When starting a Social Enterprise, you will have to juggle many competing priorities. One that should always be at the top of the agenda is ensuring that at the very least, you are creating enough income from the enterprise to cover the costs of running it…or making both ends meet.
Here are eight things to consider to keep your social enterprise on track:
1. Ensure you have an entrepreneurial mindset.
As the person leading your social enterprise, you’ll want to ensure that you adopt the traits of the most successful entrepreneurs from all walks of the business world; these characteristics include:
- Being fearless
- Being prepared to take risks
- Being action-orientated
- Not being phased by temporary failures
- Being persistent, optimistic and resourceful
Your mindset will impact everything that you do, and it will largely determine the success that you’re able to create for your social enterprise. This includes being able to attract the necessary income to your venture.
2. Know your social enterprise’s story.
Stories create an easy way for people to buy into both you and your social enterprise. What is the story behind why you got into this business? For many social entrepreneurs, this often happens when they discover an ugly truth about society – something they find so shocking, disturbing, or unacceptable that they have to do something about it.
For example, Andy Bradley, who grew up watching his parents lovingly run a home care facility, set up Frameworks 4 Change after later working in the National Health Service and discovering that not all nurses were as compassionate as his mother had been. With an ambition to change the culture of nursing entirely, he set about devising a training course teaching a series of habits nurses can adopt to make sure they are always compassionate, regardless of how busy they are.
Sharing your story allows those who are interested in your social enterprise to connect with you and your mission, which is a crucial ingredient in keeping your enterprise going strong.
3. Don’t prioritize your social aim over business viability.
In his Feb 2014 article, Dan Zasatwany stated that the principle of “income must come before impact” was not necessarily being implemented amongst the majority of social entrepreneurs, citing that there was “a lack of widespread understanding in the sector about what it means to be an ‘enterprise.’”
One of the main things to understand about a social enterprise is that, first and foremost, it’s a business. Although it may exist to fulfill a social aim, it will only be able to do that in proportion to the profits that it generates.
Having a passion to make a difference is not enough to make a social enterprise successful. In order make ends meet, you must first ensure that, particularly in the early days, your focus is on creating a viable, standalone business model that can survive long enough to make your social aim a reality.
4. Do the business basics and create a business plan.
Remember, first and foremost your social enterprise is a business. As such, you need to ensure that you’ve carried out the same steps that someone setting up a traditional business would do. Although you don’t want to suffer analysis paralysis and spend too much time in the planning phase, some basic groundwork is necessary to ensure that you are going into a venture that has a realistic chance of creating a profit. Some key areas to include in your business plan are:
- Research: What’s already happening in the industry that you want to go into? What will be unique about what you are going to do or how you’re going to do it? Who is actually spending money on the products or services that you are going to be selling?
- Financial Forecast: Based on your research, how much will you charge for your products and services, and how much can you reasonably expect to sell over a specific time frame? Be comfortable with the idea that you are trying to create a profit. Don’t let your passion for your social aim see you practically giving things away, including your time.
- The Break Even Point: If you intend to make your living with this social enterprise, how much do you need to sell in order to cover both your business costs and your basic living expenses? Knowing your daily, weekly and monthly break-even point will give you a great focus in the early days of your social enterprise, and is a crucial part in making sure you can pay the bills on time. This article provides some useful tips on how to calculate your break even point.
5. Know and understand your target audience.
Being clear on your niche audience – that specific group of people who are going to be paying for your products and services – allows you to market to them more effectively, and to ensure that you’re meeting their needs. This, in turn, will allow you to make a bigger impact on your social aim.
Be aware, of course, that with a social enterprise, often the people who are going to be paying for your products and services are not the same people who are going to be using your products and services. Your message needs to be effective with the people who provide the cash to make your enterprise possible.
Marketing, branding and innovation expert Rafe Offer emphasizes that you need to understand your customer by really getting to know what it’s like to be them, and he suggests role-playing with them in their environment to achieve this. He also encourages a marketing approach that is focused on making them feel good.
Getting this area of your social enterprise right will mean repeat business from customers that can become raving fans, which ultimately will be an important part of creating the income that will not only make ends meet, but will create more social impact for your business.
6. Have a scalable system for success.
Following the collapse of his own social enterprise, Matthew Cain identified that one of the features of successful start-ups was that they had a replicable system that was first tested and proven on a small scale. Once a successful system of trading has been established, it’s then scaled up to increase turnover and profits. Cain found that waiting to launch an enterprise with big numbers was one of the top five reasons that social enterprises fail to make both ends meet. You can read about the other four reasons here.
Scaling up – also referred to as ‘social franchising’ – is a model that is becoming popular amongst social businesses that borrows from the experience of the commercial franchising sector. A social enterprise that has done this successfully is Care and Share Associates (CASA), who have duplicated their system of employee-owned social care homes and services to several sites around the UK.
Social reform organization The Shaftesbury Partnership compiled a useful report on social franchising in 2011 that you can access here.
7. Measure your impact.
As part of what he calls his BIB (Business Impact Brand) method for starting a social enterprise, Marquis Cabrera talks about the importance of being able to measure the impact that you intend to, or have already made.
For example, he cites that Sword and Plough, a social enterprise that re-purposes military surplus waste into fashionable bags and accessories, has a social mission to “empower veteran employment, reduce waste and strengthen shared military-civil understanding.” At the time of his article, Sword and Plough reported that so far they had
- recycled 15,000 lbs of military waste
- created $400,000 of sales through the sale of 2600 products (with 10% of profits going back to veteran initiatives)
- created 36 jobs for military veterans.
How could you state the impact of your social enterprise today? Measuring your impact will not only make it clearer for other people to connect and contribute to what you are doing, but will force you to look at the numbers in your social enterprise. Tracking your numbers is vital for making sure you are not spending more than you are creating in income.
8. Don’t go it alone.
Being an entrepreneur in any business can be a lonely affair, particularly if you are working from home. However, as a social entrepreneur, you may find this to be even more true as the pressing weight of fulfilling your social mission is added to the feelings of isolation that many traditional entrepreneurs experience.
Therefore, it’s important that you focus on building up a network of people who buy into your social aim and share your vision. One of the ways to do this early on is to put together a Board of Governors to give you objective assistance in ensuring that your enterprise is achieving its social aim, fulfilling its mission statement and is on track to meet its financial goals and targets.
Other important relationships to cultivate are
- High profile contacts within your online and offline networks
Attending business networking groups can be a great place to create these relationships if they don’t exist already. Your Board of Governors will be an important part of keeping you on track financially.
Social entrepreneur, presenter and consultant Phil Tulba is a Trustee and Director of Adrenaline Alley, an award winning social enterprise. He offers these closing words of advice to social enterprises seeking to make ends meet in their venture:
“Always make sure you are as close as you can be to your customers, beneficiaries and stakeholders. Losing sight of where you have come from, your market and your mission could result in disaster, and it’s sometimes not an easy line to walk.”
Featured photo credit: Jarmoluk via pixabay.com