What do you do when your business is making money but not feeding your soul? Are you feeling confused because the business you’ve spent time building suddenly feels like “not enough”? Like you need to find more meaning and purpose in your business? If so, before you throw out “the baby with the bath water’ (sorry for the cliche), consider how you can add an element of purpose or social good to your existing business.
I love to help entrepreneurs design a business based on their values and purpose. Starting with a clear mission is in some ways easier but there are advantages to already having a profitable business and then finding the deeper meaning. You have the confidence that you know how to make money so that piece is out of the way. It does, however, take a lot of hard work to tweak your mindset from strictly a positive net profit to the multiple bottom line of a social enterprise. So, how do you transition your for-profit business to a mission driven venture?
First, know that you do not have to change the business entity to a non-profit. You absolutely can make money and make a difference.
Let’s look at a few examples from big businesses that made the transition to ideal-driven. Dove, the soap manufacturer, has made a big part of their mission to improve the self-esteem of girls. Instead of using the tried and true stereotypical thin girls in their ads, they are using models of all body types to show that beauty doesn’t look just one way. Paint company Akzo Nobel is now focused on using more sustainable packaging and speaks to enriching people’s lives through color. We are seeing a trend in business to stress environmental or sustainable benefits but it has to be authentic, not some marketing trick or ‘green-washing’.
The best place to start when trying to create more meaning in your existing business is to ask yourself a few key questions. What is the passion behind my company? Why does it exist? What can my business contribute to my customers and society? How can I realize this ideal at customer and society level?
As always, you are invited to comment below. I would love to know what it would take to make you fall in love with your business again.
If you have been following me for awhile, you know that I am a big believer in social entrepreneurship but if you are like most people, you may think that means non-profit. It can, but for-profit business for the purpose of solving a social problem can actually help more people than charity.
“How can that be? “you might ask.
First, you need to understand that people who run non-profits DO actually make money. In fact, the director of a not-for-profit foundation frequently draws a six figure salary. The non-profit part refers to what the organization actually nets AFTER salaries and expenses are paid and the rest is used to further the cause.
When a for-profit business is set up as a social enterprise, there is a multiple bottom line with the intention of solving a social issue and making a profit. But, because it operates on business principles, the owners only make money if the the business is successful at the helping component as well as profitable.
For comparison, let’s look at this example. If I set up a non-profit to buy hearing aids for hearing impaired children, I would need to raise funds. I’d start by asking everyone I know for donations and possibly apply for some grants. Once I’d exhausted those sources, I would constantly be scrambling for funds to help the people who had come to depend on my for aid. But, if I set up a a for-profit social enterprise, I would be able to help more children because it would be based on business principals which means making sure there is a continuous flow of income. I could set up a “buy-one-give-one” model and for every hearing aid I sold, I’d give one to someone in need. Yes, the profit margin would be slimmer than a typical for-profit business but this sustainable business model would mean I would continually be able to help more hearing impaired children.
Think about the organizations that feed hungry children in underdeveloped countries. If we set up a charity bringing formula to babies in a developing country and then for whatever reason we could no longer deliver, those babies would starve. They would have come to depend on our help and the mother’s breast milk would have dried up so they could no longer nurse their babies. But if we set up a business teaching those same women a craft that they could wholesale to us and we could turn around and re-sell, they would have a livelihood that provides the resources to continually feed their children without our help.
Is there an injustice or lack that pulls at your heartstrings? You can set up a charity and find volunteers to help but if you run short of people willing to give their time or resources, you can no longer do your good work. Or, you can set up a business that addresses that problem AND makes a profit so that you can sustain the level of aid and thus help more people.
If you need help figuring out how to develop a business that can bring you income and solve a social problem, click HERE to learn about my “idea generator” fall special package of three consultations. We will examine who you want to help and how you can set up a business that both makes a living and a difference.
Businesses that solve a social issue are always intriguing, particularly when they address the basic necessities of life. I’m often amazed at how simple the solutions are and wonder why no one came up with the idea sooner.
I’ve recently learned of some innovative entrepreneurs who’ve created solutions to what is probably the most urgent issue: the availability of safe drinking water in the developing world. A couple of my favorites are Cynthia Koenig’s Wello Waterwheel and Roundabout’s Playpump.
