Top TEN tips for social enterprises

Everyone has an opinion, and I’m no different. Here are my top ten tips to help start, manage and grow your social enterprise.

  1. Don’t be fooled, social enterprise is hard work. It’s just like running a small business only harder because now you have to be financially viable AND achieve a social benefit. So be prepared to work hard and stay focused on the end goal.
  2. Understand your purpose. What are you passionate about? Why are you doing this? What do you believe in? Remembering your purpose will help you stay motivated and provides a constant base-line against which to make decisions.
  3. Focus on your customers. Know who they are, where they are, what they want and need and what will motivate them to do business with you. Speak to them (literally), and virtually, via your online and printed materials. A successful enterprise needs enough customers who are willing to buy enough products or services, at a given price, to be viable. Don’t lose your customer focus.
  4. Create a sustainable business model that works for you. Regardless of your choice of for-purpose, or not-for-profit, model, it must be sustainable. This means a model and business plan that are do-able for you to manage and lead. They must also be relevant to your goals and financially viable. There is no one option that is better than another, so do your homework and understand that a small and well-formed enterprise is a great start.
  5. Funding matters a lot. Try to have some cash in the bank at all times and keep your overheads low. The lead-up phase can be expensive and when you launch officially, you may be faced with six – twelve months of no, or low, income. Yes, there are funding options available via grants, low interest loans and philanthropy, but don’t forget that most of these require that you at least have a realistic, credible business model and plan (see Point 4).
  6. Having a mentor increases success. This doesn’t mean only one person or the same person forever. Mix and match. Find a person or people who care enough to listen, encourage and share the journey with you. Understand that your needs will change and an ideal mentor will bring different skills, expertise and networks, as you and your enterprise evolves.
  7. Keep your goal in mind; be persistent and adaptable. It is unlikely that the path you expect to take will be the path you actually walk. As you give things a go and learn, you will find new ways of doing things, new opportunities and unexpected obstacles. There is always a solution to get you around, over, under or through an obstacle, but it may take a little creative thinking.
  8. Delegate and collaborate as much as possible. You won’t be great at everything, let alone find all the required tasks enjoyable. Build a team of reliable people with common values, who can do some of the work for you. This doesn’t mean take on employees – consider out sourcing in order to limit your risk and ongoing costs. Collaborating rather than competing with others can also work well for everyone. Consider what actions/activities you can do together, and for each other, that help you both achieve your purpose.
  9. Find your balance. How much time can you spend ‘on’ and ‘in’ your enterprise before everything else you enjoy is neglected? Decide how you want to spend your time and find a way to form habits that help you to be your best. A great habit to start with is saying ‘no’.
  10. Tell the world and make it real. You will never have a successful enterprise, if your idea remains a secret. Tell people, listen, take advice, learn, put pen to paper and take action. Give yourself permission to improve rather than be perfect and just get started!
That’s ten top tips for social enterprise, to get you thinking. It’s just a start, though, and there are plenty of other opinions to choose from.

Have you got your own top tip? Share your advice with us.

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