Advice for Social Entrepreneurs
Q: What one tip do you have for social entrepreneurs that is completely unique to launching this type of venture?
— Jeremy S., Ashland, Oregon
The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization composed of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. Founded by Scott Gerber, the YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment and provides entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship and resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth.
A: Adjust Your Clocks!
Time is compressed in social media. A day in a Web 2.0 business can be worth a year of data in any other business. This means entrepreneurs have to be tactical and hypothesis-driven, quick on their feet and efficiently recalibrating their business as new information becomes available. Be nimble, be quick and may the force be with you!
Tony Navarro (twitter.com/hoostony), Streamcal (signup.streamcal.com/)
Social entrepreneurs must leverage, connect and cross-pollinate with other social entrepreneurs and their resources. Social entrepreneurship can be a challenge, so the more you can partner and share resources, the better.
Vanessa Van Petten (twitter.com/vvanpetten), The Science of People (scienceofpeople.org)
A: Don't Be Afraid of Money
Social entrepreneurs tend to have a huge amount of passion for their causes and to worry that anything that seems too "business-like" — such as considering the financial implications of their decisions — is "dirty" or "wrong." But in reality, your ability to bring in enough money to support your venture's goals is critical to your lasting, sustainable impact.
Elizabeth Saunders (twitter.com/RealLifeE), Real Life E (schedulemakeover.com/)
A: Connect Locally
There are just as many business organizations for social entrepreneurs these days as for other types of businesses. Unless you've run multiple social-oriented businesses in the past, you're going to need that sort of support structure and access to experience — no matter what. Even something as simple as finding an accountant who understands social entrepreneurship will be worth the effort.
Thursday Bram (twitter.com/thursdayb), Hyper Modern Consulting (hypermodernconsulting.com)
A: Get Classy
Look into an L3C, a classification of a for-profit organization that uses its for-profit efficiencies, along with fewer regulations from the IRS, to achieve socially beneficial goals. An L3C is a taxed organization that operates with a stated objective of achieving a social goal, with making a profit being a secondary goal. The L3C is currently only available in a limited number of states.
Benjamin Leis (twitter.com/sweatequitees), Sweat EquiTees (sweatequitees.com/)
A: Stay Competitive
It's great that you want to make a difference, but make sure your product or service is great too. The only way you can get your message across is by gaining marketing share. So keep the social impact in mind, but do so as you also build a great company. No one buys inferior products, no matter how great the mission is.
Sam Davidson (twitter.com/samdavidson), Cool People Care Inc. (samdavidson.net)
A: Brace Yourself
It's going to take a lot of time and persistence to succeed as a social entrepreneur and you need to prepare yourself for sleepless nights, extreme amounts of networking, and negativity from those who don't understand your point of view. You need to persevere through all of these obstacles and if you believe in yourself, never give up. Your hard work will pay off.
Andrew Saladino (twitter.com/andrewsaladino), Just Bath Vanities (justbathvanities.com/)
A: Do Not Compromise!
As a social entrepreneur, your employees, customers and the world will be impacted by your integrity. Do not compromise your vision for faster growth or to pad your bottom line. The positive impact your product or service has on the world comes before all else.
Brenton Gieser (twitter.com/brentongieser), JoynIn (heyjoynin.com)
A: Challenge the Barriers
Social entrepreneurs are all over the place. You have to differentiate yourself to stay competitive. Challenge the barriers that others haven't overcome. Figure out all the needs of potential customers, see which aren't being met and why, and find a way to do what others can't.
John Hall (twitter.com/#!/JohnHallCOMO), Digital Talent Agents (digitaltalentagents.com/)
A: Innovation Is Recession-Proof
As important as the cause is to any social entrepreneur, the services and products often fall victim to an outstanding mission. It's important to maintain your vision at the core of everything you do, all while staying active, competitive and aggressive in your marketing and sales. Stay ahead of the curve; evolve and innovate. And remember that for any business, money matters too.
Matt Cheuvront (twitter.com/mattchevy), Proof Branding (proofbranding.com/)
A: Understand Regulations
Social entrepreneurs are in a unique situation where they can choose whether to go the nonprofit or for-profit route, but each model comes with its own regulatory challenges for doing good. Before launching, make sure to understand the pros and cons regarding paperwork, taxation and regulation so you can choose the model that's right for your venture.
Doreen Bloch (twitter.com/DoreenBloch), Poshly Inc. (poshly.com/)