The WaterWheel is a 25-gallon drum that holds five times the amount of water women traditionally carry on their heads, alleviating the tremendous physical and time burden of water collection. The Wello wheel is basically a barrel with a handle that can be easily pulled or pushed similarly to roller-board luggage. Women and girls spend about a quarter of each day collecting water. Using the water wheel will free up time to spend on more productive activities like work or school.
The Playpump utilizes the energy of children at play to pump water. As the children play on the roundabout, borehole water, which has been tested and deemed safe for human consumption, is pumped into and stored in a 2,500 litre tank, allowing access to the water when needed.
Until a recent visit with my son, Todd, who builds green homes in mountain communities off the grid, I never thought about the challenge of getting power to a construction site in a rural area. Obviously, power tools are necessary and because Todd’s goal is to be as eco-conscious as possible, he doesn’t want to run a gas generator. He showed me how they have rigged up a mobile solar power station on a trailer to supply energy for the building process. This got me thinking about how useful a mini version of this could be, particularly in the developing world.
A string of recent natural disasters has made us even more aware of how suddenly we can be without power and water, conveniences many in developed countries take for granted. Just this weekend, millions of people on the East coast were without power. Some may also be without safe water. I wonder how some of these dilemmas can be turned in to viable business opportunities for an aspiring social entrepreneur. That’s what triggers the inspiration for many businesses that make a profit and a difference. Any ideas?
When I tell people my favorite clients to work with are aspiring social entrepreneurs, they frequently ask if I help people open non-profits. Maybe it’s time to clarify what a social entrepreneur is.
Yes, some social ventures are not-for-profit but it’s a common misconception that you can’t drive social change AND make a profit. By definition, social entrepreneurship is “a process involving the innovative use and combination of resources to pursue opportunities to catalyze social change and/or address social needs.” Whether a business is a non-profit, for profit or NGO, determining if it qualifies as a social enterprise comes down to a basic question: does the business add value to society or drive social change.
Two well-known examples of social entrepreneurship are micro-financier Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Aravind Eye Hospital in India, a provider of eye surgery at a fraction of the usual cost. Both are for profit businesses that improve lives.
When we think of social entrepreneurship, most of us think of the international do-good organizations tackling hunger and disease in developing countries. Sure, we’d all love to change the world, but we can make enormous differences starting in our own little community.
Because my expertise is in the area of for profit, I only work with people wanting to set up a for-profit business. Aspiring entrepreneurs come to me when they want to start a business that has more meaning, makes a difference and a profit. Every business needs a profit and loss statement but I leave that up to the accountants. I have a different balance sheet we work through that helps aspiring entrepreneurs work out their multiple bottom line-a value in addition to financial profit that’s measured in how the business improves lives. It doesn’t have to change the universe. it can be as small as making a difference in your own neighborhood, what my friend Alice Barry calls your “YOU-niverse.”
Even as an artist or craftsperson, you can be a social entrepreneur. Let’s say, for example, you design a line of jewelry that you’ve been fabricating yourself. Your business has grown to more than you can supply yourself but rather than outsource it to China, you want to help local women earn a living . By training local women to do part of the production for you, you are enabling them to feed and care for their families by teaching them a skill they can do at home. You save on overhead by not having a manufacturing facility and you’ve provided livelihood for women who may otherwise be dependent on social welfare. Your profit from your sales and the change you make in these women’s lives is your double bottom line.
Another category of social entrepreneurship is the buy-one, give-one model made popular by Tom’s Shoes. Other business donate a portion of their profits to a particular cause. My favorite is a business that actually teaches people how to help themselves so that they are no longer dependent on hand-outs. That method of making change is more sustainable than charity because it enables people to always be permanently independent. The giving continues even if the funds for the program are no longer available.
One way to decide what changes you want to make is to think about what really irks you. What do you think of as a terrible injustice or lack? Most likely if it’s an issue that really bothers you, it’s something you are passionate enough about driving change that you will be effective in creating lasting change. That’s the ultimate in social entrepreneurship.
