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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.