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10 Tips for Building a Business with Community Impact

The terms social entrepreneur, social-purpose business, and corporate responsibility, were not terms that were used in 1991 when I started my small business that would eventually provide service to over 165 non-profit agencies. At the age of 21 I knew only two things: I had a passion to support people through difficult life transitions, and that people needed help to do just that. My first accountant said the market would never buy in to a new ‘for profit’ healthcare option. Well, over 25 years later (and with a new accountant), I have built a company that proves good work can still make money and make a difference.

Non-profits and governments throughout the world are finding it increasingly challenging to solve the needs of the people and the planet, and it has become harder than ever to do it alone. That is why many businesses, large and small, are getting more involved and becoming more socially aware of their impact. It is about considering your employees, community, and the environment when making business decisions, rather than being solely bound by profits. I believe all businesses can make a bigger difference by considering the following 10 tips:

  1. Share the dream. At the heart of every business is the dream, the mission to be shared with the world. For the business focused on community impact the dream is not measured by the money it makes – but by the difference it makes.
  2. Make incremental steps and keep moving forward. The best way to boost motivation for you and your team is to take a meaningful step forward every day. Making progress with significance equates to greater work satisfaction for each team member. This progress principle suggests that managers have more influence than they may realize over the teams’ well-being, motivation, and productivity, maximizing the company’s impact.
  3. Strengthen your expertise. I believe you do not need to (and should not) go around and call yourself a leading expert . . . but people should ”feel” that way when they are with you. Why should you want to be one? Because people want to work with and buy from the company that is known for its experience, knowledge and quality of product. They will seek you out when they hear that you’re doing something with strong expertise.
  4. Scale for optimum impact. Scaling a business, especially a service-based business, can often be quite difficult. Entrepreneurs tend to think big, and at some point scaling will be a vital component to maximizing their desired impact. Staying focused on the mission with a clear vision will help successful growth, coupled with other key tips such as incremental steps and building on your team’s strengths.
  5. Build in the spirit of equity. Equity is when everyone has the resources and tools they need to feel equal. The Dalai Lama uses the term ‘one-win-everything’ where everyone wins – you, me, the public, the environment and the global citizen. Social impact businesses and individuals increase their impact by increasing their equity lens.
  6. Find the blisspoint. The blisspoint is that magic recipe for your company. Used more commonly in the formulation of food products, the blisspoint is the amount of an ingredient, such as salt, sugar or fat, which optimizes deliciousness. The blisspoint for your company can be explored by finding the perfect blend of people, planet and profit for maximum impact.
  7. Market for momentum. In my professional life I have been reminded frequently ‘if your company is not growing, it’s dying.’ From the social entrepreneur’s lens, building momentum can be far more important than growing profits (although these often follow along). It’s extremely easy to build downward momentum when tough times strike and you are headed downhill. Building momentum in the opposite direction can feel more difficult. However, the reward brings with it a sense of energy that fosters the larger contributions to something greater than yourself.
  8. Invest in self-care. For the social entrepreneur, the company IS the team and everyone that is served by it. Promoting wellness in you, in the company culture you live in, and in the entire team, brings vibrancy and longevity to the services you provide. At times the team may be cared for, but the leader has been forgotten. The social entrepreneur considers everyone on the team, and that includes the social entrepreneur themselves.
  9. Lead with legacy in mind. The company is never just you. The business owner and the leadership team may not be around forever, but has still served and impacted the community, regardless of its size. Therefore having a legacy plan, some may call a succession plan, is an important part of the health of your organization. Good legacy leadership will ultimately be evidence of everything we have already discussed here.
  10. Know you don’t have to have it all figured out to move forward. This has become a mantra of mine and has been particularly useful during moments I feel stuck, torn and unsure. I will always be faced with ethical dilemmas, conflicts, disagreements and difficult transitions – but it helps to know I don’t have to have it all figured out to move forward. When I imagine the face of one of our clients, or a team member who loves the work they are doing, I often know at least what direction to face and then I can trust the next foot forward.

These 10 tips may feel quite daunting and that is why in a series of upcoming posts we will explore each tip in deeper detail. I’ll outline some specific strategies you may want to consider for your business development – no matter if you are an emerging solopreneur or the leader of an established small business.

I know that adapting to this new wave of social impact may not be easy, yet if you were drawn to read this article I know you are up for the challenge. My goal is to help business leaders like you to be as successful as you can be, so you can turn around and make an even greater difference and impact in your community.

9 Comments

  • Jennifer, I love that you are committing to this next step and inspiring us even further! You have pulled together a great list. I especially love the idea of a bliss point. As I am in the process this summer of leaving the security of a “job” to follow my dream, I totally agree with #10…at some point we leap!

    • Congratulations Karen. This next leg…leap… of the journey sounds perfect for you 🙂 Thanks for the comment 🙂

  • I love the Bliss Point – the right mix of fat, salt and sweet to make the dish perfect. I feel the same about work/life balance. In order to find that for myself, I’ve given up on working 24/7 and earning the big bucks, so I can have more time to live and enjoy life along the way. But when things are a little tight, I have to remind myself of this decision/sacrifice…almost yearly 😉

    • Thanks for your feedback Charlene. I like this concept a lot too – it’s not so much about balance but finding the right equilibrium…the right recipe for you, for your business, for your life.

  • Hi Jennifer. I love the idea of “sharing the dream”. The idea that building a successful business cannot be related to money alone makes so much sense. There must be a dream. Something you want to share with the world. I will keep this close to my heart when it comes to the business I’m in. Thank you.

    Glenda

    • I am wishing you great success. Thank you for the special note.

  • Great tips. I especially love that you don’t have to have it all figured out to move forward. Finding your way and bliss points can happen when we are willing to take those first few steps and we can continue building on the rest. That is a large part of what Design My Best Life coaching is about – rediscovering what brings them joy and incorporating it into their lives. Thanks for the reminder

    • Feedback from a leader in this area means a lot. Thanks Karen 🙂

  • Jennifer, the tips are great. I especially appreciate how they highlight key elements of developing and maintaining an effective business and team. Key tips such as:
    – Dreaming and keeping one’s business and individual legacy at the forefront;
    – Incremental steps towards growth and change (what could be called facilitating a punctuated equilibrium that leads to innovation and transformative change);
    – A focus on short, intermediate and long term-outcomes;
    – Professional growth – improving expertise – soft skills and technical skills;
    – Engaging in momentum and spreading the scale of the business impact over time;
    – Ensuring that the business and the team finds their bliss point;
    – Self-care as an organization and individual; and,
    – Managing uncertainty
    all resonate logically and experientially. Not only do they bring together the elements of an effective business, they contribute to the flourishing of the individuals working for you. Creating the milieu in which the business and individuals working there can thrive takes a fine balance, outside the box thinking, intentionality and a desire on the part of all to be leaders in their own right. It also requires resiliency, creativity and a focus on innovative and transformative change.

    Thanks for sharing your insight!

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