7 Tips for Succeeding as a Social Entrepreneur

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Blake Mycoskie is a 39-year old worth about $300 million. He has a business card that reads “Chief Shoe Giver.” While traveling in Argentina a number of years ago, he was concerned that none of the children in the small villages had shoes. That was his “aha” moment. Returning to California, he began to make shoes in his apartment. “The rest is history,” as they say.

Mycoskie is a social entrepreneur. His business model, which has been copied over and over again, is “one-for-one.” For every pair of shoes sold by his company, Toms Shoes, he donates a pair to a needy child somewhere in the world. This has now expanded to eyewear, and to “fair coffee,” enterprises that provide free glasses and clean water to the needy. His enterprise is now expanding to the point of supporting entrepreneurs and employment by expanding his manufacturing base to other countries. His company now is valued at $625 million.

Two Types of Social Entrepreneurs

Social responsibility has become as important to consumers as the products or services that companies sell. This is especially true for millennials, a demographic that has now become the largest buying segment. In order to be considered a social entrepreneur, you may be involved in one of two business models:

  • You can build your entire company on a social cause as Mycoskie has done. Headbands of Hope is another contemporary example of this model.
  • You can build a company that becomes hugely profitable and then take on important and critical social causes. This would be the model of Microsoft.

Whichever model you choose, just know this: Being a social entrepreneur, doing good through your business enterprise, will increase your popularity, sales and profits. Moreover, you have the great satisfaction of pursuing a career path that is meaningful, not just based on the creation of wealth. Here are some tips on becoming a successful social entrepreneur.

Find Your Cause

As you think about the myriad of social issues facing this planet, which one bothers you the most? It may be something local or global. But it must be something about which you have a strong passion. In wanting to solve or help relieve a social problem, you have solved a part of your own problem – the purpose of your enterprise.

Sometimes, your cause may just be for people to have a way to support their favorite causes. Many businesses have begun on this model. When a purchase is made, the consumer will name the charity to which he wants a donation made. Thus good deeds can be spread all over the place and giving is personalized. – it’s a great model.

Find “Soul-Mates”

There are others who want to solve the same social problems you do. Find them. Run your ideas for products and/or services by them; take their ideas. Use them as testers for your products or services; take their feedback. They will also become your first customers and your fans/brand ambassadors. When you find others who are passionate about the same social cause as is the foundation of your business, you have “cheerleaders” who will promote you everywhere.

Craft Your Compelling Story

Jessica Ekstrom, founder of Headbands of Hope, has a great story to tell. She was a college student doing an internship at the Make a Wish Foundation in 2011. She became passionate about the cause of childhood cancer. She went back to school in the fall and began her company. She had help of course, much of it from professors who shared her passion for the cause. The model is also one-for-one, but it is based on buying headbands and thus having one donated to a child who has lost her hair from cancer treatments. Some of the profits also go toward child cancer research.

This is a compelling story. Yours should be as compelling. It’s one thing that will make you stand out among your competitors and make customers choose you instead. Everyone wants to feel that they are doing good, and you can give them that feeling. And they can share that feeling with their communities, becoming brand ambassadors for you.

That compelling story is also the stuff of which news stories are made!

Launch New Products and Services Often if You Can

Mycoskie did not just stick with shoes; Ekstrom did not just stick with headbands. Both expanded their product lines. When you can do this, you bring something new to your current customers and expand your target market as well. And you should do what any other entrepreneur does – announce your new product and service launches ahead of time and explain how purchases will help support your cause. You can even take pre-orders.

Find Ways to Stoke Your Passion

Getting a new business off the ground is not easy. You are in for a roller coaster ride. What keeps most social entrepreneurs going, however, is the passion for their purpose. That you must nurture all the time, for it will keep you moving forward during the down times. Your community of fellow “passionates” can help; you can keep yourself abreast of news and events related to your cause and participate in them. You can maintain contact with people who have benefitted from your business – let them share their stories with you and publish them as well.

Find Ways to Relieve the Stress

You have taken a weighty venture upon yourself. That weight will bring stress. Whether you join a gym, take up Yoga, read, socialize with friends, or have some other activity that you truly enjoy, don’t sacrifice it. You will become resentful; you will sleep less well; and you will definitely not be giving your all to your business when it may need you the most. Find what relieves your stress and pursue that activity regularly.

Celebrate Yourself

You have a passion and a purpose. You see your work as benefitting others in more ways than just the value of the product or service you sell. You have acted upon that passion, have launched a company that is tied to your social purpose, and you are engaging others through your good work. Nice job!!


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