I chose to help social entrepreneurs make a living along with making a difference. I help with the business strategy and the communication strategy. Voila, that’s it. I am not helping all the social entrepreneurs around the world, nor with ALL the challenges they may face. And it’s OK. I am making a difference for a few hand-picked social entrepreneurs, and this creates case studies for other people who have the ambition to become a social entrepreneur but think it is too hard to also make a living. Well, I intend to prove them wrong, and encourage many to choose social entrepreneurship as a viable career track. They will not ALL be my clients or generate revenues for my business but that is fine: my goal is to have an impact bigger then my own activity. And this is what you can do as well!
#2 Wait till everything is perfect
If you want to create a social business and make a living out of it, you cannot spend months (sometimes years!) for every step along the way to be perfect. I know that starting a business is really impressive, it deals with your ego and with you image, so you want to look professional and to offer something great.
I think it is the founder of Linkedin who said “if you launch a product and you are not ashamed of it, it means you launched it too late”. Meaning an imperfect action (launching a website, a product, a feature) is always better then a perfect inaction.
Your company is going to evolve thanks to the feedbacks of your shareholders. If you wait and work on your own on something for hours, days, months, “because it is not ready yet” without having any outside feedbacks, you are missing valuable information. AND you are not starting having the impact you could, even if an imperfect impact.
#3 NOT to get structured help
If you try to figure everything out by yourself, getting help from time to time from here and there, you will waist so much time and energy you might even give up along the way. By structured help I mean, hiring a coach, a consultant, or joining an incubator – not just a co-working space where you can get some help but not structured and not always tailor made for you especially.
OK, you are going to think “well Solène is trying to sell her own services”. Not at all: I do not care if you hire me or someone else, or if you join a local incubator in your city. My point is, starting a business is like being in the dark. You are moving, trying to find your way without any clue. Hiring someone who knows what you are going through, who has even gone through those steps himself, and created + tested a methodology, is like having a flashlight in the dark. It doesn’t allow you to run, but at least you can walk constantly and consistently in the right direction.
If you count on multiple free outside help, they will give you light for a short amount of time, and in different direction.
On my side, when I decided to launch a business for the very first time, I decided to put all the chances on my side. So I invested in a 6 months entrepreneurship training, with a coach in the US (where online business and authentic marketing – 2 things I wanted to be helped with – are super-developed). This was from the very beginning, as soon as I decided to quit my job and before even having validated my business idea, because I needed help to do that too. I saved months in the development of my business. All the results I have today, I was guided to get them.
I am not saying that it is impossible without, however it can never go as fast as with a structured and tailor-made help. And as you know, time is money! The longer it takes, the more it cost.
What I mean by getting help, is to be guided in the role of entrepreneur, in the role of business creator and business developer. Because having an impactful idea in line with what you are good at is great, being committed to a cause is fantastic, but if you do not have the business structure and approach to build something sustainable, it will not take off. It will take months and months of work for no results, or very little results – not enough to make it last.
So.. Do not waste your time and your resources trying out in the dark to find your way. Ok?
Don’t hesitate to use the comments below! I will be happy to help ;)
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.