If you are a regular reader of Inspired Livelihood or Craft Biz Blog, you know that I have three criteria for the ideal business venture:
- It is profitable
- It improves lives
- It utilizes a local workforce when possible
Frequently, when someone comes to me for help creating a socially responsible enterprise, they are initially thinking non-profit. They are surprised that they can create a business in the private sector that makes a difference and they think they have to manufacture product oversees to make a profit. Of course they can have the item made more cheaply in sweatshops that do not pay fare wages but what good is building a business to help people and then taking jobs oversees that could be creating local income and helping unemployed Americans create a livelihood?
I try to encourage the use our own labor force whenever possible so I was absolutely thrilled to read about what I think is the perfect sustainable model. Darr and Tom Aley founded Mojo, (short for Moms and Jobs), a hand made apparel company that hires and trains single mothers living near or under poverty level. They provide child care, health care and career training to help these women get off social services like food stamps and welfare and create sustainable livelihoods to improve the lives of their children.
If you know of other businesses that are profitable, improve lives and use local workers, please post in the comments below. I’d love to share them with our other readers. What can you think of that you can do to meet the above three criteria in your own business?
The old idea of philanthropy as writing a check or volunteering after you’ve made your fortune in a high level job is 20th Century thinking. A trend we’re seeing at universities worldwide is to prepare graduates to build a business that makes money and embraces social change. A business degree is definitely not necessary to start a business, but it’s worth noting that major business schools are turning out a new breed of MBAs who want to make a buck while also making the world a better place. The old MBA model turned out graduates with the goal of landing a solid corporate job. If a student’s goal was to make a difference, they’d go into social work or the non-profit sector. In a recent article in the Independent, a UK publication, Pamela Hartigan, director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship was quoted as saying that “rather than separating where they (new MBAs) make their money from where they do good, they are convinced that it is possible to live comfortably and dedicate their careers to pursuits that are fundamentally innovative, philosophically positive and morally compelling.”
Are you ready to join the ranks of 21st Century Entrepreneurs who are creating businesses that improve the lives of individuals, families, communities and countries by using their passions and creativity to solve local and global problems and create social change? If you’re ready to learn how you can create a profitable business that means something more, I’d like to invite you to join Barbara Winter, best selling author of “Making a Living without a Job” , Idea Artisan, Alice Barry of “Entertaining the Idea”and me, Terri Belford, self-employment muse for a life and
Not only Ok but vital to your livelihood and your cause. I’ve heard people complain about the salaries paid to directors of non profits. They say things like “if she really were in it for the better good, she would do it for free.” Or, “I resent that part of my donation (to a particular charity) goes to paying a director’s salary.”
Do these same people believe that their doctor shouldn’t charge a fee or that public defenders should do their jobs pro-gratis? I don’t believe that the people who research cancer treatments or those who develop cleaner fuel sources feel the least bit guilty about getting paid well to do good in the world.
So why is it that many entrepreneurs who want to make a difference by addressing social issues feel they shouldn’t command a reasonable income to do what they feel passionate about?
The truth is, non profits do pay nice director’s salaries and as a result attract the best, most effective staff. If everyone who wanted to make a difference had to be a full time volunteer, we would not have the effective leadership to make positive change. Most of us need to make a living and it takes the brightest, highly driven and most dedicated executives to direct change. If those people couldn’t make a good living as change agents, they’d have to be corporate leaders and just do what they can for a cause in their spare time. I, personally, am thrilled to have the best and brightest heading up causes I feel strongly about. and I am happy to see them making what they are worth to make changes in the world.
If your dream involves making a difference but you don’t see how you can make a living as a social entrepreneur, the first step is to examine your attitudes about wealth and adjust your mindset around money. You likely have a gift to share with the world and it has monetary value. If a corporation was to hire you to use your talent to set up and run a particular department, you’d expect to be paid well for your expertise. As a social entrepreneur, you have even greater value.
As you are dreaming of making a difference, think about what special skills you have that you’ll use to implement change. Then consider what you’d expect to be paid to do this job in corporate America. That is the value you should place on your new “job” and figure that into the overall plan. It may involve some creative financing or grants, and you won’t make that salary overnight, but it is your “value” and you have no reason to feel anything but generous about giving your time and talents in exchange for income.