How do you start a social enterprise?

How do you start a social enterprise?
Sam Baumber, TfN
18.06.10

DECISION made. You’ve been giving it a lot of thought. It plays on a loop in your mind. There’s a problem with the world and you can see a way to fix it. You may not have an MBA, but you have the ideas, the passion and the energy. You’re going to become a social entrepreneur. Exciting, isn’tit?

Your task – to set up a viable business that trades products or services to achieve social or environmental aims, and re-invests profit in the business. If you’re looking for a "how to" list, stick the title of this article into a search engine and enjoy a wealth of advice online. If you can see that starting a successful social enterprise will take more than a ‘how to’list, and would like a few tips to help you on the journey of your development as a social enterpreneur, tip number one, hold on to that thought and read on.

The art of lighting fires
Just as a fIre needs different elements to light a social entrepreneur can’t do it all alone. Well, not for long
anyway. If you haven’t found one yet, tip number two is that you need a team.
Depending on your own strengths, at a minimum you may need to fInd someone to create, someone to sell, and someone to back you up with administration of your product or service and to keep track of your "triple bottom line" – people, planet, profIt.

Understanding your strengths fully is the place to start. It will help you to fInd people with the skill sets to complement yours. At the Social Enterprise Academy we often start programmes with fIguring out our learning styles to make sense of who we are, and how we operate.

Hold your flame high
So, you’ve got your team, and you’ve set about looking into everything on the list: how to source funding, fIgure out a good legal structure, incorporate the company, possibly register for charitable status, sort out policies and procedures, research the need your business will address and how to deliver your product.

All of this can seem like a thousand distractions or barriers in your way, but its important groundwork. You are building the organisation through which you can deliver your social mission. Build it well. It needs to last. Seeking professional advice at the earliest stage in all this is essential, it is the thing that will get you through all this is holding on to a clear sense of meaningful purpose. So, tip number three, explore, and keep the flame of your idea held high.

"Depending on your own strengths, at a minimum you may need to find someone to create, someone to sell and someone to back you up with administration of your product or service and to keep track of your ‘triple bottom line’ – people, planet, profit. "

Don’t forget to breathe
At the busiest point in establishing Re-Union my cofounder left the fray to join a week long residential learning experience organised by our main financial backer. I couldn’t believe it. There was so much to do! But the sky didn’t fall, and he came back refreshed, with a clearer sense of what we were doing and how we should do it. For action focused people this may be the hardest tip to follow, but tip number  four, take time and space to reflect, share your experiences, and learn.

Best laid plans
You will find that people ask you increasingly detailed questions about what your social enterprise is planning to do.

Especially those people who you approach for money. So, structure your ideas, capture all the thinking behind what you’re doing, clearly state you purpose and mission, targets and time frames, crunch the numbers to figure out how you will turn your idea into reality. You’re going to write a business plan.

Creating a meaningful business plan is vital as it will let you know if your idea is going to work or not, and once your enterprise is underway. But, as many business plans find themselves hidden in draws, and entrepreneurs drift onto tasks that take them away from achieving their original mission, tip number five is, find a way to keep your plan in sight.

And with that, you’re off. You’re valuing your own development as a leader, gathering a team about you, keeping your social purpose front and centre, protecting time and space for you to reflect, and creating a masterplan to achieve your vision.

Learning by doing. You are growing as a social entrepreneur. Exciting, isn’t it?

For information about the Academy’s Starting your Social Enterprise programme, contact learn@theacademy-ssea